Irish Sports Council chief executive John Treacy answered various questions about funding when he appeared before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee last Thursday.
Noting that Ireland leads EU per capita figures for registered golfers — albeit club memberships have been declining globally since the recession hit — the Waterford TD felt the Sports Council allocations for the GUI High Performance programme (€375,000) and Team Ireland Golf Trust (€139,000 “for 15 young pros”) “doesn’t seem like a lot of cash”; particularly when the latter had helped bring through the likes of Peter Lawrie, Shane Lowry and Michael Hoey since it started in 1999.
He wondered should greater grant aid be allocated given “how much effort is being put into young golfers in clubs, and the success that they’re achieving, including in the area we’re both from” — citing European amateur bronze medallist Gary Hurley and his West Waterford clubmate Seamus Power, who is currently on the eGolf Professional Tour in the US.
“People hear about some of these young pros being on Tour, even the Challenge Tour, and they think they’re making a boat-load of cash, and that isn’t the case. Many of them are really struggling,” said Mr Deasy, who was a member of the Dungarvan Golf Club team (along with Austin Spratt, Derry Kiely and Kieran Hogan) that won the All-Ireland Junior Foursomes title in 1985 — the year he took up a partial sports scholarship in the US.
Looking at Paul McGinley’s achievement in the recent Ryder Cup, on top of those of Padraig Harrington, he said “the enormous success that Irish golf has had internationally, it’s amazing. Absolutely amazing. Across America, across the world. When you think of golf, you do think of Ireland.”
Mr Treacy, who is a member of both Dungarvan and West Waterford Golf Clubs, said the High Performance programme is about putting coaching in place for top amateur players (at Carton House) and “making sure they’re exposed to international competition at the appropriate age.
“It has been hugely successful because the Rory McIlroys and the Graeme McDowells of this world... are a product of the GUI and their coaching systems and the coaches on the ground, the club coaches.” The criteria in place around this funding is Sports Council-approved, with the maximum grant available to amateurs being €5,000.
The Villierstown man explained that when players decide they’re going to go pro, there’s a c.€200,000 Golf Trust established by the Council (with backing from Fáilte Ireland and the commercial sector) — but “those young aspiring golfers have to meet criteria before they’re funded. So it isn’t someone turning around when they’re 18 years of age and saying ‘Oh, I’m going to be a pro’.
“What we want to be careful of is we don’t want young golfers turning pro too early. So if they’re going at the appropriate age, then the Trust kicks in.”
Asked by Deputy Deasy whether any pros had “slipped through the net... who did not get the grant and actually did succeed,” Mr Treacy said he didn’t think so.
“We have supported people for a long period of time, because it’s not like the other sports where you can tell after three or four years whether they’re going to actually make it on the world stage or not. Sometimes it can be five, six, seven years with the golfers and we’ve actually stood by a lot of them.”
He said that without that “€20,000 when you’re turning pro — and I would have heard it myself from the likes of Peter Lawrie — they wouldn’t have been able to do it... to meet their expenses when they go on tour... It is a journey. And it is difficult. But that funding does go a long way.”
The Sports Council chief concluded: “So a lot done but, I think, more to do. I agree with you Deputy Deasy. This is a sport where we can excel on the world stage and we have excelled and we need to make sure that we continue it and that we have the systems in place that can support young aspiring golfers that have the talent to perform at the highest level and make sure nothing gets in their way.”