Lining up a better future, with Dearbhla Behan

John Craven

Dearbhla Behan - Momentum Golf Photography

Dearbhla Behan’s journey to the top job at Rush Golf Club is a fairly typical golfing tale.  

Living right by Balbriggan GC, Behan regularly caddied for her dad until one day he handed her a club. 

“It was a men’s Top Flite stiff shaft 7 iron,” she laughs. “I’ll never forget it. I hit it about 100 yards and was instantly hooked!” 


In 2010, Behan graduated from Waterford IT with a degree in Exercise & Health Studies but it was during her J1s to East Hampton that the seed for a career in golf was planted.  

Watching how Maidstone Golf Club’s Jason Jeffries went about his business, Behan became besotted with the idea of becoming a club pro; her desire to teach taking her from Maidstone back to Balbriggan where she first worked in a pro shop environment alongside Nigel Howley before embarking on her PGA training under the tutelage of Brendan McGovern at Headfort. 

Unsurprisingly, Behan’s mentors were mostly men in the male dominated golf space but her training coincided with Lurgan’s Zoe Allen, while the trailblazing Gillian Burrell provided a constant source of inspiration. 

“Gillian Burrell was the female club pro,” Behan says. “She was involved with the PGA as a PGA lecturer and she was my only interaction with female pros. 

“When you look at everything Gillian has achieved, she is beyond most men with the qualifications she has, and she was a huge influence for female pros at the time.” 

Since being appointed as Head Professional at Rush Golf Club in November 2017, Behan has been forging her own path in a bid to plug the gender gap still so prevalent in golf. 

“We’re getting there,” she says. “The Ladies Get into Golf programmes are helping. Zoe’s Junior Academy is incredible. Hazel Kavanagh has been a trailblazer on the playing side of things.  

“Once these women started breaking down barriers, the coverage definitely increased. Obviously Leona Maguire is doing great things as well but for all the strides, I still don’t think it’s hit home that women’s golf is at this amazing level.  

“I think there’s still so much untapped potential.” 

Golf Ireland reports that the gender divide between men and women rests about an 80/20 split, with Behan convinced that if young girls were treated the same as boys from the outset, that their numbers could soon flourish. 

“I think we baby women and junior girls into golf,” Behan explains. “You have boys playing 18 holes while the girls are over here playing six. I think we’re missing how to connect with women, how to speak to them.  

“Rush GAA is thriving with a huge female section so is it a golf thing, or a sport thing? I mean, we’re quite durable, we’re quite resistant. You can throw us in at the deep end. 

“We’re missing instilling that competitive side early that girls will respond to just as much as the lads.” 

Through her work as part of a 12-team women’s advisory board with TaylorMade, Behan has seen how the game of golf has been marketed to women at every level; a shrink it and pink it mentality that for too long disrespected the skillsets of women around the world. 

“That attitude is still there, throw a flower on it and make it pink,” Behan says. “But at least TaylorMade is making the effort to get more women into golf.  

“They’re hosting female only demo days with a female doing the club fitting. They’re breaking it down to the point that women want to know why a club is the right club for them.  

“And the Kalea Premier is now a huge thing for women’s golf.” 

There’s no doubt that women’s participation numbers are on the rise. At Rush alone, Behan’s Junior section went from one or two girls to a thriving tribe of twenty in the space of five years.  

In her role as Head Professional at the club, she stood behind the desk as living proof of just how far young girls could go in the game of golf, but in April 2022, Behan’s world was turned upside down by the best thing that ever happened to her – the birth of her first child, Jack. 

“The positive is it can be done,” Behan said of a juggling act that nearly broke her.  

“I’ll be brutally honest. I didn’t plan to have Jack, Jack happened, and he’s the most amazing kid in the world.  

“But looking back, if I was to have another baby, I would have to have a baby in winter. Say in October and hit the ground running in the summer in the club, but how often is that going to materialise?” 

In 2023, aiming to have your baby in winter shouldn’t be the only solution to avoiding the stress that Behan suffered last year and yet here we are. Jack’s birth coincided with the golf season teeing off, and when it came to informing the club of the great news of her first baby, if anything, Behan found herself instead justifying the time away. 

“I was worried,” she recalls. “And I remember saying ‘I’m going to have a baby, I’m due in April, but don’t worry, everything is going to be fine.’  

“I almost felt I needed to apologise. Like, ‘I’ll be back in action in two months, you won’t even know I was gone.’ I remember saying things like that as if I’d done something wrong but I was going to make up for it.” 

From the moment she shared her news, Rush Golf Club were nothing but supportive but Behan’s concerns reflected the male environment that she was a product of, where men live life largely unburdened by the implications of having a child.  

As it happened, sharing the news of her pregnancy was nothing compared to what came next; an inexcusable lack of support where the only financial aid she received was €280 a week payment from the Irish government – all Dearbhla was entitled to for being self-employed. 

“I have a mortgage and a family so it’s not a whole lot of money so basically my dad volunteered quite a lot while I was on maternity leave and helped run the shop for me, and a couple of juniors jumped in and out as well,” Behan reveals.  

“It was nearly a disaster to be honest. My business suffered hugely and I’m still only really getting my feet back now to the point that the business is becoming viable again.  

“I thought I could be back to work within two months but I was so wrong. I was delusional!” 

Behan might’ve been overly optimistic but it must’ve come as a shock as to just how little she was entitled to. There was also the small matter of her annual PGA fee of €500. 

“It was gas because the PGA didn’t have a category to put me in,” Behan remembers. “I wasn’t going to be a PGA pro for the year essentially because I wasn’t going to be teaching so they put me in this inactive category which I thought was just so wrong.  

“I was active, I was trying to do my job, I was trying to do everything, but the PGA didn’t recognise it. That was when John Kelly came on board and said ‘no, we need a category, this has to be recognised’, and so the category was basically developed there and then for maternity leave.  

“Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t provide any benefit other than I didn’t have to pay the fee for the year, but it was something.” 

Even after a C-section, Behan would only take two full months away from the shop, returning for one or two days a week to keep her business afloat before taking another three weeks for herself in September. 

Amazingly, she’s not bitter, far from it, but without the support of her family, it’s hard to envisage how Behan’s business could’ve survived the birth of her son. A sacrifice no woman should ever have to make, let alone in 2023. 

“I was completely naïve,” Behan says. “I was thinking that on the days I have to go to work, sure Jack’s only a baby, he can sit in the pro shop in the buggy, he’ll be fine.  

“As good as he is, that was never going to happen!” 

If Behan could wave a magic wand and implement changes that would make the experience easier for all women, the maternity payment is the obvious thing that needs raising, but she also highlights the need for more input from the PGA who are far from powerless when it comes to having a positive impact. 

“In Birmingham there’s a four year full-time PGA Programme. I would’ve loved even an offer of guys coming over to do their work experience in my shop while I was away,” Behan says. 

“It could be put in place for anyone, even if someone is ill, that there’s a list of people who can come over, put them into the shop, there’s a wage there for them but it’s coming from the PGA. It would be great to be able to apply for something like that.  

“I wouldn’t necessarily expect the PGA to provide financial support, but maybe that is something that would encourage more women to go down the PGA route – if they knew the PGA had their back.” 

For Behan, it was never about financial support. It was about a support system that would save her business. And maybe it says something about the patriarchal attitudes still rife within the golf industry that Behan can’t see why a woman’s situation in relation to maternity leave should be treated differently to men. 

“I think you have to be careful,” she warns. “If the PGA hand out money to me because I’m on maternity leave, now the balance has shifted in my favour as a female versus a male.  

“A man’s never going to have the opportunity to be off for three months and paid for it, so why should I?” 

Maybe because you’re the one giving birth and sacrificing your body? 

“But that’s my choice,” Behan says. “I think it has to be equal.” 

Whatever about it being equal, it definitely has to be better, from the support issued by the Irish Government right the way through to the PGA. It shouldn’t be a case of choosing between one or the other, family or career, but without Behan’s own loving support system, she would’ve had no choice. Her business would’ve been lost forever. 

“I don’t blame anyone, it was me that had the issue more than anything,” Behan maintains. 

“I think it’s never going to be easy. My advice to any woman going down the PGA pro road is to simply be organised. You have to give yourself the time with your baby, don’t be in any rush to come back, but you also have to ensure that your shop is in good hands.  

“So the nine months you’re pregnant, you’re making sure things are in place, your employees know the standard, that the club is fully aware of what’s going to happen when you go and if it means having three, four, five meetings about the same thing, you do it, because once you go on maternity leave, your priorities completely change.” 

It’s crazy to think that it’s 2023 and Dearbhla Behan is trailblazing a path for women to have children while managing their careers but rather than resent anyone for what happened, Behan simply hopes her experience can transform the journey for those coming next. 

“It’s 100% doable but it could’ve been so much easier, and if that means me doing it the first time and highlighting what’s wrong, then hopefully another female pro won’t be put under the pressure that I was put under financially, or time-wise. That something else could be put in place,” she says. 

“That’s the positive, and I accept that somebody always has to go through the negative in order to get the positive out of it.  

“I think only now looking back I realise how negative it was but at the time I was oblivious, I was just really happy to have my baby and to be able to spend time with Jack.  

“I don’t want this to come across like it was the worst experience ever because it wasn’t, it was just hard, and it continues to be hard.  

“I had to close the shop yesterday to pick Jack up from the creche because he wasn’t well. So it continues to be hard but you adapt, and I think women are really good at adapting.” 

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One response to “Lining up a better future, with Dearbhla Behan”

  1. Biomedis avatar

    What inspired Katie Behan’s aspiration to become a club pro, and how did observing Jason Jeffries at Maidstone Golf Club play a role in shaping her career path? After her time at Maidstone, how did her desire to teach lead her back to Balbriggan, and what was her experience working in a pro shop alongside Nigel Howley? Could you provide more details about her PGA training under Brendan McGovern at Headfort, and how these experiences contributed to her journey as a golf professional?
    tel u

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