Bundoran PGA Professional David Robinson pictured at the club Picture: Thomas Gallagher
It could have been a different path for Bundoran Golf Club professional, David Robinson, having to decide on a farming or golfing career at the end of his teenage years.
He chose to follow his older brother, Leslie, and this weekend he celebrates 40 years in Bundoran Golf Club, initially as Assistant Professional under Leslie, and as the Club Professional since 1991.
But it was a big call for the popular Robinson, who was born into a farming family between Strabane and Sion Mills. He went to school in Sion Mills and later Strabane High where he completed his GCSEs. His spare time, however, was dedicated to working on the family farm and travelling to marts with his late father, buying and selling cattle.
“I would have been only nine or 10 at the time and it was great training for me. I look back very favourably on that time. After finishing school I worked full-time with my father and at 17-18 I was buying for my father, which was great.”
Outside of work, the family sporting interest was in golf with Newtownstewart Golf Club the playground for both Leslie and David Robinson.
“My late father Jim was a 2,3 handicapper and my late uncle Thomas was a 1 handicapper, so golf was very much in the family blood.
“I started off caddying with my brother Leslie and that was the way we learned the game. We carried the clubs for my father's fourball and when they would finish, we would get a few clubs and we had an hour or an hour and a half to play a few holes, while they had a few drinks in the clubhouse.”
Robinson remembers that the handicap system was much different then to the current system.
“The handicap limit at that time was 24, that was coming into the 1970s, and if you had a good score you were automatically cut three shots. If you had two good scores in a week, you were cut another three.
“I remember one of the years, playing in Open Week, you could lose 10, 12 shots in a week. They would take a look at your scores every six months and you might get one shot back or you might not.”
David Robinson pictured in the club shop: Picture Thomas Gallagher
The Robinsons began to make their mark on the fairways, playing team golf for the club and competing for the gross prize “against the late Brian Patton, a fabulous player who got to North of Ireland final twice, and also the late Gordon Forbes, who would have been an exceptionally good friend of ours.
“We would have been competitive against these two guys. We also played a lot of team golf when we reached the age of 15, 16, playing in the Roberts Cup which was for 0-8 handicappers.”
When the two Robinsons reached the end of their teenage years it was decision time. “When I was 16 I was playing off 1-2 handicap and Leslie was scratch. When he turned 17 he got a position as Assistant Professional at City of Derry under the late Michael Doherty, a very reputable professional down there.
“He served his time and began playing in the championships. Then Leslie got the offer of the Pro job here in Bundoran in 1982, I think around February-March time.
“He was here for a month or two and asked me if I would join him and train to be an Assistant, which would take three or four years to qualify as a Professional.
“At that stage I was working with my dad and doing well. I asked him what I should do, and he said ‘go for it’, which meant a lot to me. He was very good.”
And the rest is history as David left the farming business behind and arrived in Bundoran.
“I will always remember I came up here on June 18 and when I drove in, the first man I met at the old Pro Shop was the late Jimmy Murray. Jimmy welcomed me, he was just coming off the course.
“I asked him how did you play today Jimmy. He said, ‘ah, I couldn't putt to save my life. I shot 68 gross’, which was two under. That was Jimmy all over. He was one of the best golfers I ever played with, so so good.
“The hands the man had on him to play golf. He could pitch the ball with a three or four iron from the edge of the green where most people would be out with lob wedges, this high, fancy shot.”
David remembers one occasion playing with Jimmy on the 4th tee. “I always thought I could hit it a fair dig when I was a young fella. I hit this one up the 4th. That’s it Jimmy, you'll not get it past that. ‘Right sonny’, gave his hands a wee bit of a spit, leaned on it and put it 20 yards outside it. Anytime he wanted to.
“The late great Christy (O'Connor) senior wanted him to turn Pro, but Jimmy was quite happy in his own life. He was just a superb player.”
Back when David Robinson arrived in Bundoran, the Pro-Am circuit in Ireland was in full swing. Robinson remembers playing in them and hosting the Great Northern Hotel Pro-am at the club with all the great players including Des Smyth, Philip Walton, Eamonn Darcy, Christy snr.
“The fun on the local Pro-Am scene at that stage was great. We also had one in Portnoo and the normal end of season one would have been in Connemara,” said Robinson, who also competed in the Assistants championship at Laytown and Bettystown where the late Bobby Browne was Professional. “He was such a helpful man.”
But the playing side of the professional game was not where David Robinson's strength lay. “I felt over the years that I was never good enough to compete at the higher level, but happy to continue the teaching end of things and helping the club.
“On the other hand, Leslie was not as fond of the shop side of the job. He was more into playing and was a top class player when he was on the Irish tour for 10-15 years, never outside the top five or six. He was a much better player than I ever was. He loved the playing and travelling to venues.”
1991 was a landmark year in David Robinson's life, both in golf and his personal life. Leslie went to take up a full-time position at Co Sligo and David was offered the full-time position at Bundoran. It was the year also that he got married to Siobhan - “a great woman,” says Robinson. “She has just retired there in May after 36 years service as an ambulance nurse.”
The wheel has turned full-circle now with Robinson having trained six Assistant Professionals so far - namely Gareth McShea, Shaun Donnelly, David McIntyre, Christopher McVitty and the Dunmore brothers, Adam and Matthew.
He has helped others as well to take up roles such as Donal Scott and Dara McShea, while another member, Mason Collins, is currently doing a scholarship in the US “but works with me on a part-time basis in the summer. He's a good lad and I have been very lucky with the lads I've had.”
The members would quickly say, they have been lucky too.
“Matthew (Dunmore) joined me in the last year or year and a half and he has a very good way with people and can deal with the members.
“In this job you deal with different people and it's about getting to know them. The staff have been very good. And if you go back to 2008 things were going great; then the recession came in and it was a very difficult time.
“I never took it as serious as it was, but it was difficult for the Golf Club here as they would have lost almost half its members. We made changes and we pulled through. Then over the last few years with Covid and Brexit, the club is now in a much better place.
“Even though I'm club professional and getting paid a fee, there would be a lot in me that would want the club doing well. You don't work in a place for a certain length of time and not have some loyalty. What we have been taught as professionals is to get more involved with the Golf Club in marketing, with visitors and members.
“The club has been good to me as well. I have worked with a lot of secretaries and a lot of treasurers and always managed to get on great with them. We have Kevin Carmody looking after things at the minute and the Course Superintendent Terence (McShea) is almost here as long as me and he is Club Captain this year.
“My mentality is to have a great rapport with members and visitors. What I have learned is if there is a problem, deal with it straight away.
“The club is working well at the moment with new members coming in,” said Robinson, who added that he is adapting to the new computerised ways, although he would be old school in writing things down and using the phone instead of email.
“That's where Matthew and Kevin have helped me out. Every day I'm learning to be computer wise and I'm starting to enjoy it even.”
It has been a great journey for David Robinson. His two sisters Dorothy and Hazel are now retired from nursing careers. His late father Jim passed away in 2013 but his mother Nora is still going strong at 91.
The Robinson boys played a good bit of soccer at school, dabbled in rugby and a bit of cricket, but it was golf that took up most of their spare time.
“We would have been up to work the farm at 6 o'clock in morning, finished by 8-9 and then go to marts. Our strength and conditioning was done on the farm. There was no talk of gyms back at that stage.”
David and Siobhan lived in Ballyshannon for a time but are now resident in Garrison, just inside the Fermanagh border, and are parents to two boys, Luke and Aaron. Well they are not boys any more, two grown men and David says: “We are very proud of them.”
Luke is currently teaching in Coláiste Cholmcille, in Ballyshannon while Aaron is going into his fourth year with PWC (Price Waterhouse Cooper) in Belfast. Luke is heading to Liverpool in September to pursue a PhD, after doing his Masters in Limerick.
While both retain an interest in golf, David says their biggest interest at the moment is in playing senior football for Devenish.
Luke was intent on following his father's footsteps and was given the freedom to do so by his parents. “He went to Stirling University in Scotland and the quality of player there just boggled my mind,” says David.
“Luke was +1 at the time and he was the fifth player on their No 1 team. That was led by Cormac Sharvin, who has since become a Walker Cup player and is now playing on the Euro Pro Tour and the Euro Tour. One of the others on the team was Robert MacIntyre, now a very successful tour player.
“Luke still keeps in touch with Cormac. He wanted to go on tour and I tried to advise him that it was very difficult, living out of a suitcase. He played with Cormac quite a bit and how good he was at that stage, at +5 or +6, and he was second on the team.
“Everywhere they set foot, no matter what golf course, they could shoot to their handcap, that means they were 5 under, 6 under, 7 under, that level. We had a good talk and he was quite happy to just go on with his degree," said Robinson, who agreed that it was similar to young fellas going across channel to pursue soccer careers, very difficult to reach that level.”
The level headed approach of David Robinson was being shown, not just on the golf course, but also in his family life.
After 40 years in Bundoran, his ability to meet and greet both members and visitors has been a remarkable asset. He can take it all in his stride. His teaching methods are simple and effective. He says that he tries to keep things simple as there are so many golfers at different levels.
“You try to point out one wee thing or two. My work on teaching was simplicity, never give them too much to work on.”
As for coming to work at a golf club for 40 years, he says: “It is not like going to school, you have to go to school, but here people come to me because they want to come to Bundoran Golf Club.”
And Bundoran Golf Club has been so lucky to have him.
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