Irish golf clubs have had plenty to celebrate in 2019.
The return of the Open Championship and Shane Lowry’s historic victory, not to mention the Amateur Championship at Portmarnock and James Sugrue’s victory are just two reasons… but there are plenty of others with two dozen courses celebrating important anniversaries.
The links at Bundoran Golf Club sits on clifftops above Tullan Strand, which stretches away to the north towards heaving mountains.
On one side of the course is the popular seaside town of Bundoran, while the other side is held in place by the Atlantic Ocean and Donegal Bay.
It can feel in places like the dunes have been crumpled between the two, buckling to create a terrain of broken ridges and soft hollows over which exposed holes flow and curl.
Originally laid out on 100 acres, on land owned by Irish Highlands Hotel, the course’s original design was attributed to the Scot George Baillie (of Royal Belfast and Royal County Down fame).
Just two years later, in 1896, the Great Northern Railway Company acquired the hotel and a long and fruitful relationship between golf course and hotel began. The course was extended to 18 holes in 1903.
The golf club promotes Harry Vardon as its designer, but it wasn’t until 1927 that the great man visited the course. After playing a match he recommended changes which are still an integral part of today’s course… but the soul of Bundoran had already been laid by then.
As famous as Vardon was, it is a legendary professional who is held in the highest regard here. Christy O’Connor Senior was the Pro from 1951-1957, and there are stories aplenty of what the great man did… such as using every club in his bag to reach one par-three green.
From September 2-5, Bundoran will jointly host the West Coast Challenge with Donegal, Enniscrone, and Strandhill. The tournament celebrates 30 years in 2019.
That may not reach the heady heights of 125 years, but it’s a great excuse to visit a small club that packs a big punch.
County Cavan Golf Club was founded by Thomas Lough, who later became an MP for West Islington.
He laid out a nine-hole course at his Cavan residence in Killynebber, and it remained a family affair early on, as local residents were not enticed by the game.
But interest grew and, in 1899, County Cavan embraced GUI affiliation. The club moved to its current site in Drumelis, in 1920.
The club It remained as a nine-hole course for many years, until the early 1970s when Lord Farnham agreed to sell the club some additional land, including Arnmore House.
This became the base for the new clubhouse and, by 1973, the course boasted 18 holes. Later, in the early 2000s, Eddie Hackett was brought in to redesign the course.
It was opened for play in 2005, and it mixes sweet mature parkland holes — which are surprisingly tight in places — with younger, more open holes across a heavily rolling landscape.
The brilliant and beautiful Co Sligo Golf Club (aka Rosses Point) is celebrating 125 years, but golf was played here well before the foundation date of 1894.
Holes were first created around the camp of the Duke of Connaught’s Sligo Own Artillery. In 1894, George Combe and Colonel James Campbell proposed that a club be formed.
Land was leased from the Middleton family, and the official history of this golf club began.
Combe designed the first nine holes. He is a notable figure in Irish golf, becoming the first secretary of the Golfing Union of Ireland.
He also devised the world’s first handicapping system and was closely involved with the development of Royal County Down. When the course was extended to 18 holes, in 1907, another Campbell was asked to lay out these new holes.
Today’s clubhouse has its origins in 1912. It has been adapted and expanded over the decades, but the building’s front, with its attractive wooden portico, is part of the original… and explains why the building is listed.
The first West of Ireland was held in 1923 and some of the most famous names in world golf — let alone Irish golf — adorn the trophy. These include Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington, and the legendary JB Carr.
The greatest step in the club’s history came in 1927, however, when Harry Colt was asked to redesign the course to accommodate the ‘modern’ player. That course is the one still in play today, with some more recent modifications by Pat Ruddy. The setting is magnificent, with views stretching in every direction, and Colt’s links remains a combination of brilliance and subtlety.
What’s going on: A Ladies Invitational was held in May and a 10-day Festival of Golf will be held in August, with green fees of €45.
The club also hosted the 2019 Flogas Irish Amateur Open, and will be the venue for the R&A Ladies’ Senior Home Internationals in October.
Fleetingly called the Westmeath Golf Club (1894-1897), golf was first played at Newbrook on the site of the Mullingar Race Course.
It wasn’t there for long: in 1903 a new nine-hole course appeared at Killian’s Field, north of Mullingar, before moving again in 1909 and then again in 1919. It stayed at Lough Owel for almost 20 years before moving to Belvedere in 1937.
That’s five venues between 1894 and 1937, but Belvedere proved to be the club’s final home. And it was the revered James Braid who designed the course in the mid-1930s.
The tale goes that he arrived from England and laid out the course in a day, using tee pegs to mark the teeing ground and the greens. Golf design was a far simpler affair back then.
The 120-acre site remained largely untouched for decades and the lush terrain was allowed to mature into what is today — a true parkland of depth and colour.
Braid’s original layout has remained almost unchanged, apart from some tweaks between 2003 and 2005, which included USGA-standard greens and tees, a revised routing of three holes and the repositioning of some greens by David Jones.
Mullingar’s long-running Mullingar Scratch Trophy is being held on August 10-11.
Golf at Portmarnock was first discovered in 1893, thanks to a boat trip from the mainland. The original nine holes were laid out by WC Pickeman — the man who took that first boat journey — with some guidance from Mungo Park, the 1874 Open Champion. Mungo then stayed on as the club’s first professional, if only for one year. Another nine holes quickly followed, thanks to the Jameson family offering up additional land (for the princely sum of £10).
A clubhouse followed in 1896, built on the site of the current clubhouse. This burned down in 1906 and much of its replacement is still in existence today.
The first Irish Ladies Championship was contested in 1901 (won by Rhona Adair from Killymoon) with the first Irish Open to be won by an Irishman (Fred Daly) being held at Portmarnock in 1906.
Dozens of significant championships followed (including a spell of 13 Irish Opens between 1976–2003). Another Irish legend, Harry Bradshaw, was appointed as club professional in 1950, and he stayed for 40 years.
In 1971, a third nine was completed by Fred Hawtree, for a cost of £3,500. That had been a dream of the club for over 35 years and the smart routing meant few changes were needed to the existing 18.
Today’s 27-hole course is a master of subtlety and guile, where the classic art of links golf is embraced and the turf is always tight and crisp.
As one of Ireland’s, and the world’s, best links, Portmarnock is proud to boast that it possesses the best links ground on the island. Play it and you’ll see why, especially on and around the greens.
Fred Hawtree’s son, Martin, upgraded the course for the 2003 Irish Open, and further revisions have been made over the past two years ahead of the R&A’s Amateur Championship, which took place from June 17-22. Seven new championship tees have been added and 12 new bunkers will tighten up fairways.
Some greenside bunkering has been moved closer to the putting surfaces. Mounding has also been added on the left-hand side of the 2nd and behind the green to separate it from the 6th tee.
Further gentle mounding, measuring 80 by 40 yards, will separate the 9th and 10th fairways. This work has defined holes and added more character.
Take a look at the club’s website (www.portmarnockgolfclub.ie) to learn more about Portmarnock’s role in the development of Irish golf.
While the earliest records indicate a golf club instituted in 1892, the date of 1894 became the official foundation date of the Waterford and Tramore Golf Club.
David Herd designed the original course, but both it and the clubhouse were destroyed by a storm in 1897, and the club’s proximity to the sea meant weather was always a cruel mistress.
The club fell into temporary decline but, by 1912, and following relocation, a new 18-hole course was in play at Graun Hill.
Tramore Golf Club’s final move came in the late 1930s, when it moved to Newtown Hill. This new course was designed by Captain HLC Tippet, on 130 acres that has matured elegantly over the decades.
In 2005, the infrastructure of Tramore town meant the entrance to the club had to be altered.
The club seized the opportunity to upgrade the course. Jeff Howes was tasked with devising a new blueprint of the course and his proposals included a third nine. A major remodelling of the Championship Course ensued, and this was completed in 2012.
This included greens of USGA standard, a re-imagining of the bunkering, and the new Newtown nine.
Some other clubs celebrating 125 years in 2019 are Ballinasloe and Portstewart, as well as nine-hole courses like Bushfoot, Greenisland, and Larne.
The only club celebrating its centenary in 2019 is the nine-hole course Kilrea Golf Club, in Co Derry.
The initial nine holes were laid out by H McNeill, who was the then professional at Royal Portrush. The location was, entertainingly, known as ‘The Rough Hills’ which had excellent drainage.
Due to the sizeable start-up costs involved, the club offered ‘Founders Shares’ which were priced at £5. Local dignitaries were prominent in the club in the early days and many were asked to donate silver cups as trophies… some of these are still played for today. Issues with the site’s two landlords pushed the club to relocate to Woodland Park in the early 1930s.
The move did not prove successful, as golfers had to share their fairways and greens with the new landlord’s sheep, and drainage made winter play almost impossible.
In 1934, the club sold off its assets by public auction to raise funds and it survived despite the difficult times. The club even relocated back to The Rough Hills in 1937.
A new course was created and membership increased and while further difficulties were to follow — not least the decision by the GUI in 1968 to recognise only those courses measuring in excess of 4,001 yards, for handicapping purposes — Kilrea grew as a club. Over the years, gradual extensions have been made to the course, which now measures 5,672 yards.
, in Co Down, and East Cork Golf Club are both 50 years old in 2019.
Water Rock is very much open to the public and always has been since opening its doors in 1994. It’s a family affair and was, until 2014 at least, a green fee-only course which meant anyone could play it.
And that is still the case today. Water Rock was designed by Paddy Merrigan, on the banks of the Owenacurra River, and is famous for its par-three 12th, named ‘Swan Lake’.
Five other courses are celebrating a quarter of a century: Dundrum House in Tipperary, Blackwood in Co Down, Citywest in Dublin, Foyle in Co Derry, and Mannan Castle in Co Monaghan.