The changing face of the governance of golf in Ireland sees two familiar ones exit the building with both ILGU CEO Sinead Heraty and GUI CEO Pat Finn stepping down after lengthy and successful years of service.
The historic vote unanimously passed to bring the GUI and ILGU together under the Golf Ireland umbrella from January, 2021 will go down as the pair’s highlight over a combined 38 years of service but it also marks the end of an era for the respective CEO’s.
“I’d say mixed emotions,” Heraty reflected having taken on the role of ILGU CEO in 2004. “I’m looking forward to the next phase but I recognise there’s a lot of change involved too.”
“I’ve received lovely messages. It’s been absolutely fantastic – people are very kind! You’d have to say the whole evolution of Golf Ireland and where we have got to on the proposal has been a huge success and something I will always be proud of.
“We have the foundation of such a strong organisation and the way we have worked together over the last three years to bring forward that proposal has been hugely significant. I think if myself and Pat didn’t work as well together, it wouldn’t be as good as it is and to get the overwhelming support of clubs has been huge.”
The historic vote wasn’t only passed but it proved a landslide victory with the ILGU 100% in favour of the proposal while the GUI secured 94% of the vote.
“Golf Ireland has to be the highlight, it’s certainly the biggest thing and its impact on the game is going to be massive in Ireland,” Finn reflected having spent 22 years at the helm of the Golfing Union of Ireland.
“The fact that the clubs voted in favour of the proposal to the degree that they did really underscored the effort of the group working towards Golf Ireland.”
Much has changed during Finn’s time with golf’s oldest union, not least a total restructuring of the governance of the GUI in 2014 that he credits as a key move in order to carry the Golf Ireland project through to its completion.
However, one thing has been constant in that time and that’s the commitment of both the staff and volunteers to the game of golf in Ireland, something that never ceased to amaze neither Finn nor Heraty.
“It’s a superb organisation with incredible human effort pulling together for the good of the game,” Finn says of the GUI.
“I’ve always been amazed by the extraordinary amount of work the volunteers do purely out of the love of the game and I’ll miss that, although I’ll try and keep in touch with a lot of them. I’ve enjoyed each one of my 22 years with the GUI. I’ve wonderful memories of great times with great people but I feel now’s the right time for change.”
For Heraty, arriving as the Celtic Tiger roared near the top of its lungs in ’04 to the purchase of ILGU HQ in ’06, to becoming a company limited by guarantee in ’09 and of course, the establishment of Golf Ireland all stand out in her mind but none of those achievements compare to her regard for the people she has met along the way.
“The real eye opener for me coming from a banking background was the passion of the volunteers involved,” she admits.
“There was a perception that the ILGU was a staid organisation but the minute that you started to work with the people involved, it very quickly became apparent that it was very open to change and very open to moving forward, and there were very good people involved in it.”
Both departing CEO’s reserve special words for the other. Although they are both driven individuals, in many ways their working relationship was a symbiotic one and much of their success depended on the collective effort.
“I’ve always got on brilliantly with Sinead, she’s a very, very serious operator,” Finn says.
“Sinead has always had the game first; the game of golf in Ireland has been the priority and she never flinched from that viewpoint. What’s good for the game was what Sinead worked towards, never what’s right for the ILGU or what’s right for women. It was always the game of golf and it was a real pleasure, and quite easy really, working alongside her.”
Unsurprisingly, Heraty thinks much the same of Finn, reflecting a dynamic that perhaps confused the odd lyric at times but was always singing from the same hymn sheet in the long run.
“He’s been fantastic,” Sinead says. “I have the absolute height of regard for him. He’s very forward thinking. We didn’t always agree as you would expect but you recognised that motives were right and ambitions were to do the right thing and I think you see that coming through the whole way on the Golf Ireland proposal. I couldn’t speak highly enough about Pat.”
From our point of view at Irish Golfer, we’ll be sad to see both Pat and Sinead go. It’s often said about people reaching the end of a particular journey but there is no doubt that you’ve both been incredible servants to the game of golf in Ireland. You’re leaving the place in a much healthier position than you each found it. Golf in Ireland is modernising as it needs to all the time and not only have you laid the foundations for a bright future but you’ve built a few floors for the next generation to thrive in too! It’s been a pleasure to deal with both of you and from everyone here at Irish Golfer, we wish you every bit of success and good health in the future.