Thursday 18 January 2018

Cecil knew how to do things in style

Cecil Whelan. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cecil Whelan. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile Newsdesk

Cecil Whelan held a unique place in Irish golf, which heightens the impact of his passing last Thursday. His work as honorary secretary of the Links Society over a period of 45 years raised more than €14m for charities, most notably for Our Lady's Hospital for sick children in Dublin.

Indeed Cecil was one of a kind in several respects, including his phone manner. Pick up the receiver and there would be none of the usual introductory pleasantries. Instead, the voice on the other end would begin as if he were continuing a conversation which had been cut off accidentally.

Like, "Des is something else, isn't he?" in a reference to Des Smyth, the last president of the Links. "You can't beat a bit of class." Or it might be: "14 Irish champions were there. Probably our best night yet. And how about Red . . ." He would have considered the surname Hurley to be superfluous.

His work for the Links began in the unlikely circumstance of a crisp October day in 1966 when three professionals, Christy O'Connor Snr, Watty Sullivan and Jimmy Kinsella, joined 27 amateurs for a get-together of golfing friends at Baltray. When the amateurs had each chipped 10 shillings (64 cent) into a pool, the total of €17.28 in today's money, it was used to buy prizes for the professionals.

Towards the end of a thoroughly enjoyable occasion, someone suggested over dinner that they should do it again. Better still, they'd do it again and raise some money for charity. And given the terrain on which they had just played, they would call themselves the Links Golfing Society.

When Cecil decided that an outing at The K Club in August 2011 would be their last, it was inconceivable that someone else might take up the baton. The man was simply irreplaceable. "I made it a policy never to take on a job unless I knew it could be done to my standards," he once told me. And he never wavered.

I learned of occasions when he and Himself, for 30 years president of the Links, would be almost overcome with emotion when visiting sick children. And how they would leave all the more determined to help ease their plight.

Leading sportsmen here and abroad invariably responded to Cecil's call, culminating in some remarkable fund-raising occasions. Especially memorable was the Christy O'Connor Pro-Am at Cecil's home club, Hermitage GC, in 1976. Bing Crosby was there with his son Nathaniel, who would go on to capture the 1981 US Amateur Championship at the Olympic Club, San Francisco.

Top prize went to the 1969 US Open champion, Orville Moody, who carded a course-record 65. Cecil knew how to do things in style. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.


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