The worthy aim behind Golf Ireland’s recent International Women’s Day event, which brought together some of Ireland’s best female athletes as well as figures from sports media, businesses and NGBs to play a nine-hole scramble event, was to show that golf is a beautiful and accessible sport which can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of ability or experience. I had never played golf before I attended, but the whole idea was to show how welcoming the sport can be to beginners, so it made absolutely no sense for me to be nervous about my own play.
This is what I kept repeating to myself as we arrived at the gorgeous Druids Glen Hotel & Golf Resort and enjoyed refreshments, but hand-eye coordination has never been my strong suit, and it was with no little trepidation that I learned who my teammates would be: rugby international Jenny Murphy, Gaelic football star Valerie Mulcahy, and Aideen Walsh (yes, international golfer Aideen Walsh, I confirmed with a quick google), all of whom, athletically speaking, are as far ahead of me as I am ahead of a particularly uncoordinated toddler (I was one, incidentally.)
To briefly give you context, when I was in high school back in the U.S. I was genuinely bad enough in gym class that I was never bullied, only pitied. Once, for instance, we did a softball unit, and we all took our turn at bat, my cohort jeering good-naturedly when someone struck out. However, after my three wild swings there was only an embarrassed silence, broken by an earnest “Good try, Grace!” from one of my more popular classmates. This was a typical incident.
In between trying to forget this and trying to remember all that I had ever learned while playing mini golf (not much, I feared), I tried to appreciate the mingling phase of the event, enjoying pleasant conversations with athletes and women involved in sports media and business, including Queen B Athletics founder Bríd Ryan and Emma Ballard, editor at Women & Golf. It was fascinating to be in the same room with the women whose accomplishments I’ve been writing about for months, many of whom I’d never seen in real life (at least off the playing field). Leona Maguire, naturally, looms large at Her Sport; I was quite surprised to see she’s only a bit taller than me; and it was surreal to see Jenny Egan and Niamh McEvoy, among others, chatting merrily away.
I was also distracted by the sight of a few men in top hats, and wondered briefly if this was expected golfing attire that I was maybe unaware of as an American before realising a wedding was also being hosted at the venue.
Soon athletes, administrators and all were corralled for a group photo and a quick speech before play started. Our host said she had been slightly concerned when some guests didn’t know what a scramble format was, and I laughed along complacently with the rest. I knew that much, at least since the day before, when I had googled the term after we got our introductory email.
I was put slightly more at ease once I met Jenny, Val, and Aideen, who were perfectly friendly and cheerful, and after Jenny and I borrowed sets of clubs from the resort we set off, Jenny asking us all icebreakers, which continued throughout the day whenever we were between holes (“Favourite job, ” “Favourite sports memoir,” and “Worst place you’ve vomited,” the answers to the last of which I swore not to reveal.)
So I felt comfortable enough to ask Aideen for some tips on how to start as we were waiting. “You’ve never golfed before?” she asked; reassured that I hadn’t, the international golfer paused for a moment and then said, “Just swing the club.”
Actually, Aideen, and Val, turned out to be fantastic coaches to me and Jenny (also a beginner, and incredibly encouraging one-person pep squad). Aside from the sheer privilege of watching a world-class golfer, it was fascinating to be talked through the thought process of an expert; when we reached each green, Aideen explained how to analyse the ground and predict which way the ball would break, and how to adjust your aim accordingly.
As the afternoon progressed I like to think I did the same; I’m not sure how much better my driving got, but I felt my putting was nearly respectable by the end (the tip that helped me most when trying not to use too much force was to imagine the club as a small pendulum).
I can see why so many people love the game: the ideal combination of strength and precision, the balance of mental and physical skill, the frustration and thrill of chasing perfection—and that’s just the game itself; of course it’s typically associated with gorgeous landscapes and good company. A sport that takes real skill, but where there’s time enough for conversation; time outside with family and friends and a bit of friendly competition—what more could you want?
Of course golf is also traditionally where networking is done, so women’s relative absence in the sport has consequences beyond missing out on a lovely pastime or possible sporting career. This was one of the themes covered later that night in a panel discussion; if women are excluded from golf events with business associates, for instance, they miss out on the chances to make the casual connections outside the workplace which are so crucial to success. Explicit exclusion may be less common now, but if women don’t have any experience in their pocket—if they never went out to play golf with their fathers or brothers or uncles—they may choose not to go themselves, and thus miss out on important opportunities. This is why Golf Ireland’s many initiatives to get women and girls involved in golf are so crucial. I highly value the chance I had to be involved.
The day ended with a delicious meal and insightful panel discussion—but first, prizegiving. Her Sport is proud to report that our founder Niamh Tallon, along with Bríd Ryan, was honoured with the ‘Best Dressed’ award in recognition of the pair’s outfit/promotion of Her Sport x Queen B Sports Bras (a respectable feat in the chilly weather). I was very happy that my team won third place, receiving Golf Ireland baseball caps as prizes, with our two-under par final score. No one was surprised that Leona’s team won with five under par, although she may not have much use for the grand prize—a free golf lesson.
Some guests were staying on at the hotel, but for me the event wrapped up with a few more interesting discussions and I was off home again, thoroughly satisfied with the day’s adventure. I hope and expect to play golf again—I’d love to take a few lessons and really learn the basics of the game—but already, with my new expertise, I’ll be surprised if I don’t storm to victory next time I’m at a mini golf course.