Kevin Markham revisits the six Irish golf clubs celebrating the 125 milestone.

Who invented golf? The Scots invented the game we play today but the ‘idea’ of golf could easily date back to paganica, played by the Romans, or chuiwan, played by the Chinese from the 8th century. 

The Persians, the French and the English all played games involving a stick, a ball and a hole, but the closest similarity comes from the Dutch game of kolf. Its origins stem from the 13th century, and the sport was accompanied by numerous complaints of damage done to houses by errant shots. Now that sounds like golf.

The modern game originated in Scotland. The first written account of the game, in 1457, was hardly encouraging as it announced James II was banning the sport as he wanted his men to learn archery. James IV confirmed the ban in 1491, but later became an advocate. The ban was lifted in 1502.

Golf spread via the British Army to England, India and France. Ireland came late to the party, with golf first being played on The Curragh in 1852. It was British soldiers and their Scottish counterparts who spread the game across this island. Six Irish golf clubs will celebrate 125 years in 2017. Here’s a taste of the history and a list of events the clubs are running to celebrate the occasion.

ATHLONE

The 18th hole at Athlone Golf Club
The 18th hole at Athlone Golf Club

The course beside Hodson Bay is the third home of this Midlands club. After originating at the Batteries, an area of higher ground west of the Shannon, the club moved via Garnafailagh, and on to Hodson Bay in 1938. It was through the British Army golf began at the Batteries, with officers believed to have laid out holes in these fields.

Today’s 18-hole course was first designed by Mr J McAllister, with the original clubhouse on the lakeshore. When the clubhouse was moved to its present location on higher ground, in 1972, Fred Hawtree was brought in to re-work the layout. Further changes were made in the 1980s by Eddie Hackett, and then again in the early 2000s, when Eddie Connaughton oversaw new greens, introduced water features and created a new par three 6th hole.

  • Athlone 2017 Activities:

    The club hosted a celebration lunch for members in the Hodson Bay Hotel, in April. A Club Classic was played this month, followed by a BBQ, and an invitation team event. The club’s centenary book, written by club member, Tom Collins, will also have an addendum. While no Open events are lined up specifically around the 125th anniversary, the course runs two Open fortnights.

  • Open Fortnights:

    End of May and July.

CO LOUTH

The low, rolling dunes at Baltray were first discovered by George Pentland and a Scot, Thomas Gilroy, in 1892. One of the more entertaining details from the course’s earliest years is the holes were laid out by Gilroy and a Scottish professional, named Snowball. On such sweet links land, the club flourished, but the greatest moment in the club’s history came in 1938, when the redesign work by Tom Simpson and his associate, Molly Gourlay, was completed. Little has changed since then, emphasising how a classic design remains exactly that… a classic. Jimmy Bruen opened the course that year and Co Louth went from strength to strength... due in part to two astoundingly talented ladies, Clarrie Reddan and Philomena Garvey, who dominated golf from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Some alterations have taken place in more recent times but Simpson’s hallmarks remain. The greens and green complexes on this stretch of coastline are some of the best you will play, anywhere.

The course hosted the 2004 Irish Open (won by Brett Rumford) and the 2009 Open (won in the rain by Shane Lowry).

The club continues to make changes. The young Danish architect, Philip Spogard, has been tweaking the course (bunkering and greens) and a sparkling new short game practice area will open shortly. Located close to the club’s entrance, the three greens and carefully shaped landscaping will give golfers a great feel for what awaits on the course.

  • Co Louth 2017 Activities:

    A week in June has been set aside for members and guests. A special calendar has been produced for the 125th anniversary, with each month’s photo showing a different decade from the last 125 years. It’s a clever touch and while the calendar is for members, who knows what might happen if you ask nicely!

  • Open Week:

    July 3 – 8.

FERMOY

Fermoy Golf Club’s 11th green, looking back to the tee
Fermoy Golf Club’s 11th green, looking back to the tee

Golf was first played in Fermoy by officers from the local garrison. It is possible Fermoy Golf Club actually dates back to 1887, five years earlier than its official 1892 inception. The soldiers played on fields which were, at the time, the local racecourse but later became the site of the Fermoy Aerodrome. The formation of Fermoy Golf Club followed. In those early years, Alfred Hitchcock did part of his National Service in Fermoy. He didn’t play golf.

After almost eight decades, the club moved to its present location in Corrin Hill, in 1972. The military flavour, however, continued as the course was designed by John Harris, who had served with the Royal Navy during World War II. Working over hilly heathland terrain he produced an 18 hole, par 70 course rich with gorse, heather and pine trees. It was well known for being a wooded course and, despite the 2014 storms felling some 300 trees, it still is.

  • Fermoy 2017 Activities:

    A summer family day of golf and entertainment will conclude with a barbecue and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque. A time capsule will also be buried. A par three competition will use the entire 18-hole course and will be open to clubs in the area. The intention is to run this as an annual event. There will also be a Dawn Classic on June 21 followed by breakfast. The club has commissioned prints of signature holes which will go on sale during the year. Golf merchandise — ball markers, golf balls, etc — to commemorate the 125th anniversary will also be available.

  • Open Week:

    July TBC

LAHINCH

Six Irish golf courses celebrating 125 years

The club was founded on April 15, 1892, in Sharry’s Hotel on the main street of Lahinch (where the post office is today). Members of the Black Watch Regiment met and signed a lease with Daniel Thynne, and the first game took place on that very day, with holes marked out by feathers and sticks. In 1894, Old Tom Morris arrived to lend his design expertise. It says a lot that over a century later two of his greatest holes (Klondyke and The Dell) remain as they were.

The year 1926 saw the arrival of Dr Alistair MacKenzie, and a new stage in the course’s evolution. His work ensured Lahinch would remain one of the world’s best links for decades to come. Subsequent work was undertaken by Martin Hawtree, in 2000, when Lahinch recognised the demands of modern golf had changed. In a nice touch of historical significance, the club’s incoming captain, Pádraig Slattery, is the great grandson of Daniel Thynne.

  • Lahinch 2017 Activities:

    Good Friday saw the rededication of a plaque on Lahinch’s main street, at the former site of Sharry’s Hotel. Two days later, on Easter Sunday, a book entitled ‘125 Years of Golf at Lahinch’ was launched at the golf club. This is available for sale in the Pro shop. June will see a Club Invitational on the 26th thru 28th.

    Representatives from 80 affiliated golf clubs are being invited, including clubs belonging to the Alister MacKenzie Society (of which Cork Golf Club is one).

    All former South of Ireland champions are also being invited to a day’s golf and dinner on July 31. Paul McGinley, a former winner, will be the guest of honour. August will see a two-week celebration for members, with a Members/Guest invitational on the 18th and 19th.

MALAHIDE

Malahide started life as a nine-hole shore links, tucked up tightly to the sea east of the village. It had strong ties to Malahide Castle, and Richard Hogan, the Fifth Baron of Malahide, was one the founding members. In 1927 the course had to be abandoned as the sea encroached and so the club moved inland, to an enchanting hillside setting above the village.

This nine-hole creation was to remain the club’s home for over 60 years. The club produced both Philip Walton and Tom Craddock.

In 1990, the club moved three kilometres south to the Beechwood Estate. Here, Eddie Hackett designed a 27 hole complex of three complementary nines: Red, Blue and Yellow.

Further change was to come when Tom Craddock, expanded the Yellow Nine, including the new and much loved dogleg par five 9th.

Jeff Howes arrived in 2006, making considerable changes to the Red and Blue nines, and Martin Hawtree has recently completed further improvements and four new holes on the Blue nine, as well as a new pitching green.

  • Malahide 2017 Activities:

    The club has already hosted a gathering of past presidents and captains, while representatives from neighbouring golf clubs (Portmarnock, Portmarnock Links and The Island) and other sports clubs from Malahide (e.g. cricket, tennis, yachting) are part of the celebrations.

    The main event will be a mid-summer BBQ on June 17, which will see approximately 250 members enjoying the course, the opening of the new holes and pitching green, and a jazz band to keep the atmosphere humming.

    The Malahide choir, numbering 50, will perform at the club in November. Red Hurley will also perform.

  • Open Week:

    August 5–10.

ROSCREA

Roscrea Golf Club’s 17th green
Roscrea Golf Club’s 17th green

When Roscrea was first founded it had 53 members and the nine-hole course was located at Golden Grove, a mile and a half from Roscrea train station. In 1911, a new nine-hole course was laid out at Derryvale. It was always hoped the course would be extended to 18 holes but that ambition took over seven decades to realise.

In the meantime, it was left to Dan Hogan to raise the course’s profile: On August 4, 1978, he played 204 holes in 17 hours, carding 30 birdies, one eagle and just five double- bogeys.

In the 1980s, 40 acres of land were acquired and Dr Arthur Spring was invited to design a new 18-hole course.

In all, 11 new holes were constructed and the course re-opened in time for the club’s centenary celebrations in 1992. The revised course is routed over gentle, rolling terrain and sits in the shadows of the Slieve Bloom Mountains.

No anniversary activities are planned at this time.

  • Open Week:

    July 10–16.


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