Vibrant community spirit sees Ballyneety Golf Club reborn

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

Three of the key men in the Ballyneety success story: Liam Lawlor, manager, Minie OBrien, director and Donal McSweeney, golf pro and operator of the driving range on the resurrected course, which is set to open fully in mid-September, while the restored clubhouse is already open to the public seven days a week
IN Ballyneety, they talk of miracles as the golf club, once defunct and flatlining, has continued a Lazarus-like resurrection since it was re-opened by a group of former members in March of this year.

IN Ballyneety, they talk of miracles as the golf club, once defunct and flatlining, has continued a Lazarus-like resurrection since it was re-opened by a group of former members in March of this year.

The club now has more than 500 members and, as it gears up for an official opening in mid-September, a fully functioning, seven-day a week restaurant and bar situated in a clubhouse that just a matter of months ago was boarded up, vandalised and decaying.

That the plushly renovated bar and restaurant, teeming with members last week when the Limerick Leader visited, has been delivered almost a year ahead of expected, is deeply impressive.

Any club needs a focal point to become whole again, and the reopened Ballyneety now has that, thanks to the efforts of its members but chiefly through the vision of Lebanese restaurateur Johnny Khalife, who lives in the community nearby.

Liam Lawlor, one of the key drivers of the campaign to purchase and re-open the club, says restoring the clubhouse “was critical”.

“We didn’t think, budget-wise, that we would be in this position, we thought it was a project for 2014,” he says with a smile.

“We have had some very good fortune, we had one of our members come in and give us a donation, and also Johnny Khalife – who was instrumental in putting the whole project back together and has excellent expertise in the construction business and the restaurant business – came highly recommended to us.”

Mr Khalife, who has lived in Ballyneety since 2007 and is from the Lebanon, has been in the bar and restaurant trade for 20 years and had previously tried to take over operation of the clubhouse.

Now, with the club needing an operator, he was ready. Mr Khalife poured his heart into restoring the club and opening the restaurant as a commercial enterprise, open now seven days a week to members and the public alike.

“I live in Ballyneety, it is my home place, it is my soul. I used to love this place and we have got it now so hopefully we will succeed and with the support of the club we will continue,” he says.

“I used to come to the golf club but then it closed down and I was passing every day and seeing the boards up and it was a terrible place. It was a good opportunity now and we took our chance and hopefully everybody likes it.”

With the facility restored, an official opening will take place soon for the restaurant, followed by a full opening for Ballyneety Golf Club on September 14, with all 18 holes on the 185 acre tract of land designed by Des Smyth and opened in 1994, ready for play.

PGA professional and club pro who also operates the driving range in the club, Donal McSweeney, says that the course - fairways, rough and bunkers - “have all come on excellently”.

“The greens are the big thing that the majority of people have concerns about but they will all be open by September 14,” he assures, noting that the GUI’s own agronomist has visited the course and approved the plans.

Now the club need support to finish off the car park through the purchase of tee boxes, ideally from members and local businesses.

The members’ club is reborn.

“We are delighted with it and the effort of all the community, all the volunteers, all the members,” says Liam. “One member was here last week and he said to me, ‘I really didn’t think I would see a miracle in my lifetime, but I am witnessing a miracle out here’. That was a lovely piece of encouragement.”