Below is an abbreviated version of the speech PPUI President Mervyn Cooney gave to delegates at Convention in the Abbey Court Hotel Nenagh on Saturday February 25th 2017.
Despite the fact I held this office from 1998-2000, I found my return to the Chair a little intimidating. Many things have changed since I left the national administration stage and it took me some time to read myself back into the position of President. I thank my colleagues on the NEC for their support in bringing me up to speed on all issues.
The year started with having to deal with some legacy issues which I felt were important to sort out at the earliest opportunity. I must thank all sides involved for agreeing to meet with me to discuss the issues and more importantly for attending such meetings with an open mind, some that makes arbitration that bit easier. I am delighted to say the issues were brought to a satisfactory conclusion. In every organisation there will be occasions when disputes arise and sometimes views will become very entrenched. However for an organisation our size it is incumbent on us to explore every avenue in trying to find a solution. It is also equally important for all of those holding office at all levels to be mindful of our responsibilities as leaders of our sport to be measured in what we say and do. We must also keep in mind at all times our actions could have on the image and viability of our sport.
Our online Handicap System took up a considerable amount of time during 2016. I met and had telephone conversations with a large cross section of our sport. I listened intently to their views and those of the Handicap Committee along with my fellow Officers. We all agreed changes were required to some parts of the system and that the Union would need to be able to, if required, make further changes as the year progressed. To facilitate this, it was felt an EGM would be necessary which was held and proved to be a most positive meeting. I share concerns about possible abuse of the system which seems to be very common in Golf if recent comments from within the GUI are accurate. I am confident that our members will ensure proper policing of the system however. If this doesn’t happen I want to give Convention a commitment that a zero-tolerance policy will be adopting to those found guilty of manipulating the system to their advantage. I have already noted a few instances where players returned scores that were not in keeping with their normal playing ability. I would appeal to any member guilty of this in 2016 to correct this at their earliest convenience. To members I would say to refuse to sign a competitor’s card if you believe that they were just playing to get their 0.1 back. This system is a major change for the PPUI where for years we simply had a handicap adjustment system and not one which reflects a person’s ability to play the sport competitively. I look forward to continuing the conversation on handicaps with our clubs in 2017.
The continued drop in registrations is of major concern. It was hoped that we might have reached the bottom but unfortunately the trend continues. We lost a few clubs in 2016 and this did not help our numbers. I know a lot of other sports including Golf continue to experience a drop in membership but it is very important that we embark on a programme of activities which will attempt to address this downward trend. At the same time we want a programme that will also see a positive growth figure in the years ahead. This continued decline in numbers has had a major impact on our finances and while we show a reasonable reserve balance it prevents us from embarking on promotional activities. The accounts for the year ending 2016 show a surplus but that is due to interest accrued on one of our investments which matured in the past year. Some of this extra income was set against the televising of the National Matchplay, the funding of our successful World Cup defence and promotional activities for the National Strokeplay.
I think it is correct to invest some of this extra income in in promoting our Sport through TV and allowing our players to show their talent at the highest level internationally. We need to promote our major Championships and try to attract spectators and their families through the gates to showcase what an excellent product we have. In the absence of a major sponsor it will fall back on us to fund. In that scenario the only people who can fund this sport are ourselves. This of course will be costly but as the cost of running and proactive NEC will continue to rise, we will have to look at increasing our revenue base. I know increases are never popular but is the future of organised Pitch & Putt in Ireland worth and extra €5 or €6 per year? This is the question that we have to ask ourselves and I look forward to engaging in the conversation on the issue as the year goes on.
In an effort to encourage clubs to try and attract more members the NEC have decided to offer some reward to clubs who increase their membership in 2017. When a club reaches its 2016 total adult membership any further registration will attract a €5 fee therefore giving the club an extra €8 in income. I am delighted to see clubs promoting the sport through Facebook and offering incentives to people who wish to join. I also congratulate those that have shown growth figures in 2016, a just reward for promoting our sport in their own areas. I would appeal to all clubs to engage with our Development Manager Paul Hayes. He will help you devise a membership plan and any other administrative needs that you may have. I would also encourage clubs to liaise with our Technical Officer Ger O’Connor. Whose expertise in course maintenance is second to none. He is only too willing to advise on any issues relating to Greenkeeping. In the coming weeks we will be in a position to announce details of an educational partnership with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Ireland that will support clubs and the individuals who maintain their courses.
On the Championship front both our Provincial and National Competition Co-Ordinators give you plenty of detail in their respective reports. I am very pleased with the work done by both the provincial and national sub-committees whom I appointed at the start of the year. I believe that they brought some new and some very imaginative thinking to Competitions. The work of the Championship Review Committee was very commendable also with the revision of the competition calendar long overdue and the ideas of extending the season a very positive move. I am disappointed that the best efforts of our Sponsorship Committee, we failed to land a major sponsor that we had all hoped for. This may not be achievable in the short-term however with the struggle to raise both our numbers and public profile. The task of hosting competitions is proving to be a burden for many clubs and is resulting in reduced applications to host our events. In the past the PPUI grant aided clubs hosting National Championships however this now does not appear to be acceptable to Sport Ireland. Having given this matter careful consideration, the NEC took a decision to increase entry fees to competitions. It was agreed that €2 of this increase will be considered as a levy and will go into a fund to be distributed amongst host clubs on a proportional basis. I don’t see this causing too much of a burden on players over the season and will be a good example of Pitch & Putt funding itself.
Boosting the number of children playing Pitch & Putt is essential if we are to rejuvenate our sport. We have an ever-ageing membership and we need to encourage more children to breathe new life into our clubs. We read almost daily that Golf is suffering because it takes too long to play a round and golfing authorities around the globe are looking at new formats and promoting Nine Hole events to give it a new image to fit the pace of modern life. We already have that formula and it’s called Pitch & Putt. I think we can learn from what the golfing authorities are doing in relation to children in Golf, the type of competition available and the use of handicaps in certain competitions to give everyone a chance to compete and enjoy. We need an effort from clubs to attract children into our sport. I realise that this takes a lot of time and you need very dedicated people. Many might have been frightened by comments in the past about the safety of children which may have been somewhat exaggerated. The PPUI is very committed to implementing policies on child safety and will advise clubs on their obligations in relation to these. We offer support to every club working with children and should any club require further information I would encourage them to contact Paul Hayes.
In 2016, we organised a National Matchplay for U-16’s which was the brainchild of our Youth Officer Noel Collins. Noel has brought a new enthusiasm to Juvenile Pitch & Putt and is a very dedicated officer. I intend to offer him full support in his endeavours to rebuild our U-16 Section and I encourage all clubs who wish to consolidate the future of our sport to support Noel in the work he has and will continue to do. We are now just embarking on a new Strategic Plan, perhaps the most important planning we have ever undertaken. The strategies and policies identified will have a major impact on the future of the PPUI. I am thrilled that John Manning has agreed to chair the Committee. He brings an abundance of experience and knowledge of both Pitch & Putt and strategic planning to the table. Under his chairmanship I believe the PPUI will be well served and John is joined by five other people all of whom are strong minded people and will not be afraid to express their views and keep the future of our sport very high on their agendas.
In conclusion, I offer my sincere thanks to my officers for their support and dedication to their roles our host clubs who made me feel very welcome and to County/Regional Boards and clubs for their encouragement. Thanks to Anne Tighe and Michael in his role as General Administrator for the smooth running of the office and once again thank Paul for his work as Development Manager.
My best wishes to everyone involved in our sport, both players and administrators and I look forward to working with you all in the season ahead.
PPUI Honorary President
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