Tuesday 26 September 2017

Curragh rejoins Ireland's Royal golf elite

The Co Kildare club has opted to revive its unused regal title, says Dermot Gilleece

"Don't play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty."

Dermot Gilleece

At a time of year when we celebrate the seamless merging of the old and the new, let us acknowledge a golf club which fits nicely into both categories. Royal Curragh GC was re-born last week when members voted at their annual general meeting to revive a status bestowed back in 1910.

It is to be a gentle transition, though official notification to the Royal and Ancient has brought a congratulatory response from chief executive Peter Dawson. And, as indicated in these pages, the move gained impetus through a surprise visit last August by New Zealander, Scott Macpherson, who is writing a history of the world's royal golf clubs for the R and A.

The necessary groundwork had already been done, however, by the club's historian, Bill Gibson, a retired army colonel who has been aware since September 1981 of Curragh's right to the royal title. "A change in the national mood, highlighted by the success of the Queen's visit two years ago, seemed to bring matters into focus," he said. And there was enthusiastic support from club captain Lt Col Declan Rasmussen.

When Gibson wrote to the British Home Office 32 years ago regarding the status of Curragh GC, a certain L P Little replied: "From our records, we have been able to trace the following information which I think answers your three questions: On August 6th 1910, the Commander-in-Chief of the [British] Forces in Ireland wrote to the Secretary of State applying for the grant of the title Royal to the club [Curragh]. In doing so, he informed us that all early records of the club had been lost around the time of the South African War, but that there were references in an 'Irish Golfers' Guide' to the club being founded in about 1855.

"Our records show that the club was granted the title Royal in September 1910 and we have a letter from the then Captain of the club, dated October 1st 1910, addressing the club's thanks to His Majesty for conferring the title on the club."

The letter concluded: "We have no evidence to show that the title was ever withdrawn from the club."

So, Ireland now has five royal clubs through British patronage – Royal Belfast, Royal Dublin, Royal Co Down, Royal Portrush and Royal Curragh – and another, Royal Tara, honouring the seat of ancient Irish kings. The title 'royal' is bestowed on a club if a member of the British royal family considers it worthy of such status and in the case of Curragh GC, the Duke of Connaught, a brother of King Edward VII, is known to have played there.

The latest club to be so honoured was Germany's Royal Homburger last April, making a total of 66 in all, though Hong Kong and Singapore Island no longer use the distinction. All the royal golf clubs are located in the United Kingdom (34) or the Commonwealth (26), with four exceptions, the two in the Republic of Ireland, Marianske Lazne GC in the Czech Republic and Homburger.

Meanwhile, on matters historical, it would seem wrong to allow this year to pass without mention of Michael Moran whose family and friends were formally notified of his death on December 14, 1918. In fact, Moran died eight months previously as a private in the Royal Irish Regiment at the War Memorial Hospital, Le Cateau, having been wounded in Germany's desperate spring offensive.

The Dollymount native is remembered as the first Irishman to win prize money in the Open Championship, 100 years ago. With a superb homeward 33 in the second round, he became an improbable Hoylake hero to be placed third at the halfway stage on 150, only three strokes behind the holder, Ted Ray, and two adrift of the eventual winner, J H Taylor. As it happened, that's the way Moran finished, sharing third place with the great Harry Vardon for a prize of £12.10s.

In a piece published in the Aberdeen Journal of September 20, 1924, Vardon paid tribute to Moran whom he described as having "no equal" among Irish professionals.

He wrote: "At one time, Moran was capable of winning anything in any company and very likely he would have won the British Open Championship at Hoylake in 1913, but for a single bad hole. It was the first hole in his third round: so far as I can remember he took 10 for it, mainly owing to his ball being more or less unplayable in the grip that

runs along the right-hand side of the fairway. That perturbed him so much that the round cost him 89, and yet he tied for third place. His first, second and fourth rounds were 76, 74 and 74: these three rounds were better than anybody else accomplished. If Moran had been spared, he might well have been Ireland's first world champion."

It will be recalled that 1913 was also the year when Vardon (77) and Ted Ray (78) famously lost a play-off at Brookline to 20-year-old Francis Ouimet (72) who became the first amateur winner of the US Open and later the first overseas captain of the R and A in 1951. Meanwhile, the Channel Islander recovered to capture a record sixth Open Championship the following year.

Yet writing in a Scottish newspaper, he still saw fit to claim that "the two best performances of my life were accomplished in Ireland". He wrote: "They both arose from the tournament for professionals held as an additional attraction to the annual amateur championship. In one final at Portmarnock, I beat J H Taylor by 12 and 11, principally as the result of a morning round of 69, which was the most satisfying thing I ever did with a gutta percha ball.

"In the other final, at Newcastle, County Down, Taylor was again my opponent and I won by 11 and 10. A first nine holes of 32, which made me seven up, was mainly responsible for this." The great man concluded: "It will be a fine thing for golf when Ireland again becomes the theatre of big events on the links."

Finally, those of you feeling somewhat over-golfed at the end of a busy, competitive season should note the words of Vardon, who cautioned: "Don't play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty." Indeed.

Sunday Independent

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