Course open. Buggies are not permitted on the course today. (updated 29 September at 07:00)

Chapter 2 - Evolution of the course

2.1: View from fourth green.

Begin at the beginning, the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” When Lewis Carroll penned those words in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” it is clear that he didn’t have a golf course in mind. For such undertakings are never-ending; changing and developing with each passing decade. So it has been with Killiney.

When James McKenna set about laying out the original Killiney stretch, roughly 90 per cent of the golfing terrain in this country was in modest, nine-hole courses. Full, 18-hole layouts were confined largely to leading links courses such as Portmarnock, Co Sligo, Lahinch, Ballybunion and Royal Co Down.

In the event, the design was entrusted to McKenna, the first, resident professional at Carrickmines which had been established in 1900. He had also been the original professional at Lahinch and historians have speculated that he may have had a hand in the design of both Lahinch and Ballybunion, prior to his arrival in Dublin. He certainly supervised the building of the original Carrickmines course and is linked with Hermitage and Lucan in a similar capacity.

2.2: Esteemed Harry Colt, whose architectural concepts influenced the early design of Killiney. His work was inspired by what he admired at St. Andrews.

The site for the original course was only 35 acres, extremely modest by modern standards. Yet that happened to be precisely the same area on which the first Clontarf GC course was built at Mount Temple. And it is fascinating to note that by way of marking the official opening, in 1912, a special exhibition match was staged between the great Michael “Dyke” Moran of Royal Dublin and none other than McKenna.

With the proliferation of courses throughout these islands around the beginning of the 20th century, it was recommended that when choosing a site, preference should be given to elevated terrain, which would lessen the problems of drainage while delivering better putting surfaces.

At that time, Englishman Harry Colt, was gaining a reputation as one of the finest golf-course designers in these islands. The enduring quality of his work, at Wentworth, Royal Portrush, Co Sligo, Pine Valley and the New Course at St Andrews, bears testimony to his skills.

In the event, Colt believed that one-shot holes should be striking and imaginative, while offering a balanced test of skill. A plateau green, for instance, would be an essential ingredient of a short hole, which might be bunkered all round, so demanding an accurate iron played with stop.

Then there were the longer par threes which demanded accuracy of line.

According to Colt, each nine holes should include two par-threes, one of which could measure between 120 and 150 yards and a second of 170 to 190 yards. Against that background, it is interesting to note that the short first on the original Killiney course measured 190 yards, while the sixth was of 120 yards.

2.3: Mr. W. Hone approaches the fifth green. 1904. 

From his experience at Lahinch and Carrickmines, and possibly at Ballybunion, McKenna would have been keenly aware of these basic, design principles when he first cast an eye over the Killiney site. Contemporary reports inform us that “The chief advantages of the Killiney links as an inland course, are the dryness of the ground after wet weather, such a thing as ‘casual water’ being an unknown quantity, the variety of the holes and hazards and the charming views of the mountains and sea ordained from all parts of the links”.

For the first year of its existence, the course was played right-handed, as McKenna had ordained, but with the majority of the holes being situated close to the boundaries, sliced shots frequently resulted in lost balls. So it was that at the end of 1903, help was sought from recognised experts, George Coburn of Portmarnock GC (the Scottish-born professional who was involved in the design of the back nine at Portmarnock) and J H Barrington, a Killiney founder-member with previous experience at Royal Dublin. Their recommendation was that the course be reversed and several new greens and tees be constructed.

In its May issue in 1904, just over a year after the club’s foundation, “The Irish Golfer” noted that “the bogey not being yet fixed, only approximate figures can be given.” This is how they described the holes:

First, 190 yards: A blind shot between two trees; a topped ball caught by bunker at 50 yards; a sliced one very probably landing in a clump of furze. A very good green of three bogey.

Second, 360: A good drive uphill to carry a natural bunker at top. The green, which is excellent, guarded by wing bunkers. 5 bogey.

Third, 225: Cross-bunker guarding green. 4 bogey.

Fourth, 395: This will be a first-rate hole when finished, with good hazards. Green on summit of small hill, with wing bunkers. 5 bogey.

Fifth, 355: Another interesting hole, slightly downhill, ending over a stiff bunker on a very good green. 4 bogey.

Sixth, 120: A pitch-shot uphill over a crescent bunker to a green at present being prepared. 3 bogey.

Seventh, 380: Downhill with several bunkers. A long drive pulled, will be out of bounds. The green is a very good one. 5 bogey.

Eighth, 175: Parallel to the church road. A plain hole with cross-bunker. Green in the nursery at present. 3 bogey.

Ninth, 260: Uphill to new level green in front of pavilion. Two bunkers guarding. 4 bogey.

The magazine went on to report: “There is an idea of lengthening the first hole so as to make it a fair four-bogey instead of a hard three, as at present, the only objection being the lengthened walk from pavilion to the teeing ground.”

2.4: Michael 'Dyke' Moran.

Two years later, course development included the purchase of 600 square yards of “mountain sods” for three new greens. These were bought from a certain James Brereton for 8d (old pence) per square yard, delivery included.

By 1910, significant progress was evident in a report in “The Irish Field”. It informed its readers: “The nine-hole course makes its way up hill and then down again and only three holes approach anything like flatness.”

A major reconstruction, however, took place in 1931 when the club acquired an additional 12 acres. This gave them a total area of 47 acres which was more than sufficient for a first-class nine-hole course which would have held its own with the best in the country at that time. Indeed Lionel Hewson, the country’s most knowledgeable writer on golfing matters, declared that the additional land had been “the making of the course.”

“It will surprise me if Killiney does not turn out more Armstrongs and Saunders’ (Rory Saunders, Killiney’s leading player, had retained the South of Ireland title the previous year) in the course of time. The youth is there, and that and the course ought to be enough.”

2.5: Estimate from George Bower, Builder & Contractor, Ballybrack for the construction of a new clubhouse. 1926.

Hewson concluded the article by noting that “the ladies branch is keen and from it, too, should come strong players if they listen to advice from Tom Gaffney.”

Twenty years later, a visiting scribe was similarly enthusiastic. Indeed the reporter for “Irish Golf” in 1956 also offers us a wonderful insight into the game as it was played on familiar terrain, almost 50 years ago.

He wrote: “If you play on a hundred courses, and may you, you will remember Killiney as the one that begins and ends with a climb. As an ancient caddie said of a course in a hill country: ‘It throws you back into your boots something cruel.’

The passage of another 20 years saw the course evolve towards yet another configuration, with the fifth and seventh as par threes and the remainder as par fours. Then came the lengthening of the sixth into a par five (and the 15th), so giving the course an overall par of 70. And by way of emphasising the nature of a golf course as a living, changing entity, club professional Paddy O’Boyle, talks of having witnessed major developments over the last five years, which have made it, in his view, one of the better courses in the Metropolitan area, certainly in terms of condition.

2.6: Killiney Pioneers - L to R: HG Moore, A. Sims, G. Hunter, Dr. V. Boland, E. Ross Todd, R. Ross Todd, Happy Dalton and F. O'Kelly.

He attributes this largely to the contribution of greenkeeper, Aidan Hiney, a Kilkennyman with hurling in his blood but with a decidedly promising golf game waiting to assert itself. In fact the professional insists that Aidan has “tremendous potential as a golfer.”

Paddy goes on: “Aidan has made a fantastic difference, revolutionising the course.” He points to the radical changes, both in terms of length and configuration, which holes have adopted over the last five years. “The work was done mainly by Aidan and myself,” he says. “He and I walked the course about four years ago and came up with various ideas as to the way the fairways should flow and where the rough should be allowed to grow.

“I as able to indicate to how a fairway should shaped in relation to the green, which was not a feature of the course prior to that. This made a huge difference.  Then there are the greens themselves which I would rank among the best in the country, in terms of quality.

This became possible through the decision to install sand-based greens. Granted, there were a lot of teething problems, but Aidan has succeeded in turning things around and in getting the sort of putting surfaces we had hoped to achieve. In that regard, it was vital that he was given the freedom to get on with the job and in fairness to successive committees, there has been no major interference with the programme he set out.

“The extent of the changes can be measured from the fact that there was a time, for instance, when I could almost drive the first green. Now, the higher handicappers won’t get up there in two. I, myself would be hitting a drive and a full, mid-iron. It has become a very, very good par four, with additional length of about 40 yards.

“The second has also been changed, with the green being moved to a slightly different location making it a very good, right-to-left dog-leg. Aidan has shaped the fairway in such a way that you must now play it as you see it. A very good hole.

“There was a drain across the third fairway which remained covered for years, despite my recommendations that it should be opened. Well now it is, with the result that, depending on conditions, the hole can now become a serious, strategic challenge, especially for the ladies, who are faced with having to carry it.

“The fourth was  designed with a new tee in mind. This was to be placed in newly-acquired land, where planning permission has yet to be finalised. Still, it is a good hole at the moment, but it will eventually become a great one, when the green is approached from the desired angle.

“The par-three fifth is a good hole, though I am not entirely happy with where the green has been placed. I think it could be improved, but that’s strictly a personal view.

“The sixth is set to become a really lovely par five when we move to a new tee. From there, it will offer a wonderful view of the whole of Dublin Bay while for most players, it will become a genuine three-shotter.

“The seventh is a good par three which plays somewhere between a three and a four iron, even for a good striker of the ball. Well bunkered, it has a very good putting surface and is tree-lined on both sides. This is an example of the importance that length has made to Killiney. It has given us the facility to shape holes.

“The eighth, which is index one the first time around and index two on the back nine, is very much a downhill par four. It can be testing, but I wouldn’t rate it as the most difficult hole on the course.

“The ninth is a terrific par-four finishing hole. An acute dog-leg from left to right, places a huge premium on position off the tee. The break of the land from right to left means you simply can’t afford to draw the ball off the tee, if you want to avoid finishing among trees.

“So the ideal shot is a fade which holds the fairway. The green used to be on top of a hill and you couldn’t see the bottom of the flag but they have since dug away the hill to provide a clearer view. This change has made it a fairer test.”

2.7: Paddy O'Boyle - "Killiney is one of the better golfing challenges".

Paddy adds: “Like most nine-hole courses, we have two sets of tees, designed so that the player is coming at the green from a different angle, the second time around. This is not especially marked at the 10th, but the 11th is very different from the second. Considerably shorter, its index rises from three to 14.

“The 12th, on the other hand, is considerably longer the second time around, again resulting in a big change in the index. Meanwhile the 13th, which is only marginally shorter, offers a change of direction that we spoke about, so presenting a different angle of approach to the green.

“The 14th is shorter than the first time around, making it index 18 but there is no appreciable difference in the par five. The 16th is also essentially the same, but the 17th is shorter than the eighth.

“Finally, the tee-shot on the 18th is played from a different location, very much more to the right, so accentuating the dog-leg.”

He concludes: “Overall, I would rate Killiney as one of the better golfing challenges in Leinster. It has the yardage. It can only get better insofar as there’s lots of scope for shaping holes, making them far more attractive than they once were.”

And as it enters its  second century, nobody would dare shout stop.