Interviews with new and returning players

In mid-March, although being prevalent a bit of time earlier, the world began to realise the dangers and impact of Covid-19.

The game of pitch & putt along with many other parts of modern life, shut its doors to the incoming pandemic. The loss of life unimaginable and our thoughts to everybody who has lost a loved one in this unprecedented time.

In the past couple of weeks though the darkness here in Ireland has started to show glimmers of light, shops have opened, people are back to work and sporting activities have once again become available albeit in different and safer surroundings.

The fears for our game have been prominent but the reaction from our clubs has been to everybody’s gain. Clubs have prospered, memberships have increased, old members of Pitch & Putt Ireland have returned, the newest of beginners have begun and soon competitions both internally and externally will begin.

Over the next week, we will be bringing you both sides of the influx of members, from the returning of familiar players and the newest prospects to grace the game.

We hope you enjoy our new segments, enjoy the game of pitch & putt and we hope that everyone stays safe, well, respect the new rules of social distancing and keep to guidelines.

The first of our interviews, is with the son of a former All Ireland Matchplay and Inter County winner in the 1980s. Tommy Rusk playing from the famous Royal Meath club in Clonee, was successful individually in Irish Ropes in 1982 beating John O’Leary of Carrigaline. He was also part of the Meath Inter County teams that were runners up 3 times that decade before they tasted success in Glenville in 1987. Now his son Graham, successful as an Under 16 player himself winning an All-Ireland Inter County with Dublin in Old County 2005. He is returning to the game after a period away and Graham has gone straight in with his two feet and brought a few friends with him!

Name: Graham Rusk
Club: Portmarnock Pitch and putt club
Handicap: Provisional 4 (awaiting my fate!)
Golf Clubs: 56 Degree Titleist Vokey Wedge & Scotty Cameron Putter

Why did you take up the sport of pitch & putt?

I started playing Pitch and Putt when I was about 8/9 years old, my Dad Tommy and Granny Maureen were great pitch and putt players out of Royal Meath and bought me clubs at an early age. I continued to play right the way through until I was 19, winning a National Juvenile Inter County along the way but stopped as golf and football took up my time. When the pandemic hit and now at 30 years young my commitments to football are not what they once were, my golf handicap is rapidly on the rise so I decided with the great offering the club had that I would dig up the old rubbery commandos from the back garden, join back and start spinning again like local spin-king Jonathon Gash.

Are you enjoying your experiences of Portmarnock Pitch & Putt Club to date?

I am loving it at the moment, even without the competitions. There is a gang of us who have joined back from the parish, must be close to 50 at this stage. The majority being Ex-Juvenile members and our own group of friends, we have our own interim comp organiser Andy Sheppard who has organized some matchplay competitions with both a Cup and Shield trophy up for grabs. Warren Taylor seems to fancy himself in the Cup after a few early round scalps to take him into the last 8. Dave “The Big Dog” Reddin has his eyes on the Shield, but will need to get past the “Big Nasty” Brian Kane, who has seemed to have found something after playing 70 rounds in one week.

I’ve also got to experience playing with some quality players on a Sunday morning – The likes of Tom Ryan, Jay Larkin, Paul Nolan, Sean Cadogan and Jim McLaughlin to name a few, and the quality of scoring each week has been excellent, for example Jay Larkin winning with a 91 Gross a couple of weeks ago. It has certainly sharpened up my game and I have massively improved since joining back a few months ago.

Have you had any elusive hole in ones yet?

Zero holes in one since I’ve been back but I blame the holder in the cups for that a few have popped out lol – As a juvenile though I had oned every hole, never left the place mind you.

What, if anything, has surprised you about the game of pitch & putt?

The condition of the course has surprised me, the greens are beautiful to putt on, the new pitching bays are excellent and it is a great credit to the Green keeper Darren Wells and the Many Hands group led by Sean Cadogan for the work he putts in to keep the course in the condition it is. Also, there is a great community feel down there at the moment and it is great to see so many familiar faces playing the beautiful game, long may it continue. We all received an excellent starter membership package and welcome from Chairman Poole which included a history of our famous club, incredible to trace through the success over the years, Ger Ward 22 National Titles is beyond belief!

Are you looking to improve your handicap and play in Club, County or National competitions in the future?

100%, As I said above now that I am getting older and not playing as competitively in other sports I will have more time for pitch and putt, once I continue to sharpen my game I will get involved in club teams and hopefully one day I can win an Inter County and a National Individual Title to follow in the footsteps of My Dad in 1982.

Would you recommend the game to your friends and/or family to join a club?

Yes of course, sure I have recommended it to about 100 people at this stage and about 50% have joined so far, and the numbers are still on the rise. My brother Philip has joined and I’m also still working on my Dad to join, although he played out of the handy Royal Meath so not sure he would be able for the links style of Portmarnock, especially after not playing the game for 30 years lol.

A huge thank you to Graham for taking the time in talking to us, brilliant work from the Portmarnock Pitch & Putt Club as they have seen over 100 new members come through the doors this year.

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Today we talk to two popular pitch & putt brothers who have recently returned to the game after 6 years away.

Paudie O’Sullivan is a former Ireland International along with being a 4 time National Inter County winner with Cork and a Cork Strokeplay winner while brother Gary excelled at the Matchplay aspect of the game winning a Cork County Matchplay before taking a huge victory in the Munster Matchplay in Parteen. After a break with work and family commitments along with playing the game of golf they have recently returned to the game of pitch & putt.

Gary O’Sullivan
Fermoy Pitch & Putt
Scratch
Lynx 56 Degree Graphite Sandwedge 15 years old
Scotty Cameron Newport Select

Paudie O’Sullivan
Fermoy Pitch & Putt
H/cap 1(received 1 back after 6 yr absence)
Cleveland Sandwedge
Taylormade Spider Putter

Question)
You’s have recently returned to the game of pitch & putt after a break of a few years, what was the making of this decision?

Gary)
Paudie recently started giving Fermoy advice and every now and then I’d give a hand to do certain jobs. We recently cut greens for the Cork Strokeplay Finals and it looked fantastic to play on that day and I got the itch a little after meeting all the old lads. Also, the pitch and putt banter page has been a brilliant addition too, those combined made me dust off the gear again.

Paudie)
The love for the game made me return. Work commitments and family commitments were one of the biggest factors on my decision to leave the game. I now have two young kids at 3 1/2yrs and 15 months old so these two have taken up a lot of my time in last few years.

Question)
Why did you both leave the game? Especially as you have had success at the highest levels of the sport.

Gary)
Tough question to answer and I could write a lot of reasons why but I’ll refrain from that. In 2013/2014 a lot of things went wrong in the game and it was heart-breaking to see the demise but I remember one incident in particular that pushed me over the edge. The 2014 National Matchplay was in Parteen and I was really looking forward to it as I had won the Munster Matchplay there the year before, I had to drop my girlfriend to Dublin airport on the Friday and come back that evening, her flight was delayed until Saturday so instead of being at home and heading to Parteen fresh, I found myself driving on Saturday morning back to Cork to get my gear and then having to head to Limerick to play. I was beaten easy in the first round and I remember sitting on a tee box after saying I cant do this travelling anymore and I played out the rest of the year which just dwindled away.

Another incident was leaving Stackallen at 8.15pm after the National Strokeplay and not getting home until after midnight only to set my alarm for 5am next morning, the demise of Claycastle of which I loved being a part of also had a part in my decision. I could go on but its all in the past now.

Paudie)
I had noticed that I had started to get mad at myself on the course and I carried this home with me, I wasn’t able to put in the practice but expected big results so I was really codding myself.

Question)
Do you think you can once again be back challenging for major titles?

Gary)
Honestly, I’m not sure if I could but I hope with some more practice then yes, I loved the battle of Matchplay, those evenings in a playoff or qualifier. I’ve had some very encouraging scores since returning so I can still play a little but to play at the top table you really have to be sharp and on your game, hopefully one day yes, but for now I’m happy enough playing Saturday and Sunday with friends Scott & Noel and the younger brother Paudie. A bottle of coke on the line with them 3 and its like a National!

Paudie)
I’m only just back with 5 weeks so I’m not expecting anything major as yet. I’m going to enjoy my time on the course and see how things go, but definitely down the road I’d love to be able to compete at a high level once again.

Question)
While you were not playing the game, did you keep an eye on tournaments & results through the years?

Gary)
I’ve always kept an eye on the major events like the Nationals, Provincials etc. as I said previous the banter page is great for that, now and again though you get some stupid comments but in fairness the moderators are brilliant, especially Trevor Ahern and even though it breaks my heart to say it Frank Dineen is brilliant too and as controversial as ever but that’s Frank(no offence Frankie). The videos and also the live feed from scratch cups and Nationals is brilliant and I hope it continues in the future.

Paudie)
I’ve always followed the All-Irelands and Inter Counties over last number of years and it’s great to see so many lads be competitive.

Question)
Who has impressed you the most over the time of your hiatus, be it new younger players coming through or experienced campaigners?

Gary)
Tough question. I’d have to go with the top 3 lads I feel in the game at the moment Bryan Delaney, Damien Fleming and JR Crangle. All 3 look like they are on a different level again, JR winning in Tipp Hills and Ryston was gripping viewing as was Martha O’Brien winning in St.Bridget’s, what a performance in the playoff, Dublin winning in McDonagh was more than impressive as it reminded me of what Cork used to do to teams for years, of the younger generation I see two names pop up a lot. Evan Carry and Ryan Towler look like great players in the making.

Paudie)
I always look to the very top of the rankings and its no real surprise to see who is up there.

Question)
You have extensive experience in course care and green keeping, already back doing work in your new club Fermoy, how hard is it, to keep course’s in such good shape?

Gary)
Honestly Paudie is the man that does most of the advising in Fermoy and I just lend a hand from time to time along with Simon his assistant, the real hero there is Dave Sexton who puts in tremendous time and effort and his work is starting to bear fruit, Cork is lucky in a sense that so many lads in there clubs get really involved with the work load but special mention to Ray Murphy in St. Anne’s, John Walsh in Collins, Noel Collins in Majestic and Mike Desmond in Crosshaven who all do tremendous work behind the scenes, if you have the right advice and the right products and follow the program set out for you it’s easy enough to maintain but sometimes a curveball is thrown in like Lakeside this year and the crows. Unfortunately you just need to deal with it, pitch & putt is lucky to have a lot of top green keepers in the game that are willing to help at any stage, Brian Webster, Paudie, Stephen Murray and Ger O’Connor to name just a few(apologies if I left anyone out) they are all top lads and only a call away

Paudie)
In the last few years, I’ve been in touch with a lot of guys who have been looking for advice. I must give a shout out the likes of Noel Collins, Ray Murphy John Walsh, Michael Desmond and Daithi Sexton. These lads have given up some huge hours to the club’s, to see their passion for their courses is fantastic.

There is nothing easy in course maintenance. You work against mother nature, weather elements and all of this is for the love of the game. All the above guys aspire to have the best course around, I see financial issues been the biggest problem as fungicides, fertilizers, wetting agents, fuel, machinery maintenance all as major costs. I’m always on the other end of the phone for anyone who ever needs advice as if I can help any course, I’m more than happy to do so.

Thank you to both Paudie & Gary for taking the time to answer the questions and it’s great to see two very popular players returning to the game.

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Another interview coming from the Portmarnock Pitch and Putt club and a long time member of the Pitch & Putt Union.

The daughter of a former (deceased) Ierne player from the 60’s, Irene Sweeney Reid joined Foxfield St John in 1974. Her parents were keen players. Irene remembers a specific day when her dad was standing at the boot of a Ford Escort putting his clubs in and she asked if she could have one of those clubs to play with him. That day began many years of playing Pitch and Putt. The first competition Irene played in, was an Adult/ Juvenile with the late Eamon Birchall, which they won.

As Foxfield St John closed its doors Portmarnock became the new home for the members. Irene became a very successful juvenile. She was part of the first ever winning team in the National Community Games winning the All Ireland, Leinster and Dublin two years in a row.

Name: Irene Sweeney Reid
Club: Portmarnock Pitch and Putt
Handicap: 11
Golf Clubs: Ping Putter – 9 Iron/Wilson

Why did you take up the sport of Pitch & Putt?

I started playing pitch and putt as it was part of a school programme each week. We were brought in 5th class and I really began to enjoy the sport so I continued and joined the club. Many years later I learned that my mother Yvonne was one of the great Ierne players so it was in my blood.

Have you. Any memories of Portmarnock Pitch and Putt Club through the years?

As a juvenile I had some of the best days of my life. The minute the school bell went for summer holidays I moved to the course and stayed from dawn and dusk. I remember the great Ger McLernon (now Ward) walking in the gate for the first time and little did I know what I was witnessing. I played leagues with Ger Ward and Sheelagh Elmes for many years and had some great matches playing with them two great and it led us to winning a Dublin County Board League title.

As an adult it is such a great place to go on a Saturday for the women’s competition. The women have a special thing going in Portmarnock and the numbers are incredible. No matter what goes on all week in my life Saturday is the day I know I will have a good game, good company and good cake !

Do you remember your first elusive hole in one?

The first hole in 1 I ever had, I had in Portmarnock on the 8th as a Juvenile. I remember going to the 8th green and I couldn’t find the ball. I returned to the tee box to tee off again, never thinking to look in the hole. When I went back to the green on taking out the flag my partner started shouting “Irene youre ball is in the hole” what a great feeling!

What if anything has surprised you about the game of pitch and putt?

I suppose what surprises and encourages me most is the age profile of players. From the very young to the young at heart everyone can play together. I used to love the adult / juvenile competitions as a child and learned so much about the game.

Are you looking to improve your handicap and play in Club, County or National competitions in the future?

Yes, Ger Ward watch this space ha ha !!. Of course I would love to continue to improve my game and handicap and will enjoy the challenge. I think it’s a competitive sport and that’s what its all about.

Would you recommend the game to your friends and/or family to join a club?

Yes definitely, I have and continue to have so much enjoyment in this game. Many of my family play the game already, being members of Ierne and Trim in Co Meath. My own children played in Royal Meath but have since moved to golf.

We would like to thank Irene for taking the time to talk to us. Great to see Portmarnock Pitch and Putt club bringing many years of enjoyment.

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Today in the latest of our interviews we have a young player out of the Loughlinstown Pitch & Putt who only joined the club less than a year ago. After his first taste of competition in the Loughlinstown Scratch Cup and then taking part in the Kildare Shortgrass & Dublin GRIP he had plans to get around to other courses this season but instead has found himself, like everyone else, playing his home course regularly instead.

Name: Stephen Finn
Club: Loughlinstown pitch and putt
Handicap: 8
Golf Clubs: 54 degree Titleist Vokey sm7 and Ping putter

Why did you take up the sport of pitch & putt?

I was a part time Par 3 player for years and I would play a handful of times in the Summer when the weather was good with my mates but nothing competitive. I always enjoyed the shorter holes in around 100 yards on the par 3s as I was better at them than the longer holes with lower Irons. One day, I was driving past the course in Loughlinstown and I had a thought that maybe I would enjoy it, with it being 18 holes of all under 100yrds and the ones I enjoy playing. So basically, I joined because I couldn’t play the holes over a 100 yards on a par 3 very well. The biggest regret I have, is i have walked past the course everyday for 6 years going to school and I don’t think I ever even looked over the fence into the course, never mind think about it playing it.

Are you enjoying your experiences of Loughlinstown Pitch & Putt Club to date?

Yes really enjoying it, the club is full of great people and a great camaraderie between everyone from old to young. I had big plans for this season to play as many other courses and play a lot more in outside competitions but obviously with the way the world is now that wasn’t possible but hopefully we can salvage some sort of season over the next few months.

What, if anything, has surprised you about the game of pitch & putt?

I would say what surprised me is just how difficult the game is. I don’t think it gets the respect it deserves from outside the game. People look at it and think it’s easy but believe me, it’s far from easy. The high standard the game is played was surprising to me the quality and consistency of the top players in the game is incredible and you really appreciate it when you know just how difficult the game is.

Are you looking to improve your handicap and play in Club, County or National competitions in the future?

Yes I will be definitely looking to get my handicap down as low as possible and compete at the highest level possible. This is really my first season as I joined half way through last season and had plans to play in the nationals, county’s and as many scratch cups as I could but with Covid-19 that wasn’t possible but I will be looking forward to competing in them next year and in the future if we ever get back to normality.

Would you recommend the game to your friends and/or family to join a club?

Yes, I would always recommend the game I think it has something for everyone whether you want to play it casually or want to play it competitively. Anyone can play the game and its very affordable to play compared to golf, you only need 2 clubs a couple of golf balls, tees and your ready to go. Also, it can also be completed in about a hour which is appealing to people that haven’t got 4-6 hours to play golf.

Thank you to Stephen for his contribution and as said before, if any player or club wants an interview or a post put up, please get in contact with JR Crangle at jrcranglejr@gmail.com

We encourage all clubs to get in touch with any new or returning members about our interviews and we will post them here and our Facebook page.

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