It’s 1999. Three Americans, an Australian and what appears to be half the population of Waterville, are living it up in the packed bar of the Butler Arms Hotel. The four visitors are golfers, yes, but not your ordinary golfers
US Open champion Payne Stewart is belting out a tune on his harmonica, as fellow major winner Lee Janzen, world number one David Duval and Aussie star Stuart Appleby shake their heads, laugh and sing along.
The pub is heaving, so Stewart jumps behind the counter for a 30-minute shift as guest barman. He isn't taking in any cash, his caddy reminds him.
“Drinks are on me!” Stewart yells back.
Return to Waterville
Having visited Waterville with pals Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara the previous year, Stewart couldn’t resist coming back. This time, he took friends to Kerry for a few warm up rounds at Waterville and Ballybunion in preparation for the following week’s British Open.
"We get into the pub and get around a piano," Stewart says of his post-round routine. "I bring out my harmonica and the next thing you know it's about 4am."
By the time he leaves the tiny County Kerry village on the Wild Atlantic Way, Stewart is telling people he wants to be the mayor. We don’t have a mayor, they tell him. But being captain of the golf club is a much bigger deal. So they go one better and make him captain for the 2000 season.
Tragically, Payne Stewart lost his life in a plane crash just a few months later. But his memory lives on in Waterville. A bronze statue has been erected in his memory by the many friends he made on those short trips.
An annual pilgrimage
Ireland is like that. Casual meetings lead to life-long friendships. Quiet drinks in the pub turn into parties, one-off golf trips become annual pilgrimages.
You might be keen to explore new places or get back in touch with some long-lost Irish roots. Maybe you just want some bonding time with friends and family. Whatever has you golfing in Ireland, you’ll be following in some famous footsteps.
Take the 2011 US PGA champion Keegan Bradley, whose auntie Pat Bradley is a Hall of Fame star with close ties to County Cork. He’d made the trip with his family when he was a child. Years later, after making friends with Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, he was back.
“My three uncles, my dad being one of them, played in this tournament called the Three Brothers in Youghal in County Cork,” Bradley said of his Irish connections. “Hundreds of people told me, ‘Welcome home’, which gives me chills almost every time they say it. It’s just been a phenomenal experience”
Apart from playing golf, Bradley took in the famous Giant's Causeway and the world renowned Bushmills Whiskey Distillery on his short trip. While he didn¹t travel with his family this time, many others do turn their family holiday into a bonding experience.
The daddy of them all is the annual World Invitational Father & Son Tournament in Waterville, held every August. It’s even got a rival in its sister event, the Father & Daughter Tournament at Trump International Golf Links (Doonbeg) in County Clare every August, too.
Father son, mother, daughter, uncle or aunt – you might not have any Irish roots, but you’ll still be welcomed home like one of the family.
Get ready to tee off on Ireland’s golf courses…