The Island in the Sun

John Craven

Dad looks on as Peter O'Keeffe lines up a putt at The Island

John Craven

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It was take-two of bring your dad to work day for me on Friday for the second round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open at The Island.

Dad had travelled with me to the European Club to watch Peter O’Keeffe capture his historic title in Brittas Bay in October so I phoned him up midweek looking for the sequel.

“You’re only looking to use me for material,” he said. No flies on Dad.

“Of course not. I just want to cherish the little time we have left together while sharing a sport so close to both of our hearts.”

“Count me in so,” he said, fighting back the tears. “I’ll show you where I made my famous birdie on the par-3 fifth.”


We met in the carpark as the sun threatened to burst through the clouds. Dad had already bumped into O’Keeffe and given him a pep talk. He’d also wandered into the clubhouse to enquire about the green fees.

“€200!” Dad exploded with laughter. If you didn’t laugh you’d cry.

“It was £8 when myself and Matt Lynch played it in 1978.”

With the likes of O’Keeffe, West of Ireland winner Alan Fahy, and former Walker Cup star Caolan Rafferty out in the afternoon wave, we were spoiled for choice with groups to follow. Dad had spotted Darren Clarke’s course record hanging proudly in the clubhouse; a remarkable 63 at the Smurfit Irish PGA Championship in 1999. Clarke could rest easy another night. There’d be no 63s today.

We wandered down the 10th fairway to get the lie of the land. Unlike Dad, I hadn’t played The Island but much like the European Club, its reputation preceded it – a ferocious test of golf, even on a calm day. It just so happened the wind on Friday would blow the whiskers off your granny’s chin. I turned around to Dad to make sure he was still standing. He was busy marking his territory on a gorse bush, battling a three club wind. With his hydrated 78-year old bladder and a coffee on board, we were in for a long day.

So were the players.

After checking out a sprinkling of holes, we moseyed back to the first in time to catch O’Keeffe being announced on the tee. Two-over after the first day, his good luck charms had arrived to reignite his tournament chances. The Douglas man striped a long iron down the middle, chasing it through the narrow chute of dunes. Then he came up half a club short with his approach and three-putted, and proceeded to bogey his first three holes. Friday the 13th. Our lucky charms were going to be up against it.

Yet, as much and all as we arrived to watch the best amateurs in Ireland navigate a legendary links, I knew Dad was particularly anxious to retrace his steps to that famous birdie on the fifth from 1978. Only problem was that when we reached the fourth, it happened to be a par-3, and not the one he’d played. Worse still, the fifth was a par-4!

We made our way back towards the clubhouse to hatch a new plan, ambling by a stressed competitor chasing after a scorecard on the adjacent fairway not realising he’d be far better off without it. Dad claimed his three-wood crossed the Irish Sea en route to his most prized ‘2’ way back when, so we got our hands on a scorecard and a course map to help us out. With just three par-3s on the layout, we’d already seen two of them, so the par-3 13th was our only hope.

As luck would have it, a familiar face had moved to the top of the leaderboard and happened to be approaching the hole as we made our way out. I’ve known Marc Boucher ever since he rocked up to Carton House as a mini-McIlroy when he was about 10-years old. I worked on the golf operations team, mostly collecting balls on the driving range, and Marc kept me busy, hitting thousands each day as he crafted a swing that saw him leading this international field on Friday. I wonder if he’ll thank me in the speech?

With two birdies in his first three holes, Boucher was just one of two players under par as The Island showed its teeth. Dad was showing teeth too, grimacing, still trying to compute how his birdie on the fifth in 1978 could possibly have taken place on the 13th, but as he bowled over the brow of the dunes and Malahide came into view, there was no doubting the magical turf beneath his feet. He’d been here before.

Dad swore he’d hit the most magnificent three-wood of his life out over the Irish Sea and watched it ride the wind all those years ago.

“The tee-box must’ve been out there,” he pointed, into the sea itself, as if the turn of the tide wasn’t playing tricks on his mind. Boucher had just made a brilliant ‘3’ – Dad 1-up – and with the tee-box evacuated, the old man made his way between the pegs to visualise a shot that has outlasted many a memory in between; that three-wood struck so sweetly that it came to rest on a cloud 15 foot from the pin.

“There was a lad sitting by the green on a lawn-mower and I’d say he thought he was watching Seve himself,” Dad recalled after hammering home the birdie putt. “Just as well he didn’t keep watching. I made a 10 on the next!”

Much like Dad, the Boucher Boy couldn’t keep his run going either, giving his two early birdies back on 16 and 18. He would drop just one more on his homeward half of 37 to share the halfway lead at even alongside Robert Moran and Ryan Griffin.

Wind beaten and sun-kissed, Dad led me to the halfway house for a well-earned drink in a room with a view. €6 for a Guinness – almost as much as he paid for the green fee in 1978! – but you’d be hard-pressed finding a creamier pint of porter on the island. Besides, with the on-course entertainment free of charge and a great day out had, who’s going to argue with that?

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