I have seen a fair, few golfers in my time but I cannot recall a single one of them with a more endearing personality than the Laughing Cavalier of Lahinch, the late, PJ Queally, who departed his beloved fairways and greens for the last time on October 20th last, having ‘broken’ 90-years of age, which is hardly surprising as he was a competitor in the first ever Munster Boys Championship held at Castletroy Golf Club, Limerick, won by his best friend and fellow Lahinch man, Tommy Skerritt. The two boys were collected at Ennis by the great John Burke and he hosted them in his home for the duration. What a treat that must have been for them both.
PJ was one of Lahinch village’s most popular characters, a true gentleman, and natural golfer. A more devoted greenskeeper for 37-years, a shrewder caddie, or stalwart golfer with such a unique, dashing style would be impossible to name. He could also come up with the most caustic of put downs. When asked to describe the wife of a prominent member, PJ muttered under his breath ‘she’d make a very big green to play onto!’
Because Lahinch had a long-standing rule that did not permit its staff to become members of the golf club although they were allowed to play on the golf course. PJ represented Spanish Point during the thirty-odd years that he competed in the South of Ireland Championship and was the one player nobody ever wanted to be drawn to play against. He was capable of beating anybody, especially in the early rounds. In the 1980s, the rule was rescinded and PJ began playing on the Lahinch senior cup team and was the key addition that saw Lahinch winning the Munster Senior Cup in 1984.
Due to his retiring nature, I’m convinced PJ would have been relieved as much as disappointed whenever he lost a match in the South because playing in front of the large crowds that attended the South in his era, not to mention the onus of carrying the hopes of his fellow locals, would have discommoded him.
His best performance was in 1972 when he reached the semi-finals where he found himself up against his redoubtable clubmate, Greg Young (Kilrush). The match finished all-square after 18-holes, so tie-holes were required to decide who would play Rupert De Lacy Staunton (the eventual winner) in the final. PJ hit two sparkling shots onto the elevated 1st/19th green while his opponent struggled to get out of the rough and was in a ‘hopeless’ position short and right of the green in three ragged strokes. Without hardly paying any attention, Greg holed the ‘impossible’ pitch for the unlikeliest of halves in four and, then, added insult to injury by birdieing the 20th to win the match.
PJ did not practice much or pontificate about technique. The game was as simple to him as ‘seeing’ his shots and ‘just playing them’. On windy days, his low ball flight was particularly effective. One never wanted to be hitting off the tee before him because he played so quickly, he’d take your fingers off if you were tardy in picking up your peg. There was only one thing that PJ ever did slowly and that was downing his second pint of Guinness in the clubhouse after his regular early Sunday morning three-ball game with Michael ‘Darkie’ Skerritt and PJ Skerritt. They rarely took more than two hours and twenty minutes to scorch around the 18-holes in an aggregate score that was rarely above par.
Scotsman, Duncan Gray, a former head greenskeeper at Lahinch was particularly sad to hear of PJ’s passing. He said: “PJ was a great man to have working on the golf course. He had a great work ethic; always punctual, very reliable and conscientious, taking great pride in his work. A brilliant ball striker and such a lovely man too. Always in good humor, always smiling. I’m so sad to hear of his passing”.
There will never be another PJ Queally. May he rest in peace.