Over the last 117 years Portmarnock Golf Club has hosted some of the greatest tournaments in golf. We have welcomed the greatest Amateur and Professional golfers to have played the game, from Arnold Palmer to Padraig Harrington. In an open competition in 1899 the great Harry Vardon established a record of 69 over a course measuring 5,810 yards.
Having established the viability of the site through an earlier boat trip from the mainland in 1893, William Chalmers Pickeman (Centre) and his friend, George Ross, formally opened our links with nine holes on December 26th, 1894. The Club’s first officers were G. Ross (Captain), W.C. Pickeman (Honorary Secretary) and the well-known distillery owner, John Jameson (left; President). Mungo Park (right), the 1874 Open Champion, supervised the course design and stayed on for one year as the club’s first professional.
With hickories and gutties at the ready, and donning a variety of headgear from cloth caps to bowler hats, Portmarnock’s enthusiastic golfing pioneers watch the first Captain’s match (George Ross is on the extreme left) on the embryonic links. With the formal opening of nine holes on December 26th, 1894, a new era had been launched in life on the peninsula.
Erected in 1896, on the site of the current clubhouse, it was made of timber, had a corrugated iron roof and measured a mere 57 x 47 feet. George Ross, the engineer in charge, designed it so that the verandah faced up the current first fairway.
The clubhouse and course developments of 1896, paved the way for a staging of the Irish Amateur Open Championship, captured by John Ball, the greatest amateur of his day. In fact Ball was the first amateur winner of the Open Championship, in 1890 at Prestwick, and a measure of his dominance at Portmarnock was that he overwhelmed his hapless opponent by no less than 13 and 11 in the 36-hole final. In the same year, ambitious members put up a professional prize of £100 which was won by the great Harry Vardon who overcame elite rivals while establishing a record of 69 for the new course. Vardon is pictured in the centre.
Miss Maud Stuart (Portrush Golf Club) teeing off during the semi-final. Miss Stuart would be beaten by Rhona Adair (Killymoon) who would go on to win the Championship.
Fire destroyed Portmarnock’s first clubhouse. In February, 1906 plans for a new clubhouse costing £4,500 were accepted by the members and in October of the same year the new clubhouse opened. Today, much of the remaining clubhouse still remains.
Hanging in the clubhouse today is the original first photograph commemorating the gathering of the members of that year.
Portmarnock became the scene of the most significant development in the history of tournament play in this country, with the launch of the Irish Professional Open. Organised by the Golfing Union of Ireland with a prize fund of £1,000, it was determined the event would be held north and south of the Border on alternate years. George Duncan was the inaugural winner and an elite field included five-time Open winner, JH Taylor, who remarked afterwards: “Portmarnock challenges comparison with any links in the world” A fascinated spectator from his parents’ apartment in the clubhouse, was five-year-old Joe Carr.
Hosted in June 1931, the tournament drew huge crowds over the 5 day matchplay event. The final saw Enid Wilson beating the young English lady Wanda Morgan by 7/6
This was Bobby Locke’s first Professional win outside of South Africa. The Championship brought some of the games top players to Portmarnock including Henry Cotton, Max Faulkner, Dai Rees and young amateurs like Jimmy Bruen and Joe Carr also competed.
The end of the war was followed by the return of the Irish Open in Portmarnock in 1946 and saw the first Irish winner in the cheery form of Ulsterman Fred Daly. He was the first Irish man to win The British Open Championship in 1947 at Hoylake.
When the R and A scheduled their Amateur Championship for Portmarnock, the 26 counties had become Eire (or Ireland), under the 1937 constitution but had remained within the Commonwealth with King George as head of state. All this was to change, however, with the passing of the Republic of Ireland Act on April 18th 1949, seven months after the Taoiseach, John A Costello, had made the surprise announcement on a trip to Canada. Still, the Championship went ahead in the new Republic and had the largest American entry since World War II.
A year after Harry Bradshaw had lost a play-off to Bobby Locke in the Open Championship at Royal St George’s, he was appointed to the most coveted club professional’s post in the Irish game. Through the warmth of his personality and skill as a player and teacher, The Brad, as he became affectionately known, made lasting friendships among the members while as a genial host to celebrity visitors, he richly enhanced the club’s international status.
Pierce Purcell, a former president of the Golfing Union of Ireland by this stage, travelled to the Canada Cup at Wentworth, where Ben Hogan and Sam Snead emerged victorious.. While there, he used his friendship with tournament organiser, John Jay Hopkins, to explore the possibility of bringing the event to Portmarnock. And by the time the ailing Hopkins died a year later, the crucial groundwork had already been done.
The Canada Cup is staged. On asking Allen Siebens, executive director of the International Golf Association (IGA) who would organise and finance the tournament, Pierce Purcell was told: "You will. And the financing is in Portmarnock's hands." Purcell estimated the cost at about £30,000, the annual salaries of 30 middle-range civil servants at that time. Irish Dunlop guaranteed £10,000, Failte Ireland provided £5,000 and the remainder came from gate receipts and programme advertising.
Billy Casper (USA) and Harry Bradshaw compete for the prize with Casper eventually winning the 18 hole match in which the great Gene Sarazen was match commentator.
Alcan Golfer Of the Year comes to Portmarnock Golf Club
Bruce Devlin wins the Golfer of the Year Championship with a score of 278 while the Alcan International Tournament was captured by Irelands Paddy Skerritt.
Though the idea was mooted as early as 1935, it was 36 years later before the third nine was completed. Costing a modest £3,500 and designed by Fred Hawtree, it represents something of a masterpiece in routing insofar as the only change required to the Championship layout was a new fairway and green for the long sixth. There, the grass bunker to the left of the green remains as a reminder of the earlier hole.
Team Captain’s Jim Gabrielsen (USA) and George MacGregor (GB&I) picked exceptionally strong teams with some of the world’s future golf superstars playing during a climatic week in which the USA won 14 points to 10 points. Famous names from the team include Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Phil Mickelson and David Duval.
The Centenary Captain, Eddie Butler, and Committee, arranged a series of celebratory events for members and guests throughout a busy year. The Club also marked the Centenary with the staging of the Irish Amateur Close Championship in which Waterville’s David Higgins defeated Padraig Harrington on the 20th hole of the final.
Spain with their teenage sensation Sergio Garcia narrowly beat Scotland (2nd place) and Ireland (3rd place) to win the team event. Ireland is represented by Portmarnock members Noel Fox and Jody Fanagan as well their team mates Richard Coughlan, Garth McGimpsey, Keith Nolan and Peter Lawrie. Pictured is Walker Cup star and Portmarnock Golf Club member Noel Fox playing the 13th hole.
Martin Hawtree, whose father had designed the third nine 34 years previously, was commissioned to change and upgrade the course, prior to the 2003 Irish Open. This included a reconfigured opening hole, with fairway and green moved to the right; a completely new, short 12th; new run-offs to the second, third, fourth, eighth, ninth and 14th greens; a new landing area on the sixth and new championship tees on the 12th, 15th and 18th. All of which meant an effective lengthening of the course to 7,466 yards.
These historic Amateur International Team Matches are played between the top amateur golfers representing Great Britain and Ireland versus The Continent of Europe. The events were first played in 1956 and 1958 respectively. The Continent of Europe defeated GB&I to win both trophies.
Gavin Caldwell honoured as 2016 Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews
Gavin Caldwell becomes the second member of Portmarnock to be honoured as Captain of the Royal and Ancient. Back in 1992, the late Joe Carr became the first citizen of the Republic of Ireland to be so honoured, a fact which lent an additional glow to the staging of the Walker Cup in 1991. Caldwell, as it happened, was Captain of Portmarnock that year which made him a key figure of a staging he had done much to secure.
What a wonderful links golf course Portmarnock is. I played in the Irish Open and recall vividly the challenge it presented that week. I hope to go back there some day very very soon.”