Thursday 23 January 2020

Obituary: Ernie Jones

Golfer from modest beginnings who started out with a home-made club and rose to the top, writes Dermot Gilleece

Distinction: Ernie Jones
Distinction: Ernie Jones

Dermot Gilleece

When Ernie Jones returned to his native place in July 2013, he brought with him a particularly notable keepsake for Royal Curragh Golf Club.

Along with cherished memorabilia, he made the club a gift of the blazer he received in 1991 as the only Republic of Ireland citizen to be captain of the British Professional Golfers' Association.

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Jones, who died on December 31, aged 87, rose from modest beginnings to achieve distinction as a tournament and club professional.

In fact, his last appointment was as professional of The K Club, where he served until 2003.

A life-long link with The Curragh dated back to his birth there in the Families' Hospital, on September 22, 1932.

His father, from whom he inherited the formal first name of Ernest, was a company quartermaster sergeant in the Military College.

Ernie Jnr attended the local national school and became a member of the church choir as a boy soprano.

After-school caddying at Curragh GC led, almost inevitably, to playing the game which he did with a crude club made from a steel pipe, hammered flat at one end.

A blossoming talent was rewarded in 1946 with a position as assistant to the resident professional, Phil Lawlor.

As was customary at the time, he also augmented the green-keeping staff. All of which ultimately led to the award of life honorary membership of the club in 1977.

After competitive potential became evident in the 1950 Connacht Boys' Championship, he was appointed resident professional at Carlow GC. From there, he progressed in 1957 to Foxrock GC where he remained until 1973.

Then came an appointment at Bangor GC before moving on to Royal Co Down, where he was professional for 17 years.

He recalled evening walks up and down the sand dunes to keep fit.

And it was at Royal Co Down that he received the phone call from Englishman Richard Bradbeer which shook him to his roots.

"I want you to be the next captain of the PGA," he was informed.

He later told me: "One of the highpoints of my year in office was to travel with my wife, Marie, to the US Masters at Augusta National.

"It was a wonderful occasion which was given a nice Irish flavour by the challenge of Ronan Rafferty.

"He had clearly come a long way from the time in 1980 when I saw him, as a kid of 16, winning the Irish Close title at Royal Co Down."

During his formative years in the game, Jones overcame diminished eyesight to achieve considerable distinction in tournaments in these islands.

He twice won the Irish Professional Championship then, further afield, beat Peter Alliss to capture the top prize of £1,000 in the 1961 Cox Moor Tournament.

Ten years later came victory in the Kenya Open and he also represented Ireland in the 1965 World Cup in Madrid.

A crowning glory was his 1984 triumph in the PGA Seniors Championship, where clubhouse congratulations came from Christy O'Connor Snr and three-time winner of the Open Championship, Henry Cotton.

Sunday Independent

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