A Quick 18 with Declan Branigan

 A Quick 18 with Declan Branigan
Declan Branigan

Declan Branigan

With six championship wins to his credit, course designer Declan Branigan is one of the amateur greats of the past 50 years. A tenacious opponent, his love of game still shines through, especially at the 19th.

  • Handicap:  4 
  • Clubs: Laytown an Bettystown and Seapoint. 

1 How’s your golf?

I am not playing that much at the moment, but when I do play, I am half-reasonable. It is a funny game, when I was doing my finals at university, I did not play for three months and found it hard to get back to it even then. Now with wet and cold winters, I find that I have no inclination to play and when summer comes it is a struggle to get back. My friends encourage me though, and that helps.

2 How did you get started in the game?

Caddying for my late father, who was a decent 15 handicap, at Laytown and Bettystown. I still remember first hitting a golf ball with him at what is now the 13th, when I was seven. I holed my third shot with a three-iron and thought that this was an easy game. In the 61 years that have passed since then, I have never holed a three-iron shot. Funny old game.

3 Driver or putter? 

Definitely the driver. I never had much trouble at any stage from the tee and while not in the same class as Arthur Pierse, I was still very reliable.  I always felt that the putter could let me down at times, though others laugh when I say that. I suppose I was a streaky putter.

4 Links or parkland? 

Links, no question. I was born and bred and had all of my best performances on links. In the old days, fairways were not cut very tight on parkland courses and I was always afraid of a flier. Give me a bare lie, a strong breeze and a bit of sun and I am content.

5 When were you happiest on the golf course?

Playing in Rosses Point, my home from home, with my great friend Sean Flanagan and his friends. The bustling was great, competition for a fiver was fierce and it was always followed by a good old session in the clubhouse. The ribbing was merciless, and I loved it.

6 Who’s your sporting hero?

Mick O'Connell, the great Kerry midfielder. I was big into GAA when I was young and played underage and under 21 for Louth. My grandfather had an All-Ireland with Louth in 1910 when Kerry refused to travel. Mick had everything and I still think of the way he played and compare it to the way the game is played now. The last game I played before I turned to golf was at full-back and Johnny Logan, Sean O'Hagan as we knew him, was the goalkeeper behind me. He was an excellent goalie but none of us knew he could sing!

7 Who is (or was) your golfing hero?

Seve. The fearlessness in his game was incredible. It was such a catastrophe that he died so young, but he will never, in my eyes, be forgotten. He had his quirks some might say but, then again, who hasn't.

8 Was there an opponent or rival you especially admired during your peak years?

Arthur Pierse was a tremendous golfer and great craic. What a ball striker. I played him in the semi-finals of the West in 1981 and I was three down after three but got back to be one up playing my second to 18, which I ran along the ground from 80 yards to about 10 feet. He met me at the green, smiled and said, "A bit of ground hurling there." I thought that was sheer class. 

9 What advice would you give someone hoping to design a golf course? Or even a golf hole?

Get an architect whose work you admire. There is far more to it that many would think and you can only learn by experience. It is no coincidence that there are not that many great golf courses that have been designed by golfers as a once off.

10 If you had to pick someone to hole a six-foot putt to save your life, who gets the responsibility?

My great friend Mark Gannon.

"Golf stars of the future?" Des Smyth and Declan Branigan at Laytown & Bettystown in their very early days

"Golf stars of the future?" Des Smyth and Declan Branigan at Laytown & Bettystown in their very early days

11 What’s the best tip you've ever received?

Not to rush the downswing and not to let your body pass the ball. John McGuirk, professional at Bettystown and dead a long time now, gave me that tip when I was 17 and trying to drive the ball 400 yards. I still think about this before every important shot.

12 If I gave you a mulligan in your career, what would it be?

To replay the 15th hole in the final of the 1985 Irish Close at Westport against Denis O'Sullivan. I was all square on a bad day and looked as if I would win the hole with a par into a strong wind. But I tried to hit my second hard with a draw and hooked out of bounds to lose the hole to a bogey. Then I lost on the 18th. I could have won three Close titles and not many have done that.

13 Is there a course you’d love to play before you die?

Augusta National. I know that it will never happen but the atmosphere, the splendour of the place and the history, the challenge to be overcome — that's what golf is about. I would sooner that than win the Lotto. No harm in having a dream.

14 What’s the most memorable hole you've ever played?

The third tie-hole of a play-off for the East of Ireland in 1985. I was 46 years of age and I was one ahead of Eddie Power and hit a great drive but pulled a five-iron into a tight greenside bunker. The lie was dodgy and, even though he looked like he would make par, I could not take a chance and flop it out. I hit a good shot 15 feet behind the hole and made the putt. Maybe my putting was not far off after all. Anyway, it was a great result under pressure and I did celebrate later.

15 If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I am very hot-headed and just wish that I could control what I say a bit better. Sometimes I count to ten, but when I get there I find I am probably worse than when I started counting. 

16 What’s your favourite par-three?

It has to be Calamity Corner at Portrush. What a golf hole and I have happy memories of playing it.

17 What’s your most treasured possession (golfing or otherwise)?

I gave all of my golfing medals to Laytown and Bettystown. But I have two Father's Day cards that I got quite a few years ago from each of my two daughters. I still have them.

18 Name your dream fourball 

Sean Flanagan, Des Smyth and Barry Reddan at Rosses Point on a good day. All great golfers, all great craic and all great friends.

This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's Tee to Green golf supplement on 23 March 2017.