Damien McGrane’s not wrong when he tells me that he’s “one in a million”. After 12 years plying his trade on the European Tour, the Kells man returned to the PGA regional circuit in Ireland in 2015 and hasn’t looked back since.
The winner of the China Open in 2008, McGrane’s more recent victories include wins at Beaverstown and Ballykisteen.
Having returned to PGA life after living it up in the big time, Damien now enters a new chapter in his golfing career as he takes over the reins as Head Professional at the ambitious Carlow Golf Club. A journey that began in the humble surroundings of Portmarnock Golf Club as an assistant pro has taken McGrane around the world and back again, though he’ll never forget who gave him his start.
“I found the natural progression for me at the time was to try and find myself a future that could pay my mortgage and keep me within the game of golf, which I loved back then, so thankfully I got the job as assistant to Joey Purcell at Portmarnock. It was a really positive move for me, the facilities were great and alongside Joey my golf improved year on year.”
“The Irish region was quite strong back then in the 90s and the motivation for a young man starting off was the money. Between that and the motivation of wanting to have personal success, that all drove me to strive forward. Some people never come to realise in their whole life-time what makes them competitive, but I realised early on that there was an awful lot of things that didn’t interest me in my life, but that golf brought out the best in what I had.”
McGrane’s road to finding his own path within the game led him to Wexford Golf Club, where he served as Head Professional until 2005. It was an experience that he’ll be sure to draw plenty from in his new role in Carlow.
“Wexford was a very positive experience for me, to the extent that I was on the European tour, but I didn’t want to leave Wexford. No doubt times have changed from a business point of view, the internet has changed things, but I presume dealing with people on a one-to-one basis hasn’t changed – the interpersonal relationships which I believe a PGA pro’s life depend on.”
“I would think that I’m pretty good at that. I’ve a good story to tell because of my European Tour days and I think that people will naturally want to meet me and talk to me. So, it gives me a leg up the ladder and it puts me slightly ahead of my fellow pros with regards to accessing members and accessing the golfing public.”
So why Carlow at this stage of his career? McGrane has put the hours in behind the pro shop desk before. He’s dealt in retail, delivered lessons and back-to-back Order of Merit titles on the Regional Tour, suggesting that he still has plenty to give on the fairways too.
“The position is a good fit for me. It’s a country setting and everybody knows that Carlow is a great golf course. That to me is a huge positive because no matter what happens, Carlow will always be a great course. Through the interview process, the vibe I got from the committee was that they’re progressive in nature. I think they agreed that things have been slow moving forward in the area but I found their enthusiasm for the future infectious.”
“Working closely with the members I feel we can improve the facilities. If we can improve the member experience that will in turn improve the visitor experience. It will bring Carlow back to its best days.
Hopefully I will bring a positivity to the club. I want to help the members and the committee, make the people at the golf club feel better about themselves and the environment they play in. I want them to reinvest in the facilities and all of a sudden, we have an opportunity to go forward together and bring Carlow back to being the first club you think about in the Midlands and not slightly down your list.”
In Carlow, however, McGrane has undoubtedly taken on a project that will require a large investment of time to succeed, which begs the question, how much time will be left over for his own Regional Tour ambitions? Professionals and assistants around the country might be encouraged to know that a man who’s held the monopoly on the winner’s enclosure of late might be leaving his clubs in the back seat for the majority of 2018.
“The Irish region was very good to me and needless to say I won the Order of Merit twice. But without meaning to sound disrespectful to anybody, I’m bored with the thoughts of playing the Irish Region. The standard is quite good on the circuit but it didn’t fulfil my needs, it didn’t fulfil my ambitions. Being honest, if the Carlow job was advertised a year earlier I would have applied for it.”
“I’ve made big promises to Carlow Golf Club and I intend on fulfilling all those promises. So, my golf will take a back seat. I will play regularly in Carlow with the members and we might support the Irish Region and play Pro-Ams in Ireland, like I’ve done in the past. But this time I will be doing so alongside Carlow members and customers of the shop. Not golf club sponsors or the Captain of the golf club where we play. And I will play with those people because it’s in my interest to do so.”
“I want to hit the ground running in Carlow. I want to get the shop up and running and operating as fast as possible. And I want to have good meaningful relationships with the members as fast as possible, so it’s not in my interest to be away from the golf club because as I said, I’ve made a lot of promises and I intend on meeting my side of the bargain.”
“I feel that coming off the European Tour and going back into PGA life is a big plus for me and I believe that I can use that to my advantage. It will open doors and avenues that others may not have access to, for the club and myself. I have already formed a relationship with Sheehy Motors in Carlow Town to get them involved. They are going to sponsor me as a brand ambassador. They are keen to get involved with somebody of my pedigree and it will give them a presence at the club.”
It’s clear from listening to him speak that there’s a genuine excitement in his voice at the prospect of returning to the environment in which the story of Damien McGrane, the golfer began. However, a large part of that character we’ve come to know is made up of a competitive spirit sparked by golf club in hand, the like of which would be impossible to fully replicate elsewhere. That said, three and a half years shy of the big 50, how tempting a proposition would the Seniors Tour be down the road.
“Look, I love to see my home club pro Brendan McGovern doing so well on the Seniors and getting his card again for 2018, I am very proud of what he’s achieved. It gives me a great buzz when people are up for the challenge, but because I’ve played European Tour, the grim reality is that the Seniors Tour is division, three, four, whatever way you want to see it.”
“It’s something that is in my future, because as a past champion on the European tour I’ll have full access to the Seniors tour when I hit the big 50. But it’s not like I’m praying for the time to pass or wishing my life away. When the time comes it’s an opportunity to reignite old relationships, play three rounds of golf and play for a few bob, but it’s not something that I see as a cash cow in the future.”
“It is improving, but it’s never going to be a money pot like Des Smith encountered in the US when he went to the US Seniors Tour and all of sudden you’ve a second opportunity to bank a lot of money, I don’t see that from the Seniors. That’s why I’m trying to pave the way for a healthy future for myself in Carlow Golf Club. I’ll need to keep myself in reasonably good stead that I am actually still able to walk 18 holes and compete at the level.”
“But you know, I am a PGA pro. Some of my colleagues on the European tour are not PGA pros. I can sit back into a job like Carlow and I can wheel and deal and cut a living out for myself. Some of my colleagues come off the main tour and they will exist on the side-lines and then they wait for the Seniors Tour, it’s slightly different for a PGA member like myself.”
Above images -(Image 1) Damien McGrane with Carlow Golf Club lady captain Bernie Greene and mens captain Gary Hughes
Image 2 – Damien McGrane with Andrew Gilbert PGA who recently retired from Carlow GC
Still, McGrane is the first to admit that it will take more than his influence to bring the glory days back to Carlow, but in Tara Delaney, he has recruited an assistant who will prove a powerful ally in doing just that. A Kent State University graduate, Delaney brings a wealth of experience to McGrane’s side. A local hero, the former Curtis Cup player spent two years on the Ladies European Tour and a further five on the Challenge Tour and beyond, with McGrane understandably delighted to have her on board.
“I’ll be honest, because I was playing on the European Tour I didn’t know much about Tara, then all of a sudden I’m walking around the clubhouse in Carlow and she’s clearly worshipped around the place. She’s had an amazing career and I could only have admiration for all she’s achieved in the game.”
“She’s a local girl too so I felt that she would help me bridge the gap between Damien McGrane the stranger and Carlow Golf Club. She’s been the teaching professional at the Heritage and that will help me greatly too because I’ve been out of the teaching loop since 2005 in Wexford and no doubt there’s things I’ll need to brush up on. But the opportunity is there for both of us, and I’d hope she’d agree that the future is in our hands.”
In Carlow Golf Club, McGrane has inherited a sleeping giant and he’s hoping that his profile within the game will have a major impact upon wakening the place from its slumber. There’s no shortage of confidence from the man, no mincing of words, and it’s a stature that he’s carved for himself in the sport of golf that he will look to exploit in getting Carlow back on the golfing map.
“Carlow have done well, getting me to be their pro, but at the same time I feel it’s a great platform for me to apply my trade and create something positive and profitable for myself. Because ultimately, I am a business man, it’s just that my set of tools happen to be golf clubs in the boot of my car. So I think that just like I did in Wexford, I have no fears. I am not apprehensive about it and I think that the partnership will be good for everybody involved.”
One in a million he might just be as it’s not very often your average Joe Soap playing off 24 could call up his local club for lessons and book in a half hour slot with a European Tour winner. Yet that’s exactly what you’ll be able to do at Carlow. There’s no half measures in taking on this position. From mentoring juniors to putting his arm around a struggling senior, McGrane aims to not just be accessible, but ambitious in his teachings.
“Needless to say that as soon as the appointments come in I will fulfil the agreements I’ve made down the phone, but one of my ambitions will be to drive the team golf in Carlow and get the teams performing to their highest, optimum level. It’s not all about golf swings. I believe I can mentor the people to maximise their own games. Just like when I played with you Peter, I would help you around the golf course to get the most points possible on a given day.”
“In my own career, I had to try and figure out how I could get the maximum out of my abilities with an ordinary game. Golf coaches are two a penny, you can go on the internet and YouTube what’s wrong with my slice, but Damien McGrane will bring a different and unique aspect to golf coaching.
Ultimately, I’m a very ordinary golfer. When I was a young lad, I won the Irish boys off a 6 handicap. So I won the Irish boys when I was there to make up the numbers. That same mentality worked for me on the European tour from 2003 until the end of 2015.”
“I can help people lower their scores, lower their handicaps and I will get pennants hanging on the wall in Carlow, by hook or by crook I’ll manage it. If I have to drag the members out of who they are into somebody better purely by working on their mentality then I will do just that. I will help them get the best out of their ability and their results will prove that they’re better players than what they currently think they are. And if I can do that, above all else, I would have done a good job.”
From everyone here at Irish Golfer, we wish Damien McGrane all the best in his journey.
A WORD FROM TARA DELANEY ASSISTANT PGA PROFESSIONAL
I am very excited to be going back to Carlow as Damien’s assistant. I have represented Carlow at all levels on club teams and internationally so when the opportunity came to work there I jumped at it. I am excited to get working with the members at Carlow and especially the juniors as this is an area I feel I can really pass on my experience and help the young talent progress. I am two years through doing my PGA qualification that I started with Eddie Doyle in the Heritage and moving to Carlow will also let me experience the retail side of being a PGA Professional. My personal goal is to get fully qualified in 2019 and obtain my own role in the future. I know working with Damien and the members at Carlow will really help me further my career and I can’t wait to get started.
Sheehy Motors Carlow – Proud sponsors of Damien McGrane