THIS IS ME

Meet Paul McCanny: From the Brandywell to the Whiskeywell at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links

by Ronan MacNamara

The phrase ‘at the wheel’ has been brandished about in careless delusion recently and is now an expression used in hush tones. Well, there is no need to feel anxious saying it about Paul McCanny. The Derry native has enjoyed a superb career in the golf industry to date and he is steering the ship as the Director of Golf at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.

McCanny went to school in St Columb’s College in Derry who can count John Hume and Seamus Heaney among its famous alumni.

He played almost every sport growing up, playing soccer, GAA before taking up golf as a 13-year-old and representing St Columb’s on the school golf team.

A lifelong Derry City fan, McCanny has seen the good and the bad while cheering on the Candystripes from cup glory in Landsdowne road to the brink, life as a fan of a League of Ireland club is seldom dull.

The Brandywell outfit have enjoyed a resurgence since Ruaidhrí Higgins took charge, with the club earning a place in the UEFA Europa Conference League for next season at the expense of Bohemians who missed out on the final European berth after losing last weekend’s FAI Cup final to St Pats on penalties.

Higgins’ charges have added Derry natives Michael Duffy and Patrick McEleney to their squad for next season while Will Patching has returned after a super loan spell and Ireland U21 goalkeeper Brian Maher joined from Bray Wanderers. McCanny is excited for the future.

“I used to go there as a kid,” he said. “I remember we beat St Pats 3-2 in the FAI Cup final, I was at that game in the Aviva. I keep an eye out on them for sure. I would be a big GAA fan as well and we are starting to make some progress for a small county.

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“The football club have come through some tough times. Some local businessmen have pulled them out of the fire a few times with investment. I remember John Hume got Barcelona to come across as a fundraiser. It’s great how local sport can bring people together and have people like that supporting it.”

After graduating from college, McCanny did his professional training in Blackbush GC, Dunshaughlin for three years, under the watchful eye of Leona Maguire’s coach Shane O’Grady, before taking up a position at Birr Golf Shop & Driving Range with Michael Horan. Paul was one of the first professionals to implement Trackman into his teaching in 2008.

During his time there he got to work alongside the likes of Shane Lowry around the time he would have been preparing for his historic Irish Open win as an amateur in Baltray in 2009.

McCanny returned to the Royal County spending a decade as the Head Professional at Killeen Castle where the club hosted the 2011 Solheim Cup and three Ladies Irish Open’s during his time there.

“There was a staging team called Twenty Eleven funnily enough. They did all the organisation and preplanning. There was five Ladies Irish Opens, two of which were actually here (Portmarnock Links). Killeen Castle had them in 2010, 11 and 12. They did all the organisation around the tournament.

“We were involved in it heavily too. Lots of different areas, preparing members areas, access to tickets and all that sort of thing.

“When the players and the team captains were around we made sure to look after them and make sure they knew what was going on and trying to give them as much information about where they were staying in Dunboyne.

“The Junior Solheim Cup was in Knightsbrook where the Maguire’s were playing. They were around Killeen Castle a fair bit and I knew them from getting coached by Shane, so it has been interesting to see their development,” he added.

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Following a highly successful stint in Killeen Castle, McCanny moved to Portmarnock this year to take up his first Director of Golf role at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.

The Hotel is famous for its links to the Jameson family with the Jameson's buried adjacent to the first fairway on the golf course. While many hotel guests come for the whiskey and the Jameson Tour, McCanny and his team make sure any visiting golfers feel at home, and hopefully don't hit an errant tee shot at the Jameson headstones!

“I have played here lots of times over the years. I have played in the Winter Series plenty of times as an assistant pro and I have always loved the place, so I was really interested in the job here.

“I’m in charge of the whole golf operation outside of the golf course. Membership, green fees, tour operators. The main areas of revenue are members and green fees, so from a golf perspective, pretty much everything from when a golfer arrives and leaves would be between myself, Fintan our head greenkeeper and our teams.

“We try to give everyone a nice welcome when they walk into the shop and we bring them down to the first tee and our starter and ranger look after them from there. It’s a great course to play, the condition of the course is always fantastic.

“When people come in we have the snug which is here around five years or so. It’s a nice and cosy 19th where members and guests can dine, get a drink and relax. Hotel guests love it too.

“We’ve noticed the international guests have been eager to get back as soon as possible and they have used the hotel as their base and they can go north or south from here. You can be in Royal County Down in an hour and a half or down in the European Club in 45 minutes and between that you have Royal Dublin, The Island, Portmarnock GC, ourselves and St Annes so there’s lots of links around us,” he added.

While he isn’t too involved in the club from a coaching point of view, McCanny still enjoys coaching the next generation with Golf Ireland where he coaches a number of the High-Performance panels and he relishes the prospect of nurturing young talent and feels it’s key to producing top players from this country.

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“We have Brendan Walton our teaching professional. I don’t do a whole lot of coaching anymore I am still involved with Golf Ireland looking after high performance at underage level. My day to day is more management and organisation rather than coaching.

“I have always enjoyed coaching. The biggest part of coaching that I enjoy is working with younger players particularly at ten or eleven, twelve. You have a chance to shape their golf before they pick up any bad habits. They are always so eager to learn at that level because they want to get better and they will practice.

“It’s really rewarding too. There are kids I would have coached even going as far back as Blackbush, that are pros or elite amateur players now so it’s nice to see them develop and keep playing.

“We are very lucky in Ireland for the size of our country to have the history we have and produce so many golfers on the world stage and it’s down to kids getting coaching at a young age,” he added.

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Anyone who knows McCanny knows that he still has a taste for competition. The Director of Golf regularly plays in the club’s famous Taylormade Winter Series every Tuesday.

The Tuesday strokeplay competition has grown to be an elite one day tournament with the likes of Cormac Sharvin, Paul Dunne, Gavin Moynihan, Conor Purcell and Paul McBride to name a few, testing themselves in a competitive environment when they are away from tour golf.

“They have places like this where they can come for some good competitive golf and we are really proud of the Winter Series it has been going for 20 odd years and it’s a great opportunity for guys who have little to play in to come and enter a really competitive tournament every week until the end of March,” said McCanny.

“It’s nice to give something back and give those young aspiring players a scenario where they can play under pressure.

“I was speaking to Gavin (Moynihan) and he mentioned the last three holes, that tough finish gives them the feeling of playing under pressure in a tournament to try and finish off a good score. You have to hit the shots, so that calibre of player find it useful for their game.”

If the pandemic has had a silver lining it’s been golf. Golf is going through somewhat of a boom period with an increase in participation at all levels across the country.

Membership is soaring in Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links with McCanny having to put people on a waiting list to join in 2022. The club has seen its membership grow to over 500 which has had a positive impact on all categories including ladies and junior membership.

“With Covid we have had more opportunity for membership. The domestic market has been great, we are up over 500 members now so we have closed the membership out earlier in the year and we have over 100 on a waiting list for next year. So we are in a very strong position.

“Golf has been so popular over the last while that we have lots of people playing. We are so lucky in this area that we have so many people around us. Even though there are plenty of other courses around, people still want to come and join here.

“Historically there wouldn’t have been a lot of ladies here but there has been an increase over the last two or three years. We have some dual members from Sutton and Malahide that come here in the winter for the conditions.

“On the junior side we have a number of juniors playing very regularly, they tend to be really good players because they are playing a lot and in tough conditions here. One of the juniors, Tynan Neville has appeared on the scores in our Winter Series a few times and he is only 15! It’s great to see that talent coming through,” he added.

Whether you are a new visitor or a returning guest, McCanny and his team will ensure your day at Portmarnock Links is a day to remember.

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