independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

NEW ROSS THE FIRST AMONG EQUALS FOR LADIES' RIGHTS

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NEW ROSS Golf Club's slogan is "A Pleasure to Play". It typifies, not alone the course itself, but also the vista of the surrounding countryside and the general friendliness of the members.

"The members of Ross will staunchly maintain that the view from the 11th tee is one of the finest in the land. In the middle distance is the confluence of the Nore and the Barrow, a meeting rather shyly concealed from any other viewpoint in the neighbourhood of the town.

"Wooded slopes in their 40 different shades unfold north, south, east and west. In the far distance forming a spectacular backdrop to the green lies the 15 mile stretch of the Blackstairs Mountains separating the counties of Carlow and Wexford."

These words are taken from 'A little history of New Ross Golf Club' penned largely by Sean Doyle, the club's oldest member. In fact Sean is very nearly as old as the club having been born in 1907, just two years after it was founded. He is seen in the adjoining photograph at his 98th birthday last month.

The club is currently thriving with more than 660 members but it was not always so. The pioneering people who gathered in the autumn of 1905 to form the club and those others who have kept the club alive through difficult and traumatic times, including two World Wars and the internal strife of the "The Troubles", are owed a debt by the present generation.

Suitable land was acquired on Mockler's estate at Castle Annaghs for a nine-hole course on a seven-year lease in January 1906. The course was laid out in remarkably quick time with the first ball being struck by the President, John R Colfer, on May 23 of that year. Unfortunately when the lease expired in 1913 it was not renewable.

According to the club's 'little history' the rules of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews were generally ignored, especially as regards handicapping.

Captain Paddy Roche was the outstanding player so he was off scratch. Young Jim Hearne of Chilcomb won the club prize in 1908 off a handicap of 54 with a net score of 56. He was promptly cut 28 shots. It appears that Jim went on to play in championships and on a few occasions reached the last eight.

Before the first lease expired the committee was already at work acquiring a new lease on the estate of Mr Reggie Jeffares at Tinneranny and play restarted on a new course in 1917. But, the said Mr Jeffares was killed in the war in 1918 and his widow, a former English actress known locally as Kate-a, found she was unable to cope with the large estate, refused to renew the lease and packed her bags for England.

Once again the club was without a course - but not a committee. There is a great irony about the events that were to take place in the years between 1918 and the late 1920s.

"The climate for all sport at this period was very bad. Wexford had won four All-Ireland football titles in a row and the rank and file had little interest in golf and were indifferent to the problems of the golfing fraternity. But the golden period of Wexford football was over. The troubles had arrived and were not conducive to any kind of sport."

But, with the ending of the troubles and the civil war interest in sport was re-kindled. The committee persuaded Mr Mockler to re-open the course on his land at Annaghs but in 1926 the lessor ended the lease and, once again, the members were left without a course. Yet, the spirit lived on and another course was laid out at Chilcomb Park, the present site of the Albatross factory.

Better times were ahead. The Land Commission acquired the Jeffares estate and new legislation allowed the golf club to return to Tinneranny on a sporting lease in 1928. At last the members had a permanent home but it was not until the sixties that moves were made towards expanding the facilities.

New land was acquired to extend the existing nine-hole course, the first watering system was introduced and in 1983 the members agreed to buy out the property. The club progressed apace through the nineties when more land was acquired and course architect Declan Brannigan was employed to design a new 18-hole course, which was officially opened, fittingly, by Sean Doyle, past president and past captain in May 1996.

Two years later the present clubhouse was opened and the total cost of the development was £1.2 million.

There was one other very significant event in the club's history at that time. New Ross was one of the first member's clubs to pass a new constitution giving equal rights to ladies in 1992, long before equality became law. Theresa Foley was the first lady captain to be co-opted onto the committee and Ann Healy the first lady to be elected to the committee.

On the playing front Martin O'Brien was, by far the most outstanding player, male or female. He was twice winner of the Irish Close (1968, 1975), played for Ireland in both the Home Internationals and the European Team Championship between 1968 and 1977 and was an Irish selector. Bob Howlett was another very prominent player for Leinster.

Mary Dowling is currently the club's top lady player and, apart from having played for the girls' international team, was the first New Ross player to be selected for Leinster in the interpro championship. Before her Mary Kavanagh (nee Walsh) also played for the Irish girls' team.

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