Wednesday 18 September 2019

A hidden treasure in the hills of east Cork

Conquering the beautiful elevated greens of Fermoy is a test every golfer should savour

Tip-top: The course is in fantastic condition
Tip-top: The course is in fantastic condition

Brian Keogh

Ireland is teeming with historic sites and while Fermoy Golf Club has only been in residence at its Corrin Hill home since the early 1970s, the club dates back to 1892 when the British soldiers in the garrison town took their mashies and niblicks to the countryside.

Whether they used gutties or new-fangled Haskells is unknown but the game caught on, and the locals began to play at the racecourse before moving to new terrain near the old aerodrome on the north side of town in 1934.

By 1959, the membership had dropped to just 37, and when word spread that the club might soon close, golfing pride in the little nine-hole course was rekindled, membership soared, and golfing life went on.

Five years later, their thoughts turned to the end of their lease, which was due to run out in 1980. The members wanted to buy the land, but price increases and a general reluctance on the owner's behalf prompted 200 members to set about buying land for a new course.

They acquired 160 acres at a reasonable price, just 3km from town and called on Commander John Harris - designer of Limerick, Shannon and the Castle Course at Lahinch - to lay out an 18-hole heathland course that the club's 550 members cherish today.

It was ready for play in 1972 when the fees were £15 for a man, £10 for a lady and £23 for a husband and wife.

They say the druid, Mogh Ruith is buried on Corrin Hill near the remains of an Iron Age ring fort, eternally watching over the Galtee Mountains, the River Blackwater and Fermoy's happy band of golfers.

It is a band that has grown by 70 over the last few years thanks to the Get Into Golf scheme and while the par-70 course measures just over 6,200 yards from the tips, don't let the scorecard deceive you.

There are five par-threes on a course laid out over the hills of east Cork, but the fairways are so rumpled and adventurous that the recently crowned Amateur champion James Sugrue is just level par in total for his last three rounds in the annual Scratch Cup, winning twice.

There are no frills, but this is still a fun and beautifully maintained course with four greenkeepers employed year-round to ensure it remains a wonderful amenity, not just for Fermoy, but for Cork golfers who face just a 20-minute spin up the M8 to enjoy its charms.

Here they can escape the city and enjoy their golf among the red squirrel and the fallow deer as the occasional buzzard passes comment from above.

"Some clubs have let greenkeeping staff go, but we found that maintaining the course at a high level allowed us to attract new members far more easily," said club manager Denis Twomey.

"We had two terrible storms a few years ago and lost about 1,800 trees, and while we thought it was devastating at the time, it has made a huge difference to the quality of the course in terms of the views and light and better growth."

While the club no longer employs a fulltime PGA pro, local teaching professionals visit weekly, and some 40 juveniles gather every Tuesday morning to enjoy the course.

All going well, Fermoy may soon have another top golfer to match the great Tom Cleary, who took up the game at the age of six and went on to play for Ireland from 1976 to 1986, winning the East of Ireland in 1977 and the "South" just two years later.

Conquering Fermoy's elevated greens remains as big a challenge today as it was nearly 50 years ago when Commander Harris laid out the course.

But having avoided the temptation to build a new clubhouse at the height of the last economic boom, the club is debt-free and keen to add new members to the rolls at what must be one of the best value-for-money clubs in the country.

"We have had a very productive year to date," said Lady Captain Aileen Ryan, one of three serving officers to record a hole in one at the club this year. "The course is in fantastic condition and while we are hosting the Eleanor Tivy Cup this year, next year will be even busier as we host two major Munster interclub finals.

"We are very keen to nurture the new members who come to us through the Get Into Golf scheme so that they stay with us and that is going well.

"We are 127 years old now still going strong, and the men who helped build the course did it with the sweat of their brow, clearing stones to give use the course we have today.

"We really are a hidden gem in Munster with membership on the up and new initiatives to get more men to join. We want to make our growth in membership sustainable, not a flash in the pan."

After 127 years of golfing success, Fermoy is very much here to stay and quite clearly, a hidden treasure in the hills of East Cork.

Factfile

Green fees: €25 / €30

Society rates: Call club. Depends on numbers / day.

Buggy hire: Yes, €20.

Trolley hire: No.

Club hire: Yes, €15.

Practice balls: No.

Signature hole: 13th, 460 Yards, Par:4. Blanketed by heather, and trees on both sides, you must drive down into a dip and then hit an accurate, uphill shot to the green.

Expert tip: Finding the fairway is a must if you are to have a chance of making par on this index 1 hole.

Membership: €700 per year.

Nearby clubs: Lismore, Mitchelstown.

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