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Glasson primed to tackle the challenges presented by Covid-19

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So there’s Annika Sorenstam about to tee off and Lynn McCool studiously turns away from the young Swede as they play for their respective colleges – University of Arizona and University of Hawaii.

In fact, McCool would not watch Sorenstam actually swinging a club any time they played together, but it had nothing to do with disrespecting her opponent.

The number ones for their respective colleges played quite a number of times together in the period 1990-1992 until the Swede decided to quit her studies and turn professional.

One of her quirks was that Sorenstam moved her head toward the target before she struck the ball. It had begun as a coaching drill but worked so well that she incorporated it into her swing.

It worked well for Sorenstam – in fact, very well as she became a golfing legend – but as an opponent, Lynn McCool did not want to allow herself become fascinated or distracted by the unusual movement.

“It’s funny. I played with her many times but I just had to turn away. She used to have a movement with her head, a unique movement that was more pronounced when she was amateur, but not so noticeable when she turned pro.

“I’d be watching her golf ball all right, I’d be watching the flight, and you’d say ‘great shot Annika’ but the actual swing, no,” said Lynn.

Her overall impression of a golfer who was to become one of the greats?

“We would have all been good friends. When they (the Arizona team) came out to Hawaii, she would come out to dinner with us.

“She was quiet, but on the course, her short game… I’ve never seen anything like it.

“She used, I would say, it was a 52 degree wedge, and she would have left it six inches every time. You’d just see her coming out with it and you’d go ‘that’s her up and down.’ She was just brilliant,” she said.

Happy days indeed. Lynn was on a golf scholarship to the University of Hawaii from 1990 to 1994, and reminiscing about days with Annika Sorenstam  was part of the discussion we had recently at the scenically situated Glasson Lakeshore Golf and Country club where Lynn is the Director of Golf.

She took up the position six months before the completion of Glasson’s purchase from its founders, the Reid family, by Paddy McKillen Junior’s Press Up Hospitality Group in November 2019.

Before getting into that, let’s reflect on the career journey that has led the former Irish amateur international to Glasson.

She was born in 1972 in Strabane, County Tyrone, where the McCool family home was almost adjacent to the local golf club.

Her older brother Liam, who preceded her into the PGA in Ireland ranks, and other youngsters became part of the Strabane GC junior programme.

Lynn fell in love with the game from the time she first picked up a club at age seven. Her first real lesson was from City of Derry professional Michael Doherty a few years later, and at age 13 she was selected to play for Ireland in the Girls Home Internationals.

That was some achievement. The Girls age group is for under-18s and Lynn was playing with and against players who were older than her.

The team sent to West Kilbride, Scotland for the Home Internationals in 1986 was: Lynn McCool (Strabane), Tracy Eakin (Laytown & Bettystown), Barbara Hackett (Castletroy), Kim Hunter (Whitehead), Deirdre Mahon (Roscommon), Denise McCarthy (Woodenbridge), Paula McKinstry (Cairndhu), and Vari McGreevy (Rossmore).

Ireland did not fare too well, being beaten 5-2 by Scotland, Wales, and England, but it was a young team and the Irish Independent report of the match with Scotland included a mention of the debutant: “However, the inexperienced Irish did not go down without a courageous fight from Lynn McCool.

“The tiny girl from Strabane was 2 down after 7 holes in her match against Scotland’s Heather Bone, but staged a fine comeback to snatch a half on the last green.”

Lynn played for the Irish Girls team from 1986-89 inclusive, and went on to play European under 21s for Ireland and also win a senior cap in 1993.

She won the Ulster Girls title in 1986, ’87 and ’89,  the Irish Girls Championship in 1988, and took the Scottish Under-21 title in 1992.

That Scottish victory at North Berwick came the hard way, as the Northern Irish girl was in the final three ball along with Mhairi McKay and Janice Moody, both of whom became LPGA Tour and Solheim Cup players.

All of this, plus her experience on the ultra-competitive US College circuit showed that Lynn could play and compete with the best of them, so the next step was to sample Tour golf, despite a serious hankering to go into the PGA ranks.

“Michael Doherty had a lot to do with my career because I worked with him for many years and many summers. I always loved the PGA and I wanted to turn pro.

“I signed up to PGA but then a sponsor approached me in ’94 and said we want to sponsor you to go on the European Tour.

“I remember saying to them I would only do it if they gave me two years sponsorship because I knew how hard it would be,” she said.

Lynn gave it a go for 1994 and 1995 but playing the LET was a costly business, and not enough opportunities to make a decent living.

“I remember making the cut in the French Open, and you weren’t even covering expenses. It’s not too different today. I just wanted to get that qualification as a PGA member. It was the right move,” said Lynn.

She came back even more determined to get her PGA qualification and did her time with Michael Doherty, now sadly deceased, in City of Derry.

Once qualified, she played the Asian Tour in early 1999 when a call came about a potential job in the Stakis Hotel resort which became Hilton Templepatrick.

Lynn became a teaching pro at the resort and in 2004 was promoted to Director of Golf.

She got a thorough grounding in the business side of resort golf during almost eight years at Hilton Templepatrick, and moved on to become Head Professional at The K Club in 2006, shortly before the Ryder Cup.

“A great experience, with great members. The K Club members are people who love to enjoy golf, good food and the craic,” she said.

In 2011 an opportunity arose to join Jim Treacy’s Lough Erne Resort as Director of Golf at a course designed by Nick Faldo.

“So, the next move then, I was introduced to the beautiful Lough Erne. When I saw the property I thought this was just spectacular.

“When I saw the property and I met the owner (Jim Treacy) and I heard the vision he had  and seeing what he had already achieved, because I’d only been introduced to him six months after it opened, he really, really had it spot on.

“So I said I have to be a part of this. A fantastic property. I loved it there and I was there for nine years up to 2018,” said Lynn.

Those years, of course, coincided with the economic downturn, and though Lough Erne performed well during that time, the resort was taken into administration by Bank of Scotland (Ireland) in 2011, and eventually sold to new American owners in 2015.

Jim Treacy’s dream was ended due to the downturn, but Lynn was delighted that the Fermanagh businessman eventually battled his way back to make a return to his first love, the supermarket business at Supervalu Churchtown.

“I’d be very happy for Jim and proud of him. He said he had a five year plan and he achieved it. He’s done very well and he’s back,” said Lynn.

Next stop was Glasson, now the Glasson Lakehouse and Golf Club.

The Reid family, headed by Tom and Breda, had converted their farm into a golf course designed by the late, Christy O’Connor Junior in 1993, and their period home, which dated back to 1780, became a club house.

Development at Glasson continued over the next decade. The Reids expanded the facilities to provide a country house hotel with 65 rooms and suites which became a popular venue for weddings, social and corporate events.

Situated as it is on the shores of beautiful Lough Ree, Glasson offers stunningly scenic views, an asset which Christy Junior utilised to the full when setting out the golf course routing.

In November 2019, the Reids completed the sale of Glasson to the Press Up Hospitality Group. By then, Lynn was in situ as Director of Golf to help the transition for the new management under Paddy McKillen Junior.

The Reid connection remains in the form of Tom and Breda’s daughter Fidelma who is a Director, and their son-in-law Gareth Jones, who is Director of Sales.

On a recent visit to Glasson I was impressed at the ‘buzz’ of activity around the hotel, despite the Covid-19 restrictions.

The good news is that the golf club is thriving, with 269 members and active coaching programmes, including for young male and female golfers, on the schedule.

“With that, we’ve started to put on a lot of programmes for them. We’ve one coming up in August, a family week, so we’re going to have the mother-daughter, father-daughter, whatever combination and then we’re going to have a family scramble because there’s just been such a surge of people wanting to play golf.

“Some of them are new, so part of it would be the Get Into Golf initiative for women. We’ve a woman here, Mary Fahy, she’s a great lady for encouraging the new golfers. Philip Murphy is a PGA pro and he does a lot of coaching with them, so they’ve all gone from coaching programme to membership.

“We just want to make Glasson alive again. It’s always been a beautiful property, but over the years when it’s been tough, the main focus was weddings. And that’s Tom’s (Reid) dream as well.

“I know Paddy McKillen has a great love for the property and that’s great.

“He comes here a lot. He loves the golf. He loves the lake. He’s bought lake boats for the residents to use. He’s got so many plans here for the kids. We’ve got the right person behind it,” said Lynn.

A phased development is planned for the next two years, including a dedicated BBQ area which is currently under construction, a family petting zoo, an onsite cinema, a spa and an Irish-themed pub.

Said Lynn: “We’re very excited about the future. Obviously for the whole world it’s been such a tough time over the last few months. Golf has been one of the saving graces for people to be able to get out in the fresh air and exercise.

“I think that’s what’s keeping the ambience and the atmosphere good here. People are just enjoying the great outdoors.

“I’ve got to get on the back of that as well and make sure that people are still coming here and enjoying it.

“Obviously people have to be careful. We’ve got all the relevant measures in place but we are quite lucky.

“You look at where tourism is going to be for quite some time, but here at Glasson we’re quite fortunate. The domestic market is quite important here as opposed to the links courses who are really missing out.”

Glasson recently hosted the Ireland Boys Faldo Series, and next year, hopefully, the postponed International King’s Cup – a USA v Ireland Ryder Cup-style  fourball stroke play event played in honour of the great Arnold Palmer – will take place in May.

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