Gavin Lunny has been the PGA Professional at Naas Golf Club for all of 13 years, and a highly successful one at that, and that is what made changing direction and moving to Dun Laoghaire Golf Club such a big decision.
Over the years, and particularly the last six or seven, Gavin has guided, coached and tutored some of the most talented amateur players that this country has ever produced.
Players such as Jack Hume, Conor O'Rourke and Jonathan Yates, to name just a few, players who have won some of the most prestigious amateur golf tournaments, at home and abroad
Gavin while admitting that “we had some good players there (in Naas) but they needed a little bit of a shot in the arm a, then when Jack Hume decided to come back and play in the club, he started working with me in October 2013 and by August 2015 he was a member of the Walker Cup team; he had a big turn around in his game and that in turn spurred a lot of the other juniors on.”
Gavin Lunny first joined Naas Golf Club at 10 years of age ; at 19 he headed to The States, came back and linked up with Rathsallagh as Assistant to Brendan McDaid in 2001 staying there until 2004 when fully qualified.
He explains that at that time he was doing a fair bit of coaching, freelancing, mainly based at Naas Driving Range, along with other places, but then when the job came up in Naas (“I had been working a lot with the junior golfers in Kerdiffstown”) I was approached and took the position of Professional at the club in 2005 and was there until I left just a few short weeks ago.
Returning to Jack Hume he says “to get selected on the Walker Cup team was a massive achievement” adding “ just to put it into perspective, in May 2016, Jack was off a +7 handicap and ranked the third highest amateur in the world; he really reached huge heights as an amateur and the same year Jonathan Yates won the West of Ireland while Conor O'Rourke won the St Andrews Trophy; Jack had won the European Nations Cup (individual prize) and also the same year won the South African Amateur, so between March and July of that year it was an incredible run, but the lads proved they could win and once one of them did it there was the talent there to follow it through.
“A couple of years went by and in 2018 we had the winner of the Leinster and Ireland U16s with Eoin Freeman and Jamie Butler and there are other young players in Naas at the moment who may not have the same profile, yet, but this year's Fred Daly team in Naas I think will be one of the strongest in the country and hopefully they will win it.”
Gavin Lunny opened an indoor academy at Kerdiffstown in 2016, a major investment but one he says he would have loved to have had in 2007 when he first arrived.
“The impact of having an indoor facility was significant in terms of just being able to get on with your day-to-day business and not be as affected by the weather but also having a better experience for the client as well.”
Married, with two young children, and after so much success, opening the academy and all that entailed, it was, no doubt, a major decision to leave and move to Dun Laoghaire?
“I suppose it was but you reach a stage in your career when you say I am still young enough, I still have the motivation and drive to do more, but yes it was a very difficult decision to leave, of course it was.
“There were only a number of different options I had because I had gone so far in Naas, had developed the reputation there ; I had a reasonable good business but you know no matter where you go you are always walking away from some-
thing, so there is the uncertainty of what will happen next but I am a great believer you have to take chances in life and I think very few clubs could have offered me the opportunity to leave (Naas) but Dun Laoghaire was certainly one of them and when it came up I knew it was one I was going to go for and thankfully I got it, but it was always on the basis that their ambition, going forward, was in line with mine.”
The job itself had over fifty applicants from Great Britain, Ireland and across Europe; people in the golf business would know the location of it and the facility that it is, from a coaching point of view, from a golfing professional point of view.
“When I went for the job I went in with a 50-50 attitude that I might /might not get it but by the time I got to the second series of interviews I felt quiet comfortable with the direction the process was going and I have to say I would have been really gutted if I had not got it, simply because I felt the club's ambition and mine were very much in line and with the experience I had built up in Naas felt I had a lot to bring to the table, and thankfully they felt the same.”
For a long number of years now Gavin has had a weekly column with the Leinster Leader, his advice and tips will continue, on all aspects of the game, both for the beginner, the high handicapper and the player that has ambitions for the highest level his/her talent takes them to.
So is Dun Laoghaire a similar type of club than say Naas, similar ideas, similar facilities, with good young players and similar ambitions, and successes, that Naas has enjoyed over the years?
“Well Dun Laoghaire is probably a different animal in a sense; there is somewhere between 1,700 and 1,800 members; it is a very, busy members' golf club; they are open to green fees and groups but they are primarily a members' club and day-to-day most of the activity is member based.
“They have incredible facilities and I would go as far as to say they have world class facilities and part of our brief is to ensure that those facilities are utilised as much as possible.
“They have a 13-bay driving range with a fully equipped gym and a new area we have developed over the past few weeks into an indoor studio, which is very impressive.”
Dun Laoghaire, says Gavin, is probably one of the big success stories from the boom times of the late '90s and early noughties when they swapped their land in Dun Laoghaire, about 70 acres, a very historical club, massive history, and decided to accept the offer from a developer, (Cosgrave Family Builders) to move a little bit further down the road and on the opposite side of the M50; swapping that land for 330 acres; they have in total 27 holes (three 9s); a 20,000 sq ft driving range, a bowling pavilion, a huge social club and a 50,000 sq ft clubhouse.
To some extent they inherited a massive operation and the club, at the time, did not have the numbers to support it but bit by bit they worked the membership up to what it is today; now they are, financially, a very, very successful operation. They now have the resources and the location to bring things forward, probably on a scale we have never seen in Ireland and I think their ambition goes that far to be fair.
“Even in the depths of winter when I was going up and down in preparation for the move it was always a very active place and with stunning views of the Sugar Loaf mountain and just a stone's throw from the coast, really a wonderful facility in an absolute unique location; their scope to develop it going forward, there is simply no end to what they could do.
And plans for the future?
Gavin said that the move to Dun Laoghaire was a team effort “My Assistant Dylan Burke has joined me from Naas and I also have taken on George Henry who is a 20 year qualified PGA Professional and accomplished coach. We are currently recruiting an Assistant Professional to join the team.
There are more development plans in the pipeline here while “they are also eager for success at team and individual level as well, so it is very exciting times; this is a huge project but a very exciting one.”
And no doubt that brings with it added pressure?
“Of course, but like everything else, when you have success, and you move on there is an expectation that you are going to produce it somewhere else and I am trying to embrace that challenge and I think I am up to it; I believe it is a good time for me; I think it is a good time for Dun Laoghaire, and in many ways it is a good time for Naas as well.
“I think the timing was pretty good but at the moment the way things are with this coronavirus it is difficult to say that about anything but we will come through it.”
And where do you see Gavin Lunny (and Dun Laoghaire Golf Club) say in five years time?
“Well at the moment just get back to playing golf but I feel there is huge scope to develop their junior section; they have an awful lot of players coming through and I think that hopefully we will see individual success in the next few years.
“In team golf they have already done well; the ladies won the Revive Active the last two years; the men got to the All Ireland Junior Cup final last year so really they are like a boiling kettle coming to the surface slowly but surely; I think we can kick that on; while my ambition is to develop the best coaching facility in the country and I don't see any reason why we can't; the motivation and ambition is there as far as the club is concerned and it certainly is with me.”
And you will be keeping in touch with Jonathan (Yates), Conor (O'Rourke) and the rest of the lads?
Absolutely. They have been up and enjoyed the facilities, the next couple of years for them is extremely important, I will be very supportive, nothing changes from that perspective; there are an awful lot of good young players I coach from this neck of the woods also; they were going down to Naas for tuition so I hope some of those names will appear over the next couple of years and make headlines.”
We wish Gavin and his team all the the best in this and the seasons ahead in their new venture in Dun Laoghaire Golf Club.