Sunday 21 January 2018

Story of a golf club that broke the mould

Edmondstown was founded in 1944 in a spirit of inclusivity and that is still its guiding principle, finds Hilary A White

From left: Barney Leventhal, Sol White and Geoff Elliman at Edmonstown Golf Club circa 1947
From left: Barney Leventhal, Sol White and Geoff Elliman at Edmonstown Golf Club circa 1947

Hilary A White

What a city is Dublin, that one can stand in its centre and enjoy a hillscape to the west and south. Up there, away from mobile phone stores and taxi ranks, space is afforded to ramble and trek and putt, 30 minutes from O'Connell Street. This is a privilege not to be taken lightly.

Overlooking our capital is Edmondstown, one of a handful of golf clubs above Rathfarnham where a secret history has recently been documented that goes beyond being of interest solely to its small membership. Edmondstown's story is one of resilience, inventiveness and inclusivity that will pique the interest of those enthusiastic about our social history.

Howard Jacobs and David White are two of its long-standing members, and together the pair have overseen the production of Portrait of a Golf Club: Edmondstown GC 1944-2014, an affectionate and thorough celebration of a sporting entity whose origins lay in anti-Semitism and a small-mindedness that is thankfully no longer tolerated today.

Dublin's Jewish community had roots in Ireland long before The Maccabean Golfing Society was established in 1933 by a small group of golf lovers who were tired of being rejected from membership in clubs around the country because of what day they celebrated the Sabbath.

The best way around these "unwritten laws" that existed in elite sporting societies was not to get angry but instead to start their own club, as co-author Howard Jacobs explains.

"There's prejudice in all walks of life," he says, his hand outstretched. "You see it today with immigrants in Ireland, and it's always been in existence. You saw it against women. And there's always been prejudice against the Jewish race and that is a fact, unfortunately, of life. It was very prevalent in the 1940s in Ireland, and to a lesser extent in the Fifties and Sixties."

The Maccabean Society numbered some 100 members by the time the 1940s arrived. It was time to plant roots, a decision helped by war-time fuel shortages making car travel a luxury few could afford.

In 1944, on 72 acres, two rods and nine perches of former dairy farmland at the foothills of the Dublin Mountains, Edmondstown Golf Club opened its doors with an unshakeable policy that the type of religious discrimination flung at its founders would never be tolerated in clubhouse or on fairway. This is now fundamental to the cohesive spirit within its clubhouse.

"That was policy right from the beginning," recalls Jacobs, "because the club was constituted by people of different backgrounds and religions, people respect each other perhaps more than they would if they had people all from the same source. If they all came from the same school or class then they would perhaps remember little fights and harbour resentment that comes out every so often in the conversation. But here we don't have that."

Even though times were tight, it didn't prevent anyone from social or leisure activities. Everyone just had to think laterally to find money one way or another. Membership fees were £3, a not insubstantial sum back then, but more was needed. Debentures brought in £3,350 from 122 members, a huge sum to raise during the Emergency. Raffles were run of a shilling a week as opportunities to win back donations. Coffee mornings and events were staged and advertising space sold in brochures.

Edmondstown, Jacobs points out, never had a large membership, around a quarter or one-fifth of its neighbouring clubs. Everyone pulled together to do whatever it took to maintain a functioning golf course.

For Jacobs, in particular, Portrait Of A Golf Club is the crystallisation of a life-long relationship with that hilltop. He remembers the late Forties, running around in short trousers, climbing over hedges and on to the back of the jeep that pulled the first mower.

"I am fortunate to have a good long-term memory, even if my short-term memory is very poor. My mother was the first Lady Captain for those first six years, and I used to go up caddying for her or wandering over the fields, and it just became a pastime even though I didn't play golf at that point."

Naturally, there was never a dull moment in the 70 years since Edmondstown's establishment. Besides the competitions waging out on the 18 holes each weekend, presidents and even monarchy paid visits. Everyday matters of horticulture, finance and architecture would vie for attention with the discovery of a Bronze Age burial site, M50 planning headaches and even a plane crash on the 15th hole.

The inclusive but relatively small membership (700 if you include every category) means Edmondstown enjoys one of the most fraternal atmospheres in the Irish golfing landscape. Small equals intimate and, unusually for golf clubs, every card-carrying member is on first name terms with one another, whether they're a famous musician, a rugby or soccer international, a Dail minister or a hotel chef.

The recipe for what Jacobs constantly refers to as the "community" is simple. Traditionally, it had only admitted small numbers of new members each year. Then, a big effort is made from committee level to get to know each new arrival and arrange competitions so that they are absorbed in with existing members and cliques are avoided.

"There will always be situations where a few members will always want to play with each other over the years and that's fair enough. But the majority of members play with every other member and we have lots of competitions that enable that to happen. That is the basis of the community."

The Mexican golfer Lee Trevino famously said: "The older I get, the better I used to be." Edmondstown's secret history from a hilltop in south Dublin shows us that unlike a good swing, tolerance and solidarity cannot be dulled with time.

  • Portrait of a Golf Club: Edmondstown GC 1944 -2014 by David White and Howard Jacobs can be purchased from Edmondstown Golf Club tel: 01 4931082 or online from info@edmondstowngolfclub.ie

Irish Independent

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