Stackstown retains its family feel
 Panoramic views abound at Stackstown

Panoramic views abound at Stackstown

The rising road brought back memories of my far-flung days as a Boy Scout, trudging up to Larch Hill to camp and dream and stare out at the flickering lights of Dublin city down below.

Little did we know back then that a few hundred feet below us, an army of volunteers that included a future, three-time major winner, was creating its own dream by shaping a golf course from poor, agricultural grazing land. 

They would call it Stackstown.

Some 140 acres of rubble, rocks and stones had to be cleared from the mountainous site at the foot of Kilmashogue, using little more than hand tools and enthusiasm. 

There was no machinery and the greens and fairways were fashioned by the manual labour of men and boys, such as Cork-born Garda Páddy Harrington and his five sons.

"When I was five," Padraig recalled in his book 'Journey To The Open', "there must have been fifty or more people out there. We were in wellies and we were just told to go out there and tramp on the greens. 

"My brothers were out there too but they were older and had to pick up stones from the ninth and eighteenth fairways on their hands and knees. I was the privileged one."

While it is now a members club — 1,000 strong — less than 50 of them are current, serving members of the Garda Siochana, who were the original creators of this magnificent members club in the foothills of the Dublin mountains on the south side of the capital.

Back in the early 1970s, the then Garda Commissioner, Edmund Garvey, acquired acreage on some of the most rugged land imaginable with the intention of building a sports complex for the exclusive use of the Garda Siochana.

In the end, wiser counsel prevailed and a group of pioneers that included Paddy Harrington, Paddy Power, Denis Devine, Jim Mahony, Jim McGuane, Dan Buggy, Patsy O’Donnell and others, persuaded the powers that be that what was needed was a golf course.

By 1976 Stackstown was affiliated to the GUI and by the early 1980s, its rudimentary 18-hole course would become Pádraig's playground and the laboratory where he would create the game that brought Ireland its first major win for 60 years.

"Pádraig and his brothers Tadhg and Columb would be with us," Paddy Harrington recalled shortly before he passed away in 2005. "They loved it there, chasing rabbits, watching deer and goats and hitting golf balls on the temporary nine holes. It was a magical place for youngsters, especially during the summer holidays."

 The Pádraig Harrington Room at Stackstown is open to the public

The Pádraig Harrington Room at Stackstown is open to the public

That pioneering spirit is still alive and well at Stackstown and when I turn up early on a cold February morning to reacquaint myself with the club, it was no surprise to see the club captain Frank McGrath, screwdriver in hand, helping with a little maintenance work.

The course, naturally, is now pristine and the  views, even on a miserable day, remain as breathtaking as ever.

"The best view is from the 11th green," said Lady Captain Mary Grogan, who went to the trouble of coming up to the club with a handful of her colleagues to show me around.

"On a clear day, you can see from Baldonnel right across to the Cooley Mountains and the Mournes. It's just magnificent."

As the vice-captain, Michael Kennedy explained, there is no shortage of natural beauty at Stackstown Golf Club where a trip around the 20-hole course is likely to end up in a casual meeting with some deer, the recently discovered red squirrel population or the pheasants bred by club stalwart, Noel Burke and his colleague Gerry Mullins.

The course itself has matured beautifully over the years with Honorary Greens Officer, Roger Clancy and course superintendent Ed Mulligan working in tandem to make sure the fairways are top dressed and the greens immaculate.

 Stackstown Golf Club

Stackstown Golf Club

With some of the steeper walkways between tees and greens now vastly improved, plans are in place to continue to rebuild more tees and to redesign some greens so that the club remains as attractive to its members and visitors as ever.

With the help of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland and a lot of voluntary work from the members, Stackstown came through the economic downturn and is now embarking on a brave new era.

"When the recession hit, we had to reduce our costs to remain in line with our income," said Honorary Treasurer, Brendan King, explaining that the club's annual income plunged from  €1.2m to just €700,000.

Like many other Irish clubs, they made cuts across the board with the secretary manager's duties reassigned to an administrator and volunteers.

Fast forward seven years and the decline in income has now been reversed and with the help of the CGI, plans are in place for the next phase of Stackstown's development.

"We had an increase in subscription income in 2015 due to macroeconomic things, but also due to the work of the Development Committee, coming up with some initiatives on membership, looking at the ageing membership and recruiting younger members," Brendan explained. 

 The clubhouse at Stackstown

The clubhouse at Stackstown

"So we then drew up a business plan in January 2016 following a hugely well-attended members meeting. We called for volunteers and got a great response to that. 

"We did this in conjunction with CGI's Gordon Campbell and split up into different areas to look at finance, governance, the course, membership development and marketing, and that plan was finalised in September last year and ratified by the members. 

"Our goal is simply to be best in class in terms of structures within the club and contracts with our employees and suppliers. We are also in the midst of a  review of our constitution, and from the financial viewpoint, our objective is to have a sustainable business model going forward.

"Communications, marketing and membership retention are three hugely important areas for us, and we have undertaken members survey to see what way members are thinking and the reasons people might choose to give up their membership. 

"We understand that much of the time, the reason people give up their membership of golf clubs is time-poorness rather than economic factors. So that's something we have to look at."

Vice-captain Michael Kennedy is thrilled by the turnaround in the club's fortunes and believes the gradual influx of young members has given the club "a new lease of life."

It's a trend that's been noticed by Trustee Dan Buggy, one of the founder members, and Lady President, Liz Ronaldson.

But none of what has been achieved would have been possible without that great Stackstown pioneering spirit that helped create the club in the first place.

"Many more members are now doing something for the club in a voluntary capacity and that brings a sense of ownership and pride in Stackstown," Lady Captain, Mary Grogan said.

"Last year, we introduced the 'Get Into Golf' programme, and we recruited 33 women and retained 27 of them this year. We start again on 11 April and we already have 45 ladies on a waiting list. 

 A view of the course

A view of the course

"It has been fantastic, and those ladies have bought into the ethos of the club and brought a great freshness because they have never been involved with a golf club before."

Club professional Michael Kavanagh and his assistant, Anthony Hanlon have embraced the "Get Into Golf" programme and while there are only 25 girls in membership, the club has been selected by the CGI for their Junior programmes, which can only help.

"Socially it is brilliant," said Lady President, Liz Ronaldson. "Tuesday is ladies day and while we only have 206 lady members, not including the 'Get Into Golf' group, we will always have at least 50 or 60 remaining afterwards for the prize-giving. The atmosphere is always wonderful."

The club's aim is to increase its quota of ladies by 10 percent each year and having won the Leinster Junior Foursomes title last year, they have high hopes of adding to their haul of pennants. 

The club also reached the Leinster semi-finals of the new All-Ireland Fourball and it can always rely on its most famous member to do his bit.

Pádraig Harrington is a huge club supporter, regularly turning up for the captains' drive-in.

Two years ago, he hosted a Harrington Day that raised more than €20,000 for the club, returning in the evening for the prize-giving and a two-hour Q&A session with the members and their guests.

He even brought pal Phil Mickelson up to the club for an unannounced visit that year, showing the five-time major winner where he learned the game as well as the magnificent "Harrington Room" — an exhibition of the Dubliner's memorabilia that's open to the public.

While the club has always been open to all, it was a Garda-run enterprise until a few years ago.

Now, following a change to the constitution, all the former seven-day members are now full members and there are no longer any Gardai on the committee.

Membership is also growing year-on-year with full members now paying an annual subscription of €1,244.

 Stackstown Golf Club with Dublin city below

Stackstown Golf Club with Dublin city below

Other membership categories include Six-Day (€1054), Five-Day (€819) and the hugely successful Young Adult categories,  split into those aged 26-30 (€650) and those 20-25 (€350). 

With Juniors (11-18 years) paying €120 and boys and girls from eight to 10 charged just €80, the club is thriving at all levels.

No doubt Paddy Harrington would be proud of what has been achieved over the past 40 years.

"There is no comparison between what is here now and what we started with back then," founder member Dan Buggy said with a wide grin. 

"There is no one on earth who would have bought this place for a golf course back then. But a lot of us were naive, and we felt we could have a go at it and get it right."

Some would say, they've hardly put a foot wrong.

 The Stackstown Golf Club crest

The Stackstown Golf Club crest

Stackstown Golf Club

Address: Kellystown Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Tel: +353 1 494 1993.

  • Golf bookings via the Pro's Shop: 01-494 9558
  • Green fees: Early bird before 10.00am, Monday, Thursday & Friday, €20.00. After 10am, Monday, Thursday & Friday €25.00. Weekends: €30.00. 
  • Fourball specials: Midweek, no buggy €80.00; Weekends €100.00. Midweek with 2 buggies, €110.00; Weekend with buggies, €130.00.
  • Societies: Golf only, midweek €20.00; weekend €25.00.
  • Society buggy rental: €20.00
  • Club hire: No
  • Electric trolleys: Limited availability 
  • Caddy carts: €3.
  • Range Balls: No 
  • Signature hole: 13th hole, 396 yards, Par 4. A spectacular dog-leg left that cascades downhill offering panoramic views of Dublin Bay. Precision and nerve are a must if you are to find a small green protected by bunkers on the left and two ponds to the right. 
  • Professional tip: While it's not a very long hole, the 13th is fraught with danger. Bigger hitters will be tempted to cut the corner, leaving a shorter approach. However, a fairway wood may be the safer and wiser option on a potentially card-wrecking but beautiful hole.

Nearby clubs

  • Bray Golf Club
  • Castle Golf Club
  • Carrickmines Golf Club
  • Dun Laoghaire Golf Club
  • Edmondstown Golf Club
  • Foxrock Golf Club
  • Grange Golf Club
  • Kilmashogue Golf Club
  • Old Conna Golf Club
  • Powerscourt Golf Club
  • Stepaside Golf Course
  • Woodbrook Golf Club

This piece first appeared in the Irish Independent's Thursday "Tee to Green" supplement on 9 February 2017