Captain Fantastic – Maria Dunne 

John Craven

Maria Dunne in action during the Vagliano Trophy in 2017 in Italy (Image: R&A / Getty Images)

It’s been all change in the life of Maria Dunne since the decorated former Irish international hung up the clubs in August 2017.  

At the time it felt like a bold move. Dunne was victorious at the Home Internationals with Ireland. Had earned a call-up to the Great Britain and Ireland team for the Vagliano Trophy. And perhaps sweetest of all was a commanding individual success at the Women’s Irish Stroke Play at Baltray that same year. 

Dunne looked to be at the height of her powers but deep down she knew it was time to step away, and she did so very much on her own terms. 


“I knew it was time to step away,” Dunne recalls having bookended her career with Home international crowns in 2003 and 2017. 

“When I played the Curtis Cup in 2016, I knew that was the pinnacle of my playing career. I wasn’t planning on going pro. I was happy with that decision and as of now, I’m the only amateur remaining out of the two teams. 15 players have gone pro since but I was always happy with that.  

“I was a bit older, had more responsibilities, I was working full-time, wanted to have kids. I retired with absolutely no regrets.” 

And rightfully so. Dunne maximised her talent to enjoy a glittering amateur career and thankfully, as planned, she’s now the proud mother of two children and five years into a new career as a Development & Club Support Officer at Golf Ireland. 

“It’s been brilliant. The Golf Ireland position became available at the absolute perfect time,” Dunne says. 

“I finished up playing in August 2017 and got the job in October.  

“I had worked at Kinsealy Driving Range for 10 years before that and I was sad to leave it. My employers were always so supportive of my golf. I could practice before, during and after work and it really helped my playing career.  

“When I was on the Curtis Cup, I was 32 and the average age of both teams was about 21. They were full-time amateurs whereas I was working forty hours a week and slotting in forty hours of practice! 

“I loved Kinsealy but once the Golf Ireland role came up I knew it was the perfect role for me at the perfect time in my life.” 

The next chapter in Dunne’s career sees the Dubliner giving back to a game that’s been the making of her; supporting committees and Junior Convenors around Leinster to help increase participation within the sport. Dunne looks after 67 clubs for different reasons. Anything from governance to junior development to getting more women into golf.  

“I’m very happy in my job and I love what I do. Not everyone can say that but I genuinely love the people I work with,” Dunne beams.  

“I love giving back. I came through the junior ranks at Skerries and I know the great work my Junior Convenors did for me – which of course I didn’t appreciate at the time because I didn’t know any better! 

“But they were fantastic so I’m passionate talking to junior Convenors, supporting their role and giving them the opportunity to evolve.  

“Not every club will have an elite player but even just giving juniors a platform to participate is so important and if they develop into great players, that’s brilliant too.” 

Dunne only has to look at her own club in Skerries to witness the number of players waiting to pour through the gates when such chances are unlocked. It wasn’t that long ago that the club had just five or six junior girls on the books. Now, by implementing structure in their junior programme and coaching, coupled with the resources Golf Ireland offers, Skerries boast 55 players under the age of 18, and counting. 

“There’s a very good Junior Convenor in Skerries, there’s support from junior committees and management committees. It comes from the top all the way down, and that’s just one example,” Dunne says. 

“We’ve seen an increase in junior membership over the last couple of years in Ireland which is great, specifically girls – the underrepresented group in terms of numbers in Golf Ireland, roughly 20,000 boys to 4-5,000 girls.  

“There’s a 15% increase in girls taking up golf around the country. That’s down to these Get into Golf programmes, Junior Convenors, the work of volunteers… It could even be a Leona Maguire effect.” 

Maguire influencing participation would come as no surprise to Dunne who witnessed first-hand how impactful the now LPGA Tour winner could be, even on her own development. 

“I played on Irish teams with Leona, two GB&I teams at Curtis Cup and Vagliano and you can see why she’s so successful,” Dunne says.  

“She’s so talented, so dedicated, and as a player, I was learning off her any time we played or practiced together. It’s great that women and girls around the country can see what she’s doing. It goes back to the 20×20 campaign. If you can’t see, you can’t be.” 

While Dunne’s role with Golf Ireland focusses on grass roots development, much of her 2023 will be spent scouring the form of GB&I’s elites having been appointed Vagliano Team Captain by the R&A for the match against the Continent of Europe at Royal Dornoch on June 30 and July 1. 

Dunne previously Captained GB&I in the Junior Vagliano in 2019 and while this latest honour arrives as a natural progression from that, it’s also one that came a little by surprise. 

“I didn’t anticipate getting a call this early about it,” Dunne admits.  

“Maybe I thought in ten years’ time, yeah, I might get the call to do it as a past player. It was out of the blue but there’s no time like the present.  

“I had to consider it, time away from work, time away from home, but Golf Ireland were very good to help me with the time away. My family and friends are incredible too but it was an easy yes! 

“I was thrilled to be asked by the R&A and it’s a huge honour.” 

It’s also a huge task to lead a winning GB&I team given an era of European dominance that has spanned the best part of two decades. Sure, the Continent has a bigger player pool to pick from but Dunne believes the scope for talent in GB&I leaves no room for excuses. 

“Everyone who knows me knows I’m hugely competitive and I want to Captain a winning team,” Dunne says.  

“We haven’t won this since 2005 and it was 2003 in Co Louth that was the last time we won it on home soil. The Europeans have been dominating for the best part of 20 years.  

“Yeah they have a bigger player pool but that’s not an excuse for us. We have a lot of talent in GB&I so from a performance point of view, there’s no reason why we can’t win it this year.  

“We have the home advantage. It’s Royal Dornoch. We’re very good links players. We can cope with the weather if it arrives so hopefully that will stand to us.” 

Dunne would dearly love to see an Irish player on her team but there’s no future in parochial bias as she goes about assembling a side best capable of toppling the Europeans. 

“Hopefully,” she says. “Lauren Walsh has been on the last couple of Curtis Cup teams and she’s definitely on track to make this team. Obviously it would be great to have an Irish player or two but I can’t be biased! 

“We’re fortunate to have some great players to choose from. A lot of our players are in America and looking at the scores over there I’m like, ‘Wow’, they’re regularly shooting very low scores and consistently as well.  

“In terms of the team selection, WAGR picks five of the players automatically and I’ll have three Captain’s picks. I’ll only have the Women’s Amateur to actually see the players for the first time and that’s just two weeks before the event. 

“But these girls are next level. Some will turn pro the following year so from Captaining them to watching them on the LET/LPGA Tour will be their progression. The standard has massively improved even since I stepped away from high performance.” 

Dunne’s job will be to deliver an environment in which these players thrive and while she doesn’t have much time to get to know personalities, she’ll lean on every ounce of her own experience to bring out the best of her side. 

“I think if you have a team that’s enjoying the atmosphere and the company, having fun, prepping and performing without knowing anything about what I’m doing in the background, I think that’s the best way to get the best out of your players,” she says. 

“I want to be fair at the same time. Fun and fair will be my captaincy style. It’s going to be a quick turnaround trying to figure out personalities but hopefully I can get to know them all and we can really make home advantage count.” 

There was a time Maria Dunne never thought she’d be a Vagliano player herself, let alone a Curtis Cup player. Given her trajectory, who’s to say Dunne won’t now become a Curtis Cup Captain one day. 

“I’m not even thinking about that yet,” she says. “We’ll see what the future holds but I’ll learn a lot as Vagliano Captain.  

“And I’d love to captain an Irish team in the future and be involved in discussions at work in relation to high performance.  

“They’ve got a brilliant team headed up by Neil Manchip and I’m always happy to give my input but my current role is very satisfying. I’m loving it and I find it very fulfilling. 

“I’ve been very lucky both as a player, and now in my new role with Golf Ireland.  

“As a player, I just wanted to be the best amateur I could be and I’m very happy that I managed to achieve that. 

“Now I just want to give back to a game that has given me more than I could’ve ever wished for.” 

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