Diamond in the Rough: The Celtic Tiger Kids

It’s not very often that a situation arises where a sport can be directly linked to the economic condition of a country. However, Ireland may be one of few exceptions to the case.

In this year’s Walker Cup, the amateur format of golf’s Ryder Cup, five Irish players featured. This was a record number of selections for Irish players as they made up 50% of the Great Britain and Ireland team. Among the ten players selected, the Irish contingent were Paul Dunne, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan, Cormac Sharvin and Jack Hume.

In the decade between the mid 1990’s and the mid noughties some 150 golf courses were constructed on the Emerald Isle. The number of golf-enthused tourists who visited Ireland during the boom were certainly a catalyst in new courses being built, but most of the construction can be attributed to the rapidly growing demand for golf to be made more widely available to Irish citizens.

These memberships, in particular junior memberships (usually available to children under 15 years of age), experienced huge growth in the same decade of the mass course construction, with an estimated 400% increase in junior golf throughout the country between 1995 and 2005. As we all know, at the turn of the decade resources had well and truly dried up. This coincided with the market for golf courses becoming saturated. However, the young guns who made it onto the tee before the recession closed its doors on affordable memberships have come out the other end as world beaters.

The Irish famous five, who represent only a fraction of the hugely talented amateur golfers we have on our shores, were given a huge opportunity roughly 15 years ago by the Celtic Tiger. Unlike the property bubble and the banking crash, Irish junior golf had built a solid platform and from there it was only moving in one direction.

Between them, the five Walker Cup members have amassed over 50 major amateur victories. Most notably, the Irish Amateur Open, the Irish Amateur Close Championship, the Brabazon Trophy, the East of Ireland Open Championship and the West of Ireland Open Championship. In addition, there were near-famous victories in both the US and British Amateur Open Championship, as well as the British Open Championship which Paul Dunne famously led after 3 rounds.

Where do the famous five and Irish golf go from here? Dunne, Hurley, Moynihan and Hume have all made the decision to test themselves on the professional tour and see how they stack up against Europe’s elite pro golfers. For Sharvin, he resumes his studies in the University of Stirling, Scotland. Needless to say Sharvin will be a serious force to be reckoned with once again this year on the amateur circuit as he sets his sights on retaining the Brabazon Trophy and going one step further to claim the elusive British Amateur Open Championship.

The current state of Irish golf has arguably never looked so promising for both the present and future of sport, on both a national and international scale. While the death of the Celtic Tiger signalled the mourning of our nation, perhaps the most significant positive to rise from the gloom is that the future of Irish golf is in the safest hands imaginable. At the time of the Walker Cup in September, the 5 Irish members were all ranked in the world’s top 35 amateur golfers from a list of 6000 players. A statistic which epitomises the achievement of Ireland’s newest inspirational sportsmen.

Long may the hard graft of our next generation of golfers, and their dedication to the sport, continue into the future. For golfers and Irish fans alike, watching the development of the famous five and the many who hope to follow in their footsteps makes for a very exciting prospect.

Irish golf could be about to embark on a thrilling journey, led by our famous five and the Celtic Tiger Kids.

Gareth Reynolds

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