St Anne’s Golf Club will forever be linked with the memory of the great Lahinch-born professional Paddy Skerritt, whose first sight of the club he was to call home from 1963 until his death in 2001, hardly bode well for what turned out to be a long and fruitful relationship.
As the club’s 75-year history recounted back in 1996, Paddy and his wife Julia approach the club in May 1963 by driving down Dollymount Strand in an old Ford Prefect.
“The place,” Paddy recalled, “was not looking its best. And the clubhouse was a bit of a sight too. I felt like turning back.”
Fortunately for both Paddy and St Anne’s, he pressed on and were he alive today (he’d be 87), he would marvel at the beauty of the unique, shell-shaped clubhouse and the pristine nature of the 18-hole links course.
St Anne’s will celebrate its centenary year in 2021, and while the course now occupies 99 acres having been extended to 18 holes in 1989, the clubhouse is a far cry from the original corrugated iron affair that hosted many a late night reveller, marooned at high tide in a simpler age.
The construction of the causeway that now connects the Bull Island to the mainland at Raheny marked a new beginning. But the club remains as welcoming and warm as it was in those more innocent times.
Those who remember Skerritt winning the 1970 Alcan International at Portmarnock and that huge, £3,000 cheque still recall how the much-loved St Anne’s pro was carried shoulder-high from the 18th green by his jubilant supporters, led by former soccer international Tommy Eglington.
On the day of my visit, St Anne’s was again buzzing with stories of past footballing glories as former Liverpool and Ireland great Ronnie Whelan hosted a classic in aid of Fighting Blindness and the Marie Keating Foundation with the help of ex-players such as Ray Houghton and Robbie Keane.
With the club set to celebrate its centenary year in 2021, more revelry lies ahead. But plans are also afoot to create a masterplan for the links, which was a nine-hole affair for 68 years, having being first laid out by three early golf enthusiasts who’d been sneaking out on Royal Dublin for surreptitious games in defiance of the British Army, who had commandeered the island to train troops for the First World War.
The moonlighters were Marmaduke Montgomery Devitt, Tussy Murray and Dudley Stuart—a colourful trio of pals who enjoyed sailing and fishing from their boat “Idle Hours” in Dublin Bay— and they went on to satisfy their love of golf by becoming the founding fathers of St Anne’s.
That fraternal spirit lived on, as former Irish Independent golf and rugby correspondent Colm Smith recalled when writing about the opening of the new clubhouse in 2002 and the demise of its predecessors.
“Prior to that the only way to the single-story clubhouse was to walk, ride, cycle or drive the mile or more along Dollymount Strand,” he wrote. “Members and visitors could be marooned at high tide, an asset and excuse, perhaps, for the drinkers.
“The remoteness was also an advantage to the late night revellers as the lights of a squad car coming down the strand could be picked out a mile away, plenty of time to clear the decks.”
The “new” clubhouse remains as impressive as it was when it first opened, offering uninterrupted panoramic views stretching from Howth Head and Sutton to the north across the Liffey estuary and the city to Bray Head and the Wicklow mountains.
As for the links, which used reclaimed land on the lagoon side for the Eddie Hackett designed extension from nine to 18 holes in 1989, it was upgraded by Eddie Connaughton some 15 years ago and remains a hugely enjoyable test, especially when the wind blows.
Its footprint of just 99 acres might be small and while it will never host the Irish Open as it measures just 6,532 yards from the tips, it has reaped the fruits of the major turf and rough management programme put in place three years ago with head greenkeeper Stephen Alymer working closely with the Sports Turf Research Institute.
Time does not stand still for the club, or its more than 1,000 active members and the respected course designer Jeff Howes is working on a course masterplan that could lead to a new chapter for the club as it prepares for its second century.
As club manager, Niall Carroll explained: “While we feel the quality links we have now is working well for us, especially since we introduced a rough management programme to promote those long wispy fescues, we'd like to see if we are making the best use of the land available to us.
“I worked with Jeff before at The Heritage, and we have given him a blank canvas to see what he comes up with, and we would hope to have something to show to the members by the end of year.
“For instance, we have 93 bunkers, so we are looking at a few closures, and we've already added some revetted bunkers in the fifth as a trial. Any remodel is likely to feature revetted greenside bunkers.”
The club has a €500,000 capital investment project running for 2021 with around €100,000 of that set aside for improvements to course alone.
Howes’ grand plan may or may not meet with approval, but with a hugely active membership and many overseas visitors, little disruption is envisaged before the centenary celebrations.
With a young club professional in place in Newlands-trained Cormac Flannery and with Sergio Coyle recently appointed as his assistant, there is always someone on hand to attend to the many visitors or work with the club’s 150 juniors.
Fifty-four years after Paddy Skerritt made that first trip to what was then a nine-hole golfing backwater, St Anne’s is now one of Ireland’s most popular links courses.
Admired by regular visitors Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry as a worthy links test and loved for the warmth of spirit that characterised the professional that put it on the world map, it may just be time to rekindle an old friendship or make a new acquaintance with one of the world's great golfing places.
Factfile - St Anne's
St Anne’s Golf Club
Bull Island Nature Reserve, Dollymount, Dublin 5
Tel: 01 8336471
High season, Midweek €110; Weekend €130 (limited availability); Low season €60 midweek.
Groups of 12 or more, from €50 per person
Signature hole: 7th, 476 yards, Par 4
One of the strongest Par 4’s in North County Dublin, this long, demanding hole requires an accurate drive to the right-hand side of the fairway in order to set up a shot to the semi-blind green.
A good drive to the right half of the fairways sets up a long approach to the two-tiered green. Favour the left side of the green with your approach and miss the traps to leave a birdie opportunity.
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Corballis Links Golf Club
Deer Park Golf and Footgolf
Donabate Golf Club
Howth Golf Club
Malahide Golf Club
Portmarnock Golf Club
Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links
The Island Golf Club
The Royal Dublin Golf Club
Sutton Golf Club
This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's weekly Tee to Green golf supplement on 31 May 2017