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Abbeyleix Golf Club

Research into the Minute Books of the Committee Meetings etc, of Abbeyleix Golf Club, and into the references to the Club in various local newspapers and such like, gives at first sight, two general impressions. The first of these would be that the members of the Club over the years were nothing if not persistent and determined survivors. Time after time, when conditions forced closure for a while, like a Phoenix from its ashes, the Club would rise again with grace and dignity. Perhaps the word “Phoenix” should have been incorporated in its title.  In the second case, determination to survive, the members wandered over a variety of courses in the surrounds of Abbeyleix and just beyond. As can be seen from the following test, flair and imagination were never in short supply among the members of the Golf Club over the years.

In 1970, in an article written for the Souvenir Programme of the Abbeyleix Maytime Festival, A. J. Cole, an illustrious member of the Golf Club, started with the phrase “Abbeyleix has long been a golfing town”. Lt.-Col. William H. Gibson, The Curragh, author of an excellent book, Early Irish Golf, states while one publication, The Golfing Annual 1905/06, gives a foundation date of 1894, all other Irish Golf Guides of that era gives 1895 as the year of institution of Abbeyleix Golf Club, and that is the most authentic date.

In any event affiliation to the Golfing Union of Ireland occurred in 1905, under the Captaincy of Mr. R. Hampton, B.A. Headmaster of the Preston School, Abbeyleix, who later emigrated with this family to what was then Rhodesia, and with Rev. Archdeacon A.E. Bor, B.D. Vicar of Abbeyleix and later Diocesan Secretary of Ossory, as Honorary Secretary. The Reverend Archdeacon seems to have been an excellent organizer as well as an accomplished golfer, playing off a handicap of 11, and winning the Ballymullen Cup in 1908. It is a pity that the Minute Books of the time, which would have been meticulously written by him, have been mislaid.

Little else is known abut the fortunes of the Club during these early years, membership was probably relatively small, the earliest Minute Book available begins in 1920, and gives the total membership as 25, men and ladies, as there were seems to have been no segregation of sexes in the Club until much later, after World War II in fact. A scribbled note on the inside of the cover of this Minute Book says “1903 Lease 21 yrs’ but where the Club was situated at the time is uncertain. Local legend has it that the game was played at some time on “The Island”, between the Portlaoise and Ballyroan roads, and stories tell of golf balls being dug up there at times. It is probable that, even if it did not start in Ballymullen, at a very early stage the Course was situated there. This can be deduced from the fact that the “Ballymullen Cup”, one of the Club’s more historic trophies, was being played for during the very early years of this century, with the names of some of the winners of that time engraved on the Cup, the first being a Miss J. Stoney in 1907. What is certain, is that the Club and its Links were based in Ballymullen in the years just prior to 1920.

1921 saw the first documented move of the Club. A special General Meeting of members was called on 1st February 1921, in The Hibernian Bank House at 5pm. The Motions for decision at this meeting included the following: “That owing to the lack of support to the Club, and the willful damage to the Links (at Ballymullen), that the Links be closed for an indefinite period’, and “that subject to permission being obtained from Col. Sir H. Poe Bart. HML, that the Ballymullen Cup and the de Vesci Cup be played for at Heywood during the season 1921”. Both these motions were passed unanimously. The Club paid its dues to G.U.I. and later on that year, both Cups were played for over Col. Poe’s private course at Heywood, some 14 competitors playing in each competition.

It would appear from photographs taken at the time that play at Heywood continued happily during the early twenties, the Club being a centre for social and recreational enjoyment. The only competitions for which records were kept seemed to be the Ballymullen and de Vesci Cups and at the 1923 A.G.M. it was decided that the ladies playing in these competitions and using the same tees as the men, should have one quarter extra on their handicaps. It wasn’t long before the ladies made an impact under the terms.

At the 1924 A.G.M. members expressed the view that the trip out to Heywood, by whatever means of transport were available, was becoming a bit tedious, and the idea was put forward that a course nearer Abbeyleix should be sought. The search for a course near Abbeyleix continued without success during the next couple of years. The Committee, through Mr. W. Hande, was responsible for maintaining the course at Heywood and many factors made this difficult as a local rule passed at the time illustrated: “A ball may be lifted an dropped not nearer the hole when in a hoof mark, cattle track, or rabbit scrape in such a way that it is not touched by a club laid over I”.

The 1927 A.G.M. having decided to hold an extra competition for the first time, on St. Patrick’s Day, was also forced by circumstances to discuss the feasibility of the continuing the Club. Although the membership had now increased to 40, the difficulties at Heywood, and the cost of its upkeep, were taking the finances of the Club. The decision was made to continue, and at a special general meeting in March 1927, a proposal to transfer from Heywood to a course, which had become available at Rathmoyle was passed. Mr. Robert E. Wilde had offered the Lawn in front of his residence at Rathmoyle House for a lease as a golf course, and the use of his premises for storage of machinery and golf clubs. This proposal was unanimously accepted, and a golf course architect was to be employed to lay out a course for a fee of not more than 10 guineas. Also, a man was to be employed for two months or less, to build the course, and in the meantime all competitions were suspended. The work must have gone extremely well, as the new course was officially opened on 11th May, just two months later, with a small “special 9-hole competition”, which was won by Mrs. R.A. Dobbs, playing off 28 with a nett score of 34.

1929 saw the employment of a Professional for a few weeks, and the first recorded inter-club match against Portarlington. The ladies of the Club formed their own section in 1930, and elected their own secretary, Mrs. Margaret Maher, who was entitled to be a member of the main committee. On 23rd September 1930, the Ladies were affiliated to the I.L.G.U. for a fee of 1 guinea.

In 1932, however, the cost of maintaining the course at Rathmoyle was becoming prohibitive, and a sub-committee was set up to find a more convenient site. This committee employed Mr. M.C. McMahon, professional at Rathdowney, to inspect the Mitchell farm at Tunduff, and the old course at Ballymullen with a view to moving. By April 1932, the decision to move to the old course at Ballymullen was taken, with the acquisition of an extra field from Mr. J. Cole. Aging competition was suspended until the course at Ballymullen was ready, and that was opened in October 1932.  In October 1933 declining membership and non-payment of subscriptions forced a general meeting to terminate the lease with Mr. Cole at Balllymullen, and to close the Club. It was hoped that the closure would be for a limited time, as the meeting decided to try and keep the course in order for a few months.

A year of discussion and debate followed, and in October 1934, a meeting of interested parties was called, and decided to restart on the old course at Rathmoyle as a Winter links, the initial terms being £6 rent for the period 1st November, 1934, to 1st May, 1935. The membership at this point numbered 35, the subscription for men was £1, and for ladies 10/-, with green fees 1/- per day. The Club held its first Open Day on 26th April 1936, under the captaincy of Mr. R. Fyffe, and 31 golfers from Abbeyleix and surrounding clubs participated. The home membership dropped considerably by the end of 1936, and the financial situation was making life very difficult.

The 1937 A.G.M. re-elected the Officers and Committee unchanged but by May of that year, a Special Meeting of all members was obliged, reluctantly, to close the Club and course indefinitely.

Following the 1937 closure, for the next ten years or so, the Club lay dormant as it were, but in spite of the rigours of the ‘Emergency” during World War II, the memory of the good golfing and social times of the past, lived on among those golfers of the twenties and thirties. When life began to return to normal in 1948, the possibility of re-establishing the Club became a topic of discussion among the surviving pre-War members, and others with an interest in the game of golf.

On the 28th May, 1948, a public meeting was called in the Town Hall to consider the reopening of Abbeyleix Golf Club. Over 160 notices were sent out to those who might be interested, and 28 turned up at the meeting, which was chaired by Rev. Fr. O’Byrne, C.C. An investigating committee was asked to enquire into the availability of a course, and established that Mr. Thomas Reilly of Oatlands was agreeable to lease the section of his lands, which formed part of the old golf course at Rathmoyle, and Mr. Wilson, of Rathmoyle House, was willing to lease the rest of the old course, which lay towards the front of his house. A further public meeting in the Town Hall on June 11th, 1948, considered the report of the investigating committee, and a proposal of Mr. W. J. Ryan, seconded by Mr. P. O’Hara, that Abbeyleix Golf Club be revived, was passed unanimously, and that Officers and Committees be elected forthwith.   This committee decided to adopt the old course at Rathmoyle with very few modifications. Most of the hard work was carried out by the committee members themselves.  A generous offer of a secondhand horse-drawn fairways mower was received from Mountrath Golf Club, and Mr. F. Bramley also secured the use of the Estate Company tractor gangmower, and cut fairways over the first few months, the rough being controlled by the grazing of sheep. The provision of a Club pavilion and shelter for storing of clubs and machinery was taken in hand by Mr. J. Baggot and others, who investigated the possibility of renovating the old gate lodge, which stood on the course, and of purchasing a 20’by 60′ hut from Irish Coalmines Ltd. Of Crettyard. Both of these options were less than satisfactory, and on a proposal of Mr. F. Bramley, seconded by Mr. P. O’Hara, a very generous offer from Mr. John Baggot to erect a pavilion of aluminium sheetng for a nominal sum was gratefully accepted, subject to the engineering approval of Mr. Thomas White. Work on the course and pavilion proceeded during the Summer of 1948.

By June 1949, the Club was ready to be registered as a licensed premises for the sale of intoxicating liquor. A bar was installed, and a bar committee was elected to operate the same.

Clearly the years of re-establishment, 1948/49, were very successful in the Club’s development, and a great deal of hard work went into the maintenance of steady progress.

In February 1951, the G.U.I. fixed the Standard Scratch Score of the Course at 69.

Today Abbeyleix boasts an 18-hole Golf Course, which was opened on 17th September 2000 by Patrick Murphy G.U.I. The 18-hole course was designed by the well-known international golf architect Mel Flanagan.