Cork’s Golfing History

Cork Golf Club.
Picture: Niall O’Shea

Golf has been played in Cork for close to 140 years with Cork Golf Club being a central part of that for nearly as long.  While not strictly part of the city, the club’s proximity to the city meant that it was always in easy reach of the growing population of the city and suburbs.  Cork Golf Club can trace it’s foundation back to 1884 and it’s first location in Lotamore.  That course in Glanmire lasted for around ten years and the club then moved to a new site closer to Carrigtwohill.  Their time in Carrigtwohill was limited, and in 1899 the club made its third and final move to Little Island.  The original four-hole layout was in and around the quarry and when David Brown, Cork’s first professional laid out a nine hole route, that layout lasted for nearly three decades.  The 6th and 7th holes that are currently in play in Little Island are the only remaining holes from that original design.  Harry Vardon was involved in the design of a second nine holes which came into play in 1911.  The limestone quarry on which the original course was built provided for a fast draining links like course that was immediately popular with local and visiting golfers.  In 1925, Dr Alister MacKenzie visited the course and produced an ambitions design that would see three new holes, and his signature undulating greens and contoured bunkers come to life in Little Island.  That MacKenzie design is essentially close to the course that’s in place today.  One change that did occur over the years was the lengthening of the course, which was needed to keep pace with the changes in technology.  Another major upgrade started in 2010, this time at the hand of Hawtree.  All of the tee boxes were upgraded while many of the bunkers were remodelled to better reflect the original MacKenzie signature design.  As well as having the honour of the oldest course in the county, Cork has also been the most successful claiming many prestigious national titles in last 100 years.  There have been some marquee Cork Golf club members too.  The most famous member was Jimmy Bruen, winner of the British Amateur in 1945.  Bruen won the Irish Close and the Irish Open, and was also Captain of Cork Golf Cub.  PGA Professionals Ted and Liam Higgins both represented Cork as Irish Internationals, and the club is also the home of the touring professional Denis O’Sullivan.  The six time European Seniors Tour winner claimed an Irish Close win in addition to almost eighty scratch cup wins in his three decades as a top amateur.  Pat Lyons was the most recent member to be added to the roll of honour when he was selected as senior international last year.  To the south of the city is the only course to sit inside the original city boundary.

Mahon Golf Course was the first municipal course in Ireland, opening in 1980 after City Manager Joe McHugh had pioneered the project.  With the support of the GUI, and in particular GUI President Pat Foley, McHugh led the project from 1977 through to September 1980 when the Eddie Hackett course was opened.  Initially it was a 3,180 metre nine hole layout, with the course being extended to 12, 15 and eventually 18 holes.  Mahon Golf Club was established in late 1981, when 125 golfers expressed an interest in joining the new club.  The first recorded committee took place in City Hall in early 1982, in the company of Joe McHugh, and soon after the club affiliated with the GUI and ILGU.  Although the mens and ladies clubs hold an important role in Mahon, it remains a public asset with green fees and annual season tickets available to everyone.  The development of the South Ring Road resulted in two new holes being built in the late nineties, these are now accessed through an underpass under the busy route.  The last piece of the Mahon story came in 2004 when a new clubhouse was opened, providing members and green fee guests with a superb facility.  From the humble beginnings in the late 70’s, Mahon now presents a great test of golf, the par 70 measures 5,330 metres.  Changes in elevation, tight driving lines and seven holes featuring water means that Mahon can be a challenging course for those looking to score well.  One Cork course which hasn’t survived is Frankfield.

One of the two chipping greens at Frankfield Golf Academy, the greens have approaches of up to 70 yards with approach and greenside bunkers.
Picture: Niall O’Shea

Although the club and course is no longer there, it’s a busy spot for golfers.  It’s home to Cork’s biggest driving range and also incorporates a short game area and a large putting complex.  Frankfield was originally Cork’s first pay and play course, opening in the last seventies.  Owner Mick Ryan reconfigured the course to a nine hole loop in the 80’s when a club was established there.  In 2015 the Ryan family made the difficult decision to close the course.  Falling number meant the course was unsustainable but that allowed them to focus on the academy and practice side of the business.

Raffeen Creek remains the only nine hole course within reach of the city.  Opened for play in 1989, based in Ringaskiddy on land owned by Pfizer.  Originally the club was part of the Pfizer Sports and Social club, and a few years ago the club became an independent operation.  The 5,000 metre course (measured over 18 holes) remains a very popular destination for golfers.