Ivan Morris Column - Ballyneety’s revival is remarkable

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
HAVING closed a mere four years ago, in its former guise of Limerick County Golf & Country Club, Ballyneety Golf Club has performed one the most remarkable and quickest rises from the ashes of grim despair ever.

HAVING closed a mere four years ago, in its former guise of Limerick County Golf & Country Club, Ballyneety Golf Club has performed one the most remarkable and quickest rises from the ashes of grim despair ever.

Only this summer, the course was reopened for play but it has enjoyed so much success that the Club was awarded the accolade of Munster Golf Club of the Year 2014 at an otherwise low-key, and dare I say it, depressing annual delegates meeting of the Munster Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland in Mallow last week. I’ll comeback to why I use the word ‘depressing’. For now, let’s be positive.

“Everyone at Ballyneety is delighted with this award,” said Liam Lawlor, one of the founders and also one of the prime movers behind the remarkable revival. “The members were despondent when the course closed and now that we have re-opened, it is a dream come true. 2014 was essentially our first year open with the full course in operation. We are all delighted it is back up and running and are looking forward to a great future.”

Why wouldn’t they be? What has been achieved took faith, hope, commitment, dedication and lots of hard work. Lawlor may be pointing the way forward for other Clubs when he revealed that Ballyneety won’t be sitting on its laurels and is already working with the philanthropist and former chief executive of the worldwide, Kentz Corporation, Hugh O’Donnell, and Limerick City and County Council to use part of the 183-acre site for a recreational park that will include archery, AstroTurf pitches and handball alleys.

There are 88 golf clubs in Munster affiliated to the GUI. Some of them in existence for well over 100 years but only a very small proportion have achieved in all of that time what Ballyneety has done in one year. Fair dues, especially to Head Professional, Donal McSweeney, whose energy and vision was vital from Day One.

Now, the depressing bit; at the meeting delegates were told that memberships of clubs in Munster have fallen yet again in this current year by just over 1,500 to 28,000. That’s a drop of 9,000 since 2008. In that environment, Ballyneety has worked wonders and has certainly done its bit to ‘reduce the deficit’ and help stem the tide of ‘exodus.’ Most golf clubs continue to find it difficult to retain members, let alone attract new ones. I believe the former is more important and easier to achieve.

I could write a book (let alone a column!) about the reasons why this is the case but nobody would read it. I’ll look out for my two pals Mutt and Jeff soon, I bet they’ll have a few interesting and thought provoking things to say about the matter? Golf administrators at all levels remind me of ostriches who prefer to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the most obvious of solutions to what is ailing golf.

To be fair, it is not only Golf Club memberships in Munster that are continuing to fall steadily. Worldwide, golf may be slowly returning to its former niche status because it is simply too expensive and time consuming a pastime for the masses.

Other items of interest were: a motion from Thurles GC dealing with the vexed question of the handicaps of golfers in classics or similar team events, which recommended stipulated reductions for each notable performance. It was overwhelmingly supported.

Chairman, John Moloughney (Templemore) described the start of 2014 as “eventful” with many clubs suffering storm damage in February. He highlighted the Union’s intervention by way of interest free loans. He also acknowledged the role of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland in promoting the game and developing club membership. To be honest, whatever CGI does passes me by. I see no evidence of dramatic (or otherwise) upsides since it was established.

The chairman congratulated individual players for their successes during the season, and the Munster clubs that were successful at national level, including Castletroy (winners of the Irish Junior Cup) and Spanish Point (winners of the Pierce Purcell Shield for the second year in a row.)

He thanked Lahinch Golf Club for their continued hosting of the South of Ireland and hoped that changes planned in the national schedule would result in more top players being available for the event, which to be blunt wasn’t an inspiring comment unless there is something lurking in the wings to be announced at a later date - a lot more than a change of the date is needed to ‘restore’ the South to former glories.

Honorary Treasurer Michael Murphy reported a surplus of €10,382, due mainly by an allocation of almost €15,000 from the GUI to offset the drop in membership levies.

I was also disappointed to hear that a motion to be eligible to compete in an Open Singles Competition at an away club, four cards at home must be returned in the year prior was watered down to three. It’s another cave in to the handicap builders. Depressing!