Saturday 19 October 2019

The kids are alright at Blainroe

Wicklow club are laying foundations for the future with their flourishing Junior programme

Future proof: Chris Makin supervising Blainroe’s young golfers.
Future proof: Chris Makin supervising Blainroe’s young golfers.

Brian Keogh

Irish golf clubs are waking up to the fact that without kids, there is no future for the game here.

So hats off to Blainroe Golf Club in Co Wicklow for taking that old medieval phrase about children (and "maids") being best seen but not heard and turning it on its head when it comes to golf.

The era when junior golfers were regarded as a plague worse than Fusarium Patch or Dollar Spot is a thing of the past, and with over 270 juniors on its books, Blainroe is laying the foundations of the club for years to come.

Having won the Wicklow Cup last year, they will be going for their first All Ireland title this weekend when the six-strong boys team meets Tuam in the semi-finals of the Irish Junior Foursomes at Castle Dargan.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg for a programme which is second only to Kilkenny when it comes to the numbers of young golfers now on the books at the clifftop gem near Brittas Bay.

"We have always had a strong Junior programme, but it has really kicked off over the last three years," explained General Manager Patrick Bradshaw, who points to go-getting members like Olga Stones, Noelle Ryan and Junior convenor Donna Connolly as key.

When you consider that former Ryder Cup Director Richard Hills is a member of the Junior Committee and that top tour caddies such as Ronan Flood and Dermot Byrne have dropped in to give the youngsters tips on strategy and course management, it's clear that no stone has been left unturned.

Head Professional David Lewis is heavily involved in coaching the young guns comprising 156 junior boys, 57 junior girls and 50 cadets aged between six and nine.

The club is popular in summer when Dublin families decamp to the Wicklow coast for the holidays. But while junior camps have been popular for many years, Blainroe wanted to attract more local children into the game all year round and actively sought out talent at local schools.

Presentations were made to fifth and sixth class primary students at half a dozen schools in the locality, and not all those who joined are the children of existing members.

"We now have a very strong Get Into Golf scheme because parents are coming to help supervise during the Junior days as walkers," Patrick added.

"Parents or grandparents of guardians are there to ensure they are safe and stay away from ponds or the cliffs. It's actually feeding us adult members at the same time."

As many as 140 juniors play golf on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer, and all are members of the club with anyone who has a handicap of less than 21 entitled to play in adult competitions including the Captain's and President's prize.

"Olga went out to all the local schools," explained Donna, whose son Liam is a member of the Junior Foursomes squad. "And she talked about golf and membership of Blainroe, and after some taster sessions during the off-season, it began to take off.

"Kids would come down on Saturdays to go out with their parents in the afternoon and then regular coaching began every month, all year round.

"So it started there and we started to get a reputation for Junior golf in the area, and it has gone from strength to strength with the majority of the 270 kids coming from the local area."

The arrival of PGA professional Lewis from Greystones, which has a long-standing junior golf programme that has Paul Dunne as its standard- bearer, proved a huge boost to Blainroe.

"David puts some much time and energy in the junior golf for boys and girls, who make up a third of our number," said Donna, who became a member of the club after going through the Get Into Golf programme four years ago. "He loves it and makes it fun for them.

"And one of the beautiful things about golf is that you can play it at any age so I can go out with my son and my Dad, who is 91. It's special.

"We have a lot of grandparents who are involved in the Junior committee, and they are heavily involved in the summer when the younger kids need walkers.

"They are great with the rules and etiquette and they love being able to spend time with their grandkids while the parents are working. It's one of the really positive things about it."

Blainroe runs a seven-week programme on Tuesdays and Thursdays in summer when all 18 holes are practice areas are made available to the juniors from 8am to midday.

"That's down to the management committee understanding the importance of Juniors to the club," Donna said. "They know it affects membership and the energy at the club.

"Once they reach the required standard, the boys and girls can play in the men's or women's competitions, and that's the reason for our success in Junior golf.

"Our lads are not just playing in men's competitions, they are playing on the men's teams too and forming the backbone of many teams.

"My lad has been down at the club every day for the last four months. They put some much into it."

The involvement of the club management board is vital to the success of the programme.

"Having golfers with great spark and energy like Olga or Noelle Ryan and Management Committee members such as our vice-captain DJ Kenna and captain Jim Graham is huge for us," Donna added. "So whatever we need, they are there for us. That's priceless."

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