Happy birthday: 12 clubs celebrating anniversaries in 2018

Kevin Markham looks at the clubs celebrating anniversaries in 2018.

This is a busy year for club anniversaries.

From those celebrating 20 years to those marking 125 in existence, the volume demonstrates how golf in Ireland stretches across the decades. Here is a sample of those

100 Years

Enniscrone 

Enniscrone Golf Club found their ultimate home in the 1930’s at the third time of asking.

The flat links terrain at Bartra was ideal for a natural nine hole course and this new course opened on St Patrick’s Day, 1931.

Before that, golf had been played next to the Scurmore Hotel and at Kilcullen’s field.

Bartra proved to be Enniscrone’s final home and as the success of the club ebbed and flowed (by 1959 there were just 14 members) so the towering dunes that separated the course from Killala Bay looked increasingly attractive.

It was the arrival of the great Eddie Hackett, in 1970, that saw the club act on their ambition to enter these dunes… and move from nine to 18 holes in the process.

This course opened in 1974, with Hackett’s layout leading golfers to two of Ireland’s most exceptional holes: the 12th and 13th.

Both demonstrate the strength, beauty and the challenges presented by short par fours.

The new 18-hole course began to get noticed further afield and as technology improved more of those enormous dunes became accessible.

In 1999, the club employed Donald Steel to remove the two flat opening par fives so that the golfer headed into the dunes right from the opening hole.

This he did, and six new holes were added (2-4 and 14-16) to what has become known as the ‘Dunes’ course. He also introduced three new holes to combine with six older holes to create the ‘Scurmore’ nine.

It is Hackett’s 9-13 holes and Steel’s 14-16 that make Enniscrone so extraordinary but it is an exceptional links from start to finish. The club’s centenary year will see practice bays added to the driving range.

The Irish Women’s Close Amateur Championship will be played here in June, followed by the Seniors Amateur Close.

Activities: There will be centenary competitions for members, including one for overseas members, and a centenary dinner.

For visitors, there are plenty of Open events to choose from, including Open Weeks in June (25-29) and Autumn (Oct 29-Nov 2).

On 2 July, Miko Ilonen, a former winner of the West of Ireland at Enniscrone will be presented with honorary life membership.

A centenary book will be launched later this year and visitors can purchase a variety of centenary merchandise in the Pro shop.

125 Years

Ballybunion 

Hard to believe that Ballybunion is 125 years old. There’s little need for such a world-class course to promote itself more than it already does and bookings were ahead of last year as early as March.

The big news for 2018 is the opening of the revised 18th hole.

This follows the massive 2016 investment when greens were renovated to introduce native fescue grasses and green surrounds were also enhanced.

One of the joys of Ballybunion is that there is no conclusive proof as to who designed this masterpiece.

Many names are credited – Captain Lionel Hewson, and Carter & Sons among them – but the name of Tom Simpson looms largest, even if that is unfair to his predecessors.

Simpson arrived in 1936 and he was so impressed by the layout that his recommendations amounted to little more than relocating a few greens and altering some bunkers.

So, rather than being credited to a famed designer of old, the name ‘Ballybunion’ is the only credit needed… just one of the reasons why this links has acquired such a mystical status.

Activities: The club launched ‘125 Years of Golf at Ballybunion’ at the start of April. It’s a glossy hard-backed book, written by Ivan Morris, and available to purchase in the Pro shop.

A plaque dedicated to Tom Watson and his contribution to the club was also unveiled earlier in the year. You’ll find it on the way to the 1st tee.

For members, there will be a black tie ball in Listowel, and there will be some celebratory competitions throughout the year. The Pro shop will also be stocking a variety of 125th anniversary items.

Birr 

The game in Birr was first played on the estate grounds of Barrone Court when it was known as the Kings County and Ormond Golf Cub.

The club moved to its current location early in the 20th century and changed its name shortly afterward. Records do not exist for much of its early history, however.

The original designer, therefore, is not known but it is believed to have been the members themselves who laid out the course through wonderfully wild woodland and the undulating eskers that give Birr its unique character.

The architect Eddie Connaughton arrived in the 2000s and, using additional land, created three new holes while redeveloping others. Today’s Birr is a little beauty.

There are many who pine for the older, cramped version but the new holes have ensured the heart of the course can breathe more easily.

If anything, they also provide reinforcement to the superb and peaceful stretch of holes 10, 11 and 12 by improving the course’s rhythm.

Activities: The club has created monthly medals with a ‘125 years’ inscription, and there will be an event to present past Captains and Presidents with special mementos. Open Week runs from June 25 to July 1, and prizes will have an anniversary focus.

On May 13, Birr will also celebrate the 60th anniversary of its Scratch Cup, won by Irish legends Pádraig Harrington, Ronan Raftery, Philip Walton, and their own Richie Coughlan. 

Killarney 

How did the designers of today’s Killarney Golf Club manage to do their job with such spellbinding beauty all around them! That was in 1936, when the 18 holes at Mahony’s Point were created.

Before that, the original course of nine holes was laid out in 1893, on a site donated by the Earl of Kenmare, who played a vital role in golf’s early development in Killarney. Following his death in 1905, his family continued their support but, in 1936, the rent rose from 1 shilling to £75 a year.

The club moved to its present location thanks to the generosity and drive of Viscount Castlerosse, the club’s president.

The 18 hole course was developed by Sir Guy Campbell on the shores of Lough Leane. In the seventies a further 18 holes were added and today’s Mahony’s Point and Killeen courses share a combination of the old and the new.

Holes 16 to 18 on Mahony’s Point are Guy Campbell’s, with the par three 18th regarded as one of Ireland’s best finishing holes.

The Irish Open was held on the Killeen course in 1991 and 1992 (Nick Faldo won both) before it underwent upgrades. The event returned in 2010 (Ross Fisher) and 2011 (Simon Dyson).

Activities: Honorary Member, Paul McGinley, launched anniversary proceedings at a club ceremony late last year and other member evening events are planned for this summer.

Visitors can enter the Racing Cup Open Competitions (16-18 July), which coincide with the town’s horse racing festival.

Open days will be held every Bank Holiday and every second Wednesday. Elsewhere, a number of commemorative plaques are to be placed around the town in historically significant locations.

These will include two plaques at the site of the original course and clubhouse, at Brun a Páirce (Deerpark, today), one at Killarney House, the residence of the 4th Earl of Kenmare, and one at Mahonys Point itself.

The Pro shop is stocking 125th-anniversary apparel and merchandise, and, most intriguingly of all, a batch of 125th logoed wedges has just been delivered.

Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris) 

The story of Old Tom Morris hitting golf balls into Donegal’s Lough Salt is the stuff of legend, with thousands of golfers following in his footsteps.

Old Tom visited Rosapenna in 1891, on holiday, and went on to use the dunes and the terrain along Sheephaven Bay to create the first Rosapenna links.

James Braid and Harry Vardon visited in the following years and made recommendations, but it was Harry Colt, in 1913, who made the most significant changes to Old Tom’s creation. Indeed, much of the current Valley (back) nine belongs to Colt.

The acclaimed Pat Ruddy-designed Sandy Hills was added in 2003, and this was followed in 2009 by a new Strand nine, also designed by Ruddy.

These Strand holes form the front nine on today’s Old Tom Morris course. The Coastguard nine – all Old Tom’s original design – now form a separate course.

Activities: Overall, the anniversary is a low key affair but this 45-hole links resort has developed a new logo to celebrate the anniversary and some dedicated merchandise is also available in the Pro shop.

The much-photographed Old Tom Morris statue, located overlooking Sheephaven Bay, was unveiled in 2006.

Warrenpoint 

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Established in 1893, Warrenpoint has been a parkland since its inception… despite moving sites a couple of times.

That said, the original site was a minute’s walk from the railway station, the second site took all of three minutes to reach and the final site is a five-minute walk. Evidently, the club was reluctant to move far.

The current site became Warrenpoint’s home in 1910, and the nine holes were extended to 18 in 1925. It is a colourful course tucked up neatly into a small site and the nearby Narrow Water Castle is the inspiration for the club logo.

Over the years this the club has acquired a reputation for producing some great golfers, among them Paddy Gribben, Ronan Rafferty and Raymond Burns, as well as Alison Coffey who played in the Curtis Cup.

Activities: Two weekends have been set aside to celebrate the anniversary: in May there will be a members’ fourball tournament followed by a Gala Ball and in August there will be an open ‘125th Anniversary Golf Tournament’. There will also be a special flowerbed planted to commemorate the occasion.

Other clubs celebrating their 125th: Co Armagh, Lurgan, Foxrock, Otway and Ormeau.

50 Years 

Cahir Park 

Cahir Park Golf Club plays over land that once formed part of the Kilcommon Demesne and extensive Cahir Estate.

When the estate was broken up in the 1960’s, some 60 acres were acquired for the development of a nine hole golf course.

The course used the landscape’s natural features, the River Suir, and towering trees which provided the backbone for the entire Cahir Estate. A further 48 acres were purchased in 1993, and the course was able to expand to 18 holes by 1995.

Interestingly, golf was played in Cahir, at Ballydrehid, as far back as 1902, but that club petered out in the late 1920s.

Activities: The club is holding an Open Week in August, which includes a celebratory Golden Jubilee Pro-Am.

Elsewhere, the course is being spruced up with new bunkering, a tree maintenance programme, a number of upgraded tee boxes and a new practice area. New greenkeeping machinery (thanks to a Sports Capital Programme grant) will make a considerable difference, too.

25 Years 

Faithlegg 

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The house that stands centrestage at Faithlegg dates back to the end of the 18th century. Today it is the hotel and centrepiece of a well-known resort around which is routed a fine parkland course.

It was designed by Paddy Merrigan who used the 200-acre estate’s big oak trees to frame the opening and closing holes, and the rolling terrain, the River Suir estuary, and still more mature trees to define the rest.

The course hosted the Ladies Irish Open Championship in 2000- 2001, and the PGA Europro Tour, 2007-2009.

Activities: There will be a Pro-Am to celebrate the anniversary on July 13. The club is also hosting two Open Weeks (June 25-29, and August 5-10).

Following a major rebranding exercise the entire resort launches a new logo/brand at the end of April. This logo will appear on most of the club’s merchandise.

Fota Island 

With the tree-drenched landscape that stretches across the island of this five-star resort (some 780 acres of it) it is often hard to believe the golf course is only 25 years old. (Though there is evidence to suggest that golf was played here as long ago as 1883, when it was mentioned in The Belfast Newsletter).

The behemoth which has hosted three Irish Opens had to wait until 1993 to be founded as one of Ireland’s modern parkland wonders.

Designed by Peter McEvoy and Christy O’Connor Junior, Fota Island was given a comprehensive redesign by Jeff Howes, in 1998/99, ahead of the Irish Open in 2001 and 2002. The event returned here in 2014.

The third nine (Belvelly) were designed by Jeff Howes and opened in 2007.

Activities: Fota Island’s 25th Anniversary Open Week begins on July 23. Regular open days occur most Wednesdays.

The club is also introducing a twilight deal of €35 for nine holes from June to September, which includes a main course/bbq special during the week. A range of ‘Established in 1993’ merchandise will be available in the Pro shop.

Lee Valley 

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The family name of Keohane looms large over Lee Valley Golf and Country Club. There are family run golf courses here and there around Ireland (see West Waterford below), and Lee Valley is a prime example of how to make a success of it.

Jerry and Peg Keohane were involved in the original development, starting in 1990, and the 18 hole layout designed by Christy O’Connor Junior opened in 1993… when Christy and Fred Couples renewed their Ryder Cup rivalry in an exhibition match.

The past few years have seen an increasing level of investment in the course with more trees planted, new tee boxes added and others redesigned.

Activities: In January, the club launched a commemorative book celebrating its first 25 years.

Luttrellstown Castle 

The walled estate, stretching over 567 acres, has a long history dating back to the 13th century.

Its golfing pedigree is far more recent with the original 1993 design laid out by Nick Bielenberg. It rose rapidly to be Dublin’s premier parkland and it was then purchased by JP McManus and John Magnier, who had even bigger plans for it.

Donald Steele and Tom MacKenzie were brought in to work on the course in the mid 2000s, as part of a €20m renovation, and a magnificent new clubhouse was built.

Today’s course measures over 7,300 yards and flows through mature woodland, next to the River Liffey. In 2017, the club reversed its two nines. Anniversary activities are planned but have yet to be confirmed.

West Waterford

Another family affair, and another club renowned for its welcome and relaxed atmosphere, West Waterford rests easily between the Comeragh and Knockmealdown mountains.

Eddie Hackett’s name will forever be associated with the course, as will those of Seamus Power and Gary Hurley, but it was Pat Spratt who provided the spark for this golf club to develop… and it is his family that continues to guide West Waterford today.

The course is evolving at a slow, steady pace with improvements ensuring the course remains in excellent condition. The River Brickey comes in to play on the back nine.

The other clubs in the 25-year bracket are Ballymoney, Dunmore East, Glasson, Galway Bay, Killerig, Moor Park, St Helen’s Bay, Seapoint, Woodstock, Summerhill. Three clubs are also celebrating their 20th anniversary: Ring of Kerry, Rathbane and Blessington Lakes.



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