Portarlington Golf Club became the latest inductee into the Offaly Junior Golf Academy that continues to thrive in the name of Junior golf development.
Founded in 2018, the Academy brought together Esker Hills, Tullamore, Birr, Edenderry and Castle Barna to provide Juniors between the ages of 8 and 18 opportunities to develop and grow through Junior coaching support to Offaly Golf Clubs.
Since then, the Academy has established itself as one of Ireland’s leading Junior Golf Academies, highlighted by the programme’s representation across this year’s Golf Ireland High Performance panels.
Prior to the initiative, Offaly boasted three underage prospects on national panels but now the Faithful County can count no less than 13 Junior boys and girls, including eight players who were introduced to the game at local club level before graduating onto the Academy setup where they progressed further onto the Golf Ireland panels.
“Our vision all along was to develop our Junior golfers in Offaly and to provide additional support to our golf clubs in strengthening their Junior programmes,” says Brian Monaghan, Chairperson of the Academy.
“If other regions can take inspiration from that, we’re all for it as ultimately it’s for the greater good of Junior golf, and Irish golf.”
Indeed, the programme has been resurrecting great junior tournaments of years past with the celebrated return of the Midland Boys championship at Birr that had previously dropped off the schedule.
With past winners comprising of a who’s who of Irish golf in Padraig Harrington, Damien McGrane and Eamonn Darcy, 68 players lined up in Birr, including a competitive girls’ section as underage golf was given another opportunity to flourish via the Academy’s fresh stamp on the region.
The Academy’s newest member, Portarlington, has since seen 16 Juniors assessed by programme coach, Eamonn O’Flanagan, who is also Pathway Manager for Golf Ireland’s High Performance coaching programme for Midlands East.
The six successful Juniors can now access a very impressive team and all-encompassing coaching ticket for 2022 where they’ll be continuously assessed with a focus on Professional Golf Coaching, Strength and Conditioning as well as Sports Psychology.
The Academy has made some marquee signings, welcoming Peter O’Keeffe of “Golf Strong” to the team as its S&C coach. The Douglas man lay siege to the Irish amateur scene last season, claiming the Flogas Irish Amateur Open, the AIG Irish Close Championship and the Munster Men’s Stroke Play.
“My main objective coming at the kids remotely is to educate them into how their bodies are moving, the relevance of any limitations their bodies may have in relation to their golf swing, and then I’ll link in with the coaches on those points and that should be highly beneficial,” says O’Keeffe.
“As the weeks go on, they’ll each get a warm-up for their golf and it will give them a good insight into how to train for golf, and plus, if they’re playing other sports it will help that as well.”
O’Keeffe joins a number of industry experts now at the disposal of Juniors in Offaly with the return of another decorated amateur golfer, Dr. Mark Campbell from the University of Limerick.
“My role in the Academy is to introduce mental skills and mental skills training,” says Dr. Campbell.
“I aim to illuminate the benefits of good thinking and mental strategies for golfers of all abilities to help them perform to their best.”
The Academy was also delighted to confirm that their two professional coaches, O’Flanagan and Corey Doherty remain with the initiative and continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the progression of the programme.
For someone like O’Keeffe, who’s reached the pinnacle of amateur golf in Ireland, it’s hard not to step back and admire just how far golf has come in this country when it comes to promoting junior development.
“In my time, you’re just looking around to see a golfer who’s better than you,” he recalls.
“To be far, I did have the likes of John McHenry and Karl Bornemann to look up to growing up in Douglas but that was your network – you’ve the Senior Cup team to look up to.
“That’s why I try and make myself available as much as I can to our lads. You’re trying to guide them as best you can and help them out. The picture Brian painted was excellent for a collaboration between clubs and the Academy and it’s just a great chance for the kids.”
The ongoing success of the Offaly Junior Golf Academy continues to hinge on the generous support of local businesses.
“Our sponsors have been fantastic and have supported our development since the inception of this venture,” Monaghan stresses.
“We are always looking for additional support to help us grow and without these businesses we would not be able to provide such a comprehensive coaching programme.”
“We are so proud of what we have achieved thus far.
“Our hard-working committee and dedicated sponsors, along with this wonderful team of professionals has collectively developed this Academy into one of the best in Ireland and it bodes well for the future of the game in our county.”
This year the Academy commences with a Strength and Conditioning programme with O’Keeffe from February, followed by six spring coaching sessions which brings the Juniors into May.
Dr. Campbell will present his lessons in June which prepares the Juniors for the summer ahead, with additional short-game coaching and an Academy Junior golf tournament bringing the season to a close in August.
“Who knows,” Monahan says. “We might have a Leona Maguire or Shane Lowry of our own yet!”