Thursday 27 October 2016

Volunteer role was a perfect fit for me

A traffic accident ended his dream of becoming a GAA referee, but Jim Mooney's work on the course became a sporting saviour

William S Callahan

Published 18/08/2016 | 02:30

Jim Mooney checking scores during the final round of the 2015 Irish Boys Amateur Open Championship at Tuam. Picture: Thos Caffrey/
Jim Mooney checking scores during the final round of the 2015 Irish Boys Amateur Open Championship at Tuam. Picture: Thos Caffrey/
Jim Mooney checking scores during the final round of the 2015 Irish Boys Amateur Open Championship at Tuam. Photo: Pat Cashman

When a road traffic accident in the summer of 1998 left Jim Mooney with a broken ankle, the 44-year-old had to abandon his ambitions as a Gaelic football referee. Unable to run as a result of his injuries, golf would prove to be his sporting saviour.

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As a walking sport, golf was a perfect fit for Mooney.

"I took up golf to get exercise," he recalls.

Gaelic football had been his first love. A native of Kells, Co. Meath, work took him west. Stationed with An Garda Síochána at Boyle, he joined the GAA club in Geevagh, Co. Sligo, and went on to play championship football with his adopted county in the 1980s.

Refereeing proved a natural progression once his own playing days were over. However, just as he was rising through the ranks as a referee, his career in black came to a premature end. The accident caused severe damage to his ankle, although he was lucky to survive a crash in which he had been thrown off a Garda motorbike.

Four years later he was a member of Boyle Golf Club, having developed a new passion on the fairways. And, before long, he was volunteering as well.

"I retired from An Garda Síochána in 2004 and had plenty of time on my hands. I decided to offer my services as a volunteer in golf," says Mooney, who is now a highly respected golf referee.

Like so many volunteers in golf, Mooney plays many parts. After serving as Honorary Secretary at Boyle in 2003, he was elected as a council member of the Connacht Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland in 2005. The following year he attended the R&A Referees School at St Andrews and has been refereeing at GUI events ever since.

"I really enjoy the various aspects of working in golf," says Mooney.

"All this has led me to meet many, many people through the playing of golf and in the administration of golf at both National and International levels. The amount of enjoyment and satisfaction I get from this is what keeps me coming back."

Having refereed at the Home Internationals and various national championships, Mooney knows the importance of preparation.

"It is not merely about the time you put in before an event, it is important to keep yourself up-to-date with rule changes, conditions of competitions and handicapping changes. When there is an upcoming event, you make sure you have all your equipment in order - stopwatch, umbrella, clothing, rain gear - and it is only a matter of familiarising yourself with the golf course and its local rules," he says, describing his role as a referee.

Mooney is also heavily involved with handicapping and course rating, attending USGA Calibration Seminars in Frankfurt in 2012 and Madrid in 2016, not to mention his duties as a board member of the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU), the body charged with devising and reviewing the handicapping system in Great Britain and Ireland.

Although retired since 2004, golf keeps him busy and active.

"Not a week goes by that I do not spend time as a volunteer, either attending meetings, attending competitions as a rules official or tournament director, or doing course rating work," he says.

Throughout the 125-year history of the Golfing Union of Ireland, volunteers like Mooney have been central to its success. Mooney is one of more than 200 volunteers working for the GUI at present and that volunteer ethos ensures that the GUI remains a vibrant organisation, and, more importantly, that the game of golf continues to prosper.

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