A series from Golf Ireland bringing you the stories from some of the most interesting golfers and personalities across golf in Ireland.

Words by Daragh Small

Maria Dunne has featured in nine Women’s Amateurs, and her last time playing in the event coincided with a memorable victory for Leona Maguire. This week, she welcomed the historic tournament back to Portmarnock.

The Skerries native knows more than most what the 12 Irish competitors have experienced on the links and she believes the game is in rude health on this island at the moment.

A historic year for golf in Ireland

It is a Curtis Cup year, another event she has played a huge role in, and with the KPMG Women’s Irish Open also around the corner, opportunity knocks for whoever is willing to grasp it.

“It’s hugely, hugely historic,” said Dunne.

“I was fortunate to play the course about a month ago. Shane O’Donoghue invited me out to play and it’s in my top three golf courses in the country. It’s certainly obviously one of our best golf courses and it’s in great condition.

“When I played it I felt like there was no wind and then I teed off on the first and it was very intimidating. The prevailing wind, the bunkers, the tight fairways, how high up the rough is and the runoff areas. It is a massive test for the women competing.”

Playing alongside the world's best golfers

The field has been whittled down ahead of the match play stages which began this morning. And Dunne has her own memories of playing alongside the elite players in world golf on their road to amateur glory.

Along with Maguire’s success at Pyle & Kenfig seven years ago, Dunne was also in the field when Céline Boutier won at Portstewart in 2015. She witnessed Emily Kristine Pedersen’s victory the previous year in Royal St George’s, along with the wins for Stephen Meadow and Georgia Hall before that.

“These are some of the big names we’re watching on the LPGA Tour that I played alongside,” said Dunne.

“I would regularly point out to my daughter on the TV: See that girl there? I played with her in a competition. Just getting her to understand what maybe mammy did in a previous lifetime.”

The forefront of the amateur game in Ireland

Dunne is still at the forefront of the amateur game in Ireland. She works with Golf Ireland as a Development & Club Support Officer, while her glittering playing career has seen her go on to take up some huge captaincy roles in recent times.

She won the Flogas Irish Women’s Amateur Open Championship the same year she represented GB&I at the Vagliano Trophy in 2017. She was also a member of the GB&I team which won the Curtis Cup at Dun Laoghaire the previous year and represented Ireland on 11 occasions.

Just last year she was captain of the GB&I team for the Vagliano Trophy, a team that contained Beth Coulter, Áine Donegan, Rosie Belsham, Hannah Darling, Lorna McClymont and Lottie Woad, who are all playing in Portmarnock this week.

Maria Dunne captained the Vagliano Trophy team last year. Image: The R&A

“We’ve got Curtis Cup coming up so Catriona Matthew is on site. It’s probably her first glimpse of some of the players that are in contention,” said Dunne.

“They have been in America at college all season so it’s the first home tournament that she’ll get a good look at her players and have an idea of who she’s looking at.

“Catriona is obviously such a hugely qualified captain being a multiple Solheim Cup winner. I can only imagine that she is looking at the demeanour of the players, and their ability – all hugely important things.

“The personalities come out on the golf course: Are they a team player, would they work well in a team? Ability being first and foremost but how they handle being out of position, their short game ability and how they handle posting a bad score or a bad round and how they come back from that.”

Up and coming talent in Ireland

Dunne was part of the wave of Irish talent that progressed through the ranks when Leona and Lisa Maguire, Stephanie Meadow and Olivia Mehaffey were all on the way up. And she knows that Ireland has another batch of exciting hopefuls.

“Seeing Leona win it in 2017 and knowing that it’s possible but watching her on the TV week in week out now, multiple winner on the LPGA Tour, Solheim Cup winner too,” said Dunne.

“She is the person that they look at for inspiration and how they can achieve their dreams of being a professional golfer and being a successful professional golfer.

“You can only look at the standard with Áine representing Ireland again, getting her place in the field at the US Open. Sara Byrne winning low amateur last year in the KPMG Women’s Irish Open, the number of amateurs we’ve had representing, getting invites to professional events.

“It has been a huge learning curve for them with the standard globally. I had two players in my GB&I team last year – these women are competing on a global stage constantly throughout the season, Anna Foster winning last week in Woodbrook.”

Looking to the future

Meanwhile, Dunne is representing Skerries in the Irish Mixed Foursomes. They are through to the third round after victories over St Margaret’s and Portmarnock. Next up for her and her partner, Pat Durkan, is a clash with Blackbush on 4 July.

She is also looking forward to her own two daughters and what their sporting futures might look like. Crucially, she has studied the greats and taken it upon herself to follow the Padraig Harrington mindset when it comes to Mila (six) and Phoebe (three).

Maria Dunne with her daughters Phoebe and Mila at The Women's Amateur in Portmarnock this week

“I take Mila to the driving range myself and just have that kind of special time together one-on-one, I only let her hit her 20 or 30 balls and we’ll have an ice cream afterwards, just keeping her interested in it,” said Dunne.

“She would love to hit more balls but I remember listening to an interview recently with Padraig Harrington when he was playing with his son over in America.

“He was mentioning how that special time with your child, when it’s just one-on-one and you’re taking them to the driving range and you’re spending quality time with them, don’t let them hit too many balls. His advice was things that I’ve already kind of incorporated into trying to encourage her to hopefully take up golf.

“To me it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t take up golf, I’d just like her to enjoy the sport. I get that question a lot because I have two girls, would you like your girls to represent Ireland like their mammy?

“It doesn’t matter to me I just want them to enjoy any kind of sport and I’ll give them a taste of everything that they are interested in.”

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