Success rarely happens by accident and so it’s no surprise that just seven years after it redeveloped its driving range and short game area, Athenry has a group of young guns ready to take on all comers.
While Michael Mulryan and Fiona Carroll were the international front runners, David Kitt and Allan Hill have since stepped up to the plate and shown why Athenry's junior programme is the envy of clubs all over Ireland.
With a superbly redeveloped golf course, a 300-yard driving range featuring ten outdoor bays and five indoor covered bays as well as a chipping and bunker area built to USGA specifications, the club’s 700 full members and its 200 juniors enjoy wonderful facilities as well as the services of club professional who loves to teach youngsters the game.
“I developed my love for the game as a junior member in Thurles and joined Raymond Ryan in Athenry in the summer of 2001 and became an assistant professional the following year,” said PGA professional Sean Whelan explained.
“It was under Raymond’s guidance that I developed my passion for coaching and after I completed my PGA exams in 2006, I joined Declan Cunningham at Golfstyle in 2007 and he had a big influence on my career.
“I developed as a coach and gained great experience working in the largest golf store in the country.
“But when the opportunity to take over as head professional in Athenry arose in 2018, I jumped at the opportunity because Athenry is a club that is dear to my heart.
“The Junior Programme in Athenry is something we are very proud of. Over the last four years, we have gone from having 24 kids for coaching on a Saturday to 84 this year.
“This would not be possible without the help of Pat Coen, Alan Joyce, Teresa Coen and the rest of the junior committee.
“Our junior programme is very much task orientated for the 7 to 12-year-old age groups, we develop skills through fun games, while also keeping an eye on the fundamentals.
“At this age, it is all about developing a love for the game, as the children grow their skill set and play more we can become more technical and improve them as players. It has proved very successful over the last few years.”
Like many successful clubs, Athenry would not survive without its army of volunteers with various groups carrying out crucial work at the club from replacing divots and performing landscaping duties on the golf course to ensuring that the clubhouse is always in pristine condition.
Of course, it’s no surprise that the club has leaned heavily on its members to move with the times having been forced to relocate several times during its long history.
Founded in 1902, the club was affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1929, starting at Rockfield before eventually moving to the townland of Cullairbawn and Park where it survived until 1952.
It moved to its third home in Mounbawn in 1952, and a new clubhouse was erected in 1958.
But while the membership of the club grew steadily over the next two decades, they were shocked when the lease of the land was lost in 1977 and the club played out of Mountbellew that season, winning its first major trophy, the Connacht Shield, as nomads.
By September that year, a suitable new site was identified in Palmerstown and it remains the club’s home today thanks to the efforts of the members, who staged myriad fundraising events to get it off the ground.
The club achieved more stability in 1980 when it attained a lease to buy agreement, copper-fastening its title to the land.
A new clubhouse opened that year and new members flocked to join the club from Athenry, Oranmore, Clarenbridge, Carnmore and Galway City.
The extension of the course to 18 holes was a major move, officially opening in October 1991 when the members treated to an exhibition of golf by Christy O'Connor, Christy O'Connor Jnr, Eamon Darcy and Paddy McGuirk.
Since then, work has continued apace and in the mid 1990s the club purchased additional land, re-routing holes through the new lands and building 14 new greens.
The construction of a €2 million, state of the art clubhouse in its centenary year of 2002 was its next step and it now boasts a magnificent home, boasting a restaurant and bar, a separate dining room with seating for 100 people as well as three additional meeting rooms.
The addition of the driving range in 2011 was a major move and following the purchase of additional land in 2014 and 2015, course designer Ken Kearney created a course masterplan and drainage plane in 2016.
It cost €260,000 to carry out but the work was completed by DAR Golf last year and the results are stunning.
It’s a testament to the quality of the golfing test that the course has hosted many provincial and national championships including last week’s Men’s Interprovincial Championship.
The 2021 Irish Boy Amateur Open Championship will be staged at the club which has collected 37 Connacht pennants as four All Ireland titles — the 2004 Irish Youths, the 2008 Ladies Irish Challenge Cup and the Fred Daly Trophy in 2010 and 2017.
Its Get Into Golf Programme has been hugely successful, introducing more than 250 ladies to the game.
As for the welcome, it’s one of the warmest in Ireland and with a fine restaurant overlooking the 18th green, the service offered by Declan Glynn has made the club one of the most popular in the west.
Given that club claimed its first senior men’s All Ireland pennant by claiming the AIG Barton Shield at Thurles this year, the hard work is clearly starting to pay off.
Factfile - Athenry Golf Club
Address: Palmerstown, Oranmore, Co. Galway
Telephone: 091 794466
Green fees: Midweek €25; Weekend €30
Society rates: Midweek €20; Weekend €25 (Minimum 16 players. Less than 16, normal green fee rates apply)
Buggy hire: Yes, €25
Club hire: Yes, €30
Electric trolleys: No
Range Balls: Yes. 25 balls €3; 50 balls €4; 100 balls €6.
12th, 188 yards, Par 3 - A testing par three played from a high tee to a severely undulating green protected by a drain in front and bunkers on each side.
Pay special attention to the wind as the tee is sheltered. Be careful to not short side yourself as scrambling for par can be difficult given the slopes on the green.
Under 35 €558; Under 30 €366; Under 25 €283; Beginner €350 (Special T&Cs apply); Student €195.
Juniors (Under 18) €135; (Under 15) €105; (Under 12) €80. Juvenile (8 & 9 yrs) €50; Country €584. The club is currently running an offer for the remainder of the year. Call office for details.
Galway Golf Club, Galway Bay Golf Resort, Cregmore Park Golf Club, Loughrea Golf Club.
This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent’s weekly golf supplement, Tee to Green, on 6 September 2018. If you think your club should be featured in Tee to Green in 2019, please contact me here