Delegates, Patrons, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is once again my privilege to address our Annual Convention.
The year under review saw us enjoy a small increase in our registered members despite the loss of a number of clubs. It is vitally important that we make every effort to build on that marginal increase this season. We have to be encouraged at the prospect of a new course coming on stream in Westport Co Mayo.
Hopefully this will come to fruition and help to build a stronger presence in Connacht. We have worked closely with Westport Golf Club on this project and I know our Technical Officer Ger O'Connor is very confident that they will affiliate very soon. As you have seen from Ger's report we have had discussions with Wicklow County Council about the possibility of building a new course in Arklow town. We will continue to explore other possibilities in the year ahead.
I want to congratulate clubs who are trying really hard to increase their membership through various efforts especially in the U16 area. I fully realise the enormity of this task and I understand how difficult a challenge it is. I would appeal to clubs to ensure all their members are registered with Pitch and Putt Ireland. We introduced an incentive scheme last year in relation to Juvenile registration and this did result in increased numbers. Pitch and Putt Ireland is happy to work with clubs and provide financial incentives from time to time. However we shouldn't have to do it to ensure that clubs are compliant with our Constitution. I trust clubs will have all members registered in 2020.
We made some significant changes to the distribution of prizes in our Championships and Competitions in 2019. I think it's true to say that Nett prizes were well received by all competitors. We also introduced a Scotch Foursomes for both mixed and non-mixed at both provincial and national level. While we experienced some problems with timings especially in Leinster. I expect this event to grow in the coming years and we will of course look at all aspects of this event for 2020. Competitions are reviewed in three reports to Convention and they have a complete breakdown of entries and prize winners.
We had a bad start to competitions when our planned live draw from Rocklodge was an embarrassing failure. We were rightly criticised although some of the criticism was a bit over the top. We hope to continue with a live draw for our National Matchplay in 2020 and I am confident we can get it right. We also had problems with missing medals, which was again embarrassing. We have put procedures in place which hopefully will ensure this will never happen again. I would like to thank the Ladies in Munster for their understanding and I hope they enjoyed the belated presentation in Templemore.
Following conversations with Declan Sheedy, Chairman of the Ladies & U16 sub-committee we have agreed to divide this committee into two separate sub committees. Declan will continue to chair the Ladies Committee and Liam Leahy will chair the U16 Committee; I will meet with both chairmen after this Convention to discuss their ideas. The original committee has made a very positive contribution to our sport during its tenure and I look forward to working with them into the future.
Fixtures continue to be a burning issue for our sport with so much activity having to be condensed into 6 or 7 months. We announced in 2019 that we were undertaking a comprehensive review of all fixtures, this is very much ongoing and we hope to have a proposed calendar of events for the 2021 season published mid-year. I want to thank individuals who produced a calendar for 2020 and I very much appreciate their input and I thank them for taking the time to do this. I know I came in for criticism for failing to make the changes for 2020 but I honestly felt it was short notice for clubs many of whom were being asked to host events on Saturdays rather than Sundays.
The new proposals will see the NEC rather than Boards decide fixtures, and clubs in some cases will have to alternate between Sat and Sun for their Scratch Cup, for example if you are on Sunday in 2021 you will be allocated Saturday in 2022. We hope this will avoid local fixtures clashes and give some of the smaller attended Scratch Cups an opportunity to increase numbers. I am sure the proposed 2021 calendar will lead to much debate, but I think everyone is agreed that we need change.
There has been a lot of discussion around the Gents grades, and in particular about the senior grade with many citing the case for the players playing off 2 and 3 in this grade. I think we are all agreed that this problem does exist and it is very important that we address this issue. Some have put forward the idea of two senior grades but this may not be practical as the numbers in one especially would be rather small and therefore difficult to organise separate events.
It may be time to consider four grades with the extra grade coming at the top end of the handicap and a realignment of the existing three grades. I do realise that this is a very important issue for many members and one which needs addressing. We are currently building a new version of the online handicap system where the standard scratch will be calculated on the scores returned for a competition, and not on a figure allocated prior to play. I would like to wait and see what adjustments arise from this change before we move to change grades.
It is fair to say that the online system has not been fair to our Lady members; this in part is due to the small number of Ladies playing in open events. It is proposed that ladies handicaps will be outside the new system and will revert to manual control for 2020. We hope to have the new system up and running very shortly, together with an upgraded website.
Pitch and Putt Ireland continues to work towards compliance with the Governance Code as set out by Sport Ireland. We have put in place most of the policies required and are currently working on the remainder so as to be compliant by the end of 2020. This has taken considerable time and effort and I want to thank everyone who has helped to make it happen. It's behind the scenes work that many would not know about. As a national governing body we have an excellent relationship with Sport Ireland and it is very encouraging that they have increased our grant allocation to €80,000 for 2020. Again I want to thank those who worked on our application. It’s quite a lengthy process, but a very important one for us.
This year we celebrate 60 years as the National Governing Body of Pitch and Putt in Ireland. This is a milestone anniversary we should take pride in. We have arrived here thanks to the efforts of so many great people involved in every Club throughout this country. On behalf of the current NEC I want to thank you for your commitment to our sport. I also want to acknowledge the work of my predecessors and those who served both at Central Council level and latterly as NEC members. Your hard work and guidance has ensured that we are financially sound and while not perfect we are a good example of a well run NGB.
I want to thank the Clubs who hosted our Provincial and National Championships and Competitions, I really appreciate your commitment to our sport. I also want to thank our County and Regional Boards, again your efforts are very much appreciated. I know some Boards found it difficult to fill positions this year but I think it says a lot about our sport that people did come forward to fill those positions.
We depend a lot on social media to promote our sport and we have to accept we live in a very technological age, but I would ask people to be kind to the volunteers who help run our sport when writing on Facebook or other social media platforms. Some people may be able to handle personal criticism, publicly voiced, but others may not be so strong.
In conclusion I want to offer my congratulations to our hall of fame recipient, and our number one ranked players who will receive their awards later today, and to thank Vincent Allen for an unbelievable contribution to our sport over the past 50 years.
I wish to express my thanks to our staff past and present and my NEC colleagues for their help and support over the past year.
Thank you very much and best wishes for a successful 2020.
Pitch and Putt Ireland President
Saturday February 22nd