If any of the players hoping to claim glory at this year’s Irish Open in Lahinch Golf Club want to have an edge on the field, they could do worse than spend a morning with the club’s PGA professional Donal McSweeney.
The Cork man has been a mainstay at the North Clare club for the past six years, having spent the previous 20 working in a similar role in Limerick. During that time, he has tutored some of the regulars at the club on how best to improve their game in order to get the best results. He is clearly a popular figure around the course, with everyone eager to greet him and see can they glean that little bit of golfing gold from him as they do.
He has been involved in the game since a very young age, as he was reared close to the local golf club in his native Charleville. He says golf has always been a part of his life.
“It’s around six years now since Lahinch Golf Club approached me to see would I be interested in teaching and it has really evolved from there. It is really exciting to be involved with Lahinch and particularly now with the Irish Open coming in July. I have always been involved in golf myself because we lived quite close to the club at home and my father would have played a good bit. My mother kicked me out the door as young fella to go caddy for him and that is where it all started really. Being close to the club meant we were always out playing and all the lads I grew up with were the game so we are still really close and play socially when we can so it has been really good to me” he noted.
Having that affinity to the sport meant that building a life within it was always something he wanted to do. After finished his Leaving Cert, Donal decided to pursue that dream.
“I always loved it as a young lad so when I finished school I headed off to a golf college in England for three years at Kingston. An opportunity came up in Limerick to turn professional when I came back and I decided to go for it. I played for a few years and while I was a good enough player, I wouldn’t have been at the level of the tour lads. I played on the Irish circuit and I have won a few times and got a few nice scores. I won a few pro-ams and that kind of thing. These days now it is more about the working environment that the playing one but I still enjoy playing when I can. It’s more social now than competitive really. The teaching element probably came into it from my family background because there are a lot of teachers in the family and I am just teaching something different from school I guess. I enjoy helping people to improve their game and hitting the standards. It is not all about the top level guys. It is nice to be involved with the younger players and watch how they develop from what you show them. It is all about getting the community involved and get them engaged with the sport from a young age. That helps you build up the junior ranks and build you teams for the future that can compete for medals” he said.
Technological advances in the sport has meant that more analytical data than ever before is now available for players looking to get that extra few percent onto their game. A new indoor facility is in the pipeline in Lahinch which allow members to do just that, and it is something that Donal feels will be a massive addition to the club.
“It is a 3000 square foot building with the best of technology going into it. It will be a teaching and member’s facility that will allow us to build simulators and help with green reading, a swing studio, balance labs and various other facilities. It can be used in a very simple way to help improve their overall game, and it will be one of the best indoor facilities in the country. We will be able to accommodate teams and groups that want to see how they can develop, and with the short game facility then that is on the same site, people can work on a number of aspects of their game. People love to get that kind of feedback in terms of the numbers. With something like Trackman for example, it can gather 27 different numbers from the shot you take and we can pick out then what needs to change or improve to get the most out of it. It could be just something as simple as a tweak in their posture or movement, and when they see the data there in front of them, it is easier to keep an eye on by tracking the numbers for long term improvement” he said.
With the carnival that is going to surround the Irish Open in July, it means that younger members and those in the locality have been more engaged and interested in the sport. Donal feels that is a hugely positive offshoot of hosting such a large event.
He said: “There is definitely more interest in the last while from the young lads around in terms of golf. What we are trying to capitalise on in the lead in to the event is approaching schools and get the ball rolling and get them engaged. That can be the foundation then of a longer term plan to keep them playing the game. They will get the excitement and buzz while the Irish Open is here, then we have the South of Ireland and the Home Internationals in the weeks after so there is plenty there to keep them interested”.
With changes well underway on and off the course in Lahinch to get it ready for the Irish Open, there is now starting to be a really tangible sense that it is only just around the corner. As someone who know the course better than most, who does Donal think might be on top come Sunday July 7?
“A lot of is going to be so weather dependent in terms of the wind and rain and what that might or might not bring. I think it is someone who can drive the ball well that could steal a march. The rough is going to be up, the fairways are a little narrower at certain points, so someone who can hit it well of the tee is going to be a good bet in my book” he smiled.