West Cork’s Golfing History

Bandon’s 7th green with Castle Bernard in the background.
Picture: Niall O’Shea

West Cork is famed for it’s sporting traditions, and golf forms a big part of that with the sport going back to the 1880’s.  That means that golf pre-dates many other organised sports, although in the early years the sport was dominated by army officers and based bear garrisons, barracks and camps.  From rough and ready makeshift courses that rarely lasted longer than a short lease, the courses that survived have developed into a number of nine and eighteen hole gems.  Bandon and Kinsale are both in West Cork, but their proximity to the city allow for a large travelling membership from the city and surburbs.  Bandon is now over 110 years old, and has been based in the Castlebernard for all of that time.  It has the distinction of being the first West Cork Club to extend to 18 holes back in 1978.  One of the largest and most successful clubs in Cork, Bandon weathered the pressure of falling memberships over the past decade and have recently invested in the course.  Changes to the first green, and the development of a short game area were completed last year and further plans are in hand to further improve the playing experience in Bandon.

While Bandon remained in the one spot, neighbours Kinsale moved from their original Ringenane base to a new 18 hole course in Farrangalway in 1995.  In the intervening 25 years the club and the course have grown, and in recent times that have developed an impressive reputation for their junior section which has produced several provincial and national golfers.  In addition to their 18 hole championship course, the club boasts a covered driving range and short game area.

Clonakilty is a small club with great ambitions.  Just over two years ago the Lisselan Estate was purchased by the locally based Twomey Family and that included the then named Lisselan Golf Club.  Originally a scenic and novel golf course, one which featured it’s own hand powered rope ferry to get across the Argideen river.  When the course was extended to nine holes the ferry was no longer needed but there’s still a special feature on the course.  There are now two ski lift type rail cars to help golfers get to the higher points of the course which feature some testing par fours.  In 2019 the new owners announced plans to extend the course to twelve holes from the current nine hole configuration.  Originally opened in 1994, the course was extended to nine holes ten years later, again under the eyes of designer Christy O’Connor Snr.  The word at the time was that Christy Snr had drawn plans for another nine holes, and time will tell if that rumour will play out.  Clonakilty Golf Club is currently open for membership and is also open for society bookings for 2020.  On the other side of Clonakilty is Dunmore Golf Club, perched high over Inchadonny Island.

Founded in 1967, Dunmore is another nine hole gem, with some testing holes in a spectacular location.  There are two other nine hole courses, Berehaven is the furthest west and has a large local membership.  Glengarriff is another popular nine hole course with strong local support.  Skibbereen & West Carbery Golf Club features the most southwestern 18 hole course in the county.  The club started off in Licknavar in 1931, and in 1993 they purchased additional land to extend the course to 18 holes, measuring over 6,000 yards.  The course offers a varied test for all golfers, with long holes on the old nine with water coming into play to the left of the 8th green, the new nine are shorter but much tighter holes.  PGA Advanced Professional Sarah Claridge has been based in West Cork for several years and in her new role as Director of Golf she’s driving the club forward.  Bantry Bay is the other 18 hole course in the far west, and while it’s relatively new it has established itself as a favourite destination for golfers.  Christy O’Connor Jnr played in the opening match in 1975, and he went on to design the extension to 18 holes a while after.  Although golf in Bantry can be traced back to the 1890’s it seems that many clubs and courses came and went until the current site in Donemark gained a more permanent foothold in the sporting community.  There have been casualties in West Cork, and not just from the last decade.  Kilbrittain, Dunmanway, Garretstown, Barleycove and Inchadonny were all popular golfing destinations in the first half of the last centuary.  That was a time when transport access was predominantly by train, and the route of the West Cork Railway provided access for many.  Coosheen went by the wayside a few years ago, as did Ringenane which operated under licence from Kinsale as a stand alone nine hole course.  One thing that has remained is the West Cork Shield which is played for by Ladies, Gents, Seniors and Juniors between the West Cork Clubs.  Bandon won the Mens competition last year while Skibbereen took the ladies honours.  Of course there’s not just eight courses in West Cork but nine.  The ninth is the Old Head, and although not affiliated to the GUI or ILGU is it still relatively accessible to Cork Golfers.  While the headline green fee charge is high, there are a few classics and society outings that should offer every golfer the chance to play the iconic course perched 600 feet above the sea.