Ken Kearney has been one of Co.† Roscommonís leading sports stars over the past two and a half decades. He is the most decorated golfer ever to come from the county.† In a glittering amateur career, he represented his county, his province and his country on numerous occasions.†
† Kearney won many of the biggest titles in Irish amateur golf, including the Irish Close title and the West of Ireland and East of Ireland titles plus a host of scratch cups and other major titles over a twenty-five year period.†
† In his day Ken competed with, and often beat, such household names as Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and even the new British Open champion, Padraig Harrington. However as those players went on to make it big on the professional circuit in recent years, Ken did not. He attempted to get on to the European Tour in the 1980ís but after turning professional, he returned to the amateur ranks having failed at the Euro Tour Qualifying School.
† Undeterred, Ken has now taken on a new career in the golfing world as a golf course designer. In 2006 he completed a two-year course in Golf Course Design at Edinburgh College and he is now a member of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects. Ken now operates his own golf course design company and is currently involved in at least twenty different projects locally and throughout the country. Presently he is working on projects in Hungary and Greece.
† With the explosion in the number of people playing golf in Ireland and also the huge increase in the number of new courses opening, I went to speak to Ken to find out more about his new career in the golf business.
What about your playing career now?
I have scaled it back a good bit. I am working hard at the business now and it is important that I get it up and running properly, so I am not playing as much as before.†
† Itís far more competitive now anyway and when you see what the likes of Rory McIlroy and other young players can do at amateur level then itís probably right that I would be playing less.†
† I will be playing, but only for enjoyment from now on. I want to try and grow the business. Geoff Howes is the top man in this business in Ireland and I want to try and get to the level that he is at. I know that there are the Faldos and the Palmers and others but Iím talking about the Irish scene.
What about the golf scene in 2007 and Padraig Harringtonís amazing year?
Harrington is an amazing character altogether. He is such a determined guy. He is mentally so strong. When we were playing together all those years ago I would not have picked him out as British Open winning material. I thought he would make a journeyman pro but he has made it to the very top through sheer hard work.†
† Iím not surprised that he has done so well but he is something else now. He will be even more successful if he stays working as hard as he is at the moment.†
† With regard to the other guysÖ.Paul McGinley could be coming to the end of his career although he may prove me wrong while Darren (Clarke) is probably the most talented played of them all, well capable of winning majors, but I think that the desire may not be there anymore with him.
What about Rory McIlroy? What do you think of him?
He is something else. I think that he is the real deal alright. I went up to see him playing in the Walker Cup a few months ago and while he wasnít at his best the first day he was brilliant the second day. I think he will make it big. Look, he is only 2/1 to make the Ryder Cup team the next time Ė†thatís unbelievable.†
† I know we have had brilliant amateur players in the past like ĎRaymieí Burns, John McHenry and Eoghan OíConnell who never made it but I have a feeling that McIlroy is different. Butch Harmon has said that McIlroy was the best amateur he has seen since Tiger Woods so I suppose thatís enough!!
Tell me about the golf design business. Why did you get involved in it?
I first got interested in it when I lived in Rosses Point in Sligo. I met a guy there called Dr.† Stephen Reid who wrote a centenary book about Rosses Point and through him I was introduced to the work of an architect called† Harry Coles, who designed Rosses Point itself.†
† I got a book about Harry Coles and I was really interested after that. Since then I have got a mountain of books on the subject and thatís really where it started.†
† Then I decided to enquire about qualifications for the job. So I applied for the course at the Edinburgh College and thankfully I was accepted.†
† It was a two-year course and there were twelve of us who did it and nine got through and three did not Ė so it was not an easy course or something to be taken for granted. I graduated in 2006.
But you were working away before that and during the course?
Yeah, I was doing bits and pieces. People were all the time ringing me and asking me my opinion on courses, remodelling and new holes and greens for courses.†
† Itís a tough game though. Itís ok giving your opinion but it is very technical too. It has to be properly done Ė on paper, with drawings, etc. Ėso that was why I wanted to know the technical side of it too, something which was well covered in the course.†
Golf is a massive growth industry with the explosion in the number of new courses throughout the country Ė†so is there plenty of business there?
Yes there is business out there. There are a huge amount of new courses out there but there is a big demand for the old and existing courses to be updated and remodelled.
† Now every course wants their greens to be up to USGA specifications. Golfers in every club want the best conditions 365 days of the year because they are paying high subs, etc. But a lot of golfers are now merciless when it comes to their demands for a top class course to be available to them every time they go out to play, which is not always possible.†
† When the US Masters comes on telly in April at Augusta some golfers expect that every course they play should be up to that standard, which is not always very practical. But the demands are high and we have to try and meet those demands as best we can. Itís a big challenge.
Are there too many golf courses in Ireland now?
Well I donít know if there are too many but it is certainly coming to saturation point. Golf courses are now being built in order to sell hotels and houses and itís not sustainable any more.†
† What we should be looking at is local authorities like county councils getting involved in providing the facilities like they do in other† countries and making golf accessible to more people.†
† If councils bulit public golf courses close to urban centres and the public were charged, say Ä10 a round, it would make far better sense to me.†
† I was involved with a facility in Rathbane in Limerick that is a great facility and it costs Ä10 to play there. Thatís the way we should be going.
So your business is probably going to be more re-modelling than new courses?
Yes thatís the way itís going. I am in Ballyhaunis at the moment and am working in Mountbellew. I have tendered for a re-modelling job in Roscommon so hopefully I might get that work. I have finished Phase 1 of a job in Tuam which has turned out great and Iím working on or designing about twenty different projects in all.
Whats the secret to this golf course design business Ė†or have you worked it out yet?
There is an artistic end to it definitely, but my philosophy is that the project is delivered on time, on budget, that the proper technical drawings are done, drawings that people can understand and know whatís going on.†
† Itís very important and these jobs are done well. The fact that I played the game at a high level must surely be an advantage but you have to have the technical knowledge too. I would have played maybe thousands of golf courses over the year so that must stand to me in this business.
What are your favourite golf courses in Ireland?
Rosses Point was always near the top of the† list, as was Portrush. I tend to like the older courses. Of the new courses I think that the New Forest in Tyrellspass is as good as you could get Ė given the money that was spent there Ė†and the cost of playing a round there. Itís excellent.†
† Thatís what golf is all about. I have no interest whatsoever paying Ä200 for a round of golf at a place like the K Club and coming off after the round with 22 points scored and not able to walk for a week!† Thatís not enjoyment. Thatís not what the majority of people want.
So whatís the future for Ken Kearney?
I want to try and grow the business as much as I can. I am on the road a lot now and I donít think peope are aware what I am doing, but itís all about hard work and hopefully I will get plenty of work in the coming years.†
† I have a few jobs in the pipeline in Hungary and Greece which I am excited about and this is a job that I love doing. Itís as close to playing as you can get.†
† I would have loved to have made it as a professional golfer all those years ago but it wasnít to be and this is what Iím doing now Ė so I intend to give it my best shot.