Cork Golf Club is famous for many things, with its limestone quarry leading the way. It created a remarkable setting for golf holes that were first played over while the quarry was still in operation. This was back in the late 1890s. Later, Harry Vardon (1911) extended the club to 18 holes, before Dr Alister MacKenzie (1925) rerouted the course, added three new holes, created new greens and added sand-filled bunkers — quite the novelty back then. And all the while the quarry remained at the heart of the course.
Now, after 32 years of service, Matt is to retire at the age of 68 on August 31. The Irish Examiner caught up with Matt to discuss his years at the club.
May 31, 1988, during the club’s centenary year.
: I was involved for many years in Donabate Golf Club, in Dublin, and I was captain there in 1987. Golf club management was something I had wanted to get into, so when I saw the ad for the position of manager at Cork Golf Club, I applied. And, 32 years later, here I am.
: I was in the family joinery business.
: It was, yes, but I was happy to do it. I wasn’t married at the time but my wife-to-be got a transfer to Cork, and we got married a couple of months after I moved down. We have three children — Matt, Cathy and Hannah — and they are all Corkonians.
: I never found it difficult. I suppose having being involved in Donabate Golf Club over the years, I knew what I was letting myself in for — and I loved the job from day one.
: It has changed dramatically. When I came here first I hadn’t a clue about computers.
: Back in 1995, we went for a board of management as opposed to a committee structure. The big advantage to that is it gives you continuity. You have a chairman for three years as opposed to a different captain each year.
: What immediately springs to mind is the revamped clubhouse. The building, which took seven months, was the easy part. We moved out in October and moved back in again the May bank holiday weekend. But prior to that, it probably took about two years, because there were various designs and locations and discussions. Once we got planning permission, we moved out of the old clubhouse and commenced building within five months.
: I’d have to say meeting people.
: I would say the most disappointing thing is when you’ve done a lot of work preparing for an event and then the weather doesn’t behave.
MS: I was awarded the IGTOA Manager of the Year in 2001. I won Golfer’s Guide to Ireland Manager of the Year twice. The club has also won the Golfer’s Guide Best Parkland Course in Munster for four years — in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017. I was president of the Irish Golf Club & Managers (Irish Association of Golf Club Secretaries, as it was then) in 2004 and again in 2015. I was the first person to be president twice.
: I suppose the most memorable one would have to be Sally Yates, assistant to the attorney general under the Obama administration, and, for 11 days, the acting attorney general in the Trump administration. She was staying at Hayfield Manor and they rang me up and asked if she could play. I said yes, of course. In the meantime, I Googled her and discovered that she was from Atlanta. Loyal Goulding (who passed away in November 2018) went to Augusta for over 30 years and became good friends with Charlie Yates, who played in the first 11 Masters tournaments and later became secretary of the Augusta National Golf Club.
I put two and two together and discovered that Sally Yates was married to Charlie Yates’ son, J Comer Yates. I called Loyal, who was ill at the time, and told him that Comer and Sally were on their way over. I went and picked up Loyal and brought him back to meet them. When they discovered that this was Loyal’s home club, they couldn’t believe it. It was not a high-profile occasion, but it was a special day.
: I’d say Christy O’Connor Snr, even though he was well past his prime. It was something to see. Ian Woosnam played here in 1994 with (Welsh rugby player) Gareth Edwards and (Welsh comedian) Max Boyce.
: The 14th. That’ll come as a surprise to some people, but I just like the shape of it.
: Very little … but I hope to play more in retirement.
: I have several. Opening the new clubhouse would be one. Hosting the Irish Close in 2007, where Shane Lowry was victorious, is another. We hosted the Ladies Home Internationals in 2012, which was a great event, especially considering that the course was closed for several days beforehand because of horrendous weather. We presented a course which was just superb and to turn it around that fast will always stick in my mind.
: I have been to three CMAA (Club Managers Association of America) world conferences in the US, representing the Irish Golf Club Managers. At the 2015 CMAA conference in San Diego, I got to play Cyprus Point, Pebble Beach, Spyglass, and the Olympic Club, ironically with my successor Brian Hurley, on the way home.
: Yes, obviously there was a need to trim costs. I consider it a big achievement that I cut an awful lot of costs from the operation without diminishing standards.
: The presentation of courses has improved immensely and the standards in amateur golf – culminating in success in the majors, amateur teams and individual events — has flourished too. There’s also the expansion of modern technology, both in terms of clubhouse software, equipment for golfers, as well as in greenkeeping.
: Yes, straight away. I came into an environment where I met a lot of people in a short space of time and with it being the club’s centenary year, it was a special time to arrive.
: Nothing [laughs]. I don’t know … take it easy, play more golf, I suppose. Spend more time with my wife.
: Covid-19 has changed society within the space of a few months. The club’s income stream has been decimated, and club life will be affected for the foreseeable future. I and the club have taken prudent action to stabilise the situation.