A group of distinguished, older members of Lahinch Golf Club assembled outside the clubhouse earlier in the week and looked around in awe at the transformation that had taken place at the Irish Open venue.
A massive pavilion dominated the scene along with a host of imposing marquees, grandstands, and a tented village.
This was nothing like the Lahinch they knew so well for many years.
And then wondered aloud what most were musing: “what would Brud think?”
Brud Slattery was born little more than a pitch shot from the first tee and as soon as he could walk and swing a club, his ambition was to develop into as good a player as he possibly could (he went on to win the South of Ireland by beating his friend, the famous John Burke, in the final and play for his country several times) — and to promote the club in every possible way.
A teacher by profession, Austin (“Brud”) Slattery took these objectives and the other challenges he met during his life quite seriously. Those who failed in any way to live up to his standards were quickly left in no doubt about the error of their ways. But behind what some might have seen as a gruff exterior was a man of great wit and humour and one that thousands grew to admire.
But back to that original question: What would Brud think?
Who better to ask than his son Pádraig — or ‘Sam’ as he is known to friends — and himself the 125th year captain of Lahinch.
“Brud would say this is perfect ... the crowds, the marquees, the atmosphere, he would think it was fantastic,” Pádraig insisted.
“As for the course standing up to all these great players ... I looked up a book of Brud’s and it was about a US Open and he wrote a thing down and I think it was great: ‘If a man has the talent, let him show it to us and the course will be happy to honour his talent’.
“That is a lovely line. If a guy goes out and shoots 63 as Pádraig did on Thursday and shows us how brilliant he is, then let him go and do it”.
“I remember being at the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1989 when Christy Junior hit his famous two iron. We were sitting in the stands at the back of the green and Brud said: ‘if only we could get something like this in Lahinch — and they wouldn’t need all these stands.
“We have all the natural stands in the world, we wouldn’t need to build anything like this. That was his way and he was always thinking Lahinch.
“My memories of Brud are that if you got on the wrong side of him, he would cut you in two. Bullshit — he had no time for it. But I’ll tell you what he saw. He was there when the Americans started to come. This was in the mid 60s and we called them the golfing pioneers. You didn’t have hordes of them coming into Shannon back then. If you remember, the jets would stop off there and couldn’t go direct to Dublin. You might get a fourball a day and they were real golfers, and crass and all as it might be to say it, they had the magic dollar. Brud could see that the more of them they could attract, the better opportunity Lahinch had to do some of the things they wanted to do.
“Take for instance the Castle Course. Nine holes were put together in 1966. Commander John Harris laid it out. While nine holes were alright, Brud always had a view that Lahinch would choke if we didn’t get a course where we could get the kids playing and not be under pressure and that meant it would have to be an 18-hole course.
“The green fees started to increase and to be honest about it, if you had to rely on the members’ subs, you would not meet the standards both back then and now. What they were able to do was to take those nine holes and convert them into 17 holes. Brud (who owned the land) used to spend hours drawing and drawing and he’d have Harris assisting to get that extra hole. But he was keeping a strip of land (for more houses) but that plan disappeared. Tees and greens appeared instead and he eliminated about 10 sites — and the Slattery family would say, ‘good man Brud, you only cost us a million pounds’. But he said, to hell with the sites, he made a loop out and a loop in and that’s an absolutely true story.
“There was no money around to do that kind of stuff. A guy called Jack Sheedy, he was from Limerick, out around Askeaton, they were earth movers, they were building roads and things like that, they weren’t golf course shapers like we have today, but he came in with his big heavy machinery and made the 18-hole course.
“Now that couldn’t have been done without the green fee revenue starting to build. You’d be talking about 40, maybe 50 grand a year, it was relatively small money but it was big money when you didn’t have any. Fellas like Herb Warren Wind (renowned American golf writer) visited and while he took a real shine to Ballybunion, I remember him being here chatting with Brud. And there were others who wrote pieces about Lahinch.
“Brud would greet them and meet them. It was that kind of word of mouth and he has been credited with all kinds of things that never happened. But he was constantly meeting people and talking to them, giving them the chat about Lahinch.
“They were true golfers, they weren’t parts of mass tours, they heard it from four other fellas who were here, people from Pine Valley, Westchester, Winged Foot, all those big clubs, they were wealthy and had influence in the States. They went back home and told people that they should visit Lahinch.
“We were kids growing up here when all of this was going on. The Shell Wonderful World of Golf was all the rage on television at the time. I used to sit as a three or four-year-old on the first and cheer them off the first tee with chants about Sam Snead and that’s where I got the nickname Sam.
“We spent our lives there, helping out in the office, sitting behind the desk and putting names into the draw for the following day.
“And when Brud’s friends came along, they always got on the timesheet. There was always a slot for Allen, Larkin and O’Brien, the Manchester Martyrs. So when the friends turned up, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien would be wiped out and the friends were in. That was his way of operating and it wasn’t just about Americans, he saw Irish people right as well.
“So, what would Brud think of this? He’d think it was fantastic. Absolutely. It’s a cliché to say he loved golf but he absolutely did. He kept up with the pro game, Christy Senior and all those boys. But then there was Lahinch and his love for the place.”