Irish professional golf might have picked up an incredible nine major wins since 2007, but with Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry the only players under 30 to win on tour, producing the next generation of tour players is clearly a huge challenge.
To that end, the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) is doing whatever it can in challenging economic times to back our up-and-coming professionals and give them a leg up in a cut-throat world.
On Wednesday, the CGI announced that 12 aspiring Irish golf professionals will split €94,500 in grant aid via the Team Ireland Golf scheme.
But while the grants ease the financial the pain of competing around the world, yesterday’s allocation is down €10,500 on 2016 and €155,500 less than the whopping €252,000 awarded to 29 players in 2004.
Funded by Sport Ireland and administered by the CGI, Team Ireland Golf has helped the likes of European Tour player Paul Dunne and PGA Tour star and Olympian Seamus Power to establish themselves on the game's two major tours.
Indeed, more than €3.5 million has been provided to golf professionals since the Team Ireland Golf scheme was introduced in 1999 with past recipients such as Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Michael Hoey and Damien McGrane all going on to win on the European Tour.
Team Ireland Golf’s goal is to increase the waning presence of Irish golf professionals on the various international tours. But it's difficult to compete with our wealthier European counterparts with a total budget of just €200,000.
"TheTeam Ireland grand is a big help for me," Hurley said. "There's a high cost involved for a young up-and-coming tour pro on the Challenge Tour. The travelling, food, accommodation and coaching, for example, are the core of a touring professional's life and they are neither free nor cheap. To have the support of Team Ireland is brilliant and their contribution goes a long way."
Smiling, Hurley added: "I also find it pretty cool to be part of Team Ireland and have their logo on my bag and clothing. Wherever you go in the world people love the Irish."
To make ends meet, plans are in place to raise more funds and a Team Ireland Golf Pro-Am, which takes place at Luttellstown Castle on Monday, 10 July – the day after this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart — is the first step on that road.
Still, for two-time Ryder Cup star Des Smyth, who was announced as Team Leader for Team Ireland Golf in February, getting more funding in place is crucial for Irish golf's future success.
“It’s important we get the finances in place," said Smyth, who did not have the benefit of a grant when he took the plunge into the professional ranks in 1974 but relied instead on an understanding bank manager and whatever cash he could make playing money matches in the off-season.
"It’s no guarantee of success, but it’s about giving these players a leg up and getting them on their way," added Smyth, who will mentor the Team Ireland players.
"I think it’s incumbent on us to make sure we have enough finance in place to support players coming through from the amateur to the professional ranks.
"There is a grey area for a few years where guys and girls need support if they’re going to try and break through and make it on tour because it’s a very tough place."
Jordanstown’s Stephanie Meadow is understandably delighted to receive a grant of €18,000, which is the highest awarded in 2017, as she tries to establish herself on the LPGA Tour.
“I am so thankful for the support I have received from Team Ireland Golf," Meadow said. "They have always had my back through the highs and lows. They enable me to focus on golf and achieving my goals. I will be forever grateful.”
What’s more important than cash, at least as far as the men are concerned, is that they will benefit from having more starts on the European Challenge Tour than ever now that Ireland funds a Challenge Tour event and has more bargaining power when it comes to seeking invitations for players without full playing rights.
West Waterford’s Gary Hurley and Moyola Park’s Chris Selfridge, both full members of the European Challenge Tour, will receive €14,000 each while Sunshine Tour School graduate Neil O'Briain gets €4,500 and two European Challenge Tour starts.
Newcomers such as Naas' Jack Hume, Ballymena's Dermot McElroy and Headfort's Rory McNamara – in addition to their grant allocations – will also benefit from the playing opportunities afforded to them by Team Ireland.
Hume — one of five Irishmen in the 2015 Walker Cup side with Hurley, Dunne, Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin — is guaranteed at least five starts on the Challenge Tour while McElroy has secured a minimum of three.
Former West and North of Ireland champion McNamara, who has been playing mainly on the Germany-based EPD Tour for the past few seasons, will have at least two starts.
Moynihan (€4,500) and Sharvin (€7,000) retain their funding support for a second year and get four Challenge Tour starts each while Derry's Ruaidhri McGee (€7,500), Waterford's Kevin Phelan (€ 7,500) and Royal County Down's Reeve Whitson (€4,000) complete the Team Ireland lineup in 2017.
As for Greystones’ Dunne, he no longer needs support having put the €20,000 he received to good use winning €478,000 on the European Tour alone since he turned professional in 2015.
As part of the support package, all golfers can avail of the world-class facilities at the GUI's National Golf Academy as well as free access to the services of physiologists, sports psychologists, bio-mechanists, physiotherapists and doctors, all of which is coordinated by the Sport Ireland Institute at Abbotstown.
But getting starts on tour is just as important and that’s not lost on John Treacy, Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, whose organisation played a major role in resurrecting the Irish Challenge at Mount Wolseley three years ago.
Keen to get even more government funding for Sport Ireland and for golf, Treacy said: "These supports, along with the vast experience and expertise of the new Team Ireland Golf Leader Des Smyth, means that we now have a strong system in place which will ensure Ireland continues to produce world-class golfers long into the future."
Team Ireland Golf grants 2017 (Challenge Tour starts)
- Stephanie Meadow €18,000
- Gary Hurley €14,000
- Chris Selfridge €14,000
- Ruaidhri McGee €7,500 (3)
- Kevin Phelan €7,500 (3)
- Cormac Sharvin €7,000 (4)
- Jack Hume €4,500 (5)
- Gavin Moynihan € 4,500 (4)
- Dermot McElroy € 4,500 (3)
- Rory McNamara € 4,500 (2)
- Neil O Briain € 4,500 (2)
- Reeve Whitson € 4,000