Ciara McDonnell gets into the swing of things before the Irish Open

She always thought of golf clubs as a place for the boys. So when the team behind the Irish Open offered Ciara McDonnell a crash course, she accepted – to see if the boys’ club was no more.

Ciara McDonnell gets into the swing of things before the Irish Open

My Dad played a lot of golf while I was growing up.

To me, it was synonymous with whole Saturdays spent off on a golf course with his friends while my siblings and I were shepherded around to sports, speech and drama and ballet.

It was not the most family-friendly of sports — the golf club where he was a member shunned children altogether, and women were only allowed to visit on certain days.

The ultimate old boys club, I would never be a part of it.

That is, until now.

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, hosted by the Rory Foundation, is taking place at the super-luxe K Club in Straffan, Co Kildare, on Ireland’s Ancient East from May 19-22.

And when the people behind the Open offered to send me off on a golfing crash course, I took them up on it – if only to see if that old boys club was truly no more.

I headed for Fota Island Golf resort to channel my inner Padraig Harrington and take a lesson with Karôl Crowe, director of instruction to Fota Island Golf Academy.

It is safe to say that I am intimidated when I rock up to the Golf Academy in what I think is a pretty cool golf outfit.

Immediately, I want to cower and hide behind one of those sand-filled mounds.

Nobody else seems to have gotten my memo that leggings and a cute dress work on the golf course when teamed with canvas trainers.

Not only am I the only person not wearing a brightly-coloured golf jumper and t-shirt with the collar up, I am THE ONLY WOMAN who is practising at the Academy.

While I am praying for a very specific earthquake to wipe out the square of (extremely soft and strokeable) green grass that I am standing on, a very friendly and not-at-all intimidating Karôl shows up to greet me.

A recent addition to the Fota Island golfing team, Karôl Crowe is an extremely experienced golf professional, with a wealth of experience.

He completed his PGA training under the watchful eye of professional John Byrne at Royal Tara Golf Club.

Once completed he secured a move to Trump Doral in Miami, Florida where he worked under the guidance of Dr Rob Neal and Jim Mclean in their world class golf academy.

I whisper that perhaps I am attired incorrectly for such a fancy establishment.

“Not at all!” he booms, and begins to show me all of his golf toys.

I like him immediately. The pride of the practice suite at the Fota Golf Academy is their acquisition of a Trackman.

This super-techy device looks like a very thin, orange Playstation, but it hides some fairly impressive information in its citrus-hued case.

The Trackman makes it possible to work on your golf swing and ball flight in the most accurate way possible — identifying problems that even the most seasoned professional would find it hard to see.

After showing off his own impressive swing, and teaching me that all professionals play off ‘scratch’ — meaning no handicap, Karôl decides that it is time for me to take my place on the world golf stage.

I balk at the feel of the golf club, and it takes a few goes for me to be able to even hold it correctly.

My feelings of inadequacy are inflated by the teenage boys who are firing off shots without appearing to stop— what if I wallop one of them in the face?

After a few practice swings, where I lift my foot the way I think I have seen Tiger Woods doing on the telly, I manage to hit the ball.

The Trackman says that I have hit it 60 yards.

Not too shabby, reckons Karôl. He ducks for the next 10 minutes as I whack golf balls as far as I can into the distance, pausing to ask stupid questions like, who picks up all the golf balls at the end of the day, and how many women golfers does Karôl see at the Academy. His answer surprises me.

He says that the women he teaches are some of his most competitive clients.

Golf, he says, has changed its reputation in quite a dramatic way over the last 15 years, and is no longer the elitist group activity that I remember my father engaging in.

It is far more inclusive, according to Karôl, and crucially more affordable, with many clubs slashing membership prices to entice people to join.

Events like the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open are a great way to showcase the myriad of golfers that Ireland produces — both fans and professionals alike.

Irish women are making a play on the golf course globally too. Stephanie Meadow captured the 2012 Ladies British Open Amateur Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland.

Meanwhile twins Leona and Lisa Maguire continue to take the amateur golf world by storm.

Leona is ranked sixth in the world on the Women’s Amateur Golf rankings and won the Irish Women’s Close Amateur Championship at the Co Louth Golf Club for the second time in her career in June.

In 2015 Leona became the best amateur golfer in the world, as per the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Watch out boys — it’s clear that the women are coming for you.

Karôl finishes our lesson with a tour of the facilities at the Golf Academy.

The greens are filled with people of all ages, perfecting their technique in the tranquil surrounds of this gorgeous estate, and I have to admit — I’m falling under its spell.

The golf pro has big plans for the Academy in the coming years.

“In the next five years I would like to see Fota Island Golf Academy deliver a world class coaching programme that is open to all from beginners to the elite golfer,” he explains.

“I’m planning to run lots of programmes that will encourage more kids and adults towards the game.”

I depart the Golf Academy and take my family to Cobh, where we spend the afternoon exploring all that Ireland’s Ancient East has to offer.

We visit the Queenstown Story and head to the Titanic Experience, which proves to be the biggest hit of the weekend with my almost four and five year olds.

We ate that evening in the Amber Lounge of Fota Island Resort.

I had reservations about bringing my occasionally unkempt children into the beautiful surrounds of this hotel, but I am proven wrong.

The bar is full of families.

I get in touch with Karôl to thank him for the lesson and to see if he has any decent tips for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open — I am a betting woman first and foremost.

Without hesitation, he tells me that he is backing Alex Noran. Watch this space, golf lovers.

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open takes place in the K Club from May 19-22.

For tickets and for more information, log onto

To book a professional lesson with Karôl Crowe or to find out more about the Fota Island Golf Academy log onto

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