When I began playing it in the early 1960s, my most frequent playing companion was a ‘golf-mad’ Parish Priest, Father Gerry Enright RIP. With a clear course ahead of us (not unusual), we could play 36-holes without stopping in four hours flat. Fr. Gerry was a good player (2-handicap) and because I thought that the way he played was normal, I copied him and missed out on seeing many of the games difficulties.
Fr. Gerry’s passion for golf was infectious and he made golf look relatively easy. Almost from the very beginning, I thought it was easy too. It didn’t take me very long to be able to match him shot for shot. I just didn’t know any different. He had a greater influence on my golf development than anybody I met before or since throughout my life. He also helped to instil strong values about hard work and dedication right from the start although, to be fair, I was that way inclined by instinct.
I was oblivious to the adage of golf being an ‘old man’s game’ and, in ways, I was lucky there were so few other junior/schoolboy golfers to play with. Practically all of my early golf was played with adults and I was also fortunate that there was a strong cohort of senior cup standard players in my home club, Limerick, who were prepared to tolerate playing with me. Whenever I did, I studied them closely and improved rapidly as a result.
Golf taught me a tremendous amount, not only about sportsmanship, but how to treat people in a respectful way. I would never claim that I always lived up to what I was taught in this regard but it is to my credit that I always knew when I did something wrong that I was wrong for doing it in the first place.
Father Enright had a subscription to the weekly American magazine Golf World—quite a rare matter in Ireland in the 1960s. When he had finished with the latest issue, which arrived three or four weeks after publication, he would pass it on to me. We would have no idea whatsoever who would have won the latest tournament in the U.S. until the magazine arrived. It was as good as today’s news to us. We eagerly looked forward to each issue, and whenever the magazine arrived late or out of sequence, there was consternation and, the postman was blamed!
Little did the Golf World team of writers realize they had two such dedicated fans in County Limerick. Father Gerry also had a fine library of golf books, which he systematically lent to me. They were all read with relish and the instruction ones became my bibles and helped to show me the way to improvement.
I am grateful that before Gerry died, he left instructions that his golf books should be given to me. They became the foundation stones for an extensive collection of over-700 golf books today. I am very proud of my golf book library, which has been very useful to me in my writing career.
Fr. Enright and I played golf in an era long before Tiger Woods came on the scene. I don’t know what my reverend friend would have made of Tiger’s fall from grace but before it happened, he would have been one of Tiger’s most devoted fans. I could picture him at a JP McManus Pro Am, stalking Tiger and straining every sinew and brain muscle to figure out how far each drive travelled by mentally marking the spots and coming back later to measure them. Much easier nowadays with DMDs available but not so back then. Fr. Gerry would put this device to a different use than everyone else. He would measure the distance BACK TO THE TEE, instead of towards the flag. That was the most important piece of information as far as he was concerned. The wonder is I never became as obsessed with distance as he was.
Needless to say, I was surrounded by adults at the Golf Club almost every day. In and around the clubhouse, I learned how to be invisible and if I was seen – not to be heard until I was spoken to first. It helped me to be welcomed into the world of adults sooner than most of my contemporaries. I strongly believe that Junior Member Sections today are good only up to a point. As soon as a young lad reaches single figures, he should be welcomed into adult matches at least occasionally. Young golfers need to be stretched and have their boundaries expanded. It is not good for the best young golfer in a club to have to play all the time with inferior players. Here are a few more thoughts on why, and how, kids should be introduced to the game:
Teaches proper manners and how to be respectful – Being around adults as a junior at a golf course can be intimidating. I learned quickly that you have to be respectful to adults which in turn, made me realize that it is beneficial to be respectful to everyone. To this day, I take pride in the manners I learned on the golf course.
Participating in an outdoor activity in an electronic world – With modern technology, it is so easy to get distracted with electronic games, iphones, iPads, etc. Golf is a great way to get kids out of doors for a large part of the day. That’s so much healthier than being inside looking at a device.
Honesty and Integrity – Golf is a sport where to be successful, you must be honest with yourself. There are not many sports where a competitor will call a penalty on himself. I’ve seen this happen many times in golf but not in other games. By learning to be honest with my game, it helped me to be the same in other aspects of my life (to a fault, at times)
Provides a safe and healthy environment – There are so many things to do during the summer months and I know my parents were more than thrilled that I spent all of my time at the golf course. It was hard to get oneself into trouble there! All I wanted to do was play golf and get better. Being out in the fresh air instead of hanging around a shopping mall or sitting on a couch watching TV or playing video games all summer long, has to be better for a young person.