The legend of John Jacobs and 50 years of Leopardstown Golf Centre

The Leopardstown Golf Centre celebrated John Jacobs’ career at a special tribute evening in 2008. Matt O’Dwyer, left (HRI) and Joe O’Connor, right (Leopardstown Golf Centre) are seen greeting the illustrious guest of honour and former Irish Open champion John O’Leary on their arrival.

Golf was a popular sport in Ireland, with great traditions and a proud history of achievement, when John Jacobs entered the fray in the mid 1960s with his vision for taking the game to a new level in this country.

The legendary British golfer, who was a household name as a golf instructor at the time, was determined to introduce golf to the masses in these isles and chose Ireland as the launching pad for his first floodlit driving range facility.

The idea behind his pioneering venture was to provide golfers with the opportunity to practice when it suited them on synthetic surfaces, during daytime or at night under floodlights. 

The John Jacobs Golf Centre in Leopardstown became established very quickly with leading professionals and amateurs honing their skills alongside club members and golfing novices on the driving range.

It was a revolutionary concept that took off like wildfire and provided Irish golf with a huge boost in terms of popularising the game.

Everyone at the Golf Centre shared a great passion for golf and thatąs the magic of the place to this day. 

The facility has been totally transformed in recent times. During the last decade the owners and promoters, Horse Racing Ireland, have made a huge investment in the golf centre, which is positively flourishing alongside the famous Leopardstown racetrack.

Leopardstown Golf Centre is now a multi-faceted state-of-the-art facility that provides golfers of all ages and aspirations with access to a complete suite of game improvement facilities and services staffed by experienced PGA professionals.

Leopardstown Golf Centre celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and what better time to salute John Jacobs, who will always be synonymous with one of the greatest concepts and success stories in Irish golf. 

Jacobs has been one of the most influential figures in the  history of golf with an impressive catalogue of achievements as a player, instructor, administrator, commentator and golfing visionary.

Practical Golf
By John Jacobs, Ken Bowden

Jacobs was a man ahead of his time throughout his career.

As a golfing instructor he will always be regarded as one of the most outstanding figures in the history of the game.  

Butch Harmon once remarked: "There is not one golf teacher who does not owe something to John Jacobs. He wrote the book on coaching."

When he won his first Masters at Augusta in 1994, Jose Maria Olazabal acknowledged that Jacobs had been a huge influence in taking his game to a new level.

Dr. Golf, as he is known, has also had a huge influence over millions of ordinary golfers, many taking their first steps in the game, with his book Practical Golf which became a best selling instruction manual.

He transformed golf in Ireland in the mid 1960s with his vision for introducing the game to the masses.

He revisited Leopardstown Golf Centre for a special tribute event in 2008, at which a host of special guests celebrated his remarkable career in golf. He spoke proudly and recalled fond memories of those early years when the John Jacobs Golf Centre, as it was known then, went from strength to strength.

He recalled: "The centre in Leopardstown was the first of several  that we developed throughout Britain. We found it difficult to get planning permission to erect the driving range structure on green belt sites. It was when we came up with the concept of building our golf centres within racetracks, where the development of land was allowed, that led to similar developments throughout England."

He added: "Pitch and putt was big in Ireland at the time, so a 9-hole pitch and putt course was constructed behind the driving range at Leopardstown. I remember having the odd nightmare that the legendary Arkle might somehow put his foot on a golf ball and break his leg, which made it paramount that no golf balls ever got onto the racecourse!"

Reflecting on those great days, he said: "My memories of Leopardstown are very much about people. I used to enjoy staying with Joe Carr's family in Sutton and with David and Mary Ganly who lived close to the golf centre. Both families were very kind to me. When I stayed with Joe and Dor Carr, all the family had lessons at Sutton Golf Club before I set off across town for Leopardstown. I was spoilt to death, which prompted my wife Rita to say, 'You tell me you love going to Ireland, and it really looks like it when you get back.'

"I would teach until 10 o'clock each evening under the floodlights and there was always a party somewhere later. Joe became one of my dearest friends. I am so pleased his contribution to the game was recognised by the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Leopardstown Golf Centre

"John O'Leary has been a lifelong friend since we met. I taught him when I visited. His parents, William and Josie, came to me explaining that John wanted to turn professional, which they would allow as long as I would manage him. I was delighted to take on John and arranged with my friend Bob Toski, the renowned American golf teacher, to organise and help John through the winter months. 

"Bob and I were at one as far as coaching was concerned. I had to give up any ideas of managing John when I took on the responsibility for the British PGA Tour, which subsequently became the European Tour. I arranged for Mark McCormack to take on John, which he was very happy to do. 

"I was thrilled when John won the Irish Open and became a Ryder Cup player. Happily we have remained very close. He manages the Buckinghamshire course, which I designed, and his natural gift of welcoming and hosting people is a big asset to the club.

"Other people who come to mind when I reflect on those early days at Leopardstown are two enthusiastic assistants - Bernard Gibbons and Gerry Egan - who, although very young at the time, were naturally fine teachers of the game. And the centre was blessed with a first class manager in Bill Hourihane, whose daughter Claire practiced at the centre and went on to enjoy great success in the game. 

As he enjoyed a nostalgic and emotional evening amongst friends and admirers at Leopardstown Golf Centre in 2008, Jacobs remarked: "It was a wonderful concept, time and place for so many people."

It's a great tribute to this golfing colossus that in his 90th year he continues to command huge respect across all spectrums of the game. His contribution to the Leopardstown success story and status as a golfing legend will endure forever.

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Article reproduced from Leopardstown Golf News, the Leopardstown Golf Centre's patrons magazine.