Tuesday, May 30, 2017

St Bridget's Pitch & Putt Club and the Walls of Fame

A view of some of the splendid course.
Of all the clubs and organisations located on the Kilcullen Community Centre campus, the physically most beautiful is without argument the St Bridget's Pitch & Putt Club, writes Brian Byrne.

The 18-hole course was looking at its almost-manicured best for the recent Scratch Cup, the first of the eight big competitions the Club runs through the year.

The members had worked every day flat out for a week preparing it, planting new flowers, and as one of the founder members Liam Sherry put it — 'taking the winter look off the place'.

But even in winter the rolling course on either side of the Pinkeen Stream looks really well, thanks to the amount of care and attention given to the property since it was established in 1987.

Liam Sherry, founder member.
"The land was more of a swamp back then," recalls Liam, who as a member of Blessington Golf Club had been asked to come and give some advice … and was then prevailed upon by the prime movers to stay as Secretary of embryo organisation. "They were John Archbold, Brendan Walsh and the late Dan Byrne, and they laid out the first nine holes."

Early days — Claire Lambe putting on a less than perfect green.
The members of the first committee were John Archbold (Chairman), Ethna Dempsey (Vice Chairperson), John Talbot (Treasurer), Seamus Dempsy (PRO), Martin Carey, John Kenna, Eddie Carey, Betty Barker, Mary Sherry, Paddy Dowling, Tommy Lawlor, Tommy Walsh, John Talt, John Dunne, Paddy Meaney and John Reddy.

With the need to aim for a full 18-hole course very clear even then, the Club went into high fundraising gear in a very social way using ballad sessions, poker classics, and dances. The money raised allowed purchase of course equipment and essential drainage work. Designed by Pat Doyle, Development Officer with Kildare and Wicklow Region of the Pitch & Putt Union of Ireland, the full course was officially opened in 1991.

In those early days, the Club operated out of a room in the main building of the Community Centre, but by the year 2000 they had secured funding for and built their own club building, which overlooks the course, now dotted with mature trees and landscaped flower plots.

One of the Walls of Fame in the Clubhouse lounge.
The interior walls of the building, which comprises a lounge area as well as storage and changing facilities, are covered with photographs, recording the achievements of the Club and its membership down these last 30 years.

"We're running out of wall space," says Joe Mallon, this year's Club Captain alongside Lady Captain Anne Sweeney. "But it's lovely to see all those people, evolving over the years and decades."

Among them are Margaret Byrne, who brought the first national title to the Club in 1988 as a Girls Juvenile player. Enhancing the Juvenile side of the early membership paid off, and many more national titles have been brought to the Club since, and it has been represented at international level for Ireland by Marion and Chrissie Byrne, Jason Hannon, Sean Harkins, Cathal Dunne, and Bernadette Coffey.

In 2014, Chrissie Byrne, Marion Byrne, Margaret Keogh and Tara Dillon were given a Kilcullen Community Award for their contribution to the Club, including their participation in the Kildare Ladies Inter County Pitch and Putt team which won the James Vaughan Cup for the county.

The year before, Chrissie Byrne had become the World Women's Strokeplay Pitch & Putt Champion for the second time.

Lady Captain Anne Sweeney with Club Captain Joe Mallon.
"It's a great amenity here, but it still surprises me that there are people who don't know the Club exists," says Joe Mallon, whose aim in his Club Captain year is to promote a wider recognition of the facility amongst the community.

In addition to the Club's own full day competitions, plus the Sunday morning and Tuesday evening ones, a number of other clubs come to Kilcullen to hold their own contests. "That's in part because we have one of the best facilities in the country," says Liam Sherry.

The Club still puts a strong emphasis on nurturing Juvenile players, and many of the older members are registered coaches, holding regular sessions to help improve the game of the youngsters. "It's really nice to see how well some of them are playing," says Joe Mallon.

They may have to do something about finding new wall space for the photos from the current crop as they develop. But the Club itself has no problem with increasing the membership, currently at around 140. "We have the capacity for lots more, and new members are always welcome," Liam says.

(This article was first published on the Kilcullen page of The Kildare Nationalist.)