The effects of the financial crisis of the late 2000’s on golf in Ireland have been well documented, writes Paul Kelly. Clubs closed, membership declined and many people, including PGA Professionals fell on hard times.
The shock forced clubs to evolve, to adapt and although it has been a slow process, many of them have finally realised that the club professional can do so much more than simply sell mars bars and give a few lessons.
Stephen Fitzpartrick fits the bill of the modern PGA Professional who is now completely embedded within the organisational structure of his club, Enniscorthy.
The 43-year-old describes the Co. Wexford club as something of ‘poster boy’ for the ills that befell the golfing industry during the dark days of the recession but thankfully, some hard work, is turning things around.
“The year (2009) I got my big break so to speak and was appointed at Enniscorthy things started going downhill rapidly,” said Fitzpartrick. “In the space of five years, the club lost some 300 members. Business was very hard. It was a baptism of fire. My retainer was chopped in 2013 and I was left having to cut my cloth to fit.”
The opportunity to get involved at organisational level came about after the club opted to implement a new streamlined management structure in 2017.
“I had always wanted to be more involved and it had been mooted in the past but nothing had ever come of it,” added Stephen who is married with three children.
“When the new structures were put in place I was invited to play a part and opted to take over the running of the junior section whilst also helping with the marketing of the club.
“I initially thought it wouldn’t take up too much time. A meeting every couple of weeks, but it has become much more time-consuming. I’m passionate about the juniors and developing that element and I really enjoy sitting on the marketing committee.
“Marketing has made a big difference in terms of members joining and past members rejoining. We got 40 new members in 2019 and I have no doubts that is a direct result of the work done by the marketing committee.
“We kept in touch with a lot of the past members and we have gone out into the wider community and engaged with them.”
On a professional level, the process has helped Stephen find his own voice and he will not shy away for speaking up for policies and plans which he knows will improve the long-term health of the club.
“At the start, it was a challenge. I didn’t want to fall out with the members,” he added. “But I’ve realised that if you believe in something you have to speak up and people will respect you more for doing that. It may not always go my way but at least I have done my part and said my piece.”