Sean Kelly and I first met in 1991 when he played a few South Region PGA events, and I was a young tournament controller. Golf has a funny way of reconnecting people and over the years our paths have crossed many times. So, it was nice to get an invite from him to play his home course Banstead Downs and catch up about what he is doing now and life in general.
Sean is the CEO of a charity called Action for A-T established in 2012 to fund medical research for an ultra-rare condition named Ataxia Telangiectasia (A-T.
We had last met over 10 years ago when I was running Loch Lomond and the club hosted a golf day for his then charity SPARKS. I was keen to learn more about running charities and their fundraising efforts. Sean explained that in line with other medical research charities, they usually Invest In new projects annually but this is dependent on the funds they raise. They receive no government funding and rely entirely on the support of companies and individuals in their quest to find a cure for A-T. In 2019 Sean and his very small team were able to Invest £900,000 in 5 new projects. This mainly came from events such as golf and cycling along with dinners and contributions from various donors.
As with all of my blog posts I asked Sean to take me on in the “A Round with Niall Challenge “which he accepted. Sean’s reputation when we worked together in Dubai back in the ’90s was that he could hit his drives a country mile, but his wedge shots could go the same distance just when he didn’t want them to!!
Sean lost his love of golf after he left Dubai and had only just found his enthusiasm for the game hence why he joined Banstead Downs in July. He told me that he was now a 5 handicap having gained his amateur status back so we agreed he would give me 4 shots.
Sean’s reason why he first went into charity work was he wanted a job that allowed him to spend more time with his girlfriend/now his wife over weekends and so he applied for a job with the charity Sparks running their golf events. He found he loved the thrill of raising money for a good cause and became known as the “Arthur Daley” of the charity golf day world connecting with many sporting celebrities and CEO’s.
Unfortunately, SPARKS is no longer, having merged with Great Ormond Street Hospital a few years ago and at that time the successful celebrity golf day programme was discontinued. Sean told me why he thought that was the wrong decision and why he is still very actively involved in golf days for A-T.
It turns out that the golf days do not make a huge amount of money because the costs are high, however, the people that they attract are influencers in large companies and wealthy people who enjoy playing golf on good courses and with interesting people. These influencers will then come along to other fundraising events and spend money on the auction items that have been donated which generate a huge amount to charity funds. In other words, golf days are the loss leader for the true funding source.
Sean had lost none of his length off the tee however the ball was not going straight down the middle as it once used to but rather into the deep undergrowth that lined every fairway and I found myself 5 up at the turn.
Due to the pandemic, a large proportion of the ongoing studies had to be put on hold as many of the researchers were called back to the front-line to assist the NHS in their time of need and most of the institutions where the research takes place, were closed. This also meant there was a knock-on effect whereby the latest studies started much later than planned.
Sean couldn’t stress enough, the huge impact the pandemic had and will continue to have on the charity financially. Charities fully understood the necessity to postpone events such as the London Marathon, but the cancellation caused great concern as a large proportion of many charities income is generated through event activities. Thankfully events are now starting to take place with a number of golf days planned towards the end of the year.
Without the help of supporters, charities simply aren’t able to support the research community who are striving to find cures or treatments.
Sean found his game on the back 9 especially the last 3 holes going birdie – par – birdie to only lose 4 down. Again the challenge match was not about the scoreline rather the connection and I am pleased to say that Action for A-T will become the blog’s Official charity. A number of the kind donations I receive from clubs will be passed on to raise much-needed funds. I will keep you up to date with how much we raise.
Naga Munchetty is a Patron for Action for A-T and we hope to be able to arrange “Around with Niall Challenge “ with her later in the year and perhaps those of you who follow the blog can help us raise some money at the same time.
I really enjoyed catching up with Sean and it was great to learn about how charities work but also how important golf is, always has been and will be in the future in raising money for so many worthy causes. Please make sure you do your bit for all the just causes out there as we come out of lockdown and look forward to seeing you at a few charity days next year.
Until next time