A recent arrival on the shelves of local bookshops is - The Irish Majors – a clearly justifiable and welcome book chronicling the feats of Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke in winning seven major titles between them over the past five years.
Written from the perspective of the inside track by Irish Times journalist, Philip Reid and published by Gill & Macmillan, it’s the complete record of what has undoubtedly been the Golden Age of Irish golf.
While informative and heartwarming, the book also managed to raise a perplexing question in my mind. How is that we, in Munster, have never produced a top ranking, professional golfer worthy of reaching and remaining on the world stage? Unlike Munster’s many achievements in other sporting arenas, why haven’t we produced a world-class golfer?
It’s hardly from lack of effort on the part of the Munster Branch, which fields a plethory of representative teams, runs countless tournaments and arranges for promising young players to receive elite coaching, with essential help in psychology and course management skills also generously provided.
Golf is an individual sport in which you stand or fall on your own efforts but if there is no encouragement and one feels constantly exposed to an ethos of cheating and handicap building at club level, rather than always making a genuine effort to get better, it is very hard to make progress.
Only a minority of clubs in this region provide ‘proper’ practice facilities. ‘Realistic’ practice chipping areas and practice bunkers are few and far between. An often, frustrated provincial coach, Freddie Twomey, knows only too well what it takes to develop a top golfer and he complains that if the majority of our Clubs do not have proper practice facilities how can we expect to keep pace with rising standards in Leinster, Ulster and elsewhere?
The lack of junior members converting to full membership at many Golf Clubs has reached crisis point. Last year, Lahinch GC embarked on a laudable effort to reverse the trend, changing its rules of entry to help make golf more accessible and financially viable for young adults.
In future, a junior member (son, daughter, grandchild of an existing full member or a stand-alone junior from within the local area) will be entitled to 10% discount off the entrance fee for each year of junior membership, up to 100%.
The same annual membership fee for junior members (10-18) and young adults (19-23) will apply to all juniors and young adults, including those within family membership. The annual membership fees for a family will be capped at 4 children. The young adult’s fee will be fixed at 50% higher than the junior rate. Any lapsed junior member will be given the opportunity to re-apply for membership and, if accepted, will be offered 10% off the entrance fee for every year of prior membership. Lahinch deserves high marks for this innovation. I hope others will follow suit.
The secret of running a successful golf club is enthusiasm. The best source of that enthusiasm is junior golf. When too much energy is directed towards off-course activities, the game comes off second best and the central point of taking up the game in the first place is diminished.
The biggest joy in golf is to feel you are improving and managing to play the game a little better. The world of golf (as I knew it) has changed. Golf Clubs have become over-populated with members of scant athletic ability and the wrong priorities. Golf Clubs are (too often) being run like businesses instead of sporting organizations whose primary role is to foster a game.
When so many join their Golf Club for social reasons and without REALLY caring about learning how to play the game properly, ‘good golf’ is bound to suffer. When the majority prefers to build their inflated handicaps and do not appreciate (or care) what it takes to become a top class exponent there is bound to be a falling off in standards.
Lip service is readily paid towards developing junior golf but if a novice junior delays a senior member when out on the course – all hell breaks loose. This, naturally, makes juniors feel they are resented instead of being made welcome.
A low handicap player (junior or otherwise) is a huge asset in any club. He, or she, will inspire others to emulate them. By sharing knowledge, a low handicapper can add much to the enjoyment of others. Anyway, who would be bothered to join a yacht club that has no competent sailors?
Who would like to be a member of a motor club that has no expert mechanics? Who rushes to join a football club that regularly finishes bottom of the league?
Words of the Wise
(I am endeavoring to find) that perfect peace, that peace beyond all understanding, which comes at its maximum only to the man who has given up golf - P.G. Wodehouse.