19 Sport Irish Examiner Tuesday, 4.08.2020 What next? Play more golf, I suppose After three decades as Cork’s longest-serving general manager, Matt Sands tells Kevin Markham he’s calling time on a distinguished career C ORK GOLF CLUB is famous for many things, with its limestone quarry leading the way. It created a remarkable setting for golf holes that were first played over while the quarry was still in operation. This was back in the late 1890s. Later, Harry Vardon (1911) extended the club to 18 holes, before Dr Alister MacKenzie (1925) rerouted the course, added three new holes, created new greens and added sand-filled bunkers — quite the novelty back then. And all the while the quarry remained at the heart of the course. Changes have continued over the decades, most notably by Martin Hawtree in 2013, as well as a massive clearance plan to expose the famed quarry rock which had become overgrown in recent times. The changes and progress over the past 30 years have been achieved under the watchful eye and guiding hand of one man — Matt Sands, the club’s general manager. Now, after 32 years of service, Matt is to retire at the age of 68 on August 31. The caught up with Matt to discuss his years at the club. Irish Examiner Irish Examiner (IE): What date did you arrive at Cork Golf Club? ■ Matt Sands (MS): >> May 31, 1988, during the club’s centenary year. IE: Tell us about your road to Cork? ■ MS: >> I was involved for many years in Donabate Golf Club, in Dublin, and I was captain there in 1987. Golf club management was something I had wanted to get into, so when I saw the ad for the position of manager at Cork Golf Club, I applied. And, 32 years later, here I am. holiday weekend. But prior to that, it probably took about two years, because there were various designs and locations and discussions. Once we got planning permission, we moved out of the old clubhouse and commenced building within five months. From a golfing point of view, I would say two things: The Pro-Am and the Munster Stroke Play Championship. The Pro-Am started back in the early 1990s and continues today. I run it, and have run it, for many years without a sponsor. The Munster Stroke Play evolved from the Cork Scratch Cup, and we obtained championship status in 2006. It has grown into a top-class championship. It’s played on the May bank holiday and while I’m very involved, the GUI have had to take more control over the last few years. From a work point of view, it has been hugely rewarding to build up the relationships with staff members over the years; there’s a history at the club of long service, and I think I’ve helped to nurture that. Munster for four years — in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017. I was president of the Irish Golf Club & Managers (Irish Association of Golf Club Secretaries, as it was then) in 2004 and again in 2015. I was the first person to be president twice. It was something to see. Ian Woosnam played here in 1994 with (Welsh rugby player) Gareth Edwards and (Welsh comedian) Max Boyce. in amateur golf — culminating in success in the majors, amateur teams and individual events — has flourished too. There’s also the expansion of modern technology, both in terms of clubhouse software, equipment for golfers, as well as in greenkeeping. IE: What was your background before that? ■ IE: What’s your favourite hole? ■ MS MS: >> :Iwasinthe family joinery business. >> The 14th. That’ll come as a surprise to some people, but I just like the shape of it. IE: Of all the professionals, celebrities, business people, and politicians you’ve met, who was the most memorable? IE: Not a serious question, but as you are not from Cork, how did you find it moving here? Were you easily accepted? ■ ■ IE: Back then that must have been a huge move, from Dublin to Cork. IE: How often do you get to play here? ■ ■ MS: >> Very little … but I hope to play more in retirement. MS: MS: >> I suppose the most memorable one would have to be Sally Yates, assistant to the attorney general under the Obama administration, and, for 11 days, the acting attorney general in the Trump administration. She was staying at Hayfield Manor and they rang me up and asked if she could play. I said yes, of course. In the meantime, I Googled her and discovered that she was from Atlanta. Loyal Goulding (who passed away in November 2018) went to Augusta for over 30 years and became good friends with Charlie Yates, who played in the first 11 Masters tournaments and later became secretary of the Augusta National Golf Club. I put two and two together and discovered that Sally Yates was married to Charlie Yates’ son, J Comer Yates. I called Loyal, who was ill at the time, and told him that Comer and Sally were on their way over. I went and picked up Loyal and brought him back to meet them. When they discovered that this was Loyal’s home club, they couldn’t believe it. It was not a highprofile occasion, but it was a special day. I should also mention another special day, which was when the club made Paul McGinley an honorary life member in 2013. Myself and the officers of the day met Paul in Dublin and presented him with the honorary life membership. It was a lovely occasion, as I have known Paul since he used to caddy for his father Michael, a longtime friend of mine. >> Yes, straight away. I came into an environment where I met a lot of people in a short space of time and with it being the club’s centenary year, it was a special time to arrive. My wife Cathriona found the same: She worked in AIB, she got a transfer to Cork and met a lot of people quickly. MS: >> It was, yes, but I was happy to do it. I wasn’t married at the time but my wifeto-be got a transfer to Cork, and we got married a couple of months after I moved down. We have three children — Matt, Cathy and Hannah — and they are all Corkonians. IE: What is your fondest memory? ■ MS: >> I have several. Opening the new clubhouse would be one. Hosting the Irish Close in 2007, where Shane Lowry was victorious, is another. We hosted the Ladies Home Internationals in 2012, which was a great event, especially considering that the course was closed for several days beforehand because of horrendous weather. We presented a course which was just superb and to turn it around that fast will always stick in my mind. now. Any job moves with the times, moves with the economy, and this role is no different. IE: What are you going to do next? ■ MS: >> Nothing [laughs]. I don’t know … take it easy, play more golf, I suppose. Spend more time with my wife. IE: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen at the club? ■ MS: >> Back in 1995, we went for a board of management as opposed to a committee structure. The big advantage to that is it gives you continuity. You have a chairman for three years as opposed to a different captain each year. We did a major clubhouse extension and revamp in 2002, spending €2.5m. I was very involved in that entire process. We also looked at making changes to the course, to see how it could be enhanced. It was a long process that started in 2008, and was completed in 2013. The major revamp saw Martin Hawtree hired for the design work and DAR Golf as the contractors. We rebuilt every tee, all existing and new bunkers were fitted with SportBond, and we built one new green — the 12th. There have been a lot of changes over the years, but those are the major things. IE: How easy or difficult did you find the role when you first moved down? ■ MS: >> I never found it difficult. I suppose having being involved in Donabate Golf Club over the years, I knew what I was letting myself in for — and I loved the job from day one. Like any job you have good days and bad days, but you’re dealing with people in their leisure time and, by and large, they’re in good humour. They are here to enjoy themselves and I always thought that was my goal — to provide good customer service to members and visitors alike. I found that easy. IE: How has Covid-19 affected things for you here at Cork Golf Club? ■ IE: What’s your fondest memory in terms of your role, away from Cork? ■ MS: >> Covid-19 has changed society within the space of a few months. The club’s income stream has been decimated, and club life will be affected for the foreseeable future. I and the club have taken prudent action to stabilise the situation. The recruitment of my successor commenced before Covid-19, however part of the process was carried out by Zoom (the new norm) and final interviews were conducted in sociallydistanced environments. The whole team in the club have pulled together and the course has never been better due to Simon O’Hara and his crew working in split shifts during the lockdown. Our new caterer, Jim Plummer, was in place for three weeks before Covid-19, but is now back up and running. It was not how I had envisaged my last few months in the club, however it is only a minor irritation compared to the grief and suffering some families have had to endure. MS: >> I have been to three CMAA (Club Managers Association of America) world conferences in the US, representing the Irish Golf Club Managers. At the 2015 CMAA conference in San Diego, I got to play Cyprus Point, Pebble Beach, Spyglass, and the Olympic Club, ironically with my successor Brian Hurley, on the way home. IE: What’s the most enjoyable part of your job? ■ MS: >> I’d have to say meeting people. IE: How did your role change over the last 10 years in terms of the crash in 2008? Did you find there was a big change? ■ IE: How has your role evolved over the years? IE: What would you say is your least favourite? ■ ■ MS: MS: >> It has changed dramatically. When I came here first I hadn’t a clue about computers. I am not saying I know much more now, but I seem to spend more and more time on the computer, so I suppose the whole technology side of the job has changed. And then there’s the volume of foreign visitors, which has mushroomed in the last 30 years. Corporate business has grown and declined and is starting to grow again >> I would say the most disappointing thing is when you’ve done a lot of work preparing for an event and then the weather doesn’t behave. MS: >> Yes, obviously there was a need to trim costs. I consider it a big achievement that I cut an awful lot of costs from the operation without diminishing standards. IE: What are your proudest achievements? IE: What awards have you and the club won during your tenure? ■ ■ MS: MS: >> What immediately springs to mind is the revamped clubhouse. The building, which took seven months, was the easy part. We moved out in October and moved back in again the May bank >> I was awarded the IGTOA Manager of the Year in 2001. I won Manager of the Year twice. The club has also won the Best Parkland Course in IE: What are the most significant changes you have seen in Irish golf clubs during your 30 years? ■ IE: Who was the greatest player you have seen here? ■ Golfer’s Guide to Ireland MS: MS: >> I’d say Christy O’Connor Snr, even though he was well past his prime. >> The presentation of courses has improved immensely and the standards Golfer’s Guide Koepka’s toughest opponent in bid for three in a row is history Thomas on top of the world after St Jude Invitational win final round of 67 to finish at one-under. In the Barracuda Championship on Sunday, Richy Werenski holed a flop shot from the fairway on the par-4 16th for a five-point eagle and birdied the last for a one-point victory over Troy Merritt. Werenski won for the first time on the PGA Tour, scoring 13 points in the final round on Tahoe Mountain Club’s Old Greenwood Course. Seamus Power finished in a tie for ninth place on 32 points. A birdie on the last hole ensured the west Waterford player secured a spot at the Wyndham Championship starting on August 13. At the LPGA Drive On Championship, Danielle Kang played the brand of steady golf that tends to win on tough golf courses, closing with a two-under 70 at Inverness Club and winning the first LPGA Tour event in more than five months. Kang and Celine Boutier of France turned the final hour into a terrific duel, and they were tied when Kang made her lone bogey on the par-5 13th with a poor chip from the thick collar. However, Boutier missed a short par putt on the 15th hole to fall one shot behind, and then stuffed her approach to four feet below the hole on the 18th. Instead of a play-off, however, Boutier made a tentative stroke on a tricky putt and the ball caught the left edge of the cup and spun away. Phil Casey Justin Thomas won the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational — and returned to world number one — after a battle down the closing stretch with fellow major winner Brooks Koepka. The American pair pulled clear on a previously crowded leaderboard on the back nine, but it was the 2017 US PGA champion who triumphed with a fiveunder-par final round of 65 in Memphis. That left him 13-under, three clear of the field for his third win of the season as four-time major winner Koepka double-bogeyed the last. England’s Tom Lewis came up just short in his charge for a remarkable victory. Maintaining the momentum after his course record-equalling 61 at TPC Southwind on Saturday, the 29year-old from Welwyn Garden City picked up five birdies on the front nine and at one point was in a five-way tie for the lead before twice dropping shots as Thomas and Koepka pulled clear. With the win, Thomas returned to the world number one spot for the first time since June 2018. Phil Mickelson and Daniel Berger were also in the group at 10-under, while Open champion Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick finished a further shot back in a six-way tie for sixth. Graeme McDowell finished in a tie for 35th on three-under, while Rory McIlroy had a Bay Area in February to preview a PGA Championship that was supposed to be held in May before the Covid-19 pandemic upended golf’s calendar. “You start thinking about all the things that could happen, that’s when nerve, everything else kind of creeps in. Just stay in the moment and keep plugging along.” Koepka already has had one crack at a three-peat and showed why he cannot be overlooked. Trying to become the first player in more than a century to win the US Open three straight times, he chased Gary Woodland all the way to the finish line at Pebble Beach and finished second. Then it was all about Willie Anderson, the only player to win three straight US Opens. Now it’s about Walter Hagen, who won the PGA Championship four straight times (1924-27) when it was match play. “Walter Hagen is a name every golf fan knows,” said Koepka. “To even have a chance to put my name with his would be incredible and it would be super special ... Two-time defending, it’s a different feeling, and one you want to win this year.” Koepka won a thriller at Bellerive in 2018, when he set the PGA Championship scoring record at 264 and matched Doug Ferguson US PGA CHAMPIONSHIP Peter Thomson might have been up to his old tricks. He once described the Americans as the “greatest collection of golfers in the world” right before he captained an International team that annihilated the US in the 1998 Presidents Cup. So what to make of his prediction at Carnoustie nine years later? Tiger Woods was going for a third straight British Open title, a feat accomplished only six times in major championship history, most recently by Thomson in 1956. “He has a chance to win eight in a row,” Thomson replied. It wasn’t clear if Thomson was joking or trying to create even more attention for Woods. By the end of the week, it was a moot point as Woods tied for 12th. Woods won majors at a faster clip than anyone. He remains the only player to win multiple majors in consecutive years. But he never won the same major three straight times. Neither did Jack Nicklaus. The one chance he had, Nicklaus missed the cut going for a third straight Masters. Tom Watson shared the 54-hole lead at St Andrews in 1984 in his bid for a third straight Open. He closed with 73, two shots behind Seve Ballesteros. Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 393 4 562 5 1 10 466 4 200 3 2 11 185 3 494 4 3 12 607 5 472 4 4 13 436 4 470 4 5 14 472 4 401 4 6 15 the lowest score at any major. He nearly blew a seven-shot lead last year at Bethpage Black before winning by two. It helped that he set the 36-hole record for all majors at 128 with what he calls the best golf he ever played. But this isn’t the same player. Koepka had stem cell treatment after last season because of a partially torn patella. Two weeks later, he slipped on a wet slab of concrete at the CJ Cup in South Korea and injured his left knee further, keeping him out for three months. He has gone a year without winning. Last week at the World Golf Championship, he said he is adjusting his swing to accommodate his left knee, and Koepka had his best chance of winning, tied for the lead until hitting into the water off the tee on the final hole as Justin Thomas won. 340 4 336 4 7 16 251 3 171 3 8 17 515 4 480 4 9 18 3,665 35 3,586 35 Out: In: TOTAL: 70 YARDS: 7,251 Arnold Palmer. Ben Hogan. Harry Vardon. The list of failures is much longer than the six men who actually won the same major back-to-back-to-back. That is why the biggest challenge facing Brooks Koepka as he goes for a third straight PGA Championship this week at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco is more about history than his troublesome left knee and recent form. “I just want to play good golf. It’s simple,” Koepka said when he went to
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