Douglas Golfing History

For over 110 years, Douglas Golf Club has looked over the city, ideally positioned on its elevates site on Maryborough Hill.  The original course was designed by golf legend Harry Vardon, a six time winner of the British Open.  Vardon designed the original eighteen hole layout after walking the land which was leased from Patrick McAuliffe.   The groundsmen worked with Tramore’s John McNamara who oversaw the build, and the first nine holes opened in December 1909.  The second nine opened a few months later and the first competition on the new course was held in April.  The course was an overnight success, drawing in a large membership from the city and surrounds.  The course was extended and altered in 1924 by famous course architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie who had a big say in developments in Muskerry and Cork.

MacKenzie was quickly developing a strong reputation as one of the best course architects of his time, and it’s a legacy that has stood the test of time with Among his impressive list of golf course designs are Augusta National, Cypress Point, Royal Troon, Lahinch Golf Club and Royal Melbourne. Press reports from the time said “MacKenzie has so altered the confirmation of the ground about the greens in Douglas as to give the whole course a very pleasing appearance… it bears at every turn the impress of his golfing genius.”  While the MacKenzie feel may not be a strong as in Cork Golf Club, his design signature can still be felt throughout the course.

The course in Douglas went through further changes in the early 1990’s when all 18 greens were upgraded with sand-based foundations with further changes and improvements being made to the tees and bunkers.  In 2005 Jeff Howes further upgraded the course by increasing the length of the course, removing and remodelling bunkers to ensure the course remained a fair test for golfers of all levels.  In 2007 it looked like the clubs day’s at Maryborough were numbered.  Having listened to proposals from a property developer over a number of years, the club voted to sell their land and relocate to Ballinrea on the Carrigaline Road.  The development involved a property swap to a new location and was a talking point for a few years with many warning that a decision would split the club.  In the end a very large majority voted for the proposal which would see them move a few kilometres to a new site with an 18 hole championship course clubhouse, range, and an additional 9 hole par three course.  The overall property deal was said to be valued in excess of €150m and crucially the passing of the vote triggered a non-refundable payment of €5m to the club.  As the property crash took hold two years later, the firm behind the venture was liquidated and that left the club with their original property and the €5m.

Much debate took place around what should happen with the windfall – much of it happening outside of the club and its membership.  Issues around capital taxes and the nature of the club meant that a dividend between members was not possible, and with no option to move to the new location, it was apparent that the current course and clubhouse would benefit from the capital injection.  Progress was measured, initially a new equipment shed was built and after a gap of a few years further proposals for development were tabled.  In 2017 the club approved plans to develop a new practice and short game area, using the last available pieces of land inside the 116 acre boundary.  New practice greens were developed and the driving range was upgraded.  Jeff Howes was retained to design a new unique six hole short game course, and this was developed adjacent to the 18th hole within easy reach of the clubhouse.  That facility opened last year and quickly became a firm favourite with members.  The work in Douglas continues with what should be the final part of the jigsaw.  A few years ago the club voted to refurbish the clubhouse and although there were some delays with the work, it’s now in the final stages.

Kerl Bornemann
Picture: Niall O’Shea

The newly refurbished clubhouse retains the spectacular views over the city and this will be enhanced with outdoor seating to maximise the location.  On the course Douglas golfers have been to the forefront and they boast three current Irish internationals.  Karl Bornemann was a regular winner on the scratch cup circuit for years and last year he was capped for the Irish Seniors again.  That was Bornemann’s second time to be selected for the Irish seniors, and last year they were runners-up at the European team championships.  Peter O’Keeffe was capped on the Irish Mens team in 2017 and retained his position on the team since his first call-up.  O’Keeffe returned to the amateur ranks in 2016, and a year later he won the Irish Amateur Open in Royal County Down.  Since that win O’Keeffe has remained neat the top of the Bridgestone Order of Merit, including a runner-up finish in the North of Ireland and winning the Irish Mid Amateur Championship in 2019.  Sara Byrne has gained Irish caps at girls level for the past three years and she made the headlines two years ago when she won the Irish Womens Close championship.  Later this year she’ll move from Douglas to Florida to take up a golf scholarship with University of Miami.