Historic occasion as Tom Watson is elected Captain of Ballybunion GC

HISTORIC the occasion most certainly was and, of course, there was also

the attendant euphoria that attracted the biggest attendance at the annual

general meeting of Ballybunion Golf Club on Friday night.

When we mention historic we are, of course, referring to 1999 Captain Fintan

Scannell and his forward thinking committee, who came up with the brilliant

idea of inviting one of the world’s top golfers, Tom Watson, to be the club’s

Millennium Captain.

The very presence of the great man

was a major attraction for the huge attendance of 446 members, especially

in view of the fact that there was nothing contentious up for discussion.

The meeting was timed for 7pm, but with the unexpected large crowd turning

up for registration, matters did not get underway until 7.30pm.

The opening three items, along with the Honorary Secretary’s / Secretary

Manager’s report, were all speedily dealt with, after which the meeting

turned to the Honorary Treasurer’s report.

This was the bottom line affair, which showed the club recording its biggest

surplus ever. For the first time, profits were recorded in all

sectors of club activity, outlined as follows:

Bar net profit, £52,500; Golf shop net profit, £307,000; Catering net profit,

£6,200; Subscriptions, green fee, net profit, £309,000; Overall net profit

for 1999, £675,000.

This superb figure was a whopping £200,000 in excess of the previous year,

but as Treasurer Joe Guerin and Captain Fintan Scannell pointed out,

this extremely satisfactory state of affairs was not to be expected in 2000,

as some severe expense would have to be incurred by the club, what with

the loss of green fee income due to the Irish Open, much work in the

preparation of the old course for the event and the erection of a proper

entrance to the club.

The plan for this is now on the notice board, featuring an automatic entrance

gate with a delightfully designed stone wall on either side. On the day

of the meeting, work had already commenced.

There was only one motion, by the committee, looking for an addition to

Rule 4 to the effect `that the

trustees shall hold office for a term of five years initially and may hold

office for a maximum of ten years’. No difficulty here, as the meeting

fully approved of the motion.

Any other business was perhaps the most interesting part of the meeting,

with many members contributing.

Former Captain, Tom McKeon, told the meeting that

Newcastle West had offered free facilities to the club members prior to

the Irish Open and the Captain revealed that Kilrush, on the other side of the

ferry, had also extended a similar offer. Details would be on the notice

board in due course.

There were also strong feelings expressed regarding time spaces in the

major timesheets, with several members looking for two days to play. The

Captain explained that the shotgun starts have, overall, proved very

successful and that this year there could be four.

Making an early contribution, Tom Watson said it could be that two days

could be allotted to his prize day $= and he left it at that.

The Winter Leagues also came under fire, more so with the changing weather

and it was even suggested that with Met Eireann’s high degree of accuracy,

decisions about playing could be made the day before. As there was deep

interest in the question, the Captain said the matter was being considered

by the committee’s special sub-committee.

There was a lot of interest in the rule relating to members playing with

guests, with the Captain explaining that while not the best, the present

system was working.

Concern was also expressed that the club should be careful, in case, as had

happened in other clubs, the ordinary Irish golfer’s green fee would be

priced out. The Captain was very happy to report that the matter was very much

in the minds of the committee $= hence no increase for the millennium!

Then it was on to the election of officers. The Captain read a letter

from the man responsible for bringing Tom Watson to

Ballybunion in the first place, former USGA President, Sandy Tatum.

Tatum traced

Watson’s development of his relationship with Ballybunion, culminating

in his becoming the Club Captain. Ballybunion and Tom Watson are a perfect

match! How true, indeed.

The Captain bestowed the Millennium 2000 maroon jacket on Tom Watson and

a standing ovation followed.

In response, Tom Watson said it was the moment he had been waiting for.

Watson reiterated his debt of gratitude to his old friend Sandy Tatum,

for affording him the privilege of playing over such a superb course $=

it was a priority for him to play it each year.

He regretted he could not be on hand for the Murphy’s Irish Open, but said

he would be very heavily involved in getting the course in top shape for the

tournament, with some subtle changes already underway.

Referring to the Cashen Course, he said this was a wonderful jewel in the

Ballybunion crown, but the club must consider making it more player friendly.

As it is, it’s extremely difficult to play, but it would cost a bit to do.

He felt it was an expense that should be incurred.

Long time member and veteran Junior Cup player, Maurice Clarke, made the

point that the first hole on the Cashen Course was wrongly designed, as its

original design off the tee saw to it that the shots played out of bounds!

Captain Tom replied that recent changes had changed all that and that the

problem with the controversial hill on the right of the first could be

solved by a properly placed white stone marker.

Referring to some unsightly fixtures at the back of the Old Course’s 15th,

Maurice asked Tom if he had ever played Killarney’s O’Mahony’s Point 15th,

where there was fine evidence of nice tree planting. The Captain said he

hadn’t played the hole.

Brendan O’Sullivan was Watson’s choice as Vice Captain and Brendan said

he looked forward to enjoying a great millennium with the five times British

Open champion.

The new President of Ballybunion is none other than MEP, Abbeyfeale’s own

Gerard Collins, who said he was deeply honoured and privileged to be

associated with so many wonderful people.

Officers elected were:

Gents: Captain, Tom Watson; Vice Captain, Brendan O’Sullivan; President,

Gerard Collins; Vice President, Kieran Harris; Hon Secretary, DG O’Connor;

Hon Treasurer, Joe Guerin.

Ladies: Captain, Kay McCarthy; Vice Captain, Maureen Dillane; Lady President,

Mary Stack.

Outgoing Captain, Fintan Scannell, and his successor, Tom Watson, were loud

in their praise of all the office staff, led by Margaret Hughes; course

staff, led by Dan Blake; bar and catering by Tom Ferriter; shop staff, Brian

O’Callaghan and finally club Secretary / Manager, Jim McKenna.

TOM WATSON DINNER: The new Captain arrived on Thursday to

attend a special dinner in his honour at the club, which was attended by

no less than 71 Past Captains and Presidents, both ladies and gents, along

with members of the club’s current committee.

Catering manager Tom Ferriter, chef Eleanor Walsh and their

hard-working staff excelled themselves by presenting a superb meal, truly

worthy of the occasion.

Pianist Mary Duffy from Birr provided the accompaniment for a sing song

in which the ladies were the driving force.

Fintan Scannell told of the occasion he phoned Tom Watson with a view to

asking him to be the club’s Millennium Captain. He felt Tom might have to

take time before making his decision, but was really shocked and dumbfounded,

when he said `yes’ there and then.

Watson was presented with a superb painting of the 15th hole (tee to green,

Old Course) by the 1981 Captains, Maurice Fahy and Anna O’Brien. That was

Tom’s first year coming to Ballybunion. The painting, by young Scottish

painter, William Gradison, depicts the great hole at its best, with the

wild Atlantic in the background.

The incoming Captain said the painting was something special as it helped

to put real images on record.

He recalled the time when he was having a pint in Harty / Costello’s Bar

in Ballybunion when he received a phone call from President Clinton to

come and play with him when the President came to Ballybunion in 1998.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t accept the invitation. He added that the President

loved to play for Mulligans $= now figure that one out!

He concluded by saying that he was honoured to be in such illustrious company

and said he was privileged to be Captain of the country’s first golf course

and where, on the day, he had completed his round of golf in just three

hours, having shot 78 off the very back tee markers!

It was a superb night, indeed, and it was great to see such

wonderful former officers as Johnny Moriarty, Jack McKenna, Sean Walsh,

John McNamara, Peggy Walsh, Anne Corridan and Peggy O’Connor, Florence D

O’Connor, Dan Murphy and David O’Sullivan, $= the three of whom were

Captains when the club won two Pierce Purcell and one Jimmy Bruen Shield.