Red-letter day to trigger seismic change for golf in Ireland
The time has come for GUI and ILGU to cease to be and pave the way for a new body
Majority votes from delegates this Saturday will see the end of two eras, with the GUI and the ILGU ceasing to be and, in their stead, a new governing body for golf in Ireland being formed. Photograph: Inpho
History beckons, truly. A process which has gone on longer than that Brexit mess across the water will reach - surely - its desired destination without any speed-bumps this coming Saturday when the Golfing Union of Ireland and the Irish Ladies Golf Union will, at separate meetings, one at the Knightsbrook Hotel in Co Meath and the other at the Red Cow Hotel in Dublin, vote for change.
In, finally, moving with the times, the GUI and the ILGU will put the same proposal to clubs. In this case, it is not like turkeys voting for Christmas. Majority votes from delegates will see the end of two eras, with the GUI and the ILGU ceasing to be and, in their stead, a new governing body for golf in Ireland being formed. It would be a major shock if Golf Ireland - the new name - doesn’t come into being!
Let’s have a little history lesson first to understand just exactly how seismic this change will be. The GUI was founded in 1891, making it the oldest national golfing union in the world; the ILGU was founded two years later in 1893, and celebrated its 125th anniversary last year.
Further context can be given in that the two remain the last national bodies in the world to govern by gender: South Africa recently brought their two bodies together to form one national union, while Wales (2007), England (2012) and Scotland (2015) have all take similar roads inside the past 12 years.
So, now, the time has come for the GUI and the ILGU to cease to be and pave the way for the formation of a new body, Golf Ireland. It won’t be a merger. It would be a brand new body, one - it is hoped - that will take golf on the island into the future with a blank canvas to work on. That Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland (who provide funding based on a mixed gender governance structure) have gently, and not so gently, encouraged the process, is also taken on board.
That process for changed started as far back as 2015 with discussion groups, submissions, proposals and meetings with other sporting bodies in Ireland - among them the GAA, rugby, hockey - so that the new organisation could hit the ground running learning from other major national bodies. Sinéad Heraty, the chief executive of the ILGU, pointed as the process developed, “if we came together, we would be a lot stronger.”
The picture which has been painted for clubs and delegates is of the two becoming one, gaining rather than losing from starting anew.
The number of golfers in affiliated clubs has dropped from 220,000 in the mid-2000s to a current level of just over 180,000. The decline has been arrested but the challenge to grow numbers again will - if the votes on Saturday go as expected - fall on the new body, one which has sent out a strong message of inclusivity and being contemporary.
As the last two separate governing bodies for golf divided across gender lines, the days of the GUI and the ILGU are, quite literally, numbered. Saturday - January 19th - should be a red-letter day. As the former US President Thomas Jefferson put it, “I prefer the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” The GUI and the ILGU disappearing to allow the emergence of GI should provide for such golfing dreams on this island.