Brendan's voyage: Galway man on quest to play every course in Ireland
Brendan Conneely is a man on a mission -- to play every golf course in Ireland. To date he has ticked 407 off his list -- the most recent addition was Dun Laoghaire last Friday.
This is a marathon that has been in progress for almost 35 years, but one which really accelerated and became a personal challenge in the last decade. Brendan, from Inverin in Connemara, lives in Gorey and retired last December from his job as a teacher at Carnew VS.
He is a former member of Connemara, Coolattin, and Courtown, and now plays off a 22 handicap on a distance membership out of Kilrush.
His lowest, achieved when he was a regular on teams at Courtown, was 12 handicap. Now he plays for fun and to complete his personal quest.
Brendan reckons he has 26 courses left to visit, and hopes to chalk them off his list this year.
How did it begin? The answer is: in the most innocuous way possible. He started working in Carnew in 1975 where the principal, Joe O'Shea, kept encouraging him to play golf.
Finally, in July 1977, the fuse was lit. "I was 23 then," recalls Brendan.
"One day I was in a pub in Spiddal and a fella said 'did you ever play golf? I said 'that stupid sport?' The fella said 'I'll give you a loan of my golf clubs and you can go back to Connemara, the two of ye tomorrow,' so I went off with another fella and played three or four days. We used to pay a green fee of three or four pounds, but the joining fee was only £30, so we joined the club. That's how I started."
The Galway man later joined Coolattin and eventually moved to Courtown GC. As time went on, he started to visit other courses.
"I had 70 courses played up to 10 years ago when I decided I'd make a rush at it," he says. "What really got me going at it was a fella who plays a lot of golf with me, when I said 'I'd love to play 150 courses in Ireland.'
"He said to me 'that's impossible, you'd never do it.' It kind of got my back up and I started going at it then. When I get going during the summer I could play three times a week; it's amazing how they add up.
"In 2003 I played 60 courses, which really got me going again because I'd gone a bit stale on the motivation. The most in one day was about three years ago when myself and two other lads from Gorey were down in Tramore for 8.45.
"We played there and then went and played Dungarvan after that. And then we played Gold Coast.
"Three in the one day. On the 16th hole on the Gold Coast, my legs were like jelly. We finished in the dark around 10 o'clock."
Brendan doesn't know how much his golfing treks have cost, but he has found great value in open events and from teetimes.ie. And as for golf in the North, particularly at a time when southern golf tourists were relatively few, he has high praise.
"We went into Malone Golf Club one day and got a great welcome. They said they hadn't seen a southerner there for 20 years!" he recalls.
"We met the president and he was sitting beside the fire and he had an old putter, using it as a walking stick. He bought us a drink and asked was there anything we wanted.
"I couldn't say anything bad about anybody in the North, and the golf is very good value."
Brendan's favourite venue is Ballyliffin, where the Glashedy and the Old courses caught his fancy.
"We're going up there for the last 14 years. Rosapenna is another fine track in Donegal, fantastic. And some of the nicest courses I played were nine-hole courses," he says.
"Lisselan, near Clonakilty, is unique. A little train brings you and your clubs up two steep inclines.
"Cruit Island in Donegal -- that's fantastic. It's out beside Daniel O'Donnell's house there, a little nine-hole. And there's one lovely par-three there over an inlet."
The Irish golfing welcome is still to be found, as Brendan was happy to report from his visit to Dun Laoghaire last Friday, which was his first game since last October.
"Four of us arrived at the new Dun Laoghaire course at 8.30am. We met the steward and asked him would the bar be open for coffee," he says. "He said no but he would make it for us which he duly did and didn't charge. When we got to first tee he followed us in buggy and gave us two free course guides.
"On the 18th green he came over to ask us if we wanted to sample the third nine and we played three extra holes... I have never come across anyone as obliging, and I can assure you that we will be back again and will spread the word."
Brendan has also spread his wings abroad, and rates Carnoustie as a terrific and challenging lay-out.