There are some people in this world who automatically bring a smile to the faces of all around them.  I have a pal who describes such persons as “radiators” – as opposed to “drains”, who are the folk who suck the life out of you and are best avoided.  Any of you fortunate enough to have spent any time with Dr Gerry Costello will know that she was firmly in the radiator camp and it was with deep sadness that I learned that Gerry had died last weekend.

The “Doc” was a huge part of my amateur golf career in so many ways – as a travelling companion up and down the country to various competitions and then latterly as a manager and captain of Irish International teams I was lucky enough to play on.  Bubbling with mischief and endowed with an infectious sense of fun, Gerry would take it upon herself to be the early morning alarm call for all the members of the team.  On my first team trip away with her I rather naively expected this to be a quiet little tap on the door to bring us gently out of the land of nod.  How wrong could I be!  A loud rapping would startle us from slumber and then a deep resonant Gregorian type of chant would penetrate our hotel room door. “Benidicamus Dominum,” Gerry would intone three times and only when she had received an answer would she proceed on her way down the corridor to the next room on her list.

That Latin refrain still has the power to produce in me the delicious expectation and excitement I felt at the start of so many International competitions, prefacing as it did the proud pulling on of Irish green, the nervous attempt at digestion of a decent breakfast and then the announcement of my name on the 1st tee – the culmination of so many dreams and hours of practice.

Gerry, back left, with her 1973 Irish International team mates. She would go on to be manager and captain of many subsequent Irish International sides. [Photo courtesy of Mary McKenna.]

Always smiling, always glamorous, Gerry was no mean player herself.  A scratch golfer for decades she had the distinction of being the first Irish player to win the British Seniors, paving the way for such luminaries as Valerie Hassett and Mary McKenna to follow.

Mary, Gerry and Valerie, a trio of British Seniors titleholders, joined in later years by Laura Webb. How lucky we are in Ireland with our great champion golfers, all of them special people. [Photo courtesy of Mary McKenna.]

She was also, by some distance, the very best giver of directions I have ever come across.  Remember, our criss-crossing of the country with clubs and cases piled high was in the pre- Googlemaps era.  If Gerry told you it was the third turn on the left that is exactly what it was.  If she instructed you to change lanes at a certain point so as to be sure not to miss a crucial exit then that was what you had to be sure to do.  She was meticulous in her planning and we were all the beneficiaries of that.

I don’t remember what year it was that Ireland started using the euro but I do remember exactly where I spent my first euros and on whom!  I was meeting some pals for lunch in Bewley’s hotel in Dublin and Gerry joined us a little later than expected.  I went up to the bar to buy her a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc and I dipped my hand into my purse to wrestle with the unfamiliar currency for the first time.  How we all laughed and said that we’d never forget that moment and Gerry exhorted me to continue as I had started.  I’ve done my best to take her at her word!

Condolences and much love go to Ferg and the whole of the Costello connection.  I don’t need to tell you, her loved ones, how much Gerry enriched people’s lives.  She certainly enriched mine and, to this day, when I think of her, she makes me smile.

Ireland’s winning 1983 European Team Championship side. This is one of my all time favourite photos – it is such a joyous, “in the moment” snap. Gerry is back left. [Photo courtesy of Mary McKenna.]

In these long, lockdown days it never ceases to amaze me how inventive and proactive some of my friends are.  The cancellation of the London marathon last Sunday spawned numerous innovative ways of raising funds for charity, most of them giving a nod to the famous race by having the numbers 2 and 6 figure somewhere in the grand scheme of things.  And so it was that Pam Valentine, my first ever opponent (and conqueror) on the full international stage, decided to raise funds for the Nightingale House Hospice in Wrexham, a cause very dear to her heart indeed.

Pam’s husband, Phillip, died there more than 20 years ago and Pam has never forgotten the care and tenderness shown to all the family at that difficult time.  She subsequently became the chairman of the Trustees for the thick end of two decades, only retiring two or three years ago and she still raises funds for them when she can.

I must confess I was more than a little concerned for her when I heard her latest scheme – she was to attempt to hit 260 golf balls into a net in an hour.  The golf net, willing and able and robust enough to receive 260 beats from the Valentine clubface was duly ordered online but, coming from China, it got lost in transit and so it was on to Plan B and a somewhat more homespun affair.  The cover for the garden furniture was pressed into service and rigged up over a washing line to serve as a net and a bucket with 26 balls was prepared.

A gruelling challenge with any club……but with a 2 iron?!!! Hats off, Mrs V. [Photo courtesy of Pam.]

As you will have seen from the above picture it was fairly essential to keep the ball low, so Pam hit the first batch of 26 balls with a 2 iron.  (I don’t actually know any female who still owns a 2-iron, never mind can hit one!)  She then moved on to a 4-iron, a 5, followed by two different lofted rescue clubs before working her way back down the line to complete the 260 shots in a staggering 44 minutes and 8 seconds!  An immense effort that so far has raised more than five times her target of £560.  Beat that if you can, fellow golfers – or more sensibly, like me, accept that you can’t and go to Pam’s JustGiving page and donate a few bob if you are able.  After all, it is local supporters who bear all the costs of hospices like Nightingale House, not the NHS and not the government.  Every last little bit really does help.

The proof, if it were needed, that it was, indeed, a blistering performance. [Photo courtesy of Pam.]

Finally, I have to say I had absolutely no idea there were so many enthusiastic, budding, one-handed chippers amongst you all!  I hope you’re having fun with it and do make sure you persevere because you will see the benefits once we all get back out again on the course.  Not directly related to the chipping, but one query that came in during the week was from Louise Campbell in Edinburgh.  Like many others she was interested in the golf net that I have in my garden and asked which make it was.  I did a whole two minutes of internet research on it and plumped for one I thought was unfussy, uncomplicated and a good middle-of-the-road price.  I think this one was around the £70 mark and, four weeks in, so far so good.  I am happy to recommend it – and I’m not even being paid!  Below I’ve tried to capture the relevant details in the photos for you in case you want to try one out for yourselves, but as you will have seen from Pam’s photo a homemade effort can do the job just as well!