My Captaincy of Ballybunion Golf Club 2014 By Seán Kennelly, Lacca
I started playing golf in 1985 at the ripe old age of 30! A friend of my sister Marie was down from Dublin and he had golf clubs in the car and we were telling him that he was a yuppie! But his answer to us that we were fools if we didn’t play golf with the best golf club in Ireland right beside us. The perception at the time was that golf was for wealthy people.
But the first day I played on the golf course was not exciting. The small ball was sitting up there on the tee waiting for me to hit it, and it didn’t occur to me that I could miss it! I didn’t realise that the secret of it was that you had to keep your head steady at all times when hitting the ball. I had lots of “fresh airs”. Embarrassing!
But I kept at it as time went on, getting braver and braver, getting bits of advice from people, and getting to know people. My handicap improved, beating standard scratch (after going out to 21 at one time). Then Brendan Daly, my brother-in-law, and myself won a four-ball and I started improving. I started picking up small little prizes with 5ths and 6ths placings and so on, and lo and behold things started happening. On several occasions I said to myself “I’ve made it!” which was great until I went back the next day and I was back to square one. It’s like football – some days you will hit the ball straight down the middle, but other days, disaster. It’s not so much that you are playing against yourself. You are trying to beat the golf course. You are trying to get your best score but you are out there the best part of four hours and you lose concentration. You may be on a team, but you are on your own most of the time. If you don’t keep the noodle, you are gone!
Since I began playing golf, the club in Ballybunion has seen massive changes. The promotion of the club had just started in the 1980s and it’s a big business here now. There are thousands coming to Ireland every year to play golf and the Ballybunion courses are among the top places people want to play. The whole set up accommodates the touring players. The clubhouse alone is state of the art. The sheer size of it is impressive. It is very modern. Downstairs there is the spikes’ bar where the golfers can go with their golf shoes. (When I started there were metal spikes but they are outlawed now, except for professionals, and soft spikes are the norm for amateurs. Metal spikes are very severe on the greens.) There is another bar and restaurant upstairs and there is also a members’ bar where only members are allowed. That is a typical American idea.
As far as becoming a member is concerned, it has become a bit easier in the last four or five years. The demand is not what it was 10 years ago. Anybody who wants to join can go online and fill up the form. Then you get somebody to propose and second you, and if you pay seven and a half thousand euro, then you are in. The women’s side of the club is struggling to get new members in. Since women have equality in the club, they have to pay the same fee as the men. The junior girls are in low numbers also, but the junior boys are increasing by twenty members each year. There is a waiting list for them actually. The attraction for young people to join is that they can upgrade to full membership at 21 for about fifty per cent of the fee.
There have been many exciting events in my time in the club. When Bill Clinton came the first time there was fierce excitement around. The security was something else, as manholes were welded around Ballybunion and the CIA were everywhere for a week before. It was a really fine day when the US president arrived. I was fortunate that I played just two groups behind President Clinton. His security group numbered about twenty but they kept a discreet distance. In his playing group were Dick Spring, Christy O’Connor Senior, Charlie McCreevey and the captain of the day, Brian McCarthy from Ballylongford. There was a massive crowd around the 18th green as he finished and he went in to the club then and mingled with people. I shook hands with him myself and asked him to come back sometime, which he did. I had actually met him at Lisselton Cross also when he stopped there earlier in the day! He was friendly with everyone.
My road to becoming club captain began around seven years ago when I sought a position on the committee. You have to be nominated and seconded and then be elected. I didn’t succeed the first two goes but I tried again and got elected onto the committee then. There are different sub-committees then for handicapping, competitions and so on, and I was elected to the competitions committee. I became chairman of competitions and was later promoted to finance. Then Mike Barry was captain and asked me to be his vice-captain. Later then I was elected captain. I was fortunate with my job because I had the time for the job as it is very time-consuming.
Since becoming captain, I have met a lot of different people. I have met a lot of American business people. I met Donald Trump only a few weeks ago at his newly acquired course in Doonbeg. He saw the Ballybunion tops and came over to us. I recently played with a man from Sunningdale golf Club who is six foot ten in height! A small little ladeen! I also met Ed McMahon, an overseas member of Ballybunion who is a lawyer in Washington. Recently he had to defend Alqeda members recently. Another man I met was David Bates who is a member of the Congressional Golf Club where Rory McElroy won his first major. Bates is also an overseas member of Ballybunion.
Outside of Ballybunion, the best course I have played is Donegal in Murveigh. I have also played Mount Juliet and Killarney and overseas I think Congressional stands out.
My captaincy lasts till December. I would like to be remembered for treating people well, and for welcoming them to Ballybunion. There are 2,200 members in the club and I hope I have helped to create an atmosphere where all opinions can be expressed openly and fairly. I would like to think that I have motivated all to share in our common direction in Ballybunion Golf Club.