I arrived in Ireland nearly two weeks ago, and I was very happy to return to this gorgeous country. I also happen to love links golf.
It is my second trip to Ireland and it was here last year that I had the idea to start Fairways.
I arrived in Dublin from Bolivia via Panama and New York - a lazy 40 hours or so - and after getting my clubs and hire car, I drove directly to St. Anne’s Golf Club for my first Irish meetings. As I drove, I watched the sky change colour. It wasn’t really a classic dawn, as it was grey and overcast.
I wandered into St. Anne's at 7 AM, and was reading the honour wall when Stephen Aylmer, the Head Greenkeeper, came down the stairs. We had a wonderful chat and talked about the history of the area, Stephen’s career at St. Anne’s and all things greenkeeping as he pointed out various parts of Dublin from the windows overlooking Dublin Bay. We talked about Fairways and the change of direction my life has taken since I first picked up a club.
I then washed the travel off before I headed out to golf. I had a golf chat with pro, Cormac and had a wonderful round with the new assistant pro, Sergio (who was starting the next Monday) and then had a meeting with Club Manager, Niall Carroll.
Niall was interested in Fairways and had invited me via Twitter to come and enjoy St. Anne’s, as he was curious about what I was doing and wanted to find out more. I told him about the DAWN2DUSK Golf Challenge and St Anne’s are going to join us in our global fundraiser.
I then drove north to Enniskillen, staying a couple nights, before heading back to where it all started... Ballyliffin Golf Club.
Playing at Ballyliffin last year literally changed my life, and I am not quite sure what I did with all my time before I started Fairways.
When I arrived at Ballyliffin I had a golf chat with Gareth in the pro shop and told him all about my last 12 months. I then headed upstairs for a cup of tea and randomly started speaking with Cecil Doherty who was golfing with his friends. Cecil used to manage Ballyliffin and is now involved in construction so we talked golf and building. I have since had lunch with Cecil, who loves what we are doing and is going to connect me with some of his golfing contacts.
I then sat down with John Farren, the General Manager, and talked all things golf and where the last year had taken me since I had my Ballyliffin epiphany last year. Ballyliffin is also going to join us on our global DAWN2DUSK fundraiser to help us keep underprivileged juniors golfing all over the world.
Another day. Another golf course. This time at North West Golf Club in Buncrana. I was golfing with Pádraig who I had connected with on Twitter, but also met many other people. Sean, Gary, Eileen and Marie. I had a good talk about the difficulties of attracting more players to the game with the two ladies. Apart from playing one of the worst rounds of my life, I also had a golf chat with Michael McGeady, who is running North West's new junior program this year.
Castlerock was the next course on my list and I met with General Manager, Bert Mackay. As we golfed, we chatted about juniors around the world and how golf is slowly growing in his area. Bert also told me about the new programs he has implemented. I love chatting with someone who thinks outside the box and Bert certainly does that!
Post-round, a gentleman having his lunch in the clubhouse, stopped me and thanked me for what I was doing supporting underprivileged juniors around the world. I wasn’t sure how this man either knew who I was or what I was doing but I thanked him for the feedback and we chatted until our lunch arrived. Castlerock are also on board for DAWN2DUSK and I can’t wait to return to see the redesign of the course next year.
The next day I was off to Belfast, and while Paddy Dean, the General Manager of Malone Golf Club, didn’t have time to golf, he wanted to meet for lunch. He told me he couldn’t have me come through the country and not catch up. He thought I would have some great golf stories and I hope I didn’t disappoint.
Paddy and I had golfed together in 2016, the day after my Fairways epiphany. He couldn’t believe that it was only this time last year I'd told him and the idea. Paddy asked me about everywhere I have travelled since we last met and I told him about the juniors we sponsor in Canada, India, Nepal and Bolivia and how I want to continue growing the program. We also chatted about DAWN2DUSK and when he heard that Niall at St Anne’s and Bert at Castlerock were in, he said he would never hear the end of it if he didn’t join in too.
I admitted to Paddy that I've had moments of uncertainty in what I'm doing, and told him about my sobbing phone call to one of my sisters in Australia while I was in Bolivia. Paddy just said he was pleased to hear that I also had off days. All he saw was a ball of non-stop energy and I think he was glad to realise that it is not all smiles and sunshine.
Mostly, but not all.
I then caught-up with Ruth, who had partnered Paddy and I last year. I stayed at her place for the night, and teed it up the next day,at at her course, Dunmurry. We also played with the Ladies Captain, Jane and another member, Margaret, who asked me all about Fairways. They said it might be possible for their group of juniors to sponsor a Bolivian or Indian kid, and then we could connect them and they could watch each other’s progress as they golf on other sides of the world!
We are uniting and connecting juniors around the world through golf. I just happen to be the connection at the moment, but I do have plans for a Fairways global junior tournament with all the children playing at their home courses, but we have only been going a year and Jeremy would be telling me to pull my head in. (Yes, completely implausible... like sponsoring 20 kids in 5 countries in 12 months. - Ed.)
Later that week I headed further south to Esker Hills, where I was staying for the next three nights. Ray Molloy, the General Manager, has been a great advocate for Fairways since I first told him of our work nearly nine months ago. They are also going to be part of DAWN2DUSK.
On the Friday, Ray arranged for me to golf with the Ladies Captain and some other women members. On the Saturday, I got to play with the Men’s Captain and his crew. Then on Sunday I golfed with Kevin Markham (an author and golf photographer, who had invited me to Esker Hills last year), and Darren Murray. Kevin is now writing for a golf magazine and asked to interview me about Fairways.
I have so much support around the world. As I travel, I tell the various people I meet about what I am doing, and more often than not, they ask how they can help.
That's exactly what happened when I visited Strandhill Golf Club, an amazing links course on the west coast of Ireland. They want to share our story with their members and love the idea of sponsoring underprivileged juniors all over the world.
While it has been a tough year and at times very stressful financially, it is only money and I can make do without much to ensure that these juniors we already have in our programs continue to golf. We also aim to expand our programs and help more children.
Tomorrow and I am off to Galway for six days of golfing and have golf chats with pros, General Managers and members lined up as I continue building support for what we are doing.
In addition to everything in Ireland and Northern Ireland, I have also been in contact with our juniors in Bolivia, Canada, India and have an update from Nepal (which Jeremy is going to write about). Additionally, I've contacted hundreds of people who I've met during my golfing life to help us continue our work and host a fundraiser at their course.
If you would like to host a fundraiser at your club, please check out DAWN2DUSK on our website. Thank you!