William Shakespeare may have lost his son Hamnett at the age of 11, but he immortalized him in his writings.
The man who wrote: “He is a wise father who knows his own child” would also have been painfully aware of the old adage that “when a father gives his son, they both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.
There have been more tears of laughter than reasons to be sad in the Branigan house over the years, but now that the great amateur champion and golf course designer has decided to hand over the reins of Declan Branigan Designs to his son Ronan, there will be sadness too that those innocent days they spent together as the brand new Seapoint Golf Links took shape are no more.
“I remember I was shopping for dad in the West, East and Irish Close, but it wasn’t until Seapoint was growing up that I started working with him,” says Ronan, who is also one of the three directors of Synergy Golf, which provides clients such as St Margaret’s, Grange Castle and Killarney Golf and Country Club with tailor-made management and maintenance services.
“I had cut greens and tees and fairways and learned his knee, but I would also have learned respect for Dad’s hard work. Frankly, he would be a bit of a workaholic, spending serious hours doing whatever needed to be done.
“I remember when I was 19 it was a bank holiday weekend and we were in 19th in Baltray until late with family and friends and we ended up going back to someone’s house in the early morning . It was a very early summer morning when we got home at four and daddy said, ‘You know what, I have to cut the greens and some tees. Let’s go in and do it, okay?
“I whitewashed but we did. I was devastated when we got home but dad sat there and read the Irish Independent with his breakfast. It just showed his resilience. Everything that needed to be done has been done.
Branigan Jnr is today one of the most qualified professionals in the Irish golf industry, with an Honors BA in Agricultural Sciences, an MA in Golf Course Architecture from Heriot-Watt University and a diploma in project management from Smurfit Business School. But he appreciates what he learned from his highly skilled father as much as any piece of parchment.
“He has very strong principles about what is right and wrong and I learned from him that the right thing to do is always the right thing to do, no matter what criticism you might have,” says Ronan.
“If he had to defend his position a hundred times to get it registered, that’s what he would do. He had integrity.
Branigan Snr’s outspoken style reflected his winning attitude on the golf course, as evidenced by his six championships – two Irish Close titles, two West of Irelands and two East of Ireland crowns – and 49 Irish caps.
His first job came in 1988 when Richard Stillwell, a greenkeeping consultant for the European Tour, asked him to help build two new greens for the nine-hole Callan Golf Club at a time when, as a farmer and soil scientist, he still worked as a civilian employee of the assessment office.
“I said I will but I’m not going to build a traditional green, I’m going to do two sand greens,” recalls Declan, who turns 73 next month.
“It was long before we heard about the USGA specs here and so Callan had the first two sand greens in Ireland, not the K Club or Mount Juliet. I only got into the business because I thought I could make a difference.
Carr Golf’s arrival in a managerial position at Seapoint prompted him at the end of last year to begin a new phase in his life after more than 30 years of lovingly maintaining the bonds he has created with help from Des Smyth and Barry Reddan, developing them in with little more for irrigation than his own sweat and tears for its 1995 opening.
“Myself, Des and Barry completed the design and oversaw the construction and completed the growth,” says Declan, who relinquished his honorary club membership.
“So I walked to the site in 1990 and left 30 years later without any ceremony. I would consider a 27-year-old link to be just emerging.
“Eventually I became unstable and with the arrival of another new regime to manage, I decided it was time to trigger the resignation clause in the contract. No fuss or anything, I have just slipped into a new phase of my life and I must say that the absence of any stress suits me very well.
Would he still do all of this? The joy he got from creating 21 major projects (including seven new 18-hole courses) from Seapoint to Waterford Castle and beyond will certainly last forever as he returns to his home club Laytown and Bettystown for simply replay the game.
“I knew from my experiences of being on the other side of the fence as captain at Bettystown in 1986, of being a committee member for four or five years and of being a host of the Greens that if a pat on the back was important to me, so I was getting into the wrong business, ”he explains.
“However, given the list of projects on our CV, I think I have contributed to golf in Ireland and Ronan will continue to contribute for some time.
“On the other hand, I very quickly discovered that when evaluating work programs or course policies, there was a difference of consensus and expert consensus and this gave rise to situations interesting.
“I remember once I was unable to convince a Greens official, a low handicap player, that it was normal for grass not to grow through a geotextile in December when the temperatures on the ground were were only 1 to 2 degrees.
“This conversation is still vivid in my memory and there were endless conversations about what might be considered reasonable expectations and what requests were just out of the ordinary. I am not good at handling such situations.
“So the answer is that I made a contribution, but I don’t know if I would do it again.
“It would depend a lot on my state of mind at the time and it would have to be very positive.”