The resurrection of Moyvalley Golf club over the last eight years is placing the club on a much more secure footing after a few years of uncertainty and temporary relocation to Rathcore Golf Club.
The club which opened in 2007 has had its peaks and troughs but finally seems to be on a steady upward curve and their latest appointment can only be seen as a shrewd one.
Last Monday Daniel O’Connor was announced as the new Head Professional of the Kildare Club after he returned home following a successful stint in Canada as a golf coach.
The decision to come home wasn’t a straightforward one but the Athlone native is delighted to have settled back on Irish soil and is relishing the opportunity presented to him at Moyvalley.
“I was in Canada for a few years and came back and started looking for positions and I gave myself a couple of months to figure out what I wanted to do and I spotted the job on LinkedIn and I spoke to a few people about it,” he said.
“There was a time in Canada after 18 months whether I wanted to go for the permanent residency there and stay on or come back to Ireland. It was fifty, fifty for a bit but I decided to come back and at 28 I wanted to put some roots down here. So I am back for good.
“I spoke with Keelan McDonagh he’s over in New Jersey and he worked in the academy in Moyvalley and he knew Alan and he was the one who said that this would be a great fit for me.
“I met with Alan then and I liked the prospect of it. I knew of Alan from my time in Maynooth and I knew he would be good to work with too.”
The PGA pro isn’t a total stranger to Moyvalley having played the Irish PGA Championship in 2017 and he is still as impressed by the course and the facilities as he was five years ago.
“I would have played the Irish PGA Championship back in 2016 or 2017 so I knew of the course. It’s a tough course but I really like it. There are a few scary holes coming in. I always think 16, 17 and 18 are three very good golf holes because if you are a little bit scared when you stand on the tee that’s the sign of a good golf hole.
“The whole course has a really nice blend while being very challenging.
“The first week is just getting used to the pro shop and meeting all the members and I have started my coaching so I am looking forward to getting stuck into that. There are such good facilities here. Two big USGA standard chipping green, a big putting green and the driving range will have 120 yards of grass bays which is just great for coaching. To have the covered bays on days is great too for the bad weather,” he added.
It was clear from a young age that O’Connor had a voracious appetite for golf. His first introduction to the sport came as a seven-year-old at the local pitch and putt club in Athlone before he was able to join the Golf Club as a ten-year-old member.
O’Connor’s golf career started in style, if at unrealistic ease…
“My dad brought me out playing pitch and putt when I was seven. I had seen my parents playing golf so I wanted to give it a go. I played that for three years and I was hounding my dad to get me out there all the time.
“When I was ten I could join Athlone Golf Club and I was immediately hooked because the first day I played the junior convenor there Michael Butler he knew of my dad and he made sure I was OK for the first hole. It was a par-4 and I hit my third shot into the hole from 100 yards out! That was an interesting start to playing golf I thought it was always going to be this easy!”
O’Connor is a former Paddy Harrington Golf Scholar at Maynooth University and completed his PGA qualifications at Athlone Golf Club under the stewardship of Kevin Grealy before making the move to Vancouver for two years.
Many people will be surprised to hear of winter golf in Vancouver with the general assumption being that golf courses there close for the winter months but, in fact, the conditions are similar to what Irish golfers experience at this time of year.
“I qualified in Athlone Golf Club and then as soon as I qualified I was on a plane to Canada which was always the plan to go for a few years and get some international experience.
“I was working in McCleary Golf Course in Vancouver and I spent two years working under the Head Professional. It was great, I was in a supervisory role which was a great experience. I was also part of the academy there which was huge. We had eight coaches and we were all quite busy.
“Vancouver is very populated with not too many golf courses available to the public. It is open all year round, we have a little bit of snow for a week or two but golf courses open back up pretty quickly. The first year I was there we were open all year round. About an hour north would be closed for five months of the year. Vancouver has its own microclimate where the courses would be like Ireland in that they are wet during the winter but playable.”
The 28-year-old enjoyed success at provincial level, representing Connacht Boys in the Interprovincial Championship while picking up an AIG All-Ireland Senior Cup with Athlone coming up against some familiar faces from his days in Maynooth.
“When I was coming up to underage and boys level I wouldn’t have had huge success but I was making cuts and got onto the Connacht U18 Interpros team which was a great experience. When I got to college I wasn’t part of the scholarship in Maynooth University but I played an Intervarsity event in Tramore and played pretty well and Barry Fennelly put me onto the programme a couple of months into first year.
“I had success with teams in Athlone Golf Club for a small club. We made the All-Ireland finals in 2016 and we ended up playing Maynooth so I played against all the guys I knew that day.
“It spurred me on and I played against Declan Loftus and I was 1UP going up the last before we were called in so he never lets me say I won that match.”
A young and enthusiastic professional with a wealth of experience in a busy coaching environment, O’Connor thrives on giving players of all abilities that extra push, and seeing them rewarded with good scores brings a smile to his face.
“What I enjoy about coaching is the interactions with people. I like to be as positive as possible about people’s games and make the changes they need to give them more confidence. I like working with people and it gives me a great buzz if I meet them a few weeks after a coaching session and they have had 42 points.
“I might not have done much with that person but that little push in the right direction can help their enjoyment of the game and if I can do that and make the game easier for them then that’s very rewarding for me.”
With a top-drawer golf course and some of the best practice facilities in the country, the jigsaw is starting to come together for Moyvalley as it strives to reach its potential. The appointment of O’Connor appears a smart move and one that could be a long-term arrangement.