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August 6, 2019

Irish Golf Academy opens inside Chestnut Forks

Photos/Leonard Shapiro
Mike Acheson of Manassas follows the trajectory of his shot on a simulator at the Irish Golf Academy opening Friday at Chestnut Forks.
Barry McMahon started the Irish Golf Academy three years ago in Warrenton.
Golf simulators were one of the things we really wanted to have in here, and I think this is going to be very popular.
— Derek Maloney, Chestnut Forks manager
By Leonard Shapiro
For FauquierNow

The first time Barry McMahon ever played big-boy golf on a real course, he made a hole-in-one — at age 14 — in Tipperary, Ireland.

“I was addicted to the game from then on.”

These days, Mr. McMahon, a native of Ireland and a certified PGA of America instructor, still loves to play and, even better, to teach. Over the last three years, he ran the Irish Golf Academy on Fifth Street in Warrenton.

But, he recently has moved and expanded his operation to Chestnut Forks Tennis Club just outside of town.

On Friday night, the venerable club, opened in 1975 and owned by Chip Maloney and his son Derek, held an open house and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the golf academy. It operates on a lower level of Chestnut Forks’ cavernous building.

Mr. McMahon has set up three separate golf simulators and a practice putting green, all designed to allow him and his two fellow teaching pro employees — Jimmy Steigelman and Joe Megless — to give lessons. Open to the public, the academy charges $110 an hour and $60 for a half hour, with lower rates for a package of multiple lessons.

Golfers of all ages and skills can simulate playing courses around the world. They range from nearby Fauquier Springs to Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament, among countless more venues.

On a golf simulator, the player with a club in hand stands at a tee, facing a computer-generated image of the topography of the hole being played on that particular course. The screen shows the hole’s length and its par: 3, 4 or 5.

The player takes a normal full swing and smacks the ball into that virtually life-sized image of the hole about five yards in front of the tee. When the shot hits the screen, the computer generates a yellow laser tracer that follows the flight of the ball to its landing spot.

Seconds later, more computer-generated information pops, telling the player the length of the shot, launch angle, swing speed and yards from the hole for the next shot or putt. On a par 4 hole, for example, the computer informs the player about the second shot, and the image on the screen replicates the view he or she would see on the course.

It’s all high-tech and fun — the whole idea. And, Chestnut Forks allows Mr. McMahon far more space to do his job, which also includes some teaching at Fauquier Springs Country Club west of Warrenton.

“My son (11-year-old Bryce) took lessons from Barry, and I’ve known him for years,” Derek Maloney said. “Golf simulators were one of the things we really wanted to have in here, and I think this is going to be very popular. Barry is a great teacher and a wonderful guy. People just gravitate to him. Bryce loves it, and a lot of it is because of Barry.”

Mr. McMahon also is well-known to many local residents because he founded McMahon’s Irish Pub & Restaurant on Broadview Avenue in 2006. He worked behind the bar for more than eight years until his passion for golf led to the opening of his academy.

But, locals might not know that Mr. McMahon gave up the game as a younger man not long after his father died from a heart attack at age 45, while playing golf.

“The night before, he’d bought me my first pint of beer,” Mr. McMahon recalled. “The next day, he played and he died on the 11th hole. I went sideways after that. I quit playing for four years. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I really had some serious problems back then.”

Mr. McMahon eventually immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Connecticut. His uncle, who ran the Dubliner Tavern on Capitol Hill in Washington, insisted that his nephew head south, the better to get his life back together.

“The first thing he did was buy me a set of clubs,” Mr. McMahon said. “He got me back to the game, and it saved me.”

Now, one of his primary goals in golf involves helping youngsters learn the sport, but more importantly, “learn not to make the same mistakes I made when I was younger,” he said. “I don’t want kids to have the life I did with alcohol.”

On the wall above the three simulators at Chestnut Forks, his favorite quote appears in large letters:

“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

Just before Friday night’s ribbon-cutting, Mr. McMahon offered his own little-lad’s giddy giggle after taking a few swings to make certain the stimulators worked properly.

He played a hole on Muirfield Village’s course, the annual venue for The Memorial tournament run by Jack Nicklaus.

“I just made a hole-on-one,” Mr. McMahon gushed to several friends just before the ceremony.

With a little luck of the Irish, some things never change.
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