From Esker Hills to Augusta

I have had the pleasure of staying in the midlands of Ireland for the last three nights and am currently sitting in my room at Grennan’s Country House where I have been hosted by the lovely Deirdre and her husband Pat.

I visited and had the pleasure of playing at Esker Hills Golf Club this time last year as their most famous son, Shane Lowry teed it up at Augusta in The Masters.

Esker Hills Golf Club General Manager, Ray Molloy invited me back to the area this year but wanted me to stay a few days, get to know some of the locals and enjoy the hospitality of the midlands.

I have had such a wonderful time I haven’t even left and yet I am already looking forward to next year.

I drove down from Enniskillen and arrived at the course on Friday and met with Ray and after a quick catch up I was introduced to Ladies’ Captain, Rosalyn Duignan and Winnie O’Connell and Regina O’Reagan, who were my playing partners for the day.

I headed out to practice putting while the ladies got their gear and we met on the first tee.

Esker Hills is a gorgeous parkland track that truly is a great test of golf. I have just played it three days in a row and each day the course was so different as where you land depends on the challenges you have to overcome. Perhaps it is just my golf but I think there was only one hole that I was in the same position two days in a row.

I was hitting some great balls but my 3w just isn’t quite there at the moment and hasn’t been since I left Bolivia. I’m sure it will come back and be friendly again eventually.

The ladies certainly have game and on this course it is very helpful having the advice of the locals as the greens are hard to read and there are so many blind shots it helps to have someone give you the line. It is even better when I managed to hit the ball exactly where I was directed – this is not always possible as at times I can find myself directionally challenged.

After a wonderful round with the ladies, we enjoyed a well earned meal from Paula’s kitchen in the clubhouse and had a chat about the area.

As the ladies headed off, I joined with some Tullamore lads, Ray Spain, James Hogan and Eoin O’Ceilleachair (I only know how to spell his name from his twitter profile – in my notes it was Owen C). We had a good chat as we watched some of the action from The Masters. I am going to tee it up with these guys at their home course when I am back in town next year.

It was then time to head to my home for the next three nights and I had a wonderful conversation with Deirdre and had a full tour of the property. Grennan’s Country House has two different types of accommodation – there are self contained cottages that sleep dozens out the back and there is the gorgeous country house where I was staying in a room with an ensuite.

I must say the cup of tea and delicious carrot cake on arrival were a treat. I am not usually an eater of cakes however I have eaten Deirdre’s carrot cake every day since I have been here but I must say her scones are even better.

Deirdre had a big group of 24 golfers in who were also playing in the tournament at Esker Hills over the next few days and were in the cottages out the back.

After being shown my room and snapping photos of the property, I showered and returned to the clubhouse to watch The Masters action. There were a lot of people when I returned and after sitting up the back, I realised I couldn’t see the scores without my glasses so I asked a couple of guys if I could sit with them.

I chatted with Dermot and Dave (please forgive me if my spelling of any names are incorrect, Irish names can be tricky to spell) and watched amazing golf.

Dave introduced me to something I had never heard of before, the Irish sport of hurling. I had thought he said curling which I know from Canada but he showed me some youtube videos and my only question was, how can I watch a match?

Another thing to add to my list of things to do next year.

Turns out the guys were part of the group staying at the same place as me and there was a rotating door as the boys headed to Grennan’s wash the golf off before returning to watch The Masters, enjoy some beverages and listen to some amazing music.

There was a traditional irish storyteller, a shanachie, who delighted us with a few tales before two guys and their guitars amazed all of us with their talent.

I met and had a chat with Ray’s sister in law, Carmel and she invited me to join her on Sunday night for dinner at one of the best restaurants in Tullamore, Captain House.

Of course I said yes.

I love food, however I did stipulate that it had to be an early dinner so I could get back in time to watch The Masters.

As I have not quite been golfing for three years, my whole Masters experience has been in Esker Hills and that is how I plan to watch the Masters from now on (until I am watching from just outside the ropes that is).

I chatted with a lot of the Wexford and Dublin boys – the group of 24 who have an annual event commemorating their dear brother/father/friend.

I have heard a lot about Wexford this weekend and not just from this group. I do believe Wexford will be added to my list of places to visit when I return to Ireland next year.

I had a good catch up with Ray and he asked me if I saw my photo on the mantle. I had no idea what he was talking about so on his direction I went to the fireplace and looked at the mantle. Sitting next to the whisky was a photo of me from the event last year. Kevin Markham had snapped the photo at sunset on the 18th green as I was bending down to line up my putt (I am the figure on the left).

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It is an amazing photo and I was surprised and delighted that I am here year round.

I headed home around 1am and ended up working for an hour or so before finally getting to sleep.

Next morning the boys enjoyed Breakfast with Tiffany (very funny joke by a few of them the night prior – not sure if you can detect my sarcasm in this sentence) before we all headed to the golf course again.

Saturday and I was playing with the Men’s Captain, Ger Fitzpatrick and Liam Keegan and Thomas Newman. The boys were good value and it was perfect golfing weather.

I couldn’t believe the day prior I actually got sunburnt in Ireland in April.

I did see one of the funniest things I have seen on the golf course and it was from the Wexford boys. A smaller gentleman was pushing a larger gentleman in a buggy up one of the rolling hills near the 12th. While chuckling and checking my pockets for my phone to take a photo, I quickly dismissed the thought of running over to help as I was entertained watching the show.

I saw the scar marks of this incident the following day and laughed again as I told my golfing buddies about it.

On the par 3, 9th hole there was a 5 euro competition to make the green and win a sleeve of balls. The money was going to their junior golf program. I had neither euros (only had pounds in cash) nor made the green on either of the first two days but on the third I won a sleeve of balls for something else entirely.

Cheeky young Cian Fleming told me if I gave a hug to Ger Egan, who was on the green, he would give me a sleeve of balls. Cian went on to say Ger was quite lonely and didn’t get many hugs, while grinning from ear to ear.

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I said sure and he threw in I should give him a kiss too. Ensuring it was only a peck on the cheek I agreed and he jumped in the cart and followed us up, amused at what he had just arranged.

I was quite happy for the balls as I had donated three to the course (was about to be 4 when I played the 10th) and needed to replenish my stock.

Saturday night was spent in the clubhouse watching The Masters wield their clubs. Unfortunately Shane Lowry missed the cut by a shot and I am positive that everyone here felt as bad for Shane as he did himself.

Sunday and I met with Kevin Markham (who had actually invited me to this event last year) and Darren Murray who also played with us. This year we had a new 4th, Phil who was a golf buddy of Darren’s.

Phil hasn’t been able to golf for a year due to new baby etc in the house and birdied the first and continued throwing darts around the course all day. He did have to call himself a “F’n spanner” which I found highly amusing, as he pushed a shot out to the right.

If I called myself names when I duffed my golf shots it would be a non stop monologue of swearing. Instead I laugh. Darren commented that I was smiling more for a scratch than they were for their birdies.

I find golf fun and as I said to Kevin, Darren and Phil, golf is a contact sport.

I was able to spend time with wonderful people all weekend and all because I picked up a club nearly 3 years ago and reinvented myself into a golfer.

Kevin had to take off after 12 holes as he had to shoot to Portstewart and post round Darren, Phil and I warmed up with a curry before parting ways.

I headed back to Grennan’s to do a couple hours of work before meeting Carmel to go to dinner at Captain House.

Then it was back to the golf club for the final round of The Masters and the atmosphere was a little different to last year when Shane Lowry was in contention and the place was packed.

This year was a little more subdued and I was wiped. I had walked the hills for the last three days and had worked out I could watch The Masters from the bath in my room so after a quick chat with Winnie, Carmel and Ray I headed back to Grennan’s.

The tragedy was I couldn’t find golf on television so I had radio coverage going as I googled how I could watch it online. I had to settle with radio and twitter coverage watching things minutes after they had happened. I considered going back to the golf club but that meant putting on clothes and I didn’t feel like doing that, so instant replays it was.

I was happy to see Sergio don the green jacket and was asleep minutes after he did so.

This morning I had a sleep in before I enjoyed a cup of tea, some fruit and toast. I then saw a bit of carrot cake with my name on it that I just had to eat.

I chatted with the lovely Deirdre again this morning and believe that I will be back with the Wexford and Dublin boys again next year as we have all confirmed we are returning.

I was then off to Radio 3 for an interview with Will. We had a great golf chat about my nearly 3 years golfing and reinventing myself into a CEO of Fairways, running a nonprofit sponsoring underprivileged junior golfers all over the world.

When I talk about where golf has taken me since July 2014 it sounds ridiculous.

Who knew where golf would take me since I picked up a club and started whacking.

I am very pleased it has sent me to the midlands in Ireland where I have made some wonderful friends and where I like to think of as my second Irish home.

See you all again next year!

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