Fiona Gray

Fiona Gray – Women golfers who refuse to be defined by their disability

“I live, breathe, and crawl out of bed to be able to play golf”

Words spoken by Fiona Gray from Northern Ireland, on the comeback trail from the latest surgery on her left knee (her 10th, this time a full replacement).

Fiona is the Junior Convenor at St Patrick’s Golf Club in County Down, and her considerable hard work has gone into the junior programme that offers a weekly welcome to 70 boys and girls as they all learn the game together. This year she will also be honoured to be called the club’s Lady Captain; only in the bar will this title not apply. Here, where she helps out on many evenings serving the drinks, you can still call the barmaid, Fiona.

Fiona Gray

With organisational skills learned in the British Army, Fiona loves helping the 70 youngsters, “a delight to work with”, alongside the club’s PGA coach Charlie Bell and trusted volunteers.

Fiona says: “This is my third year and I love it. I love the progress from the wee ones starting from seven and seeing them progress all the way up. And I’ve got the growth of the juniors and seeing how well they’re coming on.”

Fiona plays off a 6.9 handicap and was as low as 3 when she won the Army Ladies Golf Championship four times. Signing up for the British Army aged 21, Fiona put in 20 years of distinguished service with the 32nd and 47th Regiments of the Royal Artillery and other units, including two UN Peacekeeping Tours to Cyprus, before her injuries to knees, back and shoulder enforced Corporal Gray to seek a medical discharge in 2014, which was tough for her.

Fiona Gray

Fiona’s family were all golfers. She also played cricket (batter and wicket-keeper) and hockey (goalkeeper), representing both Ulster and Ireland in age group categories to go with her golfing honours, and, more recently, she played for Ropley Cricket Club and for Farnborough in hockey, before becoming a respected hockey umpire.

After the Army, it was returning home to Northern Ireland that would really lift Fiona’s spirits, walking the shoreline and countryside with her beloved labradoodle Truffle.

Fiona says: “The countryside here is just amazing, and you’ve got the walks; they’re just breathtaking. I love the moss and the green and I don’t care if it rains because it’s just beautiful scenery. So yes, it’s good for the health.”

Golf continues to have a similar uplifting effect.

“Getting some fresh air, getting out there and being able to smell the air and feel things, feel that club. It’s feeling, isn’t it? So just to be in a comfortable environment and meet new people, and have some fun.”

Fiona Gray

Last year, Fiona discovered events with the EDGA badge, making her debut in the Irish Open for Golfers with Disability, and the Italian Open, before qualifying to play in the RSM European Gross Series event in England.

“I take medication, yes, but I go to bed and say, oh my goodness, why do I do this? But I live for golf. I love it, I live it. And that’s why I’m so passionate for the juniors, because I’ve got so much enthusiasm, and that’s what I bring to the ladies as well.”

Depending where you meet her, she may be Corporal, Lady Captain, or simply Fiona, but she will no doubt encourage you to keep playing, breathing in all the fresh air, and loving life.

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By Ben Evans