It’s a cold and rainy afternoon in Killarney and Conor Ridge has plenty on his mind. The 29-year-old founder of Horizon Sports Management scours the scoring monitors for news of clients such as Michael Hoey, Noel Fox, Colm Moriarty and Justin Kehoe and the news is not great.
His fingers dance on the keyboard all through the afternoon as he keeps tabs on the progress of Stephen Browne, who is playing in the European Tour’s Scandinavian Masters. The news from Sweden was not good either.
Browne was going to need a flight home that night and it wasn’t going to come cheap. Ridge flipped open his mobile phone and got straight on the job. Just another busy afternoon in the life of a professional sports agent, taking care of every aspect of a golfer’s professional life without actually hitting the ball for him.
Horizon Sports has broken new ground in the sports business industry by becoming Ireland’s first full-service professional golf management company.
Ridge established the company earlier this year and it now boasts a stable of young Irish professional golfers, who would be seen by many within the game as having the potential to become the next generation of Irish stars on the global tour.
Hoey and Browne secured their European Tour cards through the Challenge Tour rankings in late October while the likes of Moriarty will have a chance to join them when he plays in the season-ending European Tour Qualifying School at San Roque.
Formerly employed by sports marketing company Drury Sports Management, Dubliner Ridge spent a number of years working with the European Tour in Ireland on events such as the Smurfit European Open and American Express Championships at Mount Juliet.
He also worked extensively on the planning team for the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club as well as managing a number of professional golf clients during his time there, including Colm Moriarty.
After leaving Drury Sports Management in December 2004, Ridge established his own management company – Horizon Sports Management – in January 2005.
“It became apparent that an opportunity existed for an Irish owned, Irish based management company to cater for the next generation of Irish touring professional golfers,” he said. “We have a habit of producing some pretty talented players in this country and I sensed that many of the guys coming through, would be happier being managed by an Irish management company than going with the UK or US based international operations.”
Horizon takes care of all of its players’ touring travel requirements, from air tickets and accommodation to car hire, courtesy cars and itinerary management. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Professional golf has undergone a revolution in recent years and having the right back room team in place can help a player save vital shots and carve a niche for himself in competitive, cut-throat environment.
Players have access to practice facilities in Dubai, Florida, Spain, Portugal, Qatar and South Africa. They consult physical fitness experts, diet specialists, statistical analysists, swing and short game gurus and equipment manufacturers.
Scheduling is hugely important and the company works with each player in planning and structuring the optimum tournament schedule throughout each season, based on the players’ category and exemption status.
For young, up and coming professionals, gaining a foothold on the European Tour is about taking advantage of every contact in the book when in comes to getting invites to non-exempt events.
“I’d be absolutely lost without Conor,” says Kehoe, who divides his time between the PGA Europro Tour and the Challenge Tour. Without a Challenge Tour card, the man from Shinrone is relying on invitations and while he didn’t take advantage of the 13 starts he did get, simply getting into events is a mini victory in itself.
The situation is slightly different for Browne, who decided to concentrate on the Challenge Tour late in the season when it became apparent that he would need a minor miracle to retain his European Tour card.
He won almost immediately, in Kazakhstan, to cement his place on the Challenge Tour next year and then went on to secure his card for the main tour as one of the leading money winners on the Challenge Tour circuit.
Next year he knows exactly what to expect on the European Tour and he is delighted to have an Irish company taking care of his affair, leaving him to concentrate on golf alone.
“I was with Chubby Chandler’s ISM before at one stage and it’s very difficult to build up a relationship if you are living in Ireland and your company is in England. So that’s why it’s great to have an Irish company behind you.
“Conor is a really hard working young guy and he wants us all to progress. We are all starting off at a similar level and there is a sense of team.
“I just want to play golf so it is very important for me to have someone looking after everything else for me.
“From travel and entries, sponsorship, clubs. I’m useless at that sort of thing so he organises it and I reckon that’s nearly worth a shot a tournament.”
Horizon also offers its clients media training and financial management services that run from public speaking tuition insurance, banking, taxation, pension, equity and property investment advisory and management services.
“We are really excited about the group of players that we have managed to build in our first year and there is a real team atmosphere building among the players in our stable,” Ridge explained. “It helps that many of the guys are good friends from their amateur days and while there is a keen competitive edge between them, they would find themselves rooting for each other more often than not.
“The career of a touring professional golfer can be a lonely road and if we can build a structure whereby each player can feel that they are part of a bigger team environment, then that can only help them in the long run.”
Getting sponsorship for players is a major part of the job and with at least two players on the European Tour next year, things are looking up for Horizon and its stable of young stars.