SENIORS golf is a growing craze all over the country -- and Maurice Kelly of Killeen Golf Club near Naas is grateful for the competitive opportunities the over-55 game has presented.
Kelly is one of those people who was too busy with a career and rearing a family to give golf a serious run until he became eligible for the seniors level.
Now he has a huge record of success after a great five years that have brought him national titles and international caps for Ireland -- and he's not finished yet.
Last week Kelly (60) won the Italian Seniors Open in Sardinia to add to his Irish Seniors Close and Irish Seniors Open titles he claimed earlier in the year.
The scratch handicap also won the GUI Seniors Order of Merit for the fifth time in six years and the Leinster Seniors Amateur Open this year.
His performances are an inspiration for the 'ordinary' golfer who never got to play international or interprovincial golf in their peak years.
Kelly learned his golf as a boy in Newlands, where his father was a member, but at age 13 put golf on the back burner in favour of soccer, which he played until he was 30.
"I just played weekend golf from then, but I got down to a three handicap doing that," he says. "I played in a few GUI championships when I could get into them, but in my own mind I was only making up the numbers."
So what changed? For a start, for the last 12 years Maurice has been the manager of Killeen Golf Club -- he even designed 12 of the holes.
"When I came here, as well as working at Killeen, I had more opportunities to practise and play golf," he says.
Maurice's input into his golf game coincided with the increase in numbers playing seniors golf, particularly in the last decade.
What Maurice didn't expect was that he, a weekend golfer for so long, would get to wear the green for his country.
"I knew nothing about the seniors, but when I became old enough I heard about them and played in the Irish Seniors Open in 2005," he says. "I lost by a shot to the winner, John Baldwin of the USA, and I got on the Home Internationals team, so that was the start of it."
Since then, Maurice has gone on to be a regular for Ireland in the Seniors Home Internationals, including a three-in-a-row series of victories, and the Seniors European Championships, which Ireland have won twice.
The over-55 ranks are speckled with former GUI major winners and ex-internationals, including Barry Reddan, Arthur Pierse, Declan Branigan, Adrian Morrow and Garth McGimpsey, yet Maurice can more than hold his own.
"There are a lot of fellas who were great players when they were younger, but I don't worry about that. With all due respect to them, I feel I can beat anybody, and that's the way I have to think," he adds.
"But this has been great. I won my first 'Major' in the Irish Close which was first played in 2009, and I retained it this year, and I have a lot of goals to achieve yet.
"I always thank the GUI for doing so much for the Seniors golfers. It's a whole new lease of life and I really enjoy competing."
His secret? Well, first is practice, plenty of it done during the winter, and a lot of work on stretching for flexibility.
He also does fitness work and has lost a stone in weight, which has helped with the stamina.
"In the Home Internationals we were playing 36 holes a day and my wife Anne, who caddies for me, asked was I tired going into the third day," says Maurice.
"But I wasn't. It definitely helps to be fit enough."
Maurice has put in plenty of effort over the past few years in ensuring he knows his distances with the irons.
"They may go a bit right or left, but as long as you have hit the ball the right distance it makes the putting a lot easier," he says.