A quick nine with Golf Ireland CEO Mark Kennelly

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A quick nine with Golf Ireland CEO Mark Kennelly

From left to right, Mark Kennelly, CEO, Golf Ireland, Fiona Scott, Transition Board member, Golf Ireland, Tim O’Connor, Chairman, Golf Ireland Transition Board, and Claire Kerlin, Senior Account Director, The Public House. Credit: Sportsfile

Ahead of Golf Ireland’s new identity reveal, we sat down with the Chief Executive Officer to discuss his own background in golf and his hopes for Golf Ireland 

 

1. We know you’ve worked in government but what drew you to the golf industry? 

I was very attracted to the ambition of this project in bringing golf together on the island. The all-Ireland dimension is important to me. Given what has happened in recent years with Brexit, I think the more initiatives that bring people together on this island in a non-sectarian basis can only be important. But the main reason is because I see huge potential. When we complete the transition at the end of the year, we’ll have a single governing body for golf which potentially unlocks a huge opportunity for the sport in this country. 

2. What is your background in the game of golf? 

I’m a wonderful golfer [laughing]. I’m a very average golfer! I’ve been a member of my home club at Killarney since childhood. My level of golf has fluctuated with my career. When I have time, I play a bit more but I haven’t had much time in recent years but I do love the game. 

3. Given the year’s 2020, is it fair to say that unifying men and women under one governing body was long overdue? 

It is but to be fair, the process that the two Unions have taken over several years to get this right has proven to be the correct approach. Other countries rushed the process and left some issues aside. What I see here is a very thorough, consultative and inclusive process. OK, it did take a few years to do it but we’re now in a stage of implementation, we’re not negotiating what the future is going to look like, we’re delivering it. 

4. Golf Ireland has made no secret of the importance of a volunteering Sub Committee to the future of this project. How have volunteers from both the GUI & ILGU embraced the new ideas of Golf Ireland? 

Volunteerism is the lifeblood of golf so we have to maintain it and ensure it flourishes. One of the realities of Golf Ireland is that some of the structures are going to be rationalised where we have multiple structures for men and women at regional and interprovincial level. That’s going to be streamlined a lot and we’re looking at the structures around that to make sure volunteers have the outlets they need to continue to be involved, and ultimately, we want more volunteers. We’re going to be running extensive interclub competitions, more international tournaments, hosting more EGA events over the next decade. We have the Ryder Cup in 2026, the Irish Open is one of the top tier events on the European Tour. It’s an exciting time but we need the help of our volunteers to ensure these things are successful. 

5. What message did you want to send with this new identity? 

Some organisations try to overcomplicate and achieve too much with a new brand. We decided to focus on the essence of what we’re doing here which is bringing people together in golf and that’s it in a nutshell. 

6. European Tour had a big rebrand at the end of last year aimed at Driving Golf Forward – how do you think Golf Ireland can do the same? 

I think the fact that we’re bringing all our services under one roof is a critical first step. We need to become more efficient in the way we support clubs and one of the things we’re committed to is enhancing our support to clubs in terms of participation, club support, club development and club governance. Most clubs want to grow, they want to expand their membership, they want to bring in new people and we’re going to help them achieve that. 

7. Golf is often burdened by tradition, particularly when it comes to capturing a new audience. How big an opportunity does Golf Ireland present in terms of granting you a blank canvas to do something different? 

I don’t think it’s quite a blank canvas because there is a great legacy, history and record of achievements there that we want to build on. The way I like to look at it, we’re making a new start but it’s not a standing start. We’re building on very solid foundations. We have the oldest golfing unions in the world who have made the very brave decision to dissolve themselves in favour of a new start, so I wouldn’t be leaving the legacy behind at all. I’d sooner use it as a foundation and learn from the very good things that have been done. When you look at Irish golf internationally, we’re a small country that does very well and that didn’t happen by accident. But the single organisation does create a new face for the sport. We want to create a culture where people feel welcome, where equality and inclusiveness is paramount. Most of us who play golf know what a fantastic sport it is so the more people who get to try it, the better. 

8. What are the biggest challenges in the industry that Golf Ireland will be aiming to tackle initially? 

We have a number of things we want to do, including developing a commercial strategy for golf. Without a doubt, the fragmentation has been a barrier to commercial partnerships so that’s going to be a big focus but more for next year than this year. Our focus this year is to make sure we get this project over the line. 

9. What would be your burning ambition for Golf Ireland? 

I want to play a part in having golf flourish on the island of Ireland into the future. Even though the challenge is big – participation numbers are falling internationally – but in a way we’re bucking the trend. We don’t have all of our affiliation numbers in for 2020 but at a very minimum it looks like they have stabilised, if not slightly picked up which is in Major contrast to the continuing decline of some of our neighbouring countries. The efforts that have been made through the CGI to support clubs and promote participation and development are definitely working. Creating a single governing body for golf in Ireland won’t remove all the challenges overnight, but I think it will be an enabler. 

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