Thursday 18 January 2018

Lambe's tale of Royal service

?Himself?, Christy O?Connor Snr, in action on the Royal Dublin links at Dollymount
?Himself?, Christy O?Connor Snr, in action on the Royal Dublin links at Dollymount
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

THE golfing landscape has changed dramatically in the last 20 years and it's safe to say that a club secretary-manager starting a career in 2007 won't be in his or her post in 30 years' time.

Current employment in any sector involves many challenges, and the golf industry is no exception.

Careers of club secretary-managers, in keeping with modern life, involve greater movement and shorter timespans spent at clubs as members and committees become more demanding in a highly competitive market.

That makes the career of John Lambe, recently retired as secretary-manager of Royal Dublin, a landmark in the story of Irish golf club management.

No nonsense

John spent a total of 33 years at Royal Dublin, starting in 1973 as accountant and assistant to the renowned Colonel David Beglin, who had been attached to the Western Command and later the Curragh Camp.

The Colonel, unwittingly, was a "character" of the sort you don't find now - autocratic, imperious, fair but very firm and brooking no nonsense from the members.

Early in his time at the club, the captain approached and politely enquired as to how he should address the secretary-manager.

"I'll tell you what," said Col Beglin. "I shall call you 'Captain' and you may call me 'Colonel'," he boomed, thereby firmly establishing who, in his considered opinion, was the ranking officer!

Another lovely story has Royal Dublin being a man short for a team event in Donabate. A hasty phonecall was made back to the club, seeking anyone who was in the right handicap range.

Out goes the Colonel, scanning the horizon. On the tee he spots a member preparing to tee off with an important business contact he had invited as a guest.

"You there," he barks. The member, startled, looks around, points to himself, and says "Me?"

"Yes, you. What's your handicap?"

"Eh, 10, Colonel."

"Very good. Get yourself off to Donabate now. They're short one. You'll do!"

"Bbbb-bu . . . but I've a guest here . . . " stammered the member.

"Get on over to Donabate. Now!" was the reply. Exit member as ordered. Ah, they don't make them like that any more!

Such was the era in which John Lambe, then 21, made his entry into golf administration. He worked under the Colonel's direction for four years and on Colonel Beglin's retirement in 1977, John found himself, at 25, in charge at one of the country's premier clubs.

At the time he was the youngest secretary-manager in the country, and when he left the post he enjoyed the distinction of being the longest-serving incumbent of that role.

He recalls: "Royal Dublin had a membership of 525 at that time and the annual subscription was IR£47.00 with the entrance fee equivalent to one annual subscription.

"There have been many changes over the years. When I started in Royal Dublin there were 236 golf clubs catering for 115,000 golfers.

Dramatically

"Now there are over 417 golf clubs catering for 315,000 registered golfers with some 75,000 extra playing public golf courses, social and society golf. Subscriptions have increased dramatically from an average of IR£47.00 in 1973 to ?1,500 today together with capital levies and a bar and catering spend.

"An entrance fee of up to ?20,000 is now commanded in most member-owned golf clubs. It's not uncommon for golf clubs to have a long waiting list for membership with the progression to full membership taking many years.

"Years ago in Royal Dublin if you played at the club and showed an interest in joining you got a letter in the post a few weeks later to say you had been elected!"

John enjoyed a stellar career, being at the hub of Royal Dublin during its era of attracting golfing superstars. Royal Dublin had its own legend in Christy O'Connor Senior but the Dollymount links enjoyed a golden era of professional tournament play.

John modestly admits he had a role in getting the ball rolling via the Irish National Professional Golf Championship sponsored by Rank Xerox for a three-year period from 1978 to 1980.

The event had good winners - Christy Senior (Irish champ for the 10th time), Des Smyth and David Feherty respectively. This event helped put Royal Dublin on the map again.

John met and dealt with all the great international Tour stars such as Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, and Bernhard Langer during the Carrolls Irish Open held at Royal Dublin in 1983, '84, and 85.

Centenary year of 1985 was a special one for the club and John helped ensure the smooth running of all events connected with the celebration of the first 100 years of Royal Dublin. A year later The Toyota Challenge involving Ballesteros v Jack Nicklaus attracted 15,000 spectators, although a limit of 10,000 tickets had been set.

Christy Senior and Joe Carr were there that day too, making it a very special occasion indeed.

Seniors golf came to the club in 1992 via the Forte PGA Seniors won by Tommy Horton and that was a forerunner of what became the AIB Irish Seniors Championship.

Royal Dublin became the home of the AIB Irish Amateur Open from 1998-2003 inclusive where the top international players competed, and now the event returns there next May following a three-year absence due to the extensive re-modelling of the links.

John Lambe can reflect on over three decades of service to Royal Dublin, during which his amiable and welcoming manner did much to make visitors from Ireland and overseas feel very much at home.

Huge tribute

The members paid him a huge tribute at a function to mark his retirement when he received a 15-minute standing ovation from those packed into the clubhouse to say farewell.

Now he looks forward to a new phase in his career. "I'm too young to to retire fully," he says and he is excited about his new venture into the golf tourism promotion business, and also catering for corporate golf days.

"Golfing tourism a growth business with a bright, confident future, and I rate Ireland as a number one golf destination, blessed as we are with 37 per cent of the links courses in the world," he said.

John can be contacted by e-mail at john@johnlambegolf.com and on the web at www.johnlambegolf.com.

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