Kevin Markham chats with Noel Cronin, one of Irish golf’s great gentlemen.

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Noel Cronin Q&A: ‘Waterville is a great golf course, fair for everyone’

Kevin Markham chats with Noel Cronin, one of Irish golf’s great gentlemen.

Noel Cronin Q&A: ‘Waterville is a great golf course, fair for everyone’

There have always been great characters in Irish golf, whether on the tour, in the amateur game or in the clubhouses across the country.

Some set out to make the game their livelihood, while others find that their lives collide with the game. Noel Cronin, a Kerryman through and through, is one of the latter. At 73, he has lived in Waterville all of his life and, while his passion in his younger years was for cars, it is his past three decades of devotion to Waterville Golf Links that defines him.

He has been the general manager since 1989.

Last October, Noel received the Jerry Donworth Award for Outstanding Contribution to Golf in Ireland from the Irish Golf Tour Operator Association (IGTOA) and the golf tourism industry. At a lavish Irish Golf Awards reception, held in Doonbeg, Noel accepted the award from Kyra Donworth, of JD Golf Tours. Previous winners of this prestigious award include Pádraig Harrington, Pat Ruddy, Christy O’Connor Snr, Christy O’Connor Jnr, and Mary McKenna.

He may be 73, but Noel has already declared he has no intention of retiring next year or the year after. Why should he? He’s part of the furniture… he’s woven into the fabric of this world-class links… he’s a living legend and the epitome of the heart and soul of Irish golf. The Irish Examiner met him recently.

Q: You were born and raised in Waterville. What makes Waterville such a special place?

A: “The beauty and tranquillity, with views of lakes and rivers and mountains on one side of the village, and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. There’s excellent fishing, too. And all the staff at Waterville House & Golf Links make Waterville.”

Waterville’s famous 17th hole.
Waterville’s famous 17th hole.

Q: As Waterville’s general manager since 1989, what is the biggest change you have seen at the club?

A: “The re-design of the golf course by Tom Fazio and his crew. From start to finish, the work took about four years (starting in 2002) but it was done in such a way that we always had nine holes open for the members. At present, we are upgrading the clubhouse.”

Q: How has your role changed in the last 10 years as the global economy slowed and golf participation levels waned?

A: “My role is pretty much the same. The owners and directors of Waterville House have been very flexible with me during the economic crash. We were able to keep golfers coming to play and stay at Waterville by keeping prices down and staying in touch with all our international members. Repeat business was vital. The tour operators were also very important and there was Fáilte Ireland, too, who worked hard to bring more people into Ireland.

Q: What is your proudest achievement?

A: “My proudest achievement was when I was appointed secretary/manager of the year in 1996. The trophy was presented to me by the late Jerry Donworth and the Minister for Tourism, who that year was none other than Enda Kenny.”

Q: What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?

A: “Meeting and greeting golfers and non-golfers, as they arrive at the clubhouse.”

Q: Is there a lot of travel involved with your role?

A: “I do the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando every year. We have other people doing work for us, too, but the trade show is like a holiday with work. It’s when we get to meet people we’ve talked to on the phone and you put faces to the voices. It’s a great way to get to know new tour operators, business people, and golfers.”

Q: Of all the professionals, the celebrities, businessmen and women, and politicians you’ve met, who was the most interesting/entertaining and why?

A: “I would have to say JP McManus and his wife, Noreen. If not for JP, we wouldn’t have all the top golfers playing, not alone Waterville, but all the other golf courses that have also benefited from JP and his friends Dermot Desmond and John Magnier. I would like to wish the McManus family the best of luck with Adare.”

Q: Did you meet Payne Stewart? What was he like?

A: “I first met Payne Stewart in 1995, at the US Open at Shinnecock Hills, which was won by Corey Pavin. Later, Payne and his wife and family were guests of JP and Noreen McManus, and myself and my late wife, Margaret, had dinner with them. We kept up the friendship until that ill-fated flight.”

Q: What makes golf at Waterville so special?

A: “You have a great golf course, which is fair for everyone. Different tees make the course playable for pros and beginners alike, and you can book a golf lesson with Brian Higgins or enjoy the excellent practice facilities before or after your round. Our famous 19th gives golfers the chance to relax after their game.”

Q: In your 30 years at Waterville, what’s your greatest memory?

A: “My greatest memory was winning the Pro & Captain 32 Counties Tournament at Co Louth with Liam Higgins in 1987. Our prize was a trip to play in the European Finals, in the Bahamas. It was one of the greatest trips of my lifetime and especially with Liam Higgins.”

Q: How’s your game today?

A: “I stopped playing about five years ago, because of a knee injury but, before that, I could be out playing every evening after work and on Sunday mornings, too.”

Q: What was your best day on the course?

A: “Probably winning the Waterville Golf Club Am Am tournament (now called the Charlie Chaplin Am Am), in 1990, which takes place over two days. It was a great thrill to win it; I had two birdies and an eagle on the old 6th.”

Q: When did you start playing and what was your lowest handicap?

A: “I started at 26 years old. My best handicap was 10.”

Q: What’s your favourite hole and why?

A: “The par-three 17th (Mulcahy’s Peak) has so much history when you get up there, with John Mulcahy and O’Grady’s Beach taking you back to the clubhouse. The history gets me just as much as the golf. It’s beautiful up on the tee and it is such a great hole. There are days when the wind forces you to hit out towards the Atlantic Ocean to get the ball to land on the green.”

Q: When you meet and greet golfers, what is the one thing they always ask?

A: “The majority ask if it’s going to rain today. I’d have a fair idea whether it is or whether it isn’t, and I’ll look out to the Blasket Islands and if there are clear skies I give them a guarantee that it won’t rain!”

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