Harrington's grassroots approach

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington has targeted the PlayStation generation in his search of Ireland's future Open champions.

The Dubliner plans to spend part of his massive fortune setting up multi-million euro Padraig Harrington Academies over the next few years.

His brothers Tadhg and Columb, coach Bob Torrance and trainer Liam Hennessy are all involved in getting the first €10 million driving range off the ground.

But Harrington's club sponsors Wilson have been the first to act, providing free clubs for kids who participate in the First Tee programme at St Margarets Golf and Country Club near Dublin airport.

Harrington's older brother Tadhg has volunteered to help club pro John Kelly introduce kids to the game and get a feel for what they will need when the first 60-bay Padraig Harrington golf academy opens its doors.

But like his brother the major champion, he dreams of the day when youngsters from all over Ireland will get the chance to play the game and ditch the video console for the golf course.

Tadhg said: "The kids that come here to learn about the game know I am Padraig's brother and it gives them a great thrill to be involved in golf.

"We want to tap into the popularity of golf at the moment and try and get kids away from the PlayStation era and sitting in front of the television and get them out into the fresh air and playing golf.

"Padraig asked Wilson if there was any chance of getting clubs for kids, which they will get to keep once they finish their 16-week courses.

"So Doug Wright, who is the Business Director for Wilson Golf Europe, had no hesitation sending us over an initial batch of 20 ladies clubs to get us started with the promise of more to come.

"This is an initiative by the First Tee of Ireland that involves pros around the country such as David Hayes in Dungarvan, Tony Judd in Forrest Little, John Kelly in St Margarets and Louise Darcy, who is involved with Junior Golf Ireland at Carton House.

"None of these kids would be playing golf at all if it wasn't for these initiatives so Padraig is very keen to get involved.

"He wants to try and co-ordinate all these efforts by building special golf ranges around the country so kids have somewhere to go once a month and have a day out at the Padraig Harrington Driving Range.

"We want to give girls and boys of any standard the chance to take the game up. You never know, there might be a Rory McIlroy or a Padraig Harrington at home on the PlayStation and we are trying to get them into golf."

World No 10 Harrington sat down with Sports Minister Seamus Brennan just last month to discuss his plans.

Negotiations on future sites for the ranges are on-going with Fingal and Rathdown County Councils in Dublin.

Tadhg added: "We have been in at ministerial level and Padraig and I are very confident that it will happen and very anxious that it does happen.

"After winning the British Open, he sees it as great way of handing something back to kids who wouldn't have had the chance that he had to attend a golf club.

"Right now we are waiting for the first site to be identified and once that is identified, we can go ahead with everything else.

"It is definitely going ahead and all the bits and pieces are falling into place. Bob Torrance is doing the coaching manual and I would be very disappointed if the first range wasn't open within two years."