'Golf is not just about playing'

​​GUI volunteers Jonny Webb and Barry Lynch have discovered that there is more to golf than playing a game

  • 09 December 2017

Picture: GUI referee Jonny Webb on duty at the Irish Mixed Foursomes - Cashman Photography

Tuesday 5th December marks International Day of the Volunteer. Golf in Ireland would not thrive without the dedication and committment of volunteers across the island who give of their time freely to grow, develop and bring to life the sport that we all love. The Golfing Union of Ireland thanks all those that volunteer in golf and ​to mark the occasion, each day this week we will take a look at some volunteers that work with their club and the GUI.

Opposite ends of a spectrum, one shared purpose. Golf referees Jonny Webb and Barry Lynch have followed very different paths into their roles. And golf is all the richer for that.

At 30, Webb is a fresh face for refereeing. Lynch is fresh for a man of 70. Retired since 2009, his has been the conventional route.

A long-standing member of Raffeen Creek in Cork, Barry Lynch joined the Munster Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland in 2008, and a year later, passed the level one rules exam. A dedicated volunteer with the GUI for the best part of nine years, Lynch has refereed at club and provincial level as well as Irish championships, not to mention his various roles overseeing course rating and handicapping. Currently the Honorary Secretary in Munster, his appetite for work has not diminished with age.

"I have a passion for the rules but it's a constant learning curve," says Lynch. "I find it enjoyable. You're helping people and meeting people. It gets you up and out, and doing something. It keeps the brain ticking over."

Picutre: GUI referee Barry Lynch demonstrating at a Rules School
GUI Referee Barry Lynch.jpg

Webb, who learned the game at Shandon Park in Belfast and is now a member of Royal County Down, echoes those sentiments. Working in the family business, his time may be more restricted but it is by no means a deterrent.

"I referee because I enjoy it," says Webb, who still maintains an impressive playing handicap of two. Earlier this year, he officiated at the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship, which was staged at his home course.

"Golf, to me, is not just about playing," he professes. "I love golf but I'm not good enough to play at a high level. I enjoy playing socially as much as competitively."

Playing socially brought him into contact with David Boyle, a former captain at Royal County Down, who just so happened to be the man charged with refereeing Henrik Stenson's unforgettable duel with Phil Mickelson during the final round of The Open Championship at Royal Troon. Listening to Boyle, Webb was intrigued.

"As a referee, you can get close to the action," says Webb. "There is so much to be gained from golf and what it brings to your life. You can have a bad day on the course and still enjoy golf."

His interest piqued, Webb enquired about the R&A's Level 2 Rules School in 2015. Although the GUI-run school was fully subscribed, by a stroke of good fortune it turned out that the Scottish Golf Union were running a Level 2 School at St Andrews.

"We did the school on the New Course and we had a two-hour test overlooking the R&A clubhouse. There are worse places in the world to spend a weekend," Webb fondly recalls.

While the Ulsterman is still learning the ropes, his senior colleague is now delivering a rules education programme across Munster.

"It helps players to educate themselves and spread the word," Barry Lynch explains. "When I met players in competitions, I could see that the knowledge around rules wasn't there."

During the winter months, close season for golf in Ireland, Lynch tours his province, sometimes running up to 12 sessions at different venues. Even if it is onerous, Lynch knows this work is essential.

"I meet people playing competitions who don't know what to do in certain situations," he says. "What we cover is basic stuff. It's nothing fancy. We use a piece of carpet to demonstrate the bunker and some plastic to signify a water hazard. We cover a fair bit of ground. People find it very beneficial."

In golf, it is just as important for players to know the rules. That point was obvious to Webb when he sat his exam at St Andrews. Among that class were numerous caddies, bagmen employed on the European and LPGA Tours. Professionals do not spend time and money if it does not affect the bottom line.

At amateur level, there is no money at stake, which means that volunteers like Lynch - steadfast, sagacious - and Webb - eager, unencumbered - play a pivotal role. Long may they continue.

*​​Have you ever wondered what the GUI does? Find out all you need to know by reading, The GUI: What We Do - Click Here​