Ivan Morris – I don't believe golf clubs are essentially a 'business'

Ivan Morris – I don't believe golf clubs are essentially a 'business'

Being named in the top-10 golf courses in Ireland by any international golf magazine means mega bucks judging by the green fees that Ireland's top ten can charge.

At an average green fee rate of €189 per round, it's a case of the rich getting richer and the poor staying where they are, or perhaps losing ground. Royal County Down charges £200stg on weekdays and Sunday afternoons. 

In high season, Royal Portrush's weekday rate is £150stg and £170stg at weekends. Portmarnock charges €200 during the week and €225 at weekends. Waterville's high season weekend rate is €170. Tralee charges €190 in high season while a game in Ballybunion costs €190.

The European Club has a high season rate of €200 and a winter rate of €100. County Sligo charges €165 on Saturdays and €145 Sunday to Friday. Lahinch is the cheapest, with a fee of €140 at weekends and €120 on weekdays.

These fees are charged while the vast majority of golf clubs in Ireland struggle to earn a €30-green fee. There are about a dozen ‘millionaire GCs’ raking in ‘fortunes’ from greens fees paid by overseas golfers agog with desire to play the game of their dreams on our best links courses.

Lahinch GC announced a profit of €510,733 for 2016 at its AGM. Every penny of it is due to a greens fee income of €1.82m. The profit was well earned and deserved.

Our overseas visitors have no complaints and look on it as good value. I do wonder, though, if a small portion of it could be syphoned off to help 'develop' the game in Ireland as a whole - beginning with the CGI/Team Ireland Fund?

After all, the free publicity gained from Ireland's Touring Pros on the PGA and European Tours is one of the reasons why overseas golfers want to play here. The heroics of four Irishmen, Harrington, McDowell, Clarke and McIlroy in winning golf's majors cannot be underestimated as the enticement in golfers wanting to come here.

Wouldn't it be a "decent" effort to donate (voluntarily preferably) a little of that profit to the game as "sponsors" of Team Ireland so the supply of Irish pros playing at the highest levels does not peter out? Less than €95K distributed to our aspiring touring pros this year is laughable when compared to the £12-million England Golf gives out.

Maybe Lahinch should also consider doubling or trebling its annual budget for the South of Ireland Championship to turn it into one of the top amateur events worldwide? It has the potential. It has the goodwill and it has the tradition.

I'm convinced the South would attract a coterie of top golfers from overseas if they were subsidised (as is done in other countries to attract the best) and the tournament was run in the attractive 54/16 format.

I mention 54-holes of stroke play because I have been told many times on my travels that overseas golfers won't come here for less than a guaranteed 54-holes of stroke play because it is what they are used to. 54/16 elevates the WAGR-points content while the Irish tradition of mano et mano, match play contests is retained.

If all of the 16-qualifiers were given €400 (or thereabouts) as a 'prize' to cover travel expenses, the opportunity to play at such a historic and highly thought of venue would be hard to resist. What a tournament that could be!

Running a pre-qualifier midweek for anyone up to 3-handicap (like the West does) would be an atmospheric addition and a supplementary money-spinner too. The South could be a weeklong jamboree of top class golf, which is what it used to be as far back as the 1890s.‬

There has been very good management at Lahinch where a lot of money was invested in clubhouse and course redesign & reconstruction. It has paid off with an impressive march up the world rankings.

The town has benefited greatly but it could be even better if Lahinch became a target destination for the world's top amateurs.

I don't buy into the idea that GCs are essentially a 'business' with a 'product' to sell. A GC should serve its members and promote the game. What better way to promote golf than by running a world-class championship?

5% of the profits from a dozen sources would boost the CGI/Team Ireland Fund threefold. The Government and taxpayer would be off the hook and the GCs who benefit most from Tourism Ireland's Advertising Budget would no longer have the finger of jealousy pointing at them for failing in their duty to help develop the game and produce golfers of note.

Rory McIlroy is a product of Holywood in Bangor; Padraig Harrington learned the game at Stackstown; Darren Clarke grew up in Dungannon; Shane Lowry at Esker Hills. The exception (but only to some extent) is McDowell who developed his game at Portrush while a member of Rathmore. None of those lads learned the game at 'big' clubs.

What world performer has Lahinch, Ballybunion, Tralee, Portmarnock or Royal County Down ever produced? I appreciate that statement won't win me too many friends and influence the 'right' people even if it is true because in Ireland the reaction to criticism by 'authority' is almost invariably to 'play the man and rubbish his character' instead of giving the 'message' fair consideration.