Saturday the 4th of May 1907 was the date that two major events were officially opened in Ireland. In Dublin, the Irish International Exhibition was opened with much fanfare on a site that was spread out over a vast area of fifty-two acres, while the exhibition ran for just seven months, and had up to two million visitors. 1.

On the same day, another event took place, no less illustrious and to similar fanfare; this was the opening of Muskerry Golf Club in Cork, which stayed open much longer than the Irish International Exhibition, and recently celebrated its’ one-hundred and fifteenth birthday.

Group photo of opening ceremony of Muskerry Golf Club 1907

Photo Courtesy Fergus Hannon

Golf is a hugely popular sport in Ireland, a sport that was reportedly imported from Scotland where it originated, and the origins of golf in Ireland go back as far as the 1860’s, but it is the golden Victorian decade of the 1890s that turned out to be a boom time for golf. During this decade golf clubs were being formed all over the country with over one hundred golf clubs coming into existence in the relatively short space of ten years. By 1901 there were an estimated twelve thousand golfers in Ireland, it’s rapid development can be seen as a reflection of the increasing prosperity of late Victorian Ireland and the growth of a leisured professional class. 2

Ad for St Ann's Hill Dinner and Golf Links

Irish Time 18th March 1898

At the turn of the century there was just one golf course in the county of Cork, Little Island golf club which had been formed in 1888. Research from Tim O’Brien shows that in the 1890’s there were courses established in Rathcooney, Glanmire, Rushbrooke, Mallow, Coachford but each of these had lapsed after a short period of time; St. Ann’s Hill Hydropathic establishment, situated between Blarney and Tower, had a small six-hole course at Cloughphilip and a nine-hole course at Myshall near Dripsey, as part of the facilities offered to guests until the course was closed shortly after the turn of the century, supposedly due to financial issues. 4

The origins of the new golf club in Muskerry had first been sown several months prior to the opening day in 1907 when a meeting was held in the offices of Atkins and Chirnside, chartered accountants, 39 South Mall, Cork. Present at this meeting was Sir George Colthurst of Blarney Castle Estate, who chaired the meeting and was also elected president of the provisional committee; also present was Dr Arthur Ainslie Hudson, the resident physician of St. Ann’s Hill Hydropathic Centre who studied medicine in Edinburgh, who was elected as the new club’s secretary. 3.

This meeting at the accountants led to the joint decision to open a public golf course with some of the local business men and members of the landed class agreeing to fund the initial cost, and a site in Dromasmole, situated near to Cloghroe church and Tower, was decided as being the most suitable; the relatively close location of the Muskerry tramline and Coachford Junction being one of the deciding factors, along with the natural landscape that lends itself to good golf. 5.

Muskerry Golf Club

Ordnance Survey Ireland

At the time of the official opening in May 1907 the newly formed golf club rented the land required for the course from a local farmer, Jerome Dorgan who also happened to be a golfer himself. Dorgan was a farmer who lived in Janeville, Sunday’s Well. His father, John, had farmed large swathes of land across county Cork including several acres at Cloghroe. The original signatories to the lease of this piece of land included Sir George Colthurst, Dr Richard Barter from St. Ann’s Hill Hydro and Mr. Dorgan.

It took several years for the land purchases to complete fully, and the club also undertook to purchase more land from a second local farmer, Timothy O’Keeffe, nearly twenty years later to increase the initial nine-hole course to the substantial twenty-hole course, designed by the world-renown Alastair McKenzie, that is available today.

After the decision was taken in 1906 to start the new club work on the course started immediately with the first professional being employed, John McNamara from Lahinch; he went on to prepare the nine-hole course, working mainly, with local labor, on roughly made tees and preparing greens on suitable grass areas which required cutting on a regular basis with a hand drawn lawn mower. 6.

Golfing World magazine had nothing but praise for the new course a few days after the opening

A single golf course for a sporting town like Cork was not keeping up with the times and, we are not surprised that a friendly rival to the Little Island course has arisen. The new course has been laid out under the direction of Dr Anislee Hudson of St Ann’s Hill and the club, of which the doctor is honorary secretary, is called the Muskerry Golf Club.

‘The course is easily reached from Cork by the Light Railway (Muskerry Tram) that runs out to Blarney – a journey which is delightful at any time, but now with the addition of a game of golf at the end, will be doubly so. The course is over 5,000 yards (nine holes played twice) and every one of the holes has some characteristic about it in the way of hazards.” 7

According to an article in The Queen magazine in September 1907 there was a rose covered arch near the first tee from which a champagne bottle was suspended by brightly colored ribbons, a young Marjorie Hudson, dressed in white dress with a large white hat, complete with cerise ribbons, released the ribbons and the bottle shattered against a white stone which was situated directly underneath. And Muskerry golf links was officially opened. Marjorie was presented with a miniature club, carved from wood, by John McNamara to commemorate the special occasion. 8.

Magazine article from 1907

Queen magazine Saturday 18 May 1907

It is thanks to Golfing World magazine that there is a photograph of the opening day which shows a large crowd of smartly dressed men and women, the men turned out in neat suits and caps, suitable attire for golfing in the early 1900’s, while the women are more formally attired in Victorian dresses of the day with ornate hats, and in a nod to the changeable weather of May one lady has her hands in a fur muffler. A band that played during the day is visible along with the colonial flag, which according to the report, was supplied by a Miss Flynn from “Sunnyside” at St. Ann’s Hill Hydro. 7.

According to other newspaper reports of the day there was a marquee erected on the course in place of a club pavilion, possibly on the same space where the first clubhouse would later be built. Tea and refreshments served throughout the afternoon It is most likely that the food and drink, as well as well as the crystal glasses and delph, was supplied by At Ann’s Hill and the service also provided by staff from the Hydro; Dr. Barter of St. Ann’s Hill was one of the driving forces behind the new club.

Guests arrived both by horse and carriage to the entrance to the course which still stands today on the road between Cloghroe church and the train station at Coachford junction; visitors also arrived by Muskerry tram which stopped close to the newly formed club, visitors would have alighted here and after a short walk would have been able to enjoy the day from the marquee, or going around the new course if they so wished.

Men playing golf in 1910

Photo from Muskerry Golf Club

Local historian Tim O’Brien uncovered correspondence in December 1907 from Dr. Henry Barter of St. Ann’s Hill Hydro to the Honorary Secretary of the newly formed golf club. In this letter Dr. Barter confirms that St. Ann’s Hill Hydro “committee and staff made a donation towards the initial funds of the club and that there was also tools and implements, including a small and large mower which have been on use on the St. Ann’s links.” 11  This goes some way to show the close links between the Hydro and the new club, not only between the staff but also with practical help, both labor and tools.

In later years, around 1910, a clubhouse was procured, reportedly an ornate wooden building which previously had been used at The Great Exhibition in Cork 1902. The pavilion was situated so that the Muskerry tram could be seen coming, and heard, from either direction in sufficient time to enable members to catch it with ease, the railway station being only 100 yards away. 8.

Muskerry golf club has gone from strength to strength since its beginnings one hundred and fifteen years ago. There are now over nine hundred members and can boast that the extended course, upgraded in 1924 by Dr. Alistair McKenzie, the man who designed the great Augusta in America.

Video from CNN courtesy of Fergus Hannon