Address to Convention Saturday March 9th, 2019 – PPUI Honorary President Mervyn Cooney
I am honoured and privileged to once again have this opportunity to address the PPUI Convention as your President.
At the outset I want to pay tribute to the great servants of our sport who have passed from this life since we last assembled. Some really great people from throughout the country have passed to their eternal reward, and we think of them all today.
I am sure you will forgive me if I mention my departed colleagues Helen and Liam and our esteemed and much-loved Patron Eamonn. It is indeed difficult to get used to the fact that they are no longer with us, I remember them as three of the most hardworking and loyal colleagues one could ever ask for. Eamonn's contribution to the PPUI was immense, his wisdom in times of trouble was sought by many including myself on quite a few occasions and he was the man who encouraged me to get involved in administration at national level at the 1988 Convention, we will not see his like again.
The sudden passing of Helen on Christmas Eve was an unbelievable shock to us all within the sport. Helen gave tremendous service to our Pitch & Putt, her dedication to Lakeside and Tipperary was unparalleled. At NEC level as Registrar and in her position as Youth Officer she contributed in abundance. I know how much she was enjoying her new role, in fact she was just getting to grips with it when she was taken so prematurely. Helen always answered the call when it was needed and was a brilliant officer on the course on those big championship days. I shall miss her company, great wit, and that familiar chant of ‘Up the Premier’.
The death after a very short illness of our Vice President Liam was another body blow for our sport. I was honoured to have him as my Vice President as he was someone I had known for many many years, we understood each other's thinking and respected each other's views, which is so very important for the smooth running of the Union. Like Eamonn and Helen, Liam Sherry epitomized everything that was good about our sport. He was dedicated to his beloved St Bridget's and took so much pride in its maturity as a course and of its contribution to the PPUI. If you knew Liam at all you knew of his desire to have a score related handicap system devised for pitch and putt and he devoted so much energy to that cause for many years.
He was thrilled when Convention finally approved the system three years ago, along with Helen he was part of the sub-committee who put the proposal together and enjoyed sitting at the computer and checking returns from opens and scratch cups to see how the system was working. At this time, it is fitting to also remember former Presidents Frank Smith and Paddy Harkins and offer our sympathy to all the families involved and our sympathies to all families in our sport who suffered bereavements. The loss of such prominent people in a short space of time is a major blow to our sport, but we owe it to their memories to work even harder on behalf of Pitch & Putt.
2018 saw a return to a drop-in numbers which is very disappointing, in my address last year I was remarking that the tide may have turned as our numbers had steadied, but this is obviously not the case. In 2017 we offered a discount to clubs on registration fees when they reached their previous year’s total registration, I am not sure if this had an impact, but numbers did improve. If this is the case, then it may give credence to the view held by many that there are people in clubs who are not actually registered members of the PPUI.
This would be very disappointing if proved true, it goes against everything our sport stands for. The impact of falling numbers might very well damage the excellent relations we enjoy with Sport Ireland, I would appeal to our clubs to ensure all members are registered with the PPUI as per our Constitution. I would also ask clubs not to advertise membership of the PPUI as an optional extra, the registration fee must form part of your membership fee.
I also want to remind clubs of the requirement to adhere to our Constitution on all matters. There have been numerous breaches in the last year relating to competition formats and participation by non-members and blatant breaches of our amateur status. These or some of these may be down to lack of knowledge of our constitution or the worst-case scenario of blatant disregard for it. I do hope the latter is not the case.
It is very important to remember that our constitution is not available as an ‘A La Carte’ option, we must buy into it completely. There is always the opportunity for clubs to put forward motions to Convention seeking change to parts of the constitution that they feel should be changed. As President of the PPUI together with the NEC I have a duty to uphold the constitution and I must advise clubs any breaches of our constitution will have to vigorously investigated.
In a year which saw a significant drop in registration our participation in both the European Team Championship in Urduna and the hosting of Catalonia for the Ladies & U-16 Challenge, it is no surprise to see all of these put a strain on our finances. Despite this loss I honestly believe it was right to travel to the Basque Country and regain the European title and place us at the centre of International Pitch & Putt. I want to congratulate our successful team and its management and to thank those who supported it especially those who gave financial support Balon Sportswear, Dunnes Stores and Paul Griffin (The Drain Doctor).
The Catalan Challenge at Seapoint where this time our team was comprised of Ladies and U-16 players was a brilliant occasion and attracted a good gallery despite being played on a Tuesday. The opportunity for Ladies and U-16 players to play for Ireland is very important, those who were fortunate enough to make the team really enjoyed it and of course winning added to the enjoyment. I want to thank the Seapoint club for hosting in such a wonderful way and to Pat Greene who generously sponsored the tops for our U-16 team.
It is difficult to fund teams travelling abroad this is something we will have to look at. I know that in other sports, players have to fundraise to cover the cost of their participation, while this is not necessarily ideal it may have to be looked at to ensure we stay within budget in the years where we take part in International events. We will need to look at every aspect of our budget to ensure that we are running a financially effective sport. I intend to conduct this in the coming months together with my NEC colleagues and the honorary auditor.
On a positive note our finances received a boost recently with the announcement from Sport Ireland that our grant is increased from €63,000 to €75,000 this year, with prudent management this should help us return to profit in the current year. I recommended to Convention last year that we increase the registration fee to €15 for 2019. I put this forward following our annual meeting with our Auditors, it was too late to be included as a motion on the agenda and therefore clubs didn't have a chance to discuss this increase. I know this was a cause of much concern to our late patron Eamonn and he raised the matter with me on a number of occasions.
On one my visits to him during his illness I promised out of total respect for him I would not proceed with the increase in 2019 but move a motion at this year’s Convention to bring in the change in 2020. I know he was very happy that with that decision, just a pity he is not present today to see it on the agenda.
The continued decline in numbers and as a consequence a decline in participation in both Ladies and U-16 is of such concern that I deemed necessary to appoint a subcommittee under the Chairmanship of Declan Sheedy. This committee have put together a comprehensive report and I am delighted that Declan is going to speak about some of its findings later in the day. The NEC is also asking Convention to allow us to implement findings from this committee if they require constitutional change.
On the development side we continue our efforts to use every opportunity to promote our sport and try to attract new members. The good news is that through the efforts of our clubs we managed to attract over 1,200 first time registrations, but we managed to lose over 1,500. I am sure there are many factors at work here and varied reasons why this happens, discovering them is proving difficult. Paul Hayes continues to make contact with commercial course owners, Pitch & Putt societies and councils to promote the benefits of PPUI affiliation.
I am delighted to say he successfully worked with O’Connor’s pitch and putt society who play out of Elm Hall Celbridge to affiliate for 2019 Paul will elaborate on other development work in his report to Convention and our progress on the Governance Code which we hope to comply with by the end of 2019.
Steven Enneguess continues to introduce the sport to many hundreds of children throughout Ireland with our schools programme. There is a huge response from school principals and teachers for this programme and we compete successfully against the more mainstream sports for time in many schools’ sport curriculum. We fall back somewhat with the response from our clubs, when Steven leaves the area. I appreciate the difficulty clubs have in getting volunteers to help but unless a special effort is made, we will not succeed in seeing more young people play our sport.
There is every chance that if we are successful in attracting children to Pitch & Putt, we may also get some parents to take up the sport also. I think it is important to make some changes to how we interact with our U-16 members; we need to provide more coaching more targeted and different types of competition. It is time to look at changing our rules and award a handicap to our U-16 members when they reach 10 years of age, so that they have an opportunity to compete regardless of their ability.
We need to have Nett prizes in our under 16 competitions at all levels, this in turn will also allow a much more transparent process when it comes to awarding an adult handicap and avoid endless debate at County Board meetings when an application comes before them. We will work closely with the Ladies and Juvenile subcommittee to implement their findings.
We continue to monitor the Online Handicap System, it is heartening to see so many clubs using the system on a regular basis. In a recent survey we have broken down the details of every club’s involvement and we will be following this up in the weeks ahead. It threw up some interesting information including the fact that a small number of clubs including some prominent clubs have never entered a competition into the system.
This is not only unfair to those who are using the system. but also, to their members who may be denied opportunities to increase their handicap. In the coming weeks the return period will be changed, and competition returns will have to entered on the Wed after the event ends. This will prevent players from playing off an incorrect handicap after perhaps being cut the previous weekend. We will also have a report on every player in the system which will give a recommended handicap for that player, this will be of enormous help when a club applies to have a player’s handicap reviewed.
Our Competitions were pretty well supported in 2018 and we had some fantastic finals. It is essential to get as much media exposure as possible in the lead up to our finals, this not only promotes the sport but also the venue itself and may help in attracting more players into that club. I would like to thank Jason O’Connor who has worked very hard at doing this during the last few years.
In an effort to make entry as easy as possible and to avoid postal delays, we now allow on line entry from clubs. At the moment we don't have an online payment service but if it proves popular, we will proceed with one. In the meantime, clubs can still send in a cheque or use an EFT. We are also anxious to have on file a contact number for every member of the union, this will allow us to advise of upcoming events and closing dates and I appeal to everyone to cooperate on this matter.
During the last two years we have experimented with a couple of different type starts in competitions, we had a two tee start and of course the ‘Shotgun Start’. The main purpose of these was to give more people the opportunity to contest our finals especially in our Strokeplay. As an experiment they both work but they do not meet with universal approval. This year all our competitions will start at the first tee, this will lead to a drop-in numbers qualifying for the finals in some competitions especially in the National Strokeplay, but I think it is what the members in general want.
The change over to the calendar year as our playing year has proved difficult, while it is great from an accounting perspective and fits ideally into Sport Ireland ideals, it is not so practical for many of our clubs. In the last two seasons we have seen how it doesn't work. County Board Conventions being held with some clubs not affiliated, delegates who are not registered before the required date, winter competitions with non-affiliated clubs and non-registered players taking part. Later today I am asking that we change to March 1st to begin our year and ending on the last day of February, I believe it is in our best interest to do so.
As a sporting body we are fortunate in that we have to deal with very few appeals and the introduction of the Appeals Panel has streamlined the process. A recent appeal saw the NEC brought before the Appeals Panel, and if found in breach of the Constitution it could mean the collapse of the governing body. To avert such a scenario, I proposed to the NEC that we remove both Boards and the NEC from the appeals process. Today we are proposing to introduce a Committee Of First Appeal, this will be the first avenue of appeal for a club or individual member. The decision of COFA may be appealed to the Appeals panel and a further appeal can be made to Just Sport Ireland. If this motion is approved by convention the NEC will immediately set about appointing this committee and draw up terms of reference for it.
In conclusion I want to thank our Clubs for their dedication to promoting our sport, and those clubs who hosted with style and pride our Provincial and National events. I want to thank all the County and Regional Board officers for their time and dedication to Pitch & Putt throughout the past year, I know very well the time it takes, and the effort involved. Thank you to the players who supported our competitions and reached our National finals I hope you enjoyed the experience.
I want to thank my NEC colleagues for their support and assistance, to Michael thank you for all your help and advice and for my taking my daily phone call. I want to thank Ann for her work in the efficient running of the office and to Paul who continues to work extremely hard on development and meeting with Boards and Clubs on a regular basis. I want to thank the clubs and Boards who have nominated me for the position of President I will give it my very best effort in the coming year. I want to wish our clubs and boards every success in the coming season, with a sustained effort together we can rebuild the sport of Pitch & Putt.
Yours in Sport