The Sport I Love So Well - Kevin McCarron
So how does a proud 25 year old Irishman come to be playing for England in the first European Pitch and Putt Team Championships? fippa.org was delighted to catch up with Kevin McCarron to find out.
"I was based in Harrow and Wealdstone at the time," reminisces Kevin, who won the Munster Strokeplay championhip in a famous six-way play-off in 1993. "Martin Gallagher took a shine to me," remembers Kevin of the Londoner of Irish descent (parents from Sligo and Down) who ran a large Painting Contactors in the UK's capital at the time.
"We painted all sorts - houses, apartments, offices," describes McCarron. "I remember one apartment block. It was overlooking Lords Cricket Ground. I watched a few cricket matches during that time!"
McCarron comes from a large Irish family. " I have six brothers and two sisters," confirms Kevin, whose brother Declan McCarron has been a Dutch (and Irish intermediate) Strokeplay champion. Another brother James McCarron, already established in the UK "was very good to me," says Kevin of the latter's four year sojourn in London (1999-2003).
The answer to the original question we posed above is actually the solution to many a Pitch and Putt conundrum. It is Willie Parker - such was the wide-ranging multinational influence of the late, great, lamented Pitch and Putt pioneer and coach.
"I had played a bit of golf in England, but not Pitch and Putt," explains Kevin. "Then I was playing soccer with a few lads and they mentioned that there was a Pitch and Putt course up the road, near Stanmore."
"I took the bus up to Stanmore. The course (Centenary Park) was only a few stops away. I saw this lad in the kiosk giving out clubs, ice cream and soft drinks. I said to myself, 'I know him', So I go up to him and say 'You're from Cork.'" "You're Derry McCarthy's friend," says Willie Parker. And a friendship was born.
Kevin would play Centenary Park and, when Willie had finished his shift, the pair would head for the local "Golden Arches". Kevin gleefully recalls their regular get-togethers, "Willie loved the McDonalds burger!" In March 1999, Willie Parker broached his suggestion. The Trials for the England team for the European championships were coming up - Kevin should enter.
Initially Kevin demurred. "I spoke of 800 years of pain for the Irish at the hands of the English and felt I couldn't play for England." But Parker was insistent. "Willie talked about the fifties and sixties," says Kevin, "and how jobs in England kept many an Irish family fed."
And so come June 1999, Kevin McCarron from Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland lined-up alongside David Bugg, Joe James, Keith Fletcher and Bill Skingsley for England in the I European Pitch and Putt Team Championships at Chelmsford.
"Liam O'Donovan and Derry McCarthy were ribbing me about playing for England in the hotel bar before the tournament," laughs Kevin. So the Listowel man launched into the singing of some rousing Irish ballads. The debutant Dutch team members were bemused.
"My father was from Derry and my mother hails from Donegal," says Kevin as he quotes from Phil Coulter's famous song "The Town I Loved So Well" to describe his father's employment sitiation, which led to him moving his family to Kerry when he got a job in the Tarbert Power Station. Kevin was actually born in Derry before the move south, adding further intrigue to the question of his eligibility to play for England.
"We beat Italy 3-2. My putt won it - a 10 foot putt down the green," beams Kevin of the opening day of Euro '99. That was against Alessandro Merletti. The English then beat the Dutch comfortably to make the semi-final. "We beat Catalonia 3-2," recalls Kevin of that last four encounter, in which he contributed a vital singles victory over crack Catalan James Marshall.
"We should have beaten them," muses Kevin, 21 years on, bemoaning playing partner Joe James' performance with the short stick in the final foursomes against Ireland's Liam O'Donovan and Derry McCarthy. Kevin recalls the inclement weather that formed the backdrop for the final. "I remember Frank Smith's umbrella got struck by lightning. I joked to Derry and Liam that the gods were striking me down for playing against Ireland!" laughs Kevin. "Joe James thought I was serious!"
"Derry got four of the first five on a tough course and it was all over," bemoans Kevin of his singles loss against the Killarney colossus who was on the top of his form in 1999.
Kevin continued to play at Centenary Park after 1999 but, as the BPPA focus moved north to Cambridgeshire for a couple of years, he didn't get involved in the international team again. Now back in Listowel, he's still deeply immersed in Pitch and Putt and, as Juvenile Officer, masterminded Kerry's success in the All Ireland Juvenile Inter-County of 2019. Kevin's son Bobby McCarron was a member of that team. Bobby has been showing lots of promise, also winning last year's Munster Juvenile Matchplay Championship Plate.
And Kevin McCarron promises that we haven't seen the last of Dad on a Pitch and Putt course either.