AFTER a long illness borne with similar patience and equanimity to the manner in which he played the game of golf, it was sad to hear of the passing, at the highly respectable age of 86, of the long time, extremely popular and fondly remembered, former PGA professional at Limerick Golf Club, John Cassidy.
A member of a famous Dundalk professional golfing family, John came to Limerick in April, 1968 where in due course he built up a solid reputation as a top rank teacher, which may be gauged by the number of national titles that came the way of the Ballyclough club during his tenure.
John loved to play tournament golf and was quite successful in his younger years. He finished runner-up in the Hoey Cup in 1959 behind a former Open Champion, Fred Daly. In the same year, he was also consigned to second place by Norman Drew, the first man ever to play in both, Walker and Ryder Cups, when the Bangor man chipped into the hole from an awkward spot off the green in the lucrative Waterford Glass Trophy. With a twinkle in his eye, John enjoyed reminding me that his two rounds of 71 finished ahead of Christy O’Connor Senior, Fred Daly and Harry Bradshaw, all major international players in that era.
At Limerick, John particularly enjoyed pitting his underrated skills against the members of the club’s outstanding All-Ireland winning senior cup teams whenever he could slip away quietly from his well-stocked shop. He particularly enjoyed recounting one sad tale. In 1955, he failed to qualify for The Open Championship won by Peter Thomson by one shot because he mistakenly believed that he had hit his ball out of bounds onto The New Course while playing The Old Course. In fact, there was no boundary between the two, side-by-side, courses and no penalty applied. Paul Dunne had a similar experience in the final round of this year’s Open and had mistakenly come to the same conclusion until advised otherwise. Because John had signed for a score higher than what he shot, it stood. In those days, the field for The Open was decided by a 36-holes qualifier on the eve with 18-holes played on the Old Course and 18-holes on the New. It beggars belief that the number of qualifiers was limited to a maximum of 100 with ties for 100th place NOT qualifying. The maximum number of players making the cut after 36-holes was set at 50; ties for 50th place did not make the cut. It was also the year when the 17th hole (Road Hole) was played as a par-4 for the first time having been a par-5 until then, reducing the course par from 73 to 72.
John’s first love was teaching and the vast majority of his time was spent on the practice ground imparting the intricate techniques of a complicated game to players of all abilities, genders, shapes and sizes. During one his many lessons, he met his future wife, Ailish Jones from Askeaton, and they married in due course and had two, now, grown children, Donnachda and Lee.
A nephew of the revered, Denis Cassidy, long time golf professional at Castletroy and a cousin of Noel, who succeeded Denis, John turned pro in 1952 becoming an assistant to his father at Dundalk GC before striking out on his own to be pro at Bundoran from 1958-1961; at Enmore Park in England from 1961-1964; at Rosapenna in Donegal from 1964 to 1966 before going back to Dundalk briefly before moving to his last posting at Limerick for 30-happy years from 1968. John was captain of the IPGA in 1973 and much loved and respected by his fellow pros, not least for his ability to sing an entertaining song whenever there was a social gathering after a tournament or event. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.
I HAD an interesting telephone call during the week from Harry Keegan, a member at Ballyneety, apropos the new rules of golf recently announced for 2016. Harry expressed ‘irritation’ with the rules governing the flagstick. He has a good point.
Harry’s believes it should be permissible within the rules to putt with the flagstick still in the hole. “If you are one inch off the putting surface there is no penalty if your ball strikes the pin but if you are one inch on the green, regardless of how far away from the hole you might be, you are penalized 2-strokes!” Harry says with a hint of exasperation.
Under the current regime, one is obliged to either remove the flagstick yourself or have one of your playing companions do it for you. That this might involve a ‘round trip’ of 70-yards or more slows down the game unnecessarily and increases traffic that cannot be good for greens in the long term.
I contacted a rules expert in The R&A to find out why this rule was changed in the 1960s? I wasn’t given a specific answer except to be told that the entire rulebook will be reviewed between now and 2020 with a view to ‘simplification’ and that Harry is not the only one to argue that the ‘Flagstick Rule’ should be changed back to what it was previously. To have to wait until 2020 seems a bit much but the wheels of golf administration grind ever so slowly, I’m afraid.