The Golfing Union of Ireland might be celebrating its 125th birthday this year but the world’s oldest golfing union is not averse to embracing major change in its old age.
In conjunction with the ILGU and the CGI, it continues to plan for the creation of one governing body for the game on the island of Ireland over the next few years.
But in order to get to that point it has had to make some significant changes in its governance structures and following the appointment of its first CEO last year, delegates attending the Annual General Meeting at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links yesterday approved the creation of an 11-Member Board to replace the current 13-strong Executive Committee.
The Board, which will have responsibility for the ongoing fulfilment of the Union’s Strategies and Policies, will advertise next week for an Independent Chairperson and two Independent Members — both roles are unpaid and voluntary — in order to move the GUI towards a modern governance structure.
“The introduction of a board, with external competency-based members, is one of a number of steps that the GUI is taking towards creating a more open organisation” said Pat Finn, the former General Secretary of the Union who was appointed its first CEO late last year.
“The change will facilitate the more efficient conduct of the Union's business, through a board with a diverse, collective set of skills”
The Officers of the Union – President, President-Elect, Honorary Secretary, and Honorary Treasurer – will make up four of the 11 Board Members.
In addition, the four Provincial Branches of the Union will have each have one nominee on the Board. The provision for an Independent Chairman and two Independent Members is a significant departure for the Union and paves the way for greater diversity and accountability.
Ultimately the creation of a Board will optimise the leadership capacity of the Union, ensuring that the GUI’s Strategy and Policies can be delivered in an efficient and effective manner.
“One of the pillars of GUI’s Strategic Plan is one governing body,” Finn explained. “The first pillar was the appointment of a CEO replacing the General Secretary, which we did late last year.
“Another one which is in the pipeline is the establishment of a line of reporting between the main members of staff in the branch and the CEO of the organisation.
“Those are two of the three significant governance changes which were required to enable the GUI to be best positioned to implement its strategy and get on with its business.
“Today we established the board in the constitution and in March or early April there will be a Special General Meeting to appoint the first board with those external positions to be advertised early next week.
“Our strategic review process identified that the GUI was not seen as as open organisation, so not only does this opens us up, we are also recruiting competencies we don’t have.
“The two competencies we are looking at are ‘Strategy and Change Management' and Legal and the two position and the chairperson’s position will be advertised next week. So it will give a wider range of expertise to the board as unit.”
The GUI and the ILGU have already sat down for four meetings to discuss the creation of one governing body and while a basic roadmap has been discussed, no time frame has been put on its implementation though late 2018, when Ireland hosts the World Amateur Team Championships at Carton House, is considered a realistic goal.
Last week, the GUI announced a significant overhaul to the tournament conditions for the six amateur majors — the Irish Close, Irish Open Strokeplay and the four provincial championships — with a top-four finish at any one of the six guaranteeing that player’s place in the field for the next six.
The changes also place a greater emphasis on the World Amateur Golf Ranking to decide fields with the age limit for Mid-Amateur championships reduced from 35 to 30 in order to give those events “a shot in the arm”.
“This suite of changes that are being introduced follow consideration of feedback from players, clubs and other stakeholders,” Finn explained, adding that the Championships would be constantly reviewed.
Despite the improvement in the economy, the number of affiliated golfers dropped by just under 1,000 last year and while Honorary Treasurer, Rollo McClure, believes the worst is now over, the GUI levy will rise from November this year.
“Our total numbers are 130,000 from a peak of 177,000 eight years ago,” McClure explained. “Four years ago we made a decision to freeze the Union and Branch subscriptions and because of that we have created deficits in the last three or four years.
“This year the deficit is almost €500,000, and having agreed at last year’s AGM to freeze subs for 2016, the projected deficit for this year is just under €300,000.
“That is all under control but we have made a decision now to increase e subscriptions with effect from November 2016 by €3 in the south and £2 for clubs in the north.”
Getting families more involved in the game is the key to the future and very much a priority for incoming GUI President Kevin McIntyre, a Kilkenny native and long-time representative of Ardee Golf Club.
In other news, the GUI confirmed that Royal County Down will host the Irish Amateur Open in 2017 and 2018 with this May’s championship bringing Royal Dublin’s 10-year tenure to an end.
As for the matter of member clubs in Ireland reclaiming VAT paid on green fees following a European Court decision ruling that VAT should not have been charged with the exception of green fees sold to corporates or tour operators, the GUI had good news.
Following a recent VAT Tribunal decision in the UK, it appears that 90 percent of claims on payments made to the Inland Revenue since the beginning of VAT charges will be upheld and that the Revenue Service in Ireland is likely to adopt a similar policy though claims in the Republic will only be backdated to a four-year limit.