THIS IS ME

Meet Caroline Dunne: The whirlwind kicking up a storm at Bunclody Golf and Fishing Club

by Ronan MacNamara

Bunclody Golf and Fishing Club is still relatively new on the scene having opened in 2009 but the golf club seems to be emerging from its infancy and taking that step to the next level in establishing itself as one of Ireland’s premier clubs.

A qualified health and fitness instructor and having previously worked in corporate travel, organising golf trips, Caroline Dunne has had a profound impact since becoming General Manager at Bunclody five years ago.

Dunne describes herself as a ‘one-man band,’ and that isn’t an understatement by any means. Without an assistant manager she certainly has her hands full with the day to day running of the club.

“I literally do everything from checking in people at the pro shop to managing bookings, managing societies, the online bookings and the social media,” she said.

“I’m not in the luxury of having four or five staff looking after these things for me. I have a PGA Professional, Gary McLean who comes in and does a few hours in the shop to cover my days off but aside from that, it’s just myself.

“I do have a bar manager and excellent staff upstairs.

“I’m so used to doing it so I just do it without thinking,” she added.

McLean could be described as Dunne’s right-hand man. He is extremely busy around the club filling in for Dunne when he can and he brings a great presence to the club she says.

“He teaches here six days a week and is in the shop three days. He is very active and very involved within the club, he does custom fitting and works very closely with the juniors and he ran the Ladies Get Into Golf.”

Bunclody Golf and Fishing Club is a young club and has a relatively young membership with the bulk of the membership ranging between 45-65 years of age and Dunne feels that creates a buzzing atmosphere around the club every day.

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Photo Linton Walsh

“As a golf club we’re still relatively young and quite new on the scene. While we have hosted big events and are climbing the ladder we are still seen as a new club but because of that our membership is very young. Our standard membership would range between 45 and 65 years of age.

“It’s a very modern and friendly club. Anybody that comes here to join is always amazed by the welcome they get in the bar, you’ll always meet somebody. Members are very open to new players coming and joining them on the timesheet.

“Socially we are very active, there’s always a buzz seven days a week. It’s always alive.”

Dunne shows no sign of resting on her laurels and is highly motivated to keep progressing the club further. Plans to build an on-site hotel are well underway and despite some Covid hiccups she hopes to see it built by the end of October 2022 which she described as ‘massive’ for the club.

The objective of the hotel is to bring societies to the club and give them the option of staying overnight and enjoying themselves.

While the future looks bright, there are more immediate plans that Dunne wants to see through after reaping the rewards of some trojan work from the on-course staff during the pandemic.

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Photo Linton Walsh

“We were lucky to keep hold of all our staff throughout all the lockdowns so there was a huge amount of work done which has paid off massively this year,” said Dunne.

“We re-drained four holes completely, we drained all of the fairways and we closed for a week to top dress all of the fairways. We normally hollow tine greens and tee boxes like all courses but this year we did the surrounds, the fairways and the approaches and put thousands of tonnes of sand down which has paid huge dividends over the last few weeks.

“The members are blown away by the quality of the greens and the standard of the course for November.

“It’s harder to keep the standards in the winter so it has been important that we kept our seasonal staff on full-time.

“We have invested in a new fleet of machinery for 2022 which will be great for us. We have bought new buggies and then the houses and the hotel will get further on in the process and that’s important for us to build on a really good 2021,” she added.

A golf club is nothing without its members and Dunne has managed to create a very positive atmosphere around the club with a thriving membership. Clubs all over Ireland have benefited from the boom that golf has gone through during the pandemic after a few lean years.

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Dunne believes that the opportunity to play golf for twelve months of the year has been an advantage for the club in boosting their membership numbers, so much so that she could find herself with the nice problem of having to limit numbers next year.

“Membership is extremely strong. Being a new club on the scene we would have had low numbers but we never dropped massively during the recession which was good for us. As membership started to regrow, we have grown massively especially in the last two years.

“The year pre-Covid we had a good burst in our membership. We are a twelve-month golf course and being a new course, our drainage is fantastic so you’ll get your winter golf here. It would have to be extremely bad weather for us to close.

“During Covid the whole world seemed to turn to golf so nearly every club had an increase in membership. We took in a huge amount of new members and that’s still going strong. The grá for golf is still there.

“For the first time in the twelve years I am here we are talking about limiting our numbers because what you don’t want is too many members and you can’t get them out on the timesheet. It’s great to be able to say that,” she added.

Women’s golf has also seen an increase in participation through various membership deals and the revolutionary Get Into Golf which McLean runs every year.

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Golf became very popular for young people during the pandemic as children looked to fill the sporting void in their lives while other sports like GAA, football and rugby took a back seat for an extended period.

Dunne has been impressed by the enthusiasm showed by the children and the parents in Bunclody and after one of the best years the club has experienced, she is optimistic the number of juniors playing golf will remain high in 2022.

“The junior club is really good. This year we took on a group of five members that seriously got involved with the juniors. Like every club you go through a phase of having plenty of youngsters moving on to the adult section and you get a year where there’s a bit of a plateau and you might not have the same number of kids coming through.

“Last year we had a huge number of juniors join us and it was probably one of our best years. If the parents are involved in golf, there’s a chance the kids might come and play too and Covid certainly had a huge impact in that.

“Last summer every Saturday the parents would stay and walk the course with the kids or stay at the range when there were lessons going on.

“We have a lot of them signed up to join again next year which is great,” she added.

Managing a golf club on your own is rather unusual and in many clubs it is a team effort with numerous assistants, administrators and volunteers making the dream work but in Dunne’s case she is at the wheel and is the only one steering Bunclody Golf and Fishing Club.

Under her stewardship the Wexford club is improving with each passing year as it emerges from its youth and matures into one of Ireland’s best parkland golf courses.

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