Harrington calls for unity

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington has called on Ireland's golfing bodies to work even closer together to get the best out of our young talent.

The Dubliner, 35, can't see the day when the GUI, ILGU and PGA Irish Region come together under the same roof.

But the European No 1 believes there needs to be even more co-coperation between the organisations that run Irish men's, ladies and professional golf if we are to continue to compete at the top level.

Harrington said: "If you looked at any business around the world, you have businesses that merge because of economies of scale.

"If the different golfing bodies in Great Britain and Ireland were commercial enterprises, one company would be buying out the other.

"I can't see the three bodies in Ireland becoming one, but they do need to continue their work together and come up with an overall better package.

"The GUI has done a very impressive job with their new headquarters at Carton House but the other unions in Europe are all playing under the same umbrella and it does, without a doubt, provide a benefit."

All three Irish bodies work together through Junior Golf Ireland programme to make sure that young talent does not slip through the net.

But a quick look at the European Tour Order of Merit, topped by Harrington last season, shows that we still have some way to go to keep pace with trendsetters such as Sweden.

Of the 345 players who earned cash on the European Tour last season, 13 of them hailed from Ireland and just seven have full cards.

England dominated the list with 82 money earners but the next biggest group was the Swedes, with 42 players getting in the money and 14 retaining their cards.

For a country with population of 9 million, Sweden has 600,000 affiliated golfers.

That's more than twice as many as Ireland and a testament to the work of the Swedish Golf Federation, which had just 7,000 players and 38 clubs in 1954.

Ireland still has one of the biggest golfing populations per capita in Europe with 250,000 golfers whacking away in a country of just over 4 million.

But Harrington believes that we need to do even more to bring out the best in our players.

He's taken steps of his own by helping to set up the Paddy Harrington Golf Scholarship scheme in memory of his late father.

James Monaghan of The Island and Birr's Bernard Quigley became the first two recipients last weekend and will study at NUI Maynooth and practice on the championship courses at Carton House.

US colleges have attracted Irish players like flies over the past 25 years with Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Philip Walton and Paul McGinley all spending time there.

Harrington has no objections to players heading Stateside to get experience but GUI President Tommy Basquille believes more players should stay at home rather than playing on what are often inferior golf scholarship in the US.

Harrington added: "Rory McIlroy is obviously quite different to a lot of other players. I would be telling any other 17 year old to concentrate on where to go to college and where to go on scholarship.

"The Paddy Harrington Foundation is exactly what my Dad would have wanted - anything to encourage young kids to get an education with their golf so they are not one dimensional and putting pressure on their golf.

"With the University of Maynooth, they are getting a top class education with the GUI academy at Carton House really adding to it.

"It is only just across the road from the campus so anybody coming here really will benefit both in golf and education and still enjoy their life.

"Having a scholarship here will encourage more good players to stay in Ireland which means they will compete against the other colleges, which will encourage more good players to go there on scholarship and it will all go round and round and everybody will get better because of it."

GUI President Basquille believes that education is vital for aspiring professionals - with Ireland a better option than the US in many cases.

He said: "I would advise any young players thinking of turning professional to secure their future initially through education.

"One has only to look at Padraig Harrington, who qualified as an accountant or Peter Lawrie, who graduated with a Commerce degree from UCD.

"Some of the scholarships that are offered in the States are third rate, both in a golfing sense and academically. Many are vastly inferior to what’s available in Maynooth college, for instance.

"The scholarship students at Maynooth college have access to the state-of-the-art facilities at the Union’s headquarters at Carton House thanks to the generosity of the Mallaghan family and we also have the services of Neil Manchip and other coaches."

Five of the top seven Irish players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking are studying at US colleges.

How many of those will make it on the pro tour remains to be seen.