Revolution closer as GUI and ILGU agree on unified proposal
Pat Finn (CEO, Golfing Union of Ireland) and Sinead Heraty (CEO, Irish Ladies Golf Union). Picture: Golffile/CGI | Fran Caffrey

Pat Finn (CEO, Golfing Union of Ireland) and Sinead Heraty (CEO, Irish Ladies Golf Union). Picture: Golffile/CGI | Fran Caffrey

Ireland could become home to one of the most progressive and inclusive organisations in world golf after the GUI and the ILGU agreed to a proposal for the creation of one governing body for the game here.

It's taken two and a half years of discussions and consultations to agree on the proposal, which will be put to a vote of GUI and ILGU club members later this year.

If approved, the ILGU and the GUI will be wound down and the arduous task of transitioning to a new organisation, designed to make the sport more inclusive, will begin.

The GUI and the ILGU were founded in 1891 and 1893 respectively, making them the oldest governing bodies in world golf. 

Ireland now remains the only country in the world with separate organisations for men's and women's amateur golf and the proposed new body offers a golden opportunity to create something new and dynamic.

"If you look at the reasons why we started this process in the first place, you have to look at falling golf club membership, the profile and image of the game and why we are not attracting a younger generation into the game," said Sinead Heraty, CEO of the ILGU. 

"As long as we are set up as two separate entities separated by gender, you have to question if that reflects modern society. 

"In order for the game to become more attractive and shed that historic image, we as governing bodies have to change. And if you look at all sports and the way that golf has modernised worldwide, it is incumbent on us to start reflecting that.”

The new body, which is not a merger but a brand new organisation, is likely to lead to a shift in golf club culture as well as considerable economies of scale and additional investment.

"Clubs are saying to us, this is definitely the way forward," added Ms Heraty, just 24 hours after attending the launch by the R&A of the new "Women in Golf Charter", designed to increase the number of women and girls participating in golf.

”If golf is to become a more inclusive sport and recognise the role that women play within golf and recognise that golf is a family sport, it should be inclusive of everybody — men, women, boys and girls — so we can all enjoy this wonderful sport together. That's going to be the vibrancy of it."

Pat Finn, CEO of the GUI, echoed her comments and explained while it has taken two and a half years to get to this point, getting it done right is more important than getting it done quickly but hastily.

"This isn't a merger, but something new that will do the best job for the country after what has been a difficult time for the sport, especially club membership," he said. 

"England, Scotland and Wales came under some pressure to do it or else lose funding. 

"That was never a threat held over the GUI and the ILGU and so we had time to design, not a merger, but something new.

"That's why it's taken two and a half years to arrive at an agreed proposal. The reality is that we started with a completely blank sheet of paper. 

"Every stakeholder has things to lose and things to gain out of this and while it took a considerable amount of time to bring people on board for this journey, this is the right thing for the future of golf in Ireland over the next 100-plus years."

Information Packs on the proposed new organisation will be issued to affiliated clubs in the coming months, and the ILGU and the GUI will hold separate club briefings with their respective ladies and men’s clubs in advance of the vote date. 

"If the clubs vote in favour of the proposal, the transition phase is not an inconsiderable undertaking," Finn warned. "It involves the winding down of both organisations and the CGI and the creation of a new one.

"It's not going to be up and running in six months."