Sport Golf

Monday 19 August 2019

Sinéad Kissane: 'Lowry's success an example of inclusivity for Portmarnock Golf Club to follow'

 

Man of the people: New Open champion Shane Lowry in Clara with the Claret Jug. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Man of the people: New Open champion Shane Lowry in Clara with the Claret Jug. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Sinéad Kissane

Shane Lowry's Open victory and celebrations brought us inside the ropes of the game of golf like never before.

If the aerial TV shot of the waves of people following Lowry last Sunday as he walked to the 18th green at Royal Portrush didn't have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck, then you'd want to check your pulse. It was the best fairway invasion and it was all for one player.

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Lowry's achievement has brought golf to a new level of inclusivity. That's not just down to his talent but also because of his background and character. I can't ever remember being at Croke Park and seeing the latest score from another sport put up on the big screen like it was for Lowry last Sunday and the proud applause it got from supporters from different counties. Undoubtedly, Lowry's family heritage and support of the GAA make him, as a professional golfer, seem more 'real' to the rest of us.

I remember seeing Lowry walk up to the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick for the All-Ireland semi-final replay between Kerry and Mayo in 2014. He fitted into the crowd like everyone else. That's the thing about Lowry - you might not know him, but you feel like you do.

They talk a lot in golf about character but Lowry's character has broadened golf's accessibility. As much as there's an admiration for a sportsperson with a teak-tough mentality, there's also an appreciation for an admission of the opposite.

On 'Off The Ball' on Tuesday, Lowry said his "stomach was in knots all day" last Sunday. But Lowry also reminded us how sport is essentially meant to be enjoyed. In his interview with Sky Sports on Saturday evening, after his course record-breaking eight-under-par 63, Lowry recalled what he said to his caddy Brian 'Bo' Martin as they walked up to the 17th tee: "The next half an hour, we might never experience anything like it again. So let's enjoy it. And that's what I did".

The magic of the past week also lay with the ordinary sitting alongside the extraordinary. Like Lowry saying that his daughter's favourite song 'Baby Shark' used to be in his head during every round because he played the song for her in the car on the way to Portrush. There was his granny, Emily Scanlon, telling the world in an interview with RTÉ how she told her grandson to "get out there and bring in some turf" after he won the Mullingar Scratch Cup years ago.

There was the way Lowry held his granny's arm tightly when they arrived off the bus in Clara for his homecoming on Tuesday evening. And there was the announcement that the Ryder Cup will be held at Adare Manor in 2026 which is all adding up to the popularity of golf heading in one direction.

There's a golf club in Dublin that should have been noting the power of inclusivity we saw this week. It is 10 years since the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the Equality Authority and ruled that Portmarnock Golf Club can continue to exclude women as members because it is exempted under the equal status legislation. Women are allowed play on the course but not allowed become members because its membership is restricted to men only.

Portmarnock Golf Club is this year celebrating its 125th anniversary and last month hosted the Amateur Championship - which was won by Corkman James Sugrue - after it was selected to stage the event before the R&A's decision to only award championships to venues with no gender restrictions. Earlier this summer, Portmarnock began a consultation with its members to see if it will maintain or change its men-only membership policy with an outcome expected by the end of the year.

The club's policy has been criticised in the past by the likes of Rory McIlroy. "It's hard to justify that, not allowing women members," McIlroy said on the eve of the 2017 Irish Open. "I was very strong in my stance against Muirfield for that reason and it's the same with Portmarnock. I don't think that it is acceptable - it's outdated."

It was only last month that 12 women were formally invited to take up membership at the world's oldest golf club, Muirfield, for the first time since a vote to change the club's rules in 2017. Muirfield had been removed as a host venue for The Open after it voted against changing its membership policy from men-only in 2016 before another vote a year later.

"I think the main assurances that people were looking for was that the essential character of the club will not be fundamentally changed by the introduction of women members," Henry Fairweather, Muirfield captain, said in 2017.

"That foursomes matchplay golf will remain a staple diet here, that rounds of golf will take less than three hours to complete and that we'll enjoy each other's company."

It's a quote that leaves you wondering just how that game is related to what we witnessed over the past week.

Mr Justice Fennelly wrote in the Supreme Court judgement delivered on November 3, 2009 that: "Portmarnock is a national institution". But a so-called "national institution" should not keep women outside the ropes with a men-only membership policy. And even though a newsletter sent to Portmarnock club members in 2015 said this was "a sensitive issue wrapped in strong opinions", it's actually very straightforward, gents.

Tradition can be a powerful thing in any sport. But not as powerful as change and inclusivity.

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