Not many come to Ireland for the sun, but the World Invitational Father and Daughter Golf Tournament always brings a unique warmth to Waterville, on the republic’s south-western tip. For the 15th edition in July 2023, in the middle of Ireland’s wettest July on record, the biggest surprise seemed to come from the heavens above.
That was the year when the dark and heavy clouds miraculously parted, giving way to bright days and a warm breeze. For the 38 teams of fathers and daughters who had traveled to Ireland from near and far to share time, space and fairways, that meant a third daily essential would be required alongside water and bananas.
This classic Irish golf tournament would need more sunscreen.
Why the World Comes to Waterville
Put unpredictable weather and divine intervention aside, however, and there’s always one thing that’s guaranteed at Waterville. The promise of outstanding golf. In 2015, it was strong enough to entice 76 people from New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, Melbourne and beyond to land at Dublin or Shannon airport and complete a stunning final leg through the spectacular scenery of the Ring of Kerry’s winding roads to reach Waterville.
For many regular visitors, it was a case of coming home to one of the world’s great golf courses, to enjoy a few well-earned days of food, drinks and the legendary Irish ‘craic’. For all competitors, it was also the chance to share some quality time with a special family member.
Because there is something truly special about the relationship between a dad and a daughter.
The Bond That’s Sometimes Too Strong for Words
Does any dad truly believe, deep within his soul, that another man is good enough to take his daughter’s hand? For all his other accomplishments, a man’s daughter is often his life’s signature work, and has been since the hour she was born.
And how many daughters look at possible suitors and, in their heart of hearts, measure them against their father, the one man on earth who has given almost everything to protect, guide and nurture them towards adulthood?
These powerful emotions speak volumes, but the words themselves are often left unsaid. Fathers who are articulate in business or their professional life can struggle to find the right words to express what really matters. For their part, daughters can assume that dad simply knows, because he always has.
Luckily, those feelings can flow freely on the fairway. Which is why these days become so deeply joyful, unforgettable and full of memories for the fortunate few who make it from near and far to Waterville each summer.
Memories to last two lifetimes, perhaps, walking a course that seems to have been crafted by the hands of God, playing as a twosome against other dads and daughters from around the world. No wonder so many come back year after year.
How the Tournament Started
A simple idea is a powerful thing. Like all good things, the annual Father and Daughter Golf Tournament started with one such idea.
In the mid-2000s, Jimmy Layden got to talking with his decades-long friend Marty Carr, the founder of Carr Golf back in the 1980s and spearhead of its growth over the following 25 years.
As well as becoming the travel partner of choice for discerning golfers who wished to experience all that golf in Ireland and the UK had to offer, Carr Golf had successfully established the annual World Invitational Father & Son Golf Tournament, which by that point had gone through a dozen or more events.
Jimmy and Marty met at university in San Francisco in the 1980s before going their separate ways through life and work and business, finding wives and starting families an ocean, a continent and a country apart: Jimmy and Joan Layden in Los Angeles on America’s west coast, Marty and Michelle in Dublin on Ireland’s east.
As fate would have it, both families would raise girls. To the Laydens were born Mary, Katie and Annie. To the Carrs, Sophie and Julia.
And so, as the girls grew a little older, and their fathers’ friendship only strengthened despite the
distance between them, the idea grew legs: the annual Father & Son was already a success.
Wasn’t it time a Father & Daughter Tournament should follow too?
Jimmy’s daughter, Mary, who has now crossed the ocean to Ireland for at least 10 of the 15
tournaments her father has co-hosted, recalls the early years.
“I remember in some of the first years of the tournament, when there were just a few teams, we
weren’t sure whether it could really keep going. But it did, and we’re so glad it did.”
More than a golf tournament
The Father & Daughter tournament is played on two courses over three days in Ireland using Better Ball Stableford scoring, but it would be a big mistake to describe it as just a golf tournament.
“It’s an incredible way for people to bond with their dad,
and for dads to bond with their daughters,” says Mary Layden.
“It’s also introducing girls to the game of golf, and to the friendships and connections that they can make here. That’s what makes the tournament really special, especially in a sports industry where maybe not enough women are playing yet.”
Taking Nothing for Granted
As he made the trip to Ireland in July 2023 for the 15th edition of the tournament he co-founded,
Jimmy was forced to take stock of how significant health issues in recent years had limited his ability to take a full part as a participant.
“Parkinson’s is a beast,” says Jimmy, frankly. “I’m 63. This is not what I had planned for my life.”
Scooting around the fairways in a cart, Jimmy communicates a philosophical way of viewing the world and the recent health challenges that have inhibited his mobility. He now sees things with a fresh perspective.
“I don’t take things for granted any more,” he says. “I’m here now for my girls. The way that I look at it is, you got this time with your daughter. You don’t get that chance over again. You only get one chance at it. And I can’t think of a better way to share time with your daughter, so that they get a peek into your soul, and you get a peek into theirs.”
“Years ago I played golf to compete. I played and I wanted to win. The competition part really doesn’t mean much any more. But watching my daughters play is everything.”
“We can’t take this time for granted”
“I can’t think of a better way to share time with your daughter,
so that they get a peek into your soul, and you get a peek into theirs.”
Jimmy Layden wasn’t the only father taking part to have had his share of health challenges in recent years.
For Mike Buckley, who comes from the nearby town of Killarney and whose luxury transport company Kerry Coaches has worked with Carr Golf for decades, his own battle with illness also cast the time he had playing alongside his daughter Laura in a new light.
“This is our third time playing in Father & Daughter tournament, and it’s always a lovely atmosphere,” says Mike. “I always played a lot of sport, was always very, very healthy, and then in 2018 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“It’s the last thing you expect. Thankfully it was low-grade, very treatable. We have a place in
Waterville so we spent a lot of time down here, and I just recuperated by swimming and walking and cycling.
“Sometimes cancer can be a blessing. And that’s often a hard thing for people to understand. But it taught me a lot. My body was telling me I was working too hard, and spending too much time doing things that maybe I shouldn’t have been, and not taking enough time for myself.
“I think I’m more grounded now than I ever was before. Material things don’t matter to you as much. Once you’ve enough to keep going, that’s all anyone wants. And I just started to appreciate every moment, like the breaths we’re taking now. The footsteps we’re taking here… I never really appreciated that in the past. I do now.”
Always the watchful father, Mike notices that Laura is about to play, and pauses.
“Hold on a moment,” he says.
Laura takes an iron from the fairway, trying to reach a green that’s protected in front by three of
Waterville’s finest pot bunkers. The swing is good but the ball looks bunker-bound. Mike begins to coax it.
“Get over it!” he shouts. “Hop! HOP!” His call is answered.
“It did hop!” he shouts across to Laura. “Ha! Better to be born lucky than rich!”
His face still adorned with a wide smile, he returns to his thoughts.
“The first time we played here we were kind of competitive, we felt we had to really compete and do very well,” he says.
“This year we just said we’d have some fun, so we’ve enjoyed the social side as much as the golf. The golf is secondary, to be honest with you. It’s a hell of a tournament, genuinely. The organization, the fun. I’d encourage any dads who have a desire to befriend their daughter and spend time with them, this is just a wonderful opportunity to do so.”
Love that Lasts a Lifetime
For Laura, a registered nurse who has worked in healthcare in the Middle East for more than a decade, these few days back home have become a vital part of the calendar.
“A friend just asked me, ‘Why are you so in love with this game?’” she says.
“And the reason I play golf is because of Dad. When I think of golf, I think of when I started, back when I was in college and Dad was really busy and in the summers we’d try to get out for nine holes before the sun went down. Families and households are busy, and this was the first time as an adult that I had one-on-one time with him, two or three hours where it was just us.
“For us, [Dad’s illness] was just a big awakening. I’ve been living abroad for 12 years and it’s always great to come home, but maybe I took it for granted.
“The important thing is that we just
can’t take this time for granted.”
“We have no idea what’s going to change from one golf tournament to the next. There is always the possibility that any one of these tournaments will be our last, for reasons outside of our control.”
“Being here is about loving golf, loving Waterville,
and loving our dads.”
Come back next year
For Andy and Sam Batkin, July 2023 was their second time taking part in the Father & Daughter Golf Tournament, 12 months after their first. As well as bringing their golf clubs, they brought their love of musicals, stopping off in London to catch a West End show on the way to Waterville.
“Last year was the first time Sam and I spent a week together, just the two of us,” says Andy, who admits he had been thinking of coming to Ireland for the tournament for many years before he and Sam took the plunge.
“Jim Layden has been a friend of mine for 25 years or so. We’re both members of Bel Air, all our
daughters went to Marymount High School, which is right adjacent to Bel Air, and Jim has been asking me for 12 years to come.
“Last year we talked about it and I thought to myself, ‘When am I going to do this? When I can’t play golf?’
Sam recalls the decision to come all the way from the US, and how it seemed almost ludicrous at the start.
“It seemed like a pipedream,” she says. “My dad was like, ‘Yeah yeah we’re going to do it’, and I looked at him and said, ‘Sure, you and I are going to go to Ireland and play golf together for a week?!’
“Then he called me last year and said, ‘Hey, let’s say we do this.’ I had my doubts. I mean, could he and I survive a week together? You know, we have a really good time together as a family, we joke, we laugh… but [a week in Ireland], that’s a lot of time to spend together.
“But I can honestly say, not once, not once, in that whole week together did I think for a moment, I’m tired of my dad. Never once. Even when we were playing like sh**, we were laughing the whole time.
Every morning we would wake up in pieces. My feet hurt, my arms hurt, my whole body hurt!
“And I said to him, ‘So we’re coming back next year?’” And so they did.
“First of all, Sam wanted to come back, which was great for me!” says Andy. “She developed some amazing friendships and connections the first year. So did I. I met so many great people, and with all of them you have golf and our daughters in common. It’s just a very special week. As long as Sam wants to do it, I’m going to keep doing it.”
Sam agrees: “This is a week with very like-minded people. It’s all fathers and daughters who want to have a good relationship with each other. So everybody here is someone you could absolutely see hanging out together. There’s a group playing behind us, they’re literally our best friends to this day. And we only met them a year ago.”
How Golf Adds a New Dimension to the Father/Daughter Dynamic
“We’re very similar people. We’ve been known to butt heads” Bill McCloy is 63 years old and is from Jupiter, Florida, has come back to Father & Daughter every year since taking part for the first time, and winning, in 2018.
This year, he brought his two daughters, Olivia and Annie. Bill played alongside Annie and Olivia took part in the tournament’s “Adopted” category.
“This is just about spending time with your daughters,” says Bill. “People who take the competition really seriously often don’t come back.”
As we wander down a fairway towards where Bill has sent a powerful drive sailing down the middle, Bill is soaking up the sun and the special surroundings, chatting and joking with his caddie and playing partners. It’s clear he’s enjoying himself. I ask him what he thinks Annie gets out of it.
He laughs, and calls for back-up to answer the question.
“Annie, were you nervous when we first decided to play golf together in Waterville?”
The answer comes instantly.
“Why? Because of our relationship?”
“Are you kidding?” she says. “Thirty-three years of this?”
“We’re very similar,” Annie goes on. “We tend to get at each other sometimes. We’ve been known to butt heads. But out here, nothing touches us. We just have a great time together. I think it’s Ireland, I think it’s the game, I think it’s the environment, I think it’s all of those things. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done.”
For Annie, the tournament is evolving into something much bigger and much more important than fathers trying to build relationships with their daughters.
Bring your dad along…
“I suspect in the beginning that it was probably dads wanting to bring their daughters. But now that there are a lot more older women playing with their dads, I think it’s the reverse. The women want to come back and they want to bring their dads along.”
Annie was just starting out in golf before she came for the first time, and recalls how she felt back then.
“I was really nervous the first time,” she says. “I’d never played with a caddie. I don’t think I’d ever even played a legitimate 18 holes! I was probably the most nervous of our group coming
into this last year.
“But it’s just really great, the way they set it up, the people who come, the people who organise
everything. And we just had a really great time. And on the last day I said, ‘I can’t wait to come back!’
“Getting together with other women, in multiple different
age brackets, and you have that shared interest, it opens
up a conversation about life in general.”
So I sort of peer-pressured my sister into coming back too!”
As well as quality time with her father, Annie points to the contacts she’s made that could, she
believes, last a lifetime.
“The networking aspect is huge,” she says. “Getting together with other women, in multiple different age brackets, and you have that shared interest, it opens up a conversation about life in general. I feel like I can call some of the other girls up and chat about anything. And it feels like a personal contact, not a “business” contact.”
From Wall Street to Waterville
For Tim and Claire Tully, the week in Waterville was a deeply momentous occasion. Tim’s late father, Dan, was one of a number of American financiers who teamed up to purchase Waterville in the 1990s, and Tim later bought his father’s share to become a part-owner of the club in his own right.
He brought his three daughters to take part in 2023, and the experience of sharing these famous fairways with the next generation, on land originally brought into the Tully family by Dan all those years ago, was clearly a special moment for all the family.
“Waterville is such a special place and I’m happy to be a part of it,” he says. “My father was a big gregarious Irishman. He was born in America but ended up getting an Irish passport and all that stuff.
He loved Ireland, he loved golf, he loved people.
“He was a Wall Street guy and that’s how he got to know John Meriwether and Dick Leahy [two of the Waterville co-owners]. John and Dick bought the place, along with 16 or 18 other guys at Solomon Brothers. Over the years, some of them were fading out and it was an opportunity for my dad to buy a stake. He was good friends with John and Dick, and he always loved another excuse to come to Ireland.
“Unfortunately he passed away before I got to play in this event. But he’d be really happy to know that three of his granddaughters are here today. Tim has to pause for a breath, to better navigate the magnitude of the moment.
“To have four or five days uninterrupted
with your daughters… it’s the best.”
“I was tearing up back there talking about my dad,” he says. “To have four or five days uninterrupted with your daughters… it’s the best. I’m lucky to have my wife here too. We’re all eating at one side of the table, and you look down the other end of the table and it’s just smiles and laughs. It doesn’t get better than that.”
The Perfect Introduction to Ireland
For Claire, who started playing golf during the pandemic and recently moved from Connecticut to New York city, it was not only a first visit to Waterville, but a first trip to Ireland.
“My dad comes here all the time so he’s like a local now, but it’s my first time,” she says. “I was
expecting a lot of rain, a lot of clouds, but we really lucked out with the weather. It’s crazy beautiful here. Hopefully this can become an every year type of thing.”
Companionship with a competitive edge
Adriana Mulloy is still just 17 years old but golf is now a big part of her identity. She is the Ambassador for Golf at St Gerard’s School outside Dublin and alongside her father Aidan has become a regular participant in the Father & Daughter Tournament over the years.
“I would’ve been about 10 when I started golf,” says Adriana. “I saw my dad doing it and enjoying it, so I wanted to try it. And I just loved the feeling of hitting a good shot.
“We’re very competitive, so it does get frustrating at times, but that’s the game of golf for you.”
Aidan adds: “We’re all leading stressful lives, I have work and travel, Adriana has school and study and everything else. So the experience of spending time with their dad in a completely different environment than the home is just very special.
“There’s too much bias on fathers and sons and men and competitions. This tournament is a brilliant experience for the girls, to see how important the game of golf can be in their lives. Connection from all around the world. The friendships, they become like sisters really. The older girls look after the younger girls. Friendships and bonds grow over years. Adriana is going into her final year of school, hopefully on to university after that, and then the world is her oyster, and the connections she makes here will be important in that.”
How Waterville Is Driving Women’s Golf Onwards
Especially at elite level, women’s golf is on a phenomenal upward trajectory around the world. For many years, the professional tours on both sides of the Atlantic struggled to gain media attention, but all that has changed in recent years. Tournaments in Europe and the US now get primetime television coverage almost every week, and Majors are now regularly played out with prize purses of more than $10 million.
At amateur level, growth has been a little slower, but Jimmy Layden believes women can benefit from the game in much the same ways men always have.
“What you get out of golf is individual,” he says. “It’s the genius of the game, you are always just
competing against yourself. The game itself is so brilliant, and I don’t see it as any different for women than for men. Everyone gets something for themselves.”
For Tim Tully, the Waterville part-owner, the benefits of the game for his daughters are obvious.
“I really hope the girls get something that traditionally men have gotten out of golf,” he says. “That’s really one of the things that interests us. My daughter, Ann, who’s 26, has just recently become a full member of our home course in Connecticut.
“Our hope is that they become comfortable enough to start asking each other to go out and play golf. They don’t have to play with us!”
Matt Ginella, formerly of The Golf Channel and now well-known as a golf content creator through his Firepit Collective, has played in the Father & Son Tournament at least 10 times, and 2023 was the first time playing alongside Kaili.
And having witnessed how Kaili and the other daughters interact, he does believe they get something much more rounded and grounded from the whole golf experience than men sometimes do.
“Last night we were at the table with several of the daughters,” he says. “And you know what? They didn’t talk for a single second about a shot or a score. Guys would be like, ‘I made a four there, what did you make?’ But the girls talked about what an amazing day it was, how special it was to be here.”
Matt has seen first-hand how women’s golf has taken off.
“John Ashworth, the caretaker of Goat Hill Park Golf Club in Oceanside California, is here. And we were talking about this. In Oceanside you almost never see a foursome there that doesn’t have at least one woman. We have girl juniors, we have girl caddies. So you hear about [how women’s golf is growing], but you also see it up close too.”
Creating Something Bigger Than Ourselves
Before the tournament finished and he and his family made the trip towards the airport and back
across the Atlantic, Jimmy Layden reflected on what participants get out of the experience.
“This place is mind-boggling,” he says. “Forty years ago, the first time I came [to Waterville], it just grabbed a hold of me. It feels like you’re in another place and another time, far away from everything.
“I always look at golf courses and rate them on the overall golf experience. What does it do to you? And this place just does something to you. It’s so much more than just golf. Just look around you. It’s amazing.
“If you’re looking for that moment to get together with your daughter and have a little like-
mindedness, then this is the place to do it, in the golf kingdom of Waterville.
“You know, I did this because I love my girls. I never really thought about anything more. But it kind of blows me away when I hear other people talk about it. You think wow, we did something much bigger than just ourselves.”