Harrington looks to youth

By Brian Keogh

Tadhg Harrington might not be a bookmaker any more, but he still couldn’t resist the opportunity to give the eight-year old in the Manchester United hat a target worth thinking about.

“Betcha ten euro you can’t do that again,” he said, challenging another potential Padraig Harrington to land his ball inside a large circle some 40 yards away.

The kid couldn’t either, shanking his attempt into the side of one of John Kelly’s driving bays at St Margarets Golf and Country Club near Dublin airport on a bitterly cold January evening.

“That’s pressure,” teased Tadhg. Watching him in action, you couldn’t help thinking that his his little brother Padraig must have been subjected to some equally tortuous bustling during his formative years.

Even before he became Open champion, Harrington has made a point of putting something back into golf in Ireland and now that the Claret Jug sits proudly on his sideboard at home, the Dubliner is more determined that ever to leave a permanent mark on the Irish game.

With the help of his brother Tadhg, who sold his bookmaking business to Paddy Power a few years go, Ireland’s first major winner for 60 years plans to spend part of his golfing fortune setting up the first of what he hopes will be a string of Padraig Harrington Academies by 2009.

The first one will cost between €7 and €10 million to build on land provided free of charge by Fingal or Rathdown County Councils in the Dublin area.

Harrington himself isn’t freezing to death on Dublin’s northside this evening, having spent “all day” in one of his bunkers at home on the Monday following his first appearance of the season in the Abu Dhabi Championship.

Still, he’s there in sense as Tadhg and PGA professional Kelly give around 15 young hopefuls their first taste of what the game entails through the First Tee programme at St Margarets.

Harrington's club sponsors Wilson have provided the participants with a batch of five, six and seven irons - brand new ladies clubs with graphite shafts - that they will get to keep and take home providing they finish their 16-week beginner’s course at St Margarets.

Nine-handicapper Tadhg has volunteered to help Kelly introduce kids to the game and get a feel for what they will need when the first 60-bay Padraig Harrington 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 try the game and ditch the video console for the golf course.

What’s happening at St Margarets is being replicated all around the country by dedicated club professionals as well as the First Tee and the Junior Golf Ireland programmes.

What’s needed now is a way of co-ordinating these efforts in a more cohesive way and the Harrington clan is doing its bit to create a rallying point.

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

"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."

Harrington sat down with Sports Minister Seamus Brennan in December to discuss his plans and while the amount of red-tape involved has proved to be frustrating, the project will happen within two years.

At least, that’s Tadgh’s forecast and knowing the Harringtons, it sounds like and safe bet.