At the end of December, the Irish Examiner produced a review of ninecourses (The Front 9) and their 2017 experiences. Now Kevin Markham looks at the back nine – and how nine clubs see 2018 unfolding for them.

“Our key goal for 2018 is to raise our profile as Dingle Peninsula’s only 18-hole links golf course,” says club manager Steve Fahy, “so as to attract a 10% increase in visiting golfers who will enjoy a player-friendly links golfexperience.”

What will be happening around the course? As part of the club’s new five-year development plan, the course is being made more inviting for theaverage visiting golfer by clearly defining the fairways with managed rough, introducing new signage throughout the course, converting shale pathways to grass, and upgrading greenside bunkers.

 The clubhouse got a facelift in 2017, and in 2018 this will extend to upgrading kitchen equipment and improving the ladies’ locker rooms.

How is your membership drive? The primary goal is to grow the 18 to 35 age group. Get Into Golf CGI programmes in 2016 and 2017 resulted in a 10% increase in ladies’ membership and 2018 programmes will run from April till June.

“Our Junior golfers were devastated in 2017 by the untimely death of our adopted PGA professional, Liam Duggan,” says Fahy.

“But after a short break, our loyal junior convenors, Muiríde and Fionnán, honoured Liam’s legacy with a programme of weekly professional lessons for junior golfers. The 2018 Junior Programme resumes at Easter and will run throughout the summer months. Liam would be very proud of what he started.”

Any innovative plans? Marketing will be a key area and, with the help of theDingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance, the club has sourced digital marketing expertise to capitalise on Ceann Sibéal’s starring role in Star Wars — TheLast Jedi.

When is open week? Several open days are spread over the summer months and, during the first two weeks in August, Toyota Ireland sponsor a series of open competitions. (€25 for visitors.)

What are your green fees? €50-€85 in high season. This still offers the best links value for 18 holes in Kerry.

The majestic Ceann Sibeal links outside Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula.
The majestic Ceann Sibeal links outside Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula.

2. Cork Golf Club

“Our key goal for Cork Golf Club is to continue to improve our facilities in the club, to present the course in the best possible condition, attract new members and ensure visitors enjoy their visit to Cork Golf Club,” says Matt Sands, the club’s general manager. “We will also continue to replace course machinery to keep our fleet up to standard.”

What will be happening around the course? Members were surveyed in 2017 with the result that short, medium, and long-term plans are being drawn up to improve practice facilities, course signage, and furniture.

How is your membership drive? Membership is nearly back to full capacity, with some vacancies for ladies.

Any specific membership/other programmes?

A get into golf programme started last year for ladies and the club is confident this will lead to new members.

Any innovative plans? The club started a social media campaign last year and will continue to invest in this area.

What is the greatest challenge facing your club? “The general trend away from golf,” says Matt. “Time is a big factor and reduced length of competitions will have to be considered.”

What are your green fees? €80-€100 (€65/€55 for societies). These are thesame as last year.

Views over Cork Harbour with the par 5 No 5 green in the foreground at Cork Golf Club.
Views over Cork Harbour with the par 5 No 5 green in the foreground at Cork Golf Club.

3. Tramore Golf Club (Waterford)

“Our key goal in 2018 is to provide a top class golfing experience for members and visitors alike, whereby the golf course is always presented in top-class condition, our facilities are available and welcoming for all and that everyone who visits Tramore Golf Club is very satisfied by what they encounter,” says Ray Scott, the Men’s club captain.

What will be happening around the course? The club is looking at a complete review of the bunkering. Proposals for the refurbishment of thebar are also being considered.

How is your membership drive? Membership is steady but like many clubsthere is a gap in the under 50s which the club hopes to address. “We will once again focus a lot of our marketing on membership growth and also retention,” says Scott.

And specific membership/other programmes? Over 90 ladies participated in the club’s 2016 get into golf initiative, with 65 then taking up membership. The club is planning something similar for 2018, along with programmes for kids.

Any innovative plans? “We launched our five-year strategy in December, which will drive all our plans until 2023,” Scott says. The club will open new revenue and membership streams, and focus on attracting younger members. This may lead to innovative approaches to competitions and membership options.

What do you see as the greatest challenge facing your club? “Bridging theage gap is probably the greatest challenge facing all member clubs and we are no different,” Scott believes.

When is Open Week? The club’s open tournament takes place from 17–26 August. Visitor rates tbc, but around €25.

What are your green fees? Green fees remain unchanged: Peak €40/€45; off-peak €35/€40. Friday Open Singles €35 (including food). Tuesday Fourball Special €140 (incl. Golfers Grill).

The dogleg 16th at Tramore Golf Club in Waterford.
The dogleg 16th at Tramore Golf Club in Waterford.

4. Druids Glen Resort (Wicklow)

“Our key goal for 2018 is to grow our sales and thus continue theimprovements made in recent years regarding course condition and service standards for our members and guests,” states Marcus Doyle, golf manager.

What will be happening around the two courses? The business plan for 2018 includes bunker remodelling, tee re-shaping and tree pruning. As part of theongoing capital investment plan, both clubhouses have seen refurbishment and 2018 sees further development of the five-star Druids Glen Hotel.

How is your membership drive? As at Cork, membership at Druids Glen is almost back to full capacity. Druids Heath has also seen a tremendous upturn in membership numbers across all categories. The resort now has more than 1,000 members across the two golf courses.

Any specific/other membership programmes? “We run an annual Get-Into-Golf programme to increase Ladies membership in Druids Heath, which now stands at 130,” says Doyle. “We will also run a junior club with theassistance of our committees in Druids Heath.

Any innovative plans? “Print advertising is still very effective for us, particularly within the golf sector. However, with the growth of digital marketing, this will also be a key focus for us in 2018.”

What is the greatestchallenge facing your club? Targeting the missing generation of 25-45-year-olds remains centre stage, with changing family dynamics and time constraints. Innovative ideas like nine-hole qualifying events should prove attractive to members.

Are open events planned? The third Audi summer series will take place each Monday in August, on Druids Glen. Entry is €60 and qualifiers play in a grand final. Weekly Wednesday open competitions on Druids Heath cost €25.

What are your green fees? €65-€120 on Druids Glen, and €35-€60 on Druids Heath. The resort offers various packages which include meals, buggies, and accommodation.

The par 3 12th green at Druids Glen in Co Wicklow Golf Club.
The par 3 12th green at Druids Glen in Co Wicklow Golf Club.

5. Esker Hills Golf Club (Offaly)

“Our key goal for 2018,” says Ray Molloy, one of the club’s directors, “is to continue to deliver, to all golfers far and wide, the unique Esker Hills welcome and experience that our club offers. As they leave the 18th green we want them to say, ‘Lads, I would love to play this course again soon.’”

What will be happening around the course? Following heavy investment in recent years, there are no major plans for 2018. The greens at Esker Hills receive great praise for their true putting surfaces, and Willie Allen and his staff will be striving to continue this.

How is your membership drive? Our membership continues to grow steadily,” states Molloy. “Our junior section has really taken off in recent years and has brought a new element of energy to Esker Hills.”

Any specific membership/other programmes? Junior golf continues to thrive under the guidance of Brendan Lowry (Shane’s father) and his team.

Any innovative plans? During busy society days, extra ball spotters will be employed to find balls and speed up play (under 4.5 hours per round). The‘Esker Hills to Augusta’ festival goes from strength to strength.

Last year 42 golf clubs were represented and over 600 golfers competed. Entry is €30 with dinner included.

What is the greatest challenge facing your club? “The greatest challenge facing all golf courses is slow play and wrong handicaps,” Molloy says. “Golfers must be true and fair to other players. Both golf clubs and players must do the honourable thing.”

When is open week? July 2-8th. Visitors €20. Winter Opens (four-person team) run to the end of April. Entry also €20.

What are your green fees? €30-€35, with open days every Thursday, May to September, at €20. This is an increase of €5 on last year, but the first increase in 10 years.

8th at Esker Hills in Co Offaly Golf Club.
8th at Esker Hills in Co Offaly Golf Club.

6. Clonmel Golf Club (Tipperary)

“Our key goals are to maintain the highest standards on the course, attract new members and ensure that our clubhouse is maintained to a high standard that will create a warm friendly environment,” says Áine MylesKeating, the club’s secretary manager for over 25 years.

What is happening around the course? The club purchased a new sprayer (€27,500) and is currently overseeing the retirement of

the club professional. The club is also looking at an affordable buggy policy for members and visitors.

How is your membership drive? Adult membership is a key area for growth in 2018, following gentle growth in 2017. An introductory rate of €450 for year one and €500 for year two is proving successful. The junior section is growing rapidly with the club’s professional set-up.

Any specific membership/other programmes? “The get into golf programme for ladies is progressing steadily,” Áine reports. “The junior section has dedicated volunteers and we are in the process of training them in all aspects of child safety.”

Any innovative plans?

There is a perception that Clonmel is a challenging course, which has often led to a loss of significant membership and green fee income. 

Theacquisition of buggies should tempt the reluctant golfer to alter that position. The appointment of a marketing and recruitment officer should also help in that regard.

What is the greatest challenge facing your club? The absence of good weather results in a slow-down in subscription rates at a time when cash flow is at its weakest. Elsewhere, lack of an affordable insurance policy (over €300) for private buggies remains a problem for all clubs.

Are open events planned? Every week, each club in Co. Tipperary holds an open day. At Clonmel, open singles are held on Tuesday. Visitors €15.

What are your green fees? €20-€25. No increase on 2017.

Looking back down the fairway at No 11 at Clonmel Golf Club in Co Tipperary.
Looking back down the fairway at No 11 at Clonmel Golf Club in Co Tipperary.

7. Strandhill Golf Club (Sligo)

“Our key goal for Strandhill is to provide an unforgettable golfingexperience both on and off the course,” says Gerry Fox, from the club. “Strandhill is growing in reputation thanks to our Vision 2020, hiring Ally McIntosh to upgrade the course, and our rise up the top 100 Irishrankings.”

What will be happening around the course? The club received €43,000 for course development through the Sports Capital Programme, which will be invested in the club and amenities. Elsewhere, course designer, Ally McIntosh, is proceeding with the next phase of Vision 2020, which will see further bunker and tee box enhancements.

How is your membership drive? The club has introduced new categories for the U25, U30, and U35 age groups, both to maintain and grow membership. Senior and junior categories are seeing some growth.

Any specific membership/other programmes? “We will continue to work with the CGI to develop and expand our junior golf programme,” says Fox. “We will also run an introductory offer over the summer months for adults who may have played previously.”

Any innovative plans? The club’s new website was launched in late 2017 and will be expanded to include online gift vouchers and crested merchandise. As part of WestofIrelandGolf.com, the club is working closely with local and regional courses and hotels to attract more visitors, especially from the UK.

What is the greatest challenge facing your club?

As with other clubsthe key challenge is to increase/maintain membership numbers.

When is open week?The first open week will be held at Easter (March 26–April 2) and the second in the summer (July 21-29).

What are your green fees? €35-€40. Open day every Friday costs €30. Green fees have remained unchanged for the last three years.

Spectacular views of the Atlantic from the 13th hole at Strandhill Golf Club in Co Sligo.
Spectacular views of the Atlantic from the 13th hole at Strandhill Golf Club in Co Sligo.

8. Portarlington Golf Club (Laois)

“Our key goal for Portarlington in 2018 is to significantly increase theawareness and marketing of our top class, affordable golf club and course,” says Noel Dunne, the club 2018 president.

“We have a manicured, beautifully presented parkland course, located on the grounds of theoriginal Warburton Estate, and blessed with wildlife.”

What will be happening around the course? Significant investment in new machinery was made in 2017, and a 2018 course levy will be ring-fenced to provide for further course development and machinery.

Through the Sports Capital Programme, three new driving bays were installed in 2017, and it is hoped additional development and facilities will be introduced in 2018.

How is your membership drive? In a drive to address the membership age profile, special 2018 rates have been introduced for the 18-28 bracket (50% full sub reduction) and 29-35 bracket (40% reduction).

Any specific membership/other programmes? “Portarlington has developed a very good partnership with Mountmellick College,” says Dunne, “with two classes availing of coaching at the club.

We will also be holding our first Junior Open for boys and girls under 18 years of age from neighbouring clubs.” Great emphasis is placed on junior golf with weekend coaching onthe practice ground throughout the year.

Any innovative plans? A strategic plan is in process to take the club up to 2025. “Many of our efforts will also concentrate on the tried and trusted,” states Dunne. “For example, 2017 saw a very healthy increase in society golf and we intend to build on that.”

What is the greatest challenge facing your club?Falling membership numbers, kick-started by the recession and exacerbated by increased fluidity of membership between clubs, through competition and removal of signing-on fees.

When is open week? June 8-17. Visitors: €15. Open Day, every Wednesday. Visitors: €15.

What are your green fees? €20-€25. Societies €15-€20. These are considerably below 2009 rates.

Looking back down the 8th hole from the green at Portarlington Golf Club.
Looking back down the 8th hole from the green at Portarlington Golf Club.

9. Mallow Golf Club (Cork)

“Our key goal for 2018 is to increase membership,” says Denis O’Donovan, the competition secretary, “by getting people to enjoy our excellent facilities, namely the golf course, tennis and squash courts, bar and restaurant, and to continue to maintain our golf course to the very high standards it is renowned for.”

What will be happening around the course? Mallow will continue thedrainage work to enhance playability throughout the year as well as continuing to invest in course machinery. The recent successful application grant of €70k will be used for course upgrades.

How is your membership drive? The club’s excellent facilities attract members of all ages and provide an environment where people who wish to remain active in a less physically demanding sport can do so, having moved on from sports such as hurling, football, basketball, etc.

Any specific membership/other programmes? “The club’s strong juvenile element has led to the largest increase in membership in recent years,” states O’Donovan. “The juvenile committee will continue to work closely with our professional, Graham Conway.”

Any innovative plans? “The key focus is on further marketing to golfsocieties as well as enticing golfers to experience the course by playing in the weekly open competitions. Around the clubhouse the aim is to attract people to enjoy the catering facilities of our club.”

What is the greatest challenge facing your club? “To increase financial revenues,” says O’Donovan, “and to deliver our number one priority of maintaining the course and greens to a very high standard, for theenjoyment of members and visitors alike.”

When is open week? June 1-8 2018. Visitors €20. Gents opens every Wednesday and Friday.

What are your green fees? €25-€35. No increase on 2017.

The closing downhill par 3 at Mallow Golf Club.
The closing downhill par 3 at Mallow Golf Club.


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