Former European Tour winner and reigning Irish PGA Champion Damien McGrane recently completed a four-week introductory golf programme for local Ukrainian refugees at Carlow Golf Club.
In a ground-breaking initiative jointly spearheaded by McGrane and a club member involved in local politics, Carlow Golf Club were awarded funding from Carlow Sports Partnership and a dozen Ukrainian nationals who were forced to leave their home countries due to the Russian invasion took part.
McGrane, a PGA Club Professional at Carlow Golf Club, is well aware of the traumatic impact that the war and being forced to flee their home country has had on the Ukrainian people, the difficulties that come with attempting to adapt and integrate into a new society, and was delighted to be able to help out in whatever way he could.
“It was really good, really positive,” McGrane said upon completion of the final session of the initiative, “I’m proud of what we’ve done, and we’ve made a dozen people really happy and introduced them to a game that we all take for granted in Ireland.
“These people were looking for a hobby, to get out of the environment that they are in, so to come to a golf club and experience the fresh air, hit a few golf balls, and be treated warmly and welcomingly in the clubhouse here every day after the lesson – we tried to make it some sort of a package and a morning out on a Tuesday, so we achieved that and I’m delighted it went well. Everybody who participated learned the skills of playing golf, nobody got injured, it’s a positive thing.”
As a touring professional, McGrane was no stranger to foreign lands and the transient nature of life on the road far away from home, so is well aware of the mental challenges that can accompany. “We all can suffer with our mental health from time to time, and these people, I presume, have very traumatic experiences they’re living through at the moment, so we did something small here, brought smiles to their faces, and the people here in the club really enjoyed doing it so we’re very thankful to have had the opportunity and it just shows you that in Ireland, we live a charmed life.”
Along with son Ethon – also a PGA professional – McGrane was able to guide the complete newcomers through the basic skills of the game, “as a coach and as an assistant, we enjoyed watching them improve and seeing the fun and smiles it brings to their faces when they do hit good shots because it’s a brand new skill to them.”
Having played on the European Tour for 12 years, twice qualifying for the Open Championship, and then competing on the Irish PGA circuit after returning home, for much of McGrane’s career he enjoyed the provisions afforded to top professionals for whom the figurative red carpet is rolled out whenever they’re in town.
“In my own career I was used to being very well looked after,” he admits, “I was used to being given whatever I needed and generally I gave very little back. But here was an opportunity to get up out of bed, set up the driving range, set up the balls, collect the clubs, turn up on time, meet the people and give them the coaching. Now, it was modest and minimal coaching, but it’s something that we all take for granted and I was happy and delighted, for once, to give something back to people who didn’t ask for it, didn’t come looking for anything, and we just treat them humanely.”
Though admittedly modest in terms of what was provided on the actual coaching level, there was considerable background work that needed to be done to get the initiative off the ground, and though McGrane is cognisant that this may not be a feasible venture for other PGA professionals during the busier summer months, feels that it is something that could easily be an option for the off-season.
“For me, this was a winter program where I have plenty of spare time and I understand my colleagues have to make a living in the summer months, but in the off season these initiatives can be started. I started planning this back in November when I applied for the grant, so it took a while to get here – two-and-a-half months – because I had to go to the centre where they’re being housed and hang up a notice in Ukrainian, collect the names, email addresses, and do all the planning, but it’s not overwhelming at all.
“They are beautiful people to deal with, they’re so polite and courteous, and they really appreciate what I tried to do for them, they really appreciate what Carlow Golf Club provided for them, and we had to do in Carlow was treat them with dignity because this is their time of need. That’s what we did, and I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved, proud of the golf club providing the facilities and the support to get this over the line.”
Naturally, the PGA in Ireland were firmly behind McGrane and the venture. Irish Regional Manager Conor Dillon was contacted by McGrane during the planning stages and was quick to offer the support of the organisation.
“The PGA are all about promoting golf,” Dillon said, “both at professional and grassroots levels. It’s great to introduce people to the game for the first time, especially those who’d not have the chance otherwise, so when I got a call from the head professional at Carlow Golf Club, I was just delighted to be involved.”