The greatest little club in the world

The greatest little club in the world
Sutton Golf Club

Sutton Golf Club

It never features in any top-100 lists of Ireland's greatest golf courses but should anyone feel the need to write a book about Ireland's greatest clubs, Sutton would undoubtedly merit a chapter to itself. 

In fact, it might even merit two.

Not only does it sit on a remarkably small piece of land, the sandy triangle of Cush Point, not much more than 250 yards across the narrow tidal inlet of the Irish Sea from its eminent neighbour Portmarnock, its legacy in the Irish game is so rich that it goes far beyond the man that made it world famous — Joe Carr.

The deeds of great "JB" are so astounding that Sutton has dedicated a small, circular room to his achievements, where resplendent in the red coat worn by captains of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, his portrait stands guard over the many medals and trophies he accumulated during a storied career.


Carr would never have been found hiding away there but sitting on the balcony of the club's magnificent clubhouse — a building festooned with scores of green and blue pennants and historic photographs — drinking in those views of the nine-hole links under the gaze of Ireland's Eye.

A bet might also be struck on the score shot by a particular player who happened to be finishing on the ninth green below, or as hilariously recounted by his late son Gerry, the take-off order of a pair of seagulls when the supply of golfers had dried up.

Such stories sum up Carr’s fun-loving and competitive spirit. But they also say much about the camaraderie and sense of fun enjoyed at Sutton since the club was founded in 1890.

Playing the course this week with long-time members Enda O'Brien and Roddy Guiney, author of "A Unique Place in Irish Golf - A history of Sutton Golf Club", the question of the essence of the club arose.

As we passed by the back of Carr's old home, Suncroft, which looks out on the sixth (formerly third) green and crossed to the three holes on the far side of the DART line, my host gave the question some thought as we waited for the train to pass.

"I think its a combination of things," Roddy said. "I think its history is truly remarkable but the first story I mention in the book is interesting in that context."

The story refers to his early days as a member in the 1980s, when he played in an outing at a Midlands club with the late Sutton member John Darby and noticed a single blue Leinster pennant on the wall.

"I, naively as it turned out, enquired of John where this club hung all the rest of its pennants," Roddy asked and received the reply that the club in question was so proud of this solitary win, it had given the pennant pride of place.

Coming from Sutton, where there are six Irish Senior Cup pennants among the club's 18 All Ireland titles — there are another 50-plus honours on the club's illustrious CV — the enormity Sutton's achievements quickly dawned on him.

"I am fascinated as to how a nine-hole course nurtured the players it did," Roddy said. "What a legacy."

In truth, Sutton is far more than the great "JB", as wonderful as his achievements might be.

The list of members capped for Ireland is staggering from AD La Touche and the Lauder sisters Georgie and Rhoda in the early years of the 20th century to former GUI President Willie Gill, the great Carr and his sons Roddy and John, and such revered figures as JP Carroll, RH McInally and BP Malone not to mention Michael Hanway and Dougie Heather.

Sutton Golf Club

Sutton Golf Club

In fact, there was such interest in all things golfing that not one but several members we came across during our nine-hole round made a point of congratulating my host on his recent modest win in the previous weekend's competition.

As one of the first advocates of equality in golf clubs, it’s no surprise that Sutton's women have always been a key driving force with the club with Eithne Pentony and Brid Browne going on to play for their country in the Home Internationals and Catherine Booth becoming president of the LGU in 2004.

The club's history is inextricably linked with Royal Dublin, whose earliest members played at the Phoenix Park before moving to more suitable, natural, golfing ground beside the Irish Sea at Sutton until 1889 when the members decided to transfer their activities to North Bull Island.

While some early members moved to Portmarnock when it was founded in 1894, Sutton thrived on a small, 24-acre area patch of sandy ground before expanding across the railway line in 1971 having been granted a lease by Dublin Corporation to "Connor's Field".

There are now six linksy holes where there were once nine and three newer holes in what the members still call "the field", all of which were re-modelled in 1993 by Patrick Merrigan when significant changes were also made on sea side part of the course. 

Canadian Simon Lewis now presides over the course maintenance, attracted to Ireland by his love of links and to Sutton by rugby, where he played out-half for Suttonians, even winning an AIL Division 2 final at Lansdowne Road.

With the estimable Paddy Devine now the hugely popular PGA professional, the club remains a hotbed of golf lovers and the club continues to make subtle changes to what is a thoroughly enjoyable game for players of all abilities.

The glory days of Carr and Co might be gone when it comes to winning Senior Cups and Barton Shields, but what fun the members still have on their par 70 track measuring just 5,758 yards for two loops of its nine holes.

Straight hitting, a magical short game and deadly putting are key to successfully plot your way around any course but especially at Sutton, where the last three holes are as enjoyable a trio of links gems as you will find anywhere.

"It's not a long course, but you learn a lot of good golf shots here," explained Devine, whose offers tantalising bets with the members during big events such as the Captain's Prize. "It's a great place to get a good golf education at a time when some courses are far too long for the average golfer."

Were Carr still with us, he'd be the first to put a few bob on himself to emerge unscathed from the three-hole stretch in "the field".

He'd be sure to enjoy the fruits of his success by raising a glass with pals as they look out to Howth, Ireland's Eye and Lambay at a club that proves that in golf, it's the quality of the company that truly counts.

Factfile — Sutton Golf Club

Address: Cush Point, Burrow Road, Sutton, Dublin 13


Telephone: 01 832 3013


Green fees: Every day, except Tuesdays and Saturdays, €70 (18 holes), €40 (9 holes).

Society rates: €70 (18 holes), €40 (9 holes). Contact manager for favourable society prices.

Buggy hire: No

Club hire: Yes, €25 (9 holes), €35 (18 holes).

Electric trolleys: Yes €10

Range Balls: No. 

Signature hole: 9th, 376 yards, Par 4

With out of bounds all down the right, a deep bunker protecting the green front left and the prevailing wind blowing from left to right towards the beach, this is a potential card-wrecker.

Professional's tip:

PGA professional Paddy Devine says: “Aim down the left at the bank splitting the first and ninth. If your tee shot drifts back to the fairway, all is well. If not, then a second from the rough is better than being on the beach, out of bounds.

Membership rates: For Full, Five-day and Intermediate (Under 35) membership, see website for details.

Nearby clubs: Portmarnock, The Royal Dublin, Howth, St Anne’s.

This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent’s weekly golf supplement, Tee to Green, on 15 November 2018. If you think your club should be featured in Tee to Green in 2019, please contact me here