They say the third time’s a charm and nobody at Athlone Golf Club would disagree with that old adage at the Co Roscommon club — now in its third home — as it prepares to host the fourth leg of the All Ireland Finals Series over the next four days.
he lovely Connacht parkland will host the final stages of the Flogas Irish Mixed Foursomes, the Fred Perry Trophy, the women’s Revive Active All Ireland Four-Ball and the men’s All Ireland Four-Ball and it will be an occasion to remember for a club instituted back as the Athlone Garrison Golf Club in 1892 and affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1897.
The club now has 700 members (and another 200 juniors), but it had just 70 in its beginnings when it boasted a “course of nine holes about half a mile from the railway station” that was described as a difficult course, “being round an old fortification.”
According to The Golfing Annual of 1896-97, “the hazards are walls, moats, ditches, roads, the railway, etc.,” and this was because it was a military club at inception and the golf guide books of the late 1890s record predominantly military committees.
The original course was laid out amid the ruins of an old fort and its moat at the “Batteries” near the railway station.
According to William Gibson’s “Early Irish Golf”, the old layout may have been familiar to officers of the garrison who had served at Malta, for the original course had been laid out in 1888 by Sir Henry D’O. Torrens among the moat and ditches of an old fort.
Soon, the town’s leading businessmen and professional people began to take an interest in golf and in 1904, a new constitution was adopted, and the club was re-named Athlone Golf Club.
It was that year that the club figured in, possibly, the earliest recorded Irish legal action for damages caused by a golfer.
The Irish Golfer of 20 January 1904 records that, at the Quarter sessions in Athlone, Mrs Margaret Farrell sued J.S. Vaughan, LL.D., Clerk of the Union, for £10 damages, on account of injuries sustained at the local golf “links”. The accident occurred following a “slice” and a decree of £5 was given.
The Batteries course left its mark on the history of Irish golf as club member John Dillon McCormack won three Irish Amateur Close Championships and represented Ireland 24 times.
In fact, he was selected on the 1924 Walker Cup team but could not play for personal reasons and it was almost 80 years before Colm Moriarty teed it up on the winning Walker Cup side at Ganton Golf Club in 2003.
In 1920, the club moved to Garnafailagh, two miles outside the town, with the Irish Field recording that W.C. Pickeman of Portmarnock fame assisted in the laying out of this new course.
In 1938 the club finally moved to the present location at Hodson Bay, and the course was designed by Mr J McAllister and was officially opened on the 19th June of that year with the pavilion-style clubhouse situated beside the lake, close to the present 16th tee.
Several development programmes have been carried out over the years and following the opening of the present clubhouse in 1972, golf course architect, Eddie Hackett, suggested several improvements to the course in the 1980s, and in the early ‘90s, the par-four fifth hole and the par-three sixth hole were both extended to become par-fives.
In 2003, a three-year course development programme saw the redesign and construction of sand-based greens to USGA standards, the introduction of water features, and the construction of a new par-three sixth hole have further enhanced Athlone Golf Club, a club which has hosted many Provincial and National Championships including the All-Ireland Cups and Shields finals in 1998.
Quite apart from MacCormack and Moriarty, who would finish tied 37th alongside Shane Lowry and Vijay Singh in The Open Championship at St Andrews in 2010, other club members to play representative for Ireland include J.H. Rice, Eddie Dunne and Kelan McDonagh.
Chairperson Gerry McInerney is immensely proud of the club, which has undergone many changes in recent years.
“We have produced many good players over the years, so we are re-booting our Junior programme,” explained Gerry. “We have access to Athlone Driving Range & Golf Academy and over 200 junior players, so we hope to see more good golfers come through the ranks.”
As for the golf course, the club is finalising a 10-year course plan and hopes to present the members with the findings of golf course designer Ken Kearney in the coming weeks.
The clubhouse, situated on an elevated site overlooking Lough Ree, has recently been refitted with triple-glazing, adding to the comfort of a building that also offers excellent catering all year round.
“We are investing in the clubhouse and in the course,” added Gerry. “Our objectives are to improve the course for members and visitors, to improve the bunkering and make better use of the lake views.
“Eddie Connaughton and Des Smyth have made changes to the course over the years and we are very proud of our course, which has received great praise from all the clubs here this week.”
The club is developing closer relationships with the local hotels, including near neighbours Hodson Bay, with more stay-and-play deals coming on stream in a busy tourism area.
The signature 16th sits right on Lough Ree, and it made an impression on Pádraig Harrington, who won the De Lacy Staunton Scratch Cup at Athlone in 1994.
With trustees of the calibre of Eugene Fayne, President of the GUI in 2011, Athlone is in good hands 130 years after its foundation and set to provide a fitting scenario for this weekend’s team golf finals.
Green fees: Midweek €30; Weekends/Bank Holidays €35
Society rates: €25 midweek /€30 weekend
Buggy hire: Yes, €30
Club hire: Yes €30
Electric trolleys: Yes, €15
Range Balls: No
Signature hole: 16th, Index 1, 407 Metres
Described by Padraig Harrington, winner of the 2994 DeLacy Staunton Scratch Cup, as a very challenging hole along the shores of Lough Ree.
Professional’s tip: A hole that sets up for a draw off the tee, the second shot requires length and accuracy to reach the green through the narrow entrance protected by mature trees and a bunker on the right edge of the green.
Membership rates: Range of membership fees to suit all categories.
Nearby clubs: Roscommon, Ballinasloe, Glasson, Moate, Mount Temple
Address Hodson Bay, Athlone, Co Roscommon, N37 AX07
Email: athlone golfclub
Tel: 090 6492073