Forget about the millions earned by Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley.

If you really want to gauge the true strength of Irish golf, take a look at what the lesser lights have achieved with financial backing from the Team Ireland Golf Trust.

Funded by the Irish Sports Council with the help of private backers, the Trust will have paid out over €2 million to around 55 players over eight years when the 2007 grant recipients are announced next month.

But it remains to be seen if the scheme has succeeded in its goal of helping Irish players establish themselves on the world's professional tours.

This year, Ireland will have just seven players with full European Tour cards with Harrington, Clarke, McGinley and Graeme McDowell joined by Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie and Gary Murphy - three fewer than last year.

Add to that the fact that 37 Irish hopefuls went to the European Tour School last year with zero success and you can understand why the Trust will be taking a long hard look at the heaving pile of application forms on their desk in 11 days' time.

Austin Mallon, a member of the Irish Sports Council's 'High Performance' committee, admits that hard questions will be asked before the Trust allocates a budget approaching €280,000 this year.

But he is convinced that the Trust is achieving its goal of finding successors for the likes of Harrington and McGinley on the world's golf tours.

He said: "Every year we look at the applications and this year we will be looking a little bit closer at them.

"The Trust has to look at whether people are progressing and if people aren't progressing there is a question asked. But that's normal and people still need support.

"Overall, we feel the Trust has worked so far, but golf is not an exact science and performances can vary from year to year.

"We were successful in helping Peter Lawrie, Gary Murphy and Damien McGrane to establish themselves and they would attest to that.

"Yes, it is financial support but we also provide them with sports science and medical support, which is similar to what athletes on the carding scheme get.

"The players also got free access to Carton House Golf Club in Maynooth and it was used extensively by some players because of their location.

"The medical services are co-ordinated in Limerick and the take up of that has been patchy and we need to educate them players in that respect. In general we are actively looking a ways of improving the scheme, as we do every year."

Players such as Lawrie, Murphy and McGrane have now firmly established themselves on the European Tour with the help of nearly €300,000 in grants between 2000 and 2004.

And Mallon is hopeful that the next generation of players such as Stephen Browne, Michael Hoey, Colm Moriarty, Justin Kehoe and Brian McElhinney can take up the baton and follow them.

The money for the scheme is provided by the Irish Sports Council with businesses such as 151 Ltd (€63,500) and O'Callaghan Hotels (€10,000), and major organisations such as the European Tour (€30,000) and Failte Ireland (€72,000) stumping up the remainder of the annual budget.

Supporting the women's game has always been at the core of the Trust with players such as Suzanne O'Brien, Hazel Kavanagh, Aideen Rogers, Yvonne Cassidy and Rebecca Coakley receiving the guts of €325,000 between them since the first grants were announced at the beginning of 2000.

With the Solheim Cup coming to Ireland in 2011, big things will be expected from the ladies over the next few years with Martina Gillen and Claire Coughlan set to join the list of grant recipients this year.

Mallon added: "With golf, you have to be patient and people take a long while to come through. Even Ian Woosnam took three attempts to get through the tour school so you have to take a long term view of this.

"There is a review process every year and we will sit down with our chairman Pádraig OhUiginn and representatives from the ILGU, the GUI, the PGA Irish Region, Failte Ireland and the rest of the sponsors to look at it on a case by case basis."

Given the poor performances by the men in 2006, don't be surprised to see the ladies awarded massive grants this year.

(Where has all the money gone?)
Top 20 Team Ireland recipients (to January 2006 - before 2007 allocation)
David Higgins €113,485 (6 yrs) Wins 3 (All Challenge Tour)
Peter Lawrie €101,180 (4 yrs to 2003) Wins 2 (1 Challenge Tour, 1 Mastercard Q School)
Gary Murphy €101,180 (4 yrs to 2003) Wins 2 (Asian Q School, Mauritius Open)
Stephen Browne €100,000 (5 years) Wins 2 (All Challenge Tour)
Michael Hoey €95,000 (4 years) Wins 1 (Challenge Tour)
Damien McGrane €88,091 (5 years to 2004) Wins 1 (MasterCard Tour)
Keith Nolan €87,531 (4 yrs to 2004) Wins 0
Suzanne O'Brien €80,000 (4 yrs to 2005) Wins 0
Richard Coughlan €78,486 (4 yrs to 2004) Wins 0
Aideen Rogers €69,834 (3 yrs to 2002) Wins 0
Hazel Kavanagh €64,394 (5 yrs) Wins 0
Eamonn Brady €64,084 (6 yrs) Wins 5 (1 Canadian Tour, 4 EuroPro Tour)
Rebecca Coakley €60,000 (4 yrs) Wins 0
Colm Moriarty €50,000 (3 yrs) Wins 0
Patrick Gribben €43,091 (4 yrs to 2003) Wins 0
Sean Quinlivan €39,281 (4 yrs to 2004) Wins 1 (US mini tours)
Yvonne Cassidy €36,888 (3 yrs to 2004) Wins 0
Ciaran McMonagle €35,888 (4 yrs to 2005) Wins 0
Justin Kehoe €35,000 (3 yrs) Wins 0
Tim Rice €34,500 (4 yrs) Wins 3 (EuroPro Tour)
Padraig Dooley €29,000 (4 yrs) Wins 0