There were no green fields where golfing pioneers could conjure images of lush fairways and challenging greens. Instead, what the founders saw in those fateful, embryonic days of a century ago, was a mass of furze, gorse, heather, hedges and rock. Yet instinctively, they felt sure they had found a worthy home for the Royal and Ancient game.
By the time workman and horse had ploughed through the mud and splashed through the slush of winter in a grinding process of reclamation, an appropriate transformation had been achieved for the official opening on Easter Monday, 1903. And the founders’ wisdom was vindicated in every respect.
The first step had been taken in the summer of 1902, when three men of vision decided they would form a golf club at Killiney. They were Captain E P Stewart of Laragh, George C Ashlin of St George’s, and George F Stewart of Summer Hill, all residents of the village and leading members of what might be described as the local gentry.
Ignatius John Rice, whose address was Rose Lawn, Ballybrack, was also a highly influential figure, even though it was 1907 before he joined the club. A solicitor by profession, he was lawyer to Dublin Corporation for many years and was to become a trustee of the club, along with Beamish A Morrison.
In the event, though the golfing brethren of Carrickmines had beaten Killiney to it with their launch in 1900, Delgany would not have its own club until 1908 and a similar development wouldn’t hap- pen at Dun Laoghaire until two years further down the road. Indeed, Woodbrook would be forced to wait until 1927.
“The Irish Golfer” of May 20th, 1903, informs us that the decision to form a club was taken at a meeting of the residents, held in the Town Hall, Killiney on the 5th June 1902. It further states that a so-called guarantee fund was proposed, guarantees to be £5 per year for three years and the guarantors to be the first members of the club, with power to frame rules and undertake all other relevant decisions.
The magazine went on: “A subsequent meeting was held on June 9th 1902, when it was announced that 41 gentlemen had subscribed to the guarantee fund. At the meeting, three trustees, viz Captain E P Stewart, Mr George C Ashlin and Mr George F Stewart, were appointed with power to acquire the land and a committee of seven was elected to draft rules for approval.”
Possession of most of the land, which was procured originally on a 21-year lease, was obtained by early January, 1903, at which stage construction work was intensified. The remaining portion of land was acquired on April 9th 1903 and, one suspects that a hectic, 11th-hour scramble took place before the full course was opened for play on Easter Monday.
It presented a breathtaking sight. At that time, the south-eastern coastline of this fair land, was renowned far and wide for its scenery. We are told that “On a fine summer’s day, the views from Kingstown to Bray and even further southward, are unrivalled in their magnificence.” Among the gems were Dalkey Harbour and Killiney Bay, with Dublin Bay itself completing a glorious vista. And among a glittering array of beauty spots, Killiney Hill reigned supreme.
“The Irish Field”, which was noted for its golf coverage at that time, expressed the view that Greystones and Delgany, each possessed its own distinctive charm, but “it is doubtful if there is a lovelier spot anywhere in Ireland where golf is played, than Killiney.”
Against that background, we shouldn’t be surprised that within a month, the club could boast a remarkable influx of members totalling upwards of 300, including lady associates. And by the end of the year, the numbers had grown to 188 members and 169 associates, a total of 357 in all. We are informed that there were also juvenile and temporary members.
Even at that early stage, the club was developing a reputation as a nursery for new, young golfers, so much so that a member of the Golfing Union of Ireland, living close by, dubbed it the "Kindergarten.”
Apart from Killiney itself, the membership came from Kingstown, and were founder members Monkstown, Sandycove and Glenageary. Others came Dalkey, Booterstown and Blackrock.
Broomstick holder of the early 1900s displaying a selection of clubs as used by Killiney members of the era.
There were members from Sydney Parade and Ballybrack and from Loughlinstown. And quite a few enthusiasts came from Shankhill, close to the site where Woodbrook GC would establish a home. Others had addresses in Clyde Road and in Merrion Square and when the word spread, newcomers arrived from Donnybrook and from various parts of Dublin city. There was even a certain R St George Carroll, with an address at the National Bank, College Green, while some of the lady associates had addresses as far afield as Athenry and Chelsea.
For the most part, however, the early members came from Killiney whose residents considered it almost a civic duty to support the local golf club, even if they had only a passing interest in the game. As the well-heeled owner of a big house in Killiney, with four or five servants, you automatically sought membership. It was the fashionable thing to do at a time when interest in golf was growing dramatically throughout these islands.
A rather primitive clubhouse was built midway between the then second tee and green, but the structure would later stand to the right of a new clubhouse and serve as a shop for professional, Tom Gaffney. That was when the founders acquired one of the pavilions from the Dublin Exhibition, just as other golf clubs, such as Greystones and Carrickmines had done, along with Monkstown RFC.
With its various extensions and modifications, it proved to be an enduring beauty. Indeed more than 50 years on, Terry O’Sullivan, revered diarist in the “Evening Press”, was moved to write: “We were literally astonished at the view from the clubhouse of Killiney Golf Club. We had thought that Howth was THE view club ... but now that we have seen Killiney, this is it.”
The first clubhouse was of a rather rudimentary nature. This had much to do with the prudent spending of the inaugural committee, who could feel proud of having paid for all the initial development work out of the first year’s income. The Royal Bank in Kingstown, agreeing to an overdraft of £250 for six months.
This had to do with the construction of a new, purpose-built clubhouse which, we are told, nestled “between a clump of tall trees, with the Dublin hills to the right and Killiney itself to the left and the undulating course stretching in front.”
The building, designed by none other than R C Orpen, a celebrated architect of that period, was constructed by the company of George Bower of Ballybrack, which remained involved with the club over the ensuing decades. According to “The Irish Golfer”, the club- house design, in the so-called Empire style, lent itself to “extension admirably.” In the event, Bowers agreed on a fee of £950 in February 1926, for alterations and additions to the clubhouse.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Central Council of the Golfing Union of Ireland (Leinster Branch), held at the clubhouse, Portmarnock, on the 17th May 1904, it was proposed by Harold E Reade and seconded by E B Dillon, that Killiney Golf Club be affiliated to the Union.
Here was an establishment which had clearly been blessed with the quality of its early officers, especially the Ashlin family. While George was a member of the founding triumvirate, his son, S Martin, was the inaugural honorary secretary, who took his duties so seriously that he built himself a house as close as possible to the course, so as to give affairs of the club his undivided attention. W W Orr, with an address at Desmond, Killiney, was the inaugural honorary treasurer, who also applied himself to his work with admirable zeal.
So it was that the club progressed satisfactorily, until the outbreak of the Great War in Europe in 1914. From an Irish standpoint, it meant, among other things, that the Royal Dublin links at Dollymount was turned into a musketry range for the British Army. And by way of response, Killiney decided in November of that year that members of Royal Dublin would be granted the status of honorary members and would be eligible to play in club medals and sweepstakes. The gesture was warmly acknowledged by the club’s north city brethren.
In common with most other clubs, however, Killiney were not immune from the impact of the War. In March 1915, on a report of the Finance House Committee, these instructions were given:
- The secretary’s salary to be reduced to £40.
- The money paid to Mrs Cameron for extra maid on Sundays and Bank Holidays to be discontinued.
- The professional is not to order anything for the club until estimates have been passed by the committee.
- The prizes for monthly medals shall be the entrance fees but not more than 12 shillings in each class.
- That in consequence of the number of members absent owing to the European War, a limited number of ladies and gentlemen be admitted by ballot without entrance fee.
- The price of stout and beer to be raised to 4d per bottle.
- The supply of small towels to the men’s dressing room to be discontinued and these towels to be used in the ladies’ room instead of the larger ones used there at present.
- The linen serviettes not to be used for the present, but paper serviettes to be provided.
- The fire in the general room not to be lit until 1.0 pm, except on Sundays and in the ladies’ room, not until actually required.
- The tariff for teas to be raised as follows, Tea, bread and butter 6d; Tea, bread, butter and jam 7d; Same with hot cakes 8d; Tea and biscuits 4 1/2 d.
In September of 1915, a further notice was posted advising members that soldiers should be entertained at The Scalp, on some suitable date. A month later, a resolution of sympathy was sent to relatives of Capt J E Lynch, of 7 Longford Terrace, Monkstown, a member since 1907 when he joined as a lieutenant, who was killed in action in France.
Other clubs suffered more profundly. For instance, Riverside, a pleasant, nine-hole establishment beside Portmarnock village, failed to survive World War I. Nor did Stillorgan Park, which was located close by the St John of God Hospital and where Willie Holley, a one-time assistant and later professional at Killiney, served as professional for four years.
Ironically, the demise of Stillorgan Park, around 1917, helped the survival of Killiney, when many of their disenfranchised members sought a new home. As it happened, matters also reached crisis point at Killiney in 1917 when, in April of that year, a special general meeting was called “to take the necessary steps to wind up” the club.
The committee decided that “owing to the greatly reduced revenue, it is quite impossible to continue without incurring a considerable debt by the end of the year.”
When the meeting was convened, the following amendment was adopted, “The Committee, having convened this meeting by a circular letter dated 7th ultimo, setting out the present position of the club and that in their opinion there seemed to be no prospect of successfully carrying it on without the gravest risk of finishing with a large debit balance, but that if the club should close down immediately, it is possible there will be no loss to be met by the members.”
The amendment went on suggest that if 75 members un took to pay £4 per year for the following four years, to include their subscription and locker rents (thereby assuring income of £300 a year for subscriptions), the Committee would be able to keep the open until the next occasion when the option to surrender the lease arrived.
If, on the other hand, only 45 members agreed to give the suggested guarantee, “this meeting is of the opinion that the Committee should summon a Special General Meeting of the club, to pass a resolution to dissolve the club. If that resolution were passed, the trustees of the club would be authorised and requested to take over the assets of the club, “subject to the liabilities thereof but without further consideration to the members of the club whose names are appended hereto (and such other members who may be willing to join them) who have stated their willingness to form a proprietary club, to carry on the objects of this club.”
They would also undertake to carry on the objects of the club and to keep the course open for at least the remainder of that year. They would re-elect as associate members, those members who had already paid their subscriptions for the year.
Later that month, matters had obviously eased considerably insofar as the committee were in a position to report that the annual subscription of £4 not apply after “provided the revenue from other sources is sufficient.”
At a special general meeting on May 19th, revised financial statement was read and the upshot was that “the Committee be authorised to carry on the club.” A month later, it was decided to buy a new, 30-inch Pony mowing machine and repair one of the existing “horse” machines at a total cost of £11.19s.
The August bank statement of 1917 showed that the account was £96.11.5 in credit. Killiney GC was solvent once more.
Soon the Great War had become no more than a bad memory. And by November of 1923, members would have scoffed at the notion of club closure. In fact, they resolved at a special meeting to buy the upper portion of the course. And by January of 1924, with the lease due to expire, the purchase of the entire course for a sum of £2,000, was set in train.
By November 1925, the greater portion of the course was purchased and a 21-year lease of the ground occupied by the seventh and eighth holes was signed. And it is highly revealing that the entire cost of this venture was borne out of club funds. Then came a decision to extend the clubhouse through the addition of a sun lounge, card room and more adequate locker and dressing room accommodation.
These were completed in 1926, by which stage the membership had grown to 400 of whom 150 were lady associates. And “The Irish Field” was prompted to remark that they functioned as “a big, happy family, among the most enthusiastic of the huge fraternity of golfers who have sprung up all around the county since the name was first given to this club by its founders.”
An opportunity for further development occurred in 1931 when land adjoining the first fairway became available. So it was that 12 acres were bought for £600, paving the way for a major restructuring of the course which prepared it for a new era in the game.
Its status had been enhanced significantly at that time by the fact that Beamish Morrison was president of the GUI from 1929 to 1931. Indeed, Morrison proved to be a tremendous servant to the game at club and national level, a fact which was acknowledged by grateful colleagues at Killiney when they elected him an honorary life member at the 1946 annual general meeting, when Dick Belton became captain.
The Beginning of Killiney Golf Club by Dermot Gilleece and John Redmond, Killiney Golf Club an Illustrated Centenary History 1903 – 2003.
© 2003 Killiney Golf Club. All rights reserved.