Sporting speed demon who is happiest when keeping it all on the golf course
With speed golf you play your full round but the time and scores are mixed together.
I’ve been competing for over a decade but when I started it was unheard of – now some people have some kind of idea.
Since I was a teenager I wanted a career in golf, always with a dream of playing tournament golf, which has found an expression in a funny way.
I’ve won the Irish, French, British and US speedgolf championships. The competitions are intense, I feel so nervous going into the second round. I’m moving fast but time moves slower. If a leaf falls, I hear it. I cope by trying to enjoy that heightened sense.
I was eight when I started playing pitch and putt with my dad, Ewan. Aged 12 I was playing with him at Kilcoole Golf Club and fell in love with the game.
In the summer I would get the 84 bus and play for eight hours. I’m 37 now and back then the clubs were a lot harder to use – sometimes I would be in tears.
At 14 I started playing on my own and with a group of similarly aged guys. My friend from back then, Bob Hurley, has come with me on speedgolf trips.
Aged 17 I was playing on the Leinster team with Niall Kearney, who has gone on to be a European Tour golfer. I remember he had good balance and I’ve learned this is the best approach.
I drink very little alcohol. It does not go well with training. When I do interviews abroad I often get asked for my drinking stories. Because I’m Irish there is often the expectation I’m practically drunk taking part and I have to say I don’t drink, or I joke they all happened before the age of nine.
I coach a real mix of people in Dundrum, Co Tipperary.
If you can reach people outside the golf course, there’s massive demand. I’ve had great success with flyers into random housing estates or advertising on social media.
Golf is such a joyful thing. On the weekends I coach kids and they love it.
When Covid hit, I was playing in a tournament in New Zealand. I had just returned to Ireland after coaching in Malaysia on a golf course carved into the jungle.
It was an incredible two years in Kuala Lumpur and my partner, Ruth, came over for some of it.
When I moved back we were living in Offaly on a farm estate owned by a friend of Ruth’s.
I was able to get through the pandemic OK and I took a fairly long break from golf. I felt confident and settled after, and ready to get going again.
That’s when I spotted the job advertisement for Dundrum House.
Marian Riordan is the head pro in Dundrum House. The head pro runs the competitions, the shop and coaches too. Often there is room for more than one coach and that’s what I do.
We live on the grounds and later this year we will do the same in Mulranny golf course in Mayo. It is flukey. We fell in love with the area and were looking to buy a house when one came up right beside the links course, which is beside the sea.
Hitting off sandy turf is the best way to learn to play golf and I have plans to bring people to Ireland and on golf tours off the beaten track. Ruth is an artist and for her, our new home will be a magical inspiration.
School did not interest me. I was too into golf. I did a TV production course in Bray. My mum encouraged me to do it and has gone back to do the same course in her 60s.
There is a creative streak in my family. My sister, Hannah, is a great pal of mine and has gone back to study art at NCAD. But I always wanted to work in golf, ever since my first job in McGuirks golf shop in Leopardstown when I was 16.
The standard way to join the PGA is through a degree run out of the University of Birmingham and then to work as an assistant pro under a head pro to learn the business.
I did this course and was assistant in Birr, Greenore and Royal Tara. In 2009, I qualified while an assistant pro in Bray.
I was a freelance golf coach for a few years and worked with SkyCaddie who make GPS units for golf courses.
Golfers want to know how far it is to the flag so I have walked around many courses mapping the ground. I enjoy this and still do it.
Last year, I organised a speedgolf Irish Open in Tipperary and we brought players from all over the world. We will do another event in Castlebar this August.
Marian and Jeff Leo, who owns Dundrum, have been a great help, as have Des and Kathleen O’Neill in Castlebar. Golf clubs are a real community, there’s a lovely social side to them.
I have different income streams. Now speedgolf is getting well-known, companies sponsor me and I promote them. I have my coaching and SkyCaddie work.
It is a little uncertain, we take it day to day. But to make my living out of golf is a dream come true.
Putting family first
Since my dad passed away in 2015 I have been lucky to have golf adventures in the US, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I often think how much he would have gotten out of being there.
I spent a lot of time playing with him in my 20s. I have this really strong memory of playing one time with Dad. We were walking up the 17th fairway and I was trying to walk really slowly because I was aware there were only one-and-a-half holes left, and I didn’t want it to end.
These days I play a lot with Bob. My kids are always willing to give it a go. Ruth enjoys a bit of putting and I’ll be bringing Dad’s brother, Mick, out soon.
Life is hectic, we are hoping to get an au pair when we move to Mayo.
We have five kids. My daughter, Blathín (14), lives with her mum in Athenry and is with us on weekends. Ruth has Maurice (6) from a previous relationship and together we have Durian (3), Esox (2) and Nanook (1).
If I am not travelling or working for SkyCaddie, myself and Ruth try to do half the day each with the kids. We are both self-employed so there is flexibility.
I need to get my training in and my coaching obligations are littered throughout the day and I also have online clients.
They send me WhatsApp videos and I call or make a video for them.
Ruth gets up early on the weekdays with the kids. On weekends I’m more awake and Ruth gets the mega lie-ins.
I’m well-known for my coffee drinking and Ruth is a legendary healthy eater and a good influence.
Ruth is the brains of the operation. I have to thank her. I was off galavanting last year at speedgolf tournaments while she was doing a million things.
I don’t know how we make it happen. At the moment I’ve given up sleep. But life is unbelievable craic.
I love hanging with the kids. I’m a stay-at-home dad who rarely stays at home.