As the popularity of golf continues to grow exponentially, so does the difficulty an amateur player faces in breaking into the professional ranks and creating a solid career on tour.
In the modern era of sport, few athletes have driven a game’s development quite like Tiger Woods. An enigma and an incredible athlete, Woods captured the imagination of millions, if not billions, around the world. Golf fan or otherwise, people sat up and took notice.
Woods gave golf an entirely revamped image and this would propel the sport’s popularity around the globe. Television ratings spiked, as did weekly event attendance. By the time the Millennium arrived, golf had taken its place among the most played sports in the world.
Tough Nut To Crack
All of this is fantastic for the game, yet, the rise of golf has led to a serious rise in the competition golfers face, both initially on the amateur circuit, and then the professional tour, should they make it that far.
In fact, when one takes a closer look at just how Tiger Woods has shaped golf’s development, the results are staggering. There is no doubting the impact the 14-time major winner has imparted on golf and its progression.
Take Irish golf, for example. A population of roughly five million people, of whom about 300,000 are officially registered members of a golf club.
In last year’s Walker Cup, the amateur format of golf’s Ryder Cup, five Irish players featured. This was a record number of selections for Irish players as they made up 50% of the Great Britain and Ireland team. Among the ten players selected, the Irish contingent were Paul Dunne, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan, Cormac Sharvin and Jack Hume.
Booming Economies & Rolling Fairways
In addition to the influence players like Woods had over the game’s popularity, one other big catalyst in golf’s spike in popularity were the fruitful economies of the Western world. Again, Ireland provides a clear example of just how the economy impacted the game.
In the decade between the mid 1990’s and the mid noughties some 150 golf courses were constructed on the Emerald Isle. The number of golf-enthused tourists who visited Ireland during the boom were certainly a catalyst in new courses being built, but most of the construction can be attributed to the rapidly growing demand for golf to be made more widely available to the Irish public.
These memberships, in particular junior memberships (usually available to children under 15 years of age), experienced huge growth in the same decade of the mass course construction, with an estimated 400% increase in junior golf throughout the country between 1995 and 2005.
As we all know, by the turn of the decade resources had well and truly dried up. This coincided with the market for golf courses becoming saturated. However, the young guns who made it onto the tee before the recession closed its doors on affordable memberships have come out the other end as world beaters.
The Irish famous five, who represent only a fraction of the hugely talented amateur golfing contingent on Irish shores, were given a huge opportunity roughly 15 years ago by the Celtic Tiger. Unlike the property bubble and the banking crash, Irish junior golf had built a solid platform and from there it was only moving in one direction.
Between them, the five Walker Cup members amassed over 50 amateur victories. Most notably, the Irish Amateur Open, the Irish Amateur Close Championship, the Brabazon Trophy, the East of Ireland Open Championship and the West of Ireland Open Championship.
In addition, there were near-famous victories in both the US and British Amateur Open Championship, as well as the British Open Championship which Paul Dunne famously led after 3 rounds.
What Next For The “Famous Five”?
At the time of the Walker Cup last year, all five of the Irish players ranked in the top 35 of amateur golfers in the world, cementing themselves as some of the world’s hottest golfing prospects.
Dunne, Hurley and Moynihan all opted to turn professional almost immediately after the Walker Cup at the end of last summer. Sharvin and Hume retained their amateur status for another year, challenging for some of the circuit’s biggest titles.
Since then, both Sharvin and Hume have joined their Irish counterparts on turning professional. Between the five players they have had mixed success thus far. Dunne was the only player to gain full European Tour status, while Moynihan is plying his trade in the European second tier, the Challenge Tour.
Hurley failed to secure his place on the European Tour and is competing on the Algarve Pro Tour. He has picked up one win to date and will be hoping he can kick on and move up through the tour rankings over time.
Each man should be given time to adapt to their new professional careers, without a doubt. However, the difficulty displayed in trying to qualify for the main professional tours is a testament in itself for the great challenge facing even the top amateur golfers in the world today.
Golf could be about to embark on a thrilling journey given the talent constantly emerging from every corner of the world. The next generation of golf looks to be a spectator’s dream, led by the Irish famous five and the “Millennial Golfers”.
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