Sport was always destined to be a part of Áine Donegan’s future and to many it will be no surprise that it is golf that is opening up the door of opportunity for the Ennis woman.
That opportunity comes in the form of a college scholarship to Indiana University, with the Lahinch clubwoman set to make the move stateside this August.
It was initially meant to begin last year but like most things, the outbreak of Covid-19 meant that it had to be put on the long finger.
From an early age, sport was part of Áine’s life and she explained that golf was a central part of that.
“I grew up in Woodstock and nearly everyone in the estate plays golf because Woodstock golf course is just across the road from us. Dad plays too and he was the one that introduced me to it from an early age. There was a real community feel about it in our area, and we got involved in playing in the competitions also. When we were growing up, there was that social element to it because you would just be with your friends all day at the golf course and enjoying being out in the open air” she recalled.
The decision to pursue golf at a high competitive level came when she was 15-years-old, having also shown her talent as a soccer player. She took part in the inter pro series at provincial level for the Munster women’s soccer team but when the clash of sports came, it was golf won out.
Since then, she has gone on to represent Ireland at various levels, including at the 2018 European Young Masters, the Fairhaven Trophy and the 2019 Spirit International. She was a member of the 2018-19 Ireland Girls European Championship Team, as well as the Ireland Girls Home International Team. She helped led the team to a first-place finish at the Lahinch Golf Club All-Ireland Senior Cup and a Silver Medalist finish at the 2019 Lahinch Golf Club European event.
Donegan’s individual accolades include titles in the Seapoint Scratch Cup, 2019 Carlow Scratch Cup, the 2019 Lahinch Vaughan Scratch Cup and the 2018 Munster Girls event. In addition, she was the runner-up at the 2019 Munster Woman Championship and she reached a World Amateur Golf Rating of 380 earlier this season.
She admits that the team environment is something she enjoys in a sport which is seen as an individual pursuit in the main.
“I really enjoy being involved in team events like the Home internationals. It can often get lonely when you are playing on your own so it is good to play with people. That is why I really prefer playing rather than practising” she outlined.
When lockdown was announced just over a year ago, Áine admits it was a period she struggled with as her golfing world was constricted to her back garden where some chipping practice could be done. Subsequent lockdowns were broken up with training days for the Irish team in Carton House, while a full time job was also a welcome development in order to keep structure on the days.
Her first major international event came when she represented the Irish U-18 side at an event in Sweden while she was in Transition Year at St Flannan’s College. That experience is something she credits as opening her eyes to the opportunities that are available in the sport.
“It was a really good experience at the time. There were six of us who went over, and one of the biggest things we had to adapt to was playing in the heat. We were playing with a lot of players from right across Europe and I got to know so many people because of it, and we have had the opportunity to do so much travelling because of golf since. I was in Texas for a tournament in 2019 where we were sharing a cabin with Japanese, Australian and South Korean’s. It is a great way to meet people like that and learn about all their different cultures. I even made a friend in Mexico who is always telling me to call and visit them whenever I want. I have so much opportunity to travel because of golf and not many people under the age 18 get to do that” she noted.
The next big experience is planned to come in August when she makes the trip to Indiana to begin her four year college spell. A trip to America in 2019 saw her make the decision that Indiana was for her, after being impressed by the campus and the golf coaches that would be at her disposal. Head coach at the college, Clint Wallman, outlined his delight that Áine had committed to their set up.
“We are so excited to have Áine join us next year. She is a proven big-time player who, I believe, will make an immediate impact on our program. She has all the skills to become not only one of the best freshman in the Big Ten but nationally as well” he stated.
Donegan joins an Indiana team that posted one of the best seasons in program history in 2018-19, highlighted by a 21st place finish at the National Championship.
Her immediate ambition in the sport is to break inside the top 50 of the world rankings, and then to continue climbing as high as she can. Playing for the Ireland and Great Britian Curtis Cup team, which is the best known team trophy for women amateur golfers, is also a target, but any talks of making the step up to the professional ranks is something she is not entertaining at the moment.
She is hopeful that women’s golf in Ireland can continue to grow with the new Golf Ireland entity being seen as a positive development.
“It is difficult for players trying to progress at the moment with the courses being closed, because it is not a sport that you can just pick up again after leaving the clubs in the boot of the car for a few months. I can understand why they closed them, because they didn’t want people meeting. For the promotion of the game, the new Golf Ireland will help to promote it more on the ladies side and that is welcome because there are still not half as many women playing golf as we see playing other sports” she concluded.