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Meet Marian Riordan: A shining beacon for ladies golf who has always been breaking barriers for women in a man's world

by Ronan MacNamara

Marian Riordan leads a hectic lifestyle when she isn’t busy running the show as the Head Professional at Dundrum House Hotel she can be found at home with her partner Karen looking after their two young children Cleo and Dara.

The last twelve months have been a whirlwind for the Tipperary native, moving jobs from her home club Ballykisteen to becoming the Head Pro in Dundrum while trying to find the right balance between full time golfer and full-time parent.

Originally from Limerick Junction in Tipperary, she grew up a stones throw away from Ballykisteen Golf Club although golf was certainly not her first love and she was a late developer in the sport, despite going on to have an illustrious amateur career and a brilliant career so far as a PGA Professional either side of a stint on the Ladies European Tour.

A natural at all sports, Riordan played soccer while also playing for Munster in badminton and her native Tipperary in county football so the introduction to golf was gradual at best.

“Both my parents were All-Ireland pitch and putt champions,” she said. “So we played a little out the back garden so we knew what a wedge and a putter were. Then my parents joined a golf club which is a natural progression for a pitch and putt player, but I used to run away from the golf as I was playing other sports.

“I was quite competitive I played county football for Tipperary and badminton for Munster at underage level so golf didn’t appeal to me initially.

“Then I came to Ballykisteen in 1992/93 which was about half a mile from my house which created an interest it was on my doorstep, we used to go up there to collect golf balls and sell them to the golfers and make a few bob.

“Then we got into it I used my father’s clubs and got my handicap I think it was about 29 when I was 15 around 1995 at a time when I was still dabbling in golf,” she added.

Riordan was also a member of Tipperary Golf Club and it wasn’t until an impromptu visit from Josephine Kilmartin the Lady Captain at the time, that she found herself on the way down to Woodstock for the Munster U18 Girls Championship!

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Marian Riordan. Photo by Golffile

That was her first proper taste of competitive golf and from there she became hooked as she went on to dominate the Irish circuit, even beating a certain Leona Maguire along the way.

“I made the cut which I didn’t expect and then I had to withdraw because I had a county football match the next day!

“It spiralled from there and my handicap started to come down and I made a few teams. My first cap for Ireland was in Mount Wolseley in 2002 when I was 22 and I had started playing golf when I was 16. That was the highlight of my career, that was special.

“I was Order of Merit number one in 2007 when I turned pro, I won the Cork Scratch Cup, won the Lahinch Scratch Cup, I hold the course record in Lahinch, I shot a 69 to beat Leona Maguire, but she was 12 so it felt a little like bullying because I was 25,” she added.


Like so many, the former Ladies European Tour player gained experience in the golf industry working shifts in the pro shop in Ballykisteen which gave her the time to practice and travel the world playing amateur events until she eventually turned pro in 2007 after a stint as a secondary school teacher.

“I made some great friends and I loved travelling around the country and I worked in Ballykisteen as well during the summer then went to WIT when I was 18 and continued to play golf during the summer which was ideal for me and I was fully committed to the ILGU circuit at the time.

“I was travelling abroad I was lucky enough to play in the World Student Games, I went to Thailand I played in the European Championships, I have been to loads of countries just playing golf which was fantastic.

“I graduated from WIT in 2003 and did my H Dip in UCD and then I became a secondary school teacher in Ballyfermot for two years and then I turned pro in 2007.”

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One memory from Riordan’s early days as a professional is playing nine holes with Paul Dunne at Greystones where she took a job under the wing of Head Pro Karl Holmes. She remembers being blown away by the quality of Dunne’s short game which he is well renowned for on the European Tour as the local hero in Greystones took the Tour by storm when he first emerged.

“I worked in the golf centre in Leopardstown before I went to Greystones and was mentored by Karl Holmes. I spent four years there and had a great time, I still have very fond memories it’s a very good club and they worship Paul Dunne.

“I met Paul on my first day he would have been only 14 at the time so I played nine holes with Dunner so that was my first introduction to Paul Dunne.

“His short game was to die for he would chip and putt your eye out at 14, but aside from that he was a great kid so I would love to see him come back and get to the top of leaderboards again. It was so exciting to see him going out in the final group of the 2015 Open Championship and then to watch him win the British Masters.”

Despite being one of the standout PGA Professionals in Ireland, Riordan tried her hand on the Ladies European Tour and she gained conditional status on the Tour but the glitz and the glamour of what we are seeing the Nelly Korda’s and the Lydia Ko’s of this world achieve was a world away for the former amateur Order of Merit leader who was thrown into a pit of uncertainty as she relied on reserve invites to ply her trade.

While the experience didn’t quite go her way, Riordan has no regrets over her experience and feels the thankless task of teeing it up in Q-School opened her eyes to see that coaching was the route for her.

“I went to Tour School I got a conditional card on the Ladies European Tour, which doesn’t guarantee events so I might get a call the week before the event saying there’s a space available if I can get to Turkey for example, by Monday. It’s really difficult.

“I look back now and I was fortunate to play a handful of Ladies European Tour events I loved it and I’m glad I gave it a go. At the same time I was under a lot of pressure to perform because I was doing my PGA training, I was working as well as trying to perform on the golf course.

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“It’s a very difficult lifestyle having the financial worries of wondering have I enough money for flights and accommodation for the event and it’s not a great mindset to be in without support from sponsors or any organisation.

“The most daunting event I ever played in was Tour School. Nothing has ever compared to that in terms of nerves and the tension that surrounds the entire event. You’re teeing off with 120 other girls battling for 30 spots. It’s just nerve-wracking, there’s no feeling like it.

“If you play poorly at Tour School that’s your chance gone for 12 months.

“I made friends for life both through the professional and amateur circuit so I loved it,” she added.

After leaving Greystones a decade ago, Riordan thought she had walked into her dream job at her native Ballykisteen where she became the Director of Golf.

It wasn’t until the pandemic struck that her career was once again plunged into uncertainty and with the future surrounding Ballykisteen up in the air you could say her career was at a crossroads with Dundrum House eager to get her on board as their Head Professional.

Having made the decision to take the job and bring her team with her, Riordan feels the difficult decision to leave Ballykisteen has been a good one.

“I left Greystones in 2011 and came back home to Tipperary teaching golf in schools for six months until I joined my home club Ballykisteen as the Director of Golf. I was there for about 10 years. Last year the course went up for sale and there was great uncertainty during Covid for myself, my staff and the members. Thankfully I was approached by Dundrum House Hotel and we had a good few conversations and I made the decision to move to Dundrum which is where I am now.

“It’s fresh and new and a change is as good as a rest. I was lucky enough to take my team, Eoin Tobin with me and the backbone of the shop is my team, we have three PGA Pros and a shop assistant, everyone loves Mary she’s just fantastic.

“I’m only as good as the people behind me so, Eoin, Mary and Robert Hogan all do a great job.

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“We have a course that has taken on a massive investment, we have a driving range just being built so a new academy will be there in the new year, a performance centre, short game academy and it’s needed for a course of this standard.

“I love meeting the members and making sure we create an experience for them that they can enjoy, once they come to clock in we make it easy for them and that’s what we try to do in Dundrum to create a place that is fun for them and they can enjoy themselves.

“Everything is there for them at their home club, we have the facilities, we are fully stocked so we are trying to tick every box across the board,” she added.

Riordan is quite innovative when it comes to her teaching and has achieved cult status among golfers alike for her online tuition videos which have become a massive hit both locally and nationally. Her tips and demonstrations can be seen on her Facebook and Instagram pages and she feels the attention benefits both herself and the club.

“I really enjoy doing the videos I just get into it and try and feel like I’m giving a golf lesson and just let the camera roll. The amount of positive feedback I have gotten from people coming up to play Dundrum, they could be from Dublin, Cork, Dundalk you name it and they’re like ‘you’re the one who does the videos, I love them,’ so it creates a profile for me and people recognise me from the videos so it’s been great.

“It creates a profile for me and for Dundrum so people associate us hand in hand and by doing the videos on the course you are showcasing the facility which can encourage golfers to come down and play.”

Riordan is certainly in the minority as a female PGA Professional in Ireland but Irish women’s golf is undeniably on an upward curve thanks to the exploits of Leona Maguire, Stephanie Meadow and Olivia Mehaffey.

Maguire and Meadow’s performance in the Olympics before the former stole the show at the Solheim Cup last month has already had a profound impact on female participation in Dundrum with the pro shop being bombarded with phone calls from mothers and their daughters looking to try their hand at golf.

“There’s about 20 of us registered as female PGA Professionals and there’s four of us in clubs as head pros out of 440 golf clubs so we are females in a male environment, but it doesn’t faze me it’s not gender bias anyone can do it.

“The last few weeks have been phenomenal. We have had the Olympics with Stephanie and Leona, to see their golf on TV and everybody watches the Olympics so even non golfers were watching the girls.

“Then for Leona to follow it up by being the best player at the Solheim Cup and people who never played golf were talking about it. I was getting phone calls about it in the shop, I had mothers ringing me saying they had young girls looking to come in and see can they try golf to see if they like it so it shows what the three girls are doing in the States is setting out pathways for young girls to get into golf, they’re fantastic.

“I can relate to the girls on the Solheim Cup as can the regular club golfer, they’re hitting their irons and drivers the same distance and we are seeing more ladies golf on Sky Sports which can only be a positive for introducing new blood into the sport,” she added.

It has been a remarkable journey for Marian Riordan who is showing no signs of stopping as she looks to help take Dundrum House to the next level while also doing her part to inspire the next generation both on and off the golf course.

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