No club is perfect, but if a stranger were to ask for an Irish golf club that embodies all the qualities deemed most desirable, there are few better examples than Malahide.
The esteemed north Dublin club celebrates the 125th anniversary this year, and if last Saturday’s multitudinous attendance at the captains’ drive-in is any indication, it promises to be a memorable 12 months for a club that combines a colourful history with a great love of the game and an admirable community spirit.
While it only moved to its present home in 1990 — a magnificent 27 hole facility that is a combination of the talents of such respected golfing architects as Eddie Hackett, Jeff Howes, Martin Hawtree and favourite son Tom Craddock — Malahide’s story is, in essence, the story of Irish golf.
Located beside the pretty and historic seaside village of Malahide, the club is very much a part of that north Dublin golfing heartland that has made its near neighbours, Portmarnock and The Island, world renowned.
With almost 1,500 members across all categories, it is very much a big city, 21st-century club.
And yet it still retains the feel and community atmosphere of a village club, which has been the hallmark of its success since it was founded in 1892 and first affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1896.
"A Light Heart and a Cheerful Spirit“ is the club motto and while the new club President, Paddy Walsh, adheres to the club’s vision “to be the best members club in Dublin, with a welcoming and friendly atmosphere”, the motto still holds true.
The beauty of Malahide lies in its beginnings, which are closely tied to Malahide Castle.
Richard Hogan, 5th Baron of Malahide was one the founding members, as was Irish landscape painter Nathaniel Hone.
The story of those early years that saw Malahide established as a nine-hole on the now disappeared Shore Links.
According to the wonderful centenary history of the club, beautifully penned by Dermot Gilleece and Michael O’Rourke in 1992, the original links holes might have been short on yardage, but they were undeniably beautiful:
“Writing in The Irish Times on May 25th, 1977, Brian Inglis, who was closely associated with The Island GC, quoted a friend’s lyrical memories of the old Malahide Links: ‘Great stretches of wild thyme, with patches of violets and pansies, as well as vetches and masses of sea pinks, and what we called the ‘Muldowney Rose’, as it grew only there; a single-petalled rich cream rose on a very low dark foliaged bush, with the most heavenly spice of perfume - the haunt in summer of masses of Speedwell Blues and Red Admirals.’ The wonder of it was that the members were able to tear themselves away from such a beauty in pursuit of their favourite pastime!”
Erosion and what was described as “public encroachment” put paid to the original links nine, where an early, unnamed pioneer of Irish golf had been seen playing a game that the periodical “Sport” described in 1885 as “a cross between hurley and hole and taw.”
And so golf eventually took off on the Sandbanks among Malahide’s gentility until an early correspondent for “Irish Golf” had cause to complain that due to erosion and overcrowding he “had to play a shot within two yards of a lady who might have been posing for a study in the nude”.
And so by 1927, the members came to terms with the fact that the Sandbanks would have to be abandoned in favour of a complete move inland.
The club was already well established and could even boast an Irish Amateur Close champion in John Francis Jameson (of whiskey family fame) who won the Irish Amateur Close Championship at Royal Dublin in 1910.
While its nine holes measured just 2,784 yards for a two round trip of 5,568 yards, it still produced a long line of great players with two-time Walker Cup player Tom Craddock, top internationals Paddy Caul and Raymond Kane and Ryder Cup winner Philip Walton, four of its biggest stars.
Another illustrious founder member, Dr RA Campbell, reached the Irish Close final at Portrush in 1903 and was much praised for the feat considering he hailed from a short, nine-hole course.
“Malahide has taught him how to use his mashie in deadly style and to judge the distances of holes that may be reached from the tee,” the Irish Golfer wrote of Campbell’s special skill set.
Tom Craddock and Joe Carr, both products of nine hole courses, might have smiled at such comment in later years but despite the attractions of longer championship courses nearby, Malahide’s star names have remained deeply loyal.
Indeed, while he left his mark on the club’s new Beechwood home by designing the extension to the Yellow Nine, Craddock was heartbroken to leave the old club.
“I fully accept the change as a tremendous step forward for the club, but the fact remains that the old course holds many dear memories for me,” he said as the members bid farewell to the old club.
“Having been born beside it and having learned the game and developed as a golfer there, it represented a part of my life. It was a very sad moment for me when the time came to move.”
Many still fondly recall the old fifth hole, a 363-yard par four that was no more than a drive and an eight iron to a narrow green set between a deep quarry on the right and a severe drop off to the left.
The new course at Beechwood is far roomier with 27 magnificent holes on the Blue, Red and Yellow nines offering the club a plethora of options when it comes to accommodating the large membership at weekends.
The club has a huge social footprint with ladies making up more than a third of the full membership of 931 — the other 600 coming from the junior, cadet, five-day, pavilion and overseas ranks.
Little wonder there was standing room only to see the arrival of captains Eamonn O’Reilly and Maura Hughes and the respective Boys and Girls captains Karl Kennedy and Aisling Lynch for last weekend’s “Drive-In” to the club’s 125th year.
Councillor Darragh Butler, Mayor of Fingal, was also there and he paid particular tribute to all the club’s volunteers, especially those looking after the juniors, who begin as cadets and also play on the Council run Pitch and Putt course on the grounds of Malahide Castle.
Many of them will be involved in the club’s annual All Ireland Mother and Son Foursomes, which will be sponsored by Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain on 3 September.
With 95 percent of the membership living within five minutes of the club in Malahide and Portmarnock, the drive for new members is very much in the locality as former captain, Michael O’Connor explained.
“The aim we have would be to be the best club in Dublin,” the Kerry native said this week, echoing the words of his President. “That would be the goal, not just in terms of its teams, but from the point of view of the social life of the club and the legacy of the great people who have represented us so well over the years.
“Many of the members would be Dublin born and natives of Portmarnock and Malahide. But many would also be people who came to town 40 years ago and settled in Dublin looking for a golf club with a country atmosphere about it.
“Clubs that are in the north county are often community-based rather than being just a golf club, per se. And while Malahide is a fantastic golf club in the strict sense of the definition, there is also a huge social aspect to it. It is a small community and very much a family.”
The club’s winter league is hugely popular but given the club’s pedigree — it won the Irish Senior Cup in 1965, three All-Ireland Barton Shields before the move to Beechwood 25 years ago — its competitive spirit sparks into life when interclub competitions commence in spring.
In 1993 the club won the All-Ireland Junior Cup and it was fitting that the team was managed by Michael Craddock Snr and Bernard Sweeney, both of whom had previous All-Ireland winning experience as players.
That was also the year the All Ireland Mother and Son Competition was inaugurated with Padraig Harrington and his mother Breda finishing as runners up before returning in 1995 to take the trophy back to Stackstown.
The club then won the 1996 All Ireland Fred Daly title for Under 18s and in 1998 acquired 16 acres of land, allowing Tom Craddock the room to complete a much-loved expansion of the Yellow ( Beechwood) Nine, leading to the creation of the now famous ninth hole.
In 2001, most of the ladies opted to take advantage of the introduction of Equal Status Legislation and took up full membership, bringing back memories of the historic controversy of 1947, when the GUI briefly expelled the club from the Union.
The club had initially refused to change its constitution at the behest of the GUI, which required that the status of ladies be changed from that of "member" with full voting rights to the category of "lady associate."
Many will recall how Doreen Geelan, who was a "member" before the 1947 ruling, had her original status restored 55 years later.
In 2003 the club won the Metropolitan Cup and instituted the Philip Walton PGA Pro-Am, which grew from the charity day that had been run for the Hospice in Raheny for many years.
Given its deep roots in the community, the inauguration in 2006 of the Malahide Inter Sports Club Golf Tournament proved to be a hugely popular move with the golf club competing with the GAA, soccer, rugby, tennis and cricket clubs for bragging rights.
Canadian architect Jeff Howes carried out major improvements to the Blue and Red nines between 2006 and 2010 while recent success came in the golf course in 2011 when the ladies claimed the All Ireland Senior Foursomes.
Dr Martin Hawtree has just enhanced the Blue Nine, completing major improvements to the fifth, sixth and seventh holes as well as adding a new pitching green.
The new facility will be officially opened this summer when the club marks its 125th anniversary with a “Past Presidents and Captains Reception” and a “Mid-Summer BBQ”.
In short, life goes on as normal at Malahide, which will also host the finals of the Leinster Senior Cup in August and stage an autumn concert.
The move to the new course in 1990 has proved to be a godsend for the club, which had outgrown its old stomping ground.
Malahide was no longer the sleepy village it was at the turn of the century, and with membership expanding to embrace the growing local community, it has continued to flourish in fertile new ground.
As president Paddy Walsh explained this week, “The best traditions of the club were maintained and the expansion of the new course was made in such a way that we were able to maintain the club’s atmosphere of conviviality. For me that has been the big success story of Malahide Golf Club.”
The club has not rested on its laurels and its Strategy Committee continues to look at the club’s long-term future so that it can grow and still balance the books in a commercially competitive environment.
“We have no borrowings,” Paddy added. “We managed our way well through the recession and with the population of the area still growing, this presents us with an opportunity to replenish our membership and continue, we hope, to be a big asset to the community.”
Malahide Golf Club
Beechwood, The Grange, Malahide, Co Dublin
+353 1 846 1611
Midweek - Summer (April – October ) €52; Winter (November – March) €36. Weekend - limited availability subject to members competitions.
Midweek - Summer (April - October ) Mon-Thurs €39-€45 per golfer dependent on numbers; Friday €42 - €46 per golfer dependent on numbers. Winter (November - March) Mon - Thurs €28-€36 per golfer dependent on numbers; Fri €30-€33.
Society rates for a minimum of groups of 20 golfers. Packages can also be tailor-made to include catering and goodie bags depending on requirements.
Yes €34.50 on the day, €30 if pre-booked
Yes, from €45 depending on specification
9th Yellow Nine, Par-5, 521 yards (Blues) 513 (Whites) Index 4. A tough par five, requiring accuracy to avoid the trees lining both sides of the fairway.
Favour the centre of the fairway from the tee to have any chance of going for the green in three. The first shot should clear the trees on the right-hand side of the fairway. Accuracy is key as the Fairway drops away either side of the ‘tunnel’ as you approach the green.
- Entry fees of €7,500 for Full Membership and €5,300 for Five Day.
- Annual Membership €2,250 (Inc Entrance Fee and Annual Subscription)
- Overseas/Country at €750
- Corporate €21,400
- Pavilion €250 (Inc subscription and bar and restaurant levies)
Nearby golf clubs
- The Island Golf Club
- Portmarnock Golf Club
- Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links
- Royal Dublin Golf Club
- Howth Golf Club
- Donabate Golf Club
- St Annes Golf Club
- Corballis Links
- Sutton Golf Club
- Clontarf Golf Club
- Beaverstown Golf Club
- Rush Golf Club
- Roganstown Hotel & Golf Club
- St Margaret's Golf & Country Club
- Forrest Little
This piece in first appeared in the Irish Independent's Tee to Green golf supplement on 12 January 2017. Tee to Green appears every Thursday.