The Great Escape

John Craven
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Prior to penning this, I typed in the directions to the golf club from my address to ensure I wouldn’t get myself into trouble. 4.9km, door to door. You couldn’t make it up… Actually, of course I could, but journalistic integrity and all that.

I was asked by my sister-in-law today if I was excited about tomorrow.

“About what?”

“Playing golf stupid!”

It took her enthusiasm to hit home what a big deal this all is. And of course, I’m excited, but it’s not so much excitement about the prospect of keeping score or hitting shots. I’m buzzing for the chance to play with friends again, to get away from the screen for four hours, to escape Groundhog Day and embrace something familiar that will undoubtedly feel new.

I couldn’t care less how I play. In fact, I’d like to apologise in advance to the starter whose eyes will be mauled tomorrow at 8.30am by a golf swing that shouldn’t be aired before the watershed.

Though I guess I care a little; enough to unearth the clubs from the shed this evening anyway, evicting a few spiders along the way to have a few swings in the back garden to loosen up. I’ve had the 56 degree out for most of the lockdown chipping balls into an evasive bucket but I’d neglected the other 13 clubs in the bag.

You see, I didn’t partake in the back-yard golf set-up one-upmanship that swept social media since the fairways closed. I don’t need a launch monitor to tell me I’m doing it wrong, the chunks taken out of the lawn get the message across just fine.

I do regret not checking the arsenal sooner though. I had a sticky situation with a half-eaten Mars bar melting and marinating inside one of the pockets. I must’ve been playing good golf last time out at least because when I’m hacking it ‘round, eating’s my only comfort.

But for me, tomorrow is a big day for more than reasons golf. In 2006, as part of Transition Year in secondary school, I landed a job for a week’s work experience at Carton House. For years as a young lad strapped in beside Dad in his Transit van, we’d leave Leixlip to do the weekly food shop in Maynooth, back when Tesco had a cattle mart and kids could get lost without people worrying about them.

And on that drive, I’d always try and make myself as tall as I could in the passenger seat as we drove by Carton Demesne, stretching until my head compressed against the roof to peek over its mighty outer wall. Even before it was a golf course, the place held a mystery where the great families of Kildare dwelled long before it was a dairy farm, let alone a golf resort.

But when I heard it was to become the site of two championship courses, one to be designed by 1998 Masters champion, Mark O’Meara, who happened to be best friends with my golfing hero, Tiger Woods, I’d ride the bus up and down the old Galway road from Leixlip to Maynooth just to sit on the upper deck and spy any progress with the development.

Needless to say, I pinched myself clocking in on day one as a spritely teen eager for work. And what a job it was. Tasks like collecting balls in the driving range buggy and washing them only to do it all again felt less mundane and more magical. I was the one sculpting the pyramids on the practice ground like the artists who’d do the same for the pros on Sky Sports. People warned me how difficult this ‘life’ craic was. I went into the career guidance counsellor in school the next week and said, ‘listen Barry. I’ve appreciated our chats but I’ve got the whole thing sorted’.

The place was purring back then. Little Old Ireland in 2006 with its golfers commuting to the course by helicopter and our outrageous tipping culture that put America to shame. The first tip I received was a crisp €50 note for handing a chap a buggy key. I didn’t even turn it on for him. And Mam used to tell me money didn’t grow on trees. She obviously hadn’t seen the ones down the road in Carton.

I kept that job through secondary school and college and even went back after foreign travels at an age where perhaps I should’ve been pushing for employment elsewhere. In the end, I survived where others didn’t. Familiar sounds of helicopters in flight fluttered away in the breeze. Colossal subscriptions that only the few could afford began to dwindle and corporate outings for Porsche and Prada were soon replaced by societies packing their golf bags with cans of cheap lager where before, only Dom Perignon would do.

2006 Ireland may have been too good to be true but the excitement I feel driving through the gates of Carton House has never gone away. On Wednesday, I get to make that journey as a member, something little old me could’ve never dreamed on that drive to and from Tesco.

But I’m playing the Monty. 8.30 am, first tee. If nothing else, I really hope that first shot makes it to Kildare.

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