RTÉ's Evanne Ní Chuilinn on why she bought son Séimí his first real golf clubs at age 2
Her son Séimí may be only four-years-old, but already Evanne Ní Chuilinn can point out how the concentration game has allowed him utilise his skills in other fields. Our reporter hears the myriad health and fitness - as well as social - advantages of playing golf, from the amateurs and the pros
Published 21/06/2016 | 02:30
As golf fever keeps hold of the Irish nation thanks to our big stars like Rory McIlroy and Graham McDowell blazing a trail at last weekend's US Open, it's clear that its popularity with armchair sports fans is not going anywhere.
However with ageing club memberships and the overall decline in golf participation, the next generation of young golfers are more important than ever.
The Confederation of Golf Ireland are currently developing the youth game in Ireland and the numbers of youth participation have risen dramatically.
They recently launched the Club Handbook for Junior Golf, specifically designed to attract young people to one of Ireland's most popular sports. Anne McCormack is a project manager with the CGI and has seen the benefits of the game first hand.
"I've played it for years and it has huge benefits. Not just from a health and fitness point of view but also from a social point of view," explains Anne.
"Golf is a very enjoyable game and there is a pathway there for kids now who either want to play it for fun or competitively. There is something for everyone," she adds.
Evanne Ní Chuilinn, RTÉ sports presenter, is busy keeping up with her son Séimí's interest in the game. He's only just turned four but already he is passionate about the sport.
"He had a hurlóg from the age of about 14 months and he loved making contact with that... and anything.
"Then he started watching his dad Brian practice his golf swing in the garden and wanted to copy him. He had plastic clubs for a while and then when he was two Brian bought him a tiny putter, 7 iron and 3 wood.
"They go to the range together, and I can imagine them playing full rounds together in the future," says Evanne.
"Séimí plays other sports too, he plays hurling and football and I can see the transfer of skills. He can hit the ball easily in hurling and his hand-eye coordination is very good. I can see the benefits of golf clearly when he is doing other things."
For Eileen Dunne, who taught her teenage daughters Sarah and Ciara to play golf when they were children, it's a game for life.
"They started at 10 and eight and initially they weren't sure that they wanted to play. I said 'I will teach you and once you know, you can give it up if you want'. They learned and now they love it and it brought me back to the game too," says Eileen.
Golf has become a part of the Dunnes' social life. Along with her husband, Eileen often goes out on the course with her daughters on a Sunday afternoon. It gives them time to talk and to catch up on what's happening in their busy lives. They bond and connect and are also exercising.
"The girls play leisurely and in competitions, they are members of Naas golf club and play there. Naas have set up a junior golf club and that's very strong now. They encourage kids to play, I stick their names on the time sheet every Monday when they are on the school holidays. It's great to know they will be in a safe environment for that time," says Eileen.
"They get free coaching at the club too and that is huge. What I have found is that it is all about fun. Nobody in the club would ever ask them 'what score did you get?' or 'what's your handicap?'
"It's 'did you have fun?' Someone will tell you their score if they want to. There is never a big fuss made about the stronger player or less fuss of the weaker player. I think if children find something fun they will stick with it. If they are on a team they might not get a game but with golf they can always play."
Although Eileen admits that some parents dream their kids will be the next Rory McIlroy, most have their child's best interests at heart and encourage them to enjoy it. They know how competitive professional golf is and how small the margins are when it comes to making it or not.
"It's a hard game and there is lots of hard work involved. It is challenging but children learn a lot of skills they can use in other aspects of life. It's great for concentration and focus. In golf you never know what game you will turn up with, there are highs and lows, my daughter says golf helped her with her other sports."
Robbie Cannon, Shane Lowry's strength and conditioning coach, can attest to this. He believes it is important to allow and encourage kids to play several different sports at the same time.
"I'm not a big fan of early specialisation, if a parent is asking about strength and conditioning and fitness I'll tell them 'keep your kid playing other sports until their mid-teens and then they can concentrate more on golf'.
"I think if you concentrate on golf too early you are asking for trouble, you lose your fundamental movement and if you don't have that you won't be able to build sports-specific skills later on," says Robbie.
The coach believes that strength and coordination are very closely linked and it's very hard to have one without the other. All the fundamental skills that players like Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne have developed through other sports they played, like Gaelic games and rugby, have stood to them.
"Obviously working with Shane, I have seen the positive effects of playing lots of sports. He played hurling and Gaelic football when he was 10, 11 and 12.
"And his dad won the All-Ireland with Offaly. He comes from a big sporting background. His coordination is excellent. Even though he doesn't look like a very fit man, he is very fit and very strong and I think that's down to him playing sports at a young age.
"Other players I've worked with, like Paul Dunne, have all played lots of sport early. It definitely has a big correlation. The jumping, lunging, squatting, twisting, turning and kicking over the years have been hugely beneficial.
"All the research is saying that if you don't have that you won't keep up with all the technical skills you will need later."
It's clear that training and training hard is a big part of the modern game of golf. Pictures of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods lifting heavy weights regularly surface on social media. Kids are now training in the gym from their early teens as the benefits of hard training are highlighted on the world stage.
"There are such fine margins now between winning and losing tournaments. If you are giving your opponent the fitness advantage and it comes down to the last couple of holes, it's where the mistakes can be made.
"If you aren't as fit as your competitor then you could come up short," says Robbie.
* For more information, see cgigolf.org
Health & Living