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

Words by Darragh Small 

At the moment, Katie Clarke’s glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is 30 meaning her kidney disease is borderline Stage 4 at just 32 years of age. 

She is pragmatic about what her future will look like and recognises she will most likely need a transplant in the next couple of years. 

“Golf has been a way to escape all of that” 

The Louth native has also had her battles with endometriosis and lost her 20s to the constant hospital visits and anxiety surrounding her health and well-being. 

But there is a fresh outlook and through her Instagram account she has detailed how her return to the golf course has shifted in her mindset and brought about brave new dreams. 

“I know I am going to need a transplant but I think, in all honesty, this is probably one of my big drivers,” said Clarke. 

“Golf has been a way to escape all of that.” 

The Ardee woman moved to London for an office job but now hopes to work in golf full-time. And there are social media opportunities aplenty on the back of her phenomenal growth on Instagram. 

‘Little Birdy Golf’ recently surpassed 10,000 followers as Katie looks to introduce people to golf while she becomes their source for genuine help and breaks the game down to its core fundamentals.  

A family affair

Neither of her parents played golf but Katie’s grandparents, Sheila and Christy, were avid golfers – their well-manicured front lawn was a haven for Katie and her three siblings every summer. 

“They live in a lovely row of houses so they had a small garden but they kept the grass very short and they had a hole at the top of it,” said Clarke.  

“That was my earliest memory, putting in the garden. I would be at their house every other day. It would be straight out to the garden for as long as I remember.” 

She subsequently joined Ardee Golf Club and played there up until she won the club championship when she was 15, but that was when her aspiring career ended. Instead, she placed her focus behind other sports while health concerns began to dominate her early adult years. 

Katie's kidney disease diagnosis

Katie was diagnosed with kidney disease after undergoing tests for endometriosis.

One in ten women worldwide suffer from endometriosis. It's a chronic disease associated with severe, life-impacting pain, and usually takes seven years to be fully diagnosed. 

“When I went to the doctor and we did tests, they found I had kidney disease which was a shock because it’s a silent disease, you don’t get symptoms and mine was quite advanced. I am nearly Stage 4 and there are five stages. 

“Every single doctor that I met just kept going back to the kidney disease. They weren’t really focusing on the pain I was in. They would say to me: "but you are too young to have kidney disease." I went through a couple of biopsies as well.  

“It really took its toll for a couple of years. I went into denial as well because every single doctor said I was too young to have it so I believed them.” 

Little Birdy Golf

One year on from her Stage 3 diagnosis, ‘Little Birdy Golf’ has exploded in popularity and Katie’s golf game has come a long way too. 

She also had her second endometriosis surgery in December and that has relieved much of the pain she was experiencing daily and while out on the golf course. 

Clarke returned to golf during the COVID-19 pandemic and with her game on an upward trajectory she started her Instagram profile ‘Little Birdy Golf’ in August 2023. 

“The idea of Little Birdy came from my granddad - he passed away two years ago” said Katie. 

“He would always say to me, ‘A little birdy told me this’. We used to fully believe there was a bird in the garden that used to tell him stories about us. So I just always associated that with him, and I thought when he passed away, I really want to do something that would keep us connected and close.  

“My granddad was everything to me and he is the reason I love golf, along with my Nana. That was my tribute to him and my way of keeping connected with him and just to make him proud. He always pushed me to do more and he is a big driving force in why I do it. It’s also brought me and my Nana closer, we play together in the summer and those are memories I’ll have for life. 

“I’m even more in love with it now than I was when I was younger. It was just something we did; we were born into golf because my grandparents loved it so much and I took it for granted but now it means so much more.” 

Children's colouring books

This March, Katie announced she had finally published her two colouring books dedicated to golf, an inclusive and diverse sport for all. 

It was the culmination of a long-term dream and something she hopes to build on in the future with more books in the pipeline - her next project is a golf planner. 

“The reason I came up with the idea was the diversity aspect of it and to try and engage children from a young age,” said Clarke.  

“One of my friends is an amputee and he is an amazing golfer. His outlook on life and golf is fantastic. I wanted to do something that shows golf is for everyone.  

“My niece should grow up in a world where she shouldn’t question if golf is for her or not. I wanted to show the diversity in it. There is so much spotlight on golfers with disabilities now as well. For a young child that might have a limb missing or is in a wheelchair, I hope they can look at golf and say I can do that.” 

What's next for Katie?

Katie kicked off 2024 by hosting a golf event to help other beginners out and make more contacts in the sport, they now have a WhatsApp group and friendships to last a lifetime.  

She also donated her time by volunteering at the DP World Tour Dubai Desert Classic, which was an amazing experience, getting to witness the best in the world battle it out and give back to the sport she loves the most. 

Meanwhile her story continues onto its next chapter now and the 32-year-old is determined to only partner with the brands that represent her values and principals. 

Unsurprisingly, the one constant is golf, she lives and breathes the sport, and summer cannot come fast enough, where she will chip away at her 22 handicap.

“I just have it in my head. My time is limited in how much I can do in golf,” says Katie.  

“Whenever I do have a transplant, I will be out for several months. In my head I need to be doing as much as I can now before I can’t. 

“But even with the endometriosis, it was one of those things where I would rather be in pain than give up golf. My 20s were consumed with health worries. Now I am in my 30s and I’ve got golf, I feel all of that is secondary, I’ve got a focus now and I’m able to put my attention on something other than my health. 

“When you do have such serious health worries, golf can alleviate that. If you can play golf in any way, I truly believe the benefits are endless, if you are not fit to walk 18 holes or nine, even just get a buggy or go on to the putting green.  

“Golf can change lives. You’re outside, you are away from technology, you’re golfing for four or five hours and you can just completely switch off. It’s been unbelievably good for my mental health. 

“My goal for this year is to say yes to every single opportunity that comes my way.” 

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