The Club: 100 Year History
The First reference to a proposed golf course to be situated within the valley on the Hill of Howth appeared in The Irish Field on the 12th March 1910. It originally stated that plans were under way for a club that was to be known as Kilrock Golf Club, however, the following November, the same paper reported that the project had fallen through, but added that a new provisional committee, lead by a one Mr Julian Gaisford St. Lawrence of Howth Castle in tandem with the Right Honourable Justice Boyd and that this committee had been established with the intention of laying out a golf course within the Howth area.
November 1910 – a printed document gives more details.
“The Formation of a Golf Club on the Hill of Howth has been under consideration for some time now, and a meeting of those interested was held on Monday evening last at 41 Dame Street, Dublin, under the presidency of J.C.Gaisford St Lawrence. There was also present The Hon. Mr Justice Boyd, A. Butson, E.P.Culverwell FTCD, R. Noel Guinness, J.Kincaid, J.M. Maxwell, Rev. G.D.Nash, R.G Nash, D.Telford and G. Thornley.”
The document continues “After a full discussion it was resolved that those present at the meeting should form a provisional committee (with Power to Add to their number) and to take such steps as necessary to form the club”.
“Suitable Ground had been obtained near Kilrock and had been examined carefully by Mr McKenna, the Malahide Professional and other experts and they expressed an opinion that the accommodation available would enable an excellent nine-hole course”. That was in 1910.
The Irish Golfing Guide of 1911 contains an intriguing statement that: “A course has been chosen for the Hill of Howth and Mr Barcroft (then Secretary of Royal Dublin GC) has laid out nine sporting holes”.
Unfortunately, nothing more was heard of this grand scheme announced in 1910, or indeed of the nine sporting holes that were to have been laid out. It seems that the mantle was not taken further until four years later, when in 1915 a Mr A. Butson (who was present at the very first meeting in Dame St) made the decisive move that led to the formation of Howth Golf Club.
Butson, a Scot, came to Ireland in 1880 and had worked for the Jameson Distillery Family as a steward on their Estate in Portmarnock. Here he worked up to 1908, at which time he moved to own his business, that as proprietor of a Temperance Hotel (Spot the Irony) that was located opposite the entrance to the West Pier in Howth. This Building still stands, but today is a Bar / Restaurant known as Findlaters – (Irony once More).
Mr Butson was an avid Golfer and he appreciated the development potential of the Howth area for such a development in order to play the Game of Golf. He made further contact with Mr Gaisford St Lawrence, the principal landowner, enquiring if it would be possible to lease some land in order to lay out a course for play. Following some weeks negotiations between Butson and the Estate Office of Mr Gaisford St. Lawrence, 80 acres of the Western Slopes was granted at a fifty year lease for the location of a Golf Course on the Peninsula of Howth. Mr Butson wasted little time engaging the services of one Mr Tom Shannon, (the Professional of that time at Portmarnock Golf Club) with the task of laying out the design of Nine Holes. He then hired local labour to work on the extensive land moving design project and started to promote membership, and so began Howth Golf Club.
At first the club was a proprietary club and Mr Butson, of Scotland, was the proprietor. By 1915, through engaged promotion, he had enough members acquired to hold a general meeting and held the first meeting in his Hotel near Howth Pier. Those present, in addition to Mr Butson W.H. De Courcey, P.J Hussey, E.M. Stuart, W.B. Crawford and J.F.A Day. Butson opened the Meeting by giving the history of the foundation of the club but regrettably the details on the minutes are scant. The first item of business for Mr Butson was to announce that the cost of annual membership for ladies would not be less than a guinea, and that for gentlemen it would not be less than two guineas. Mr De Courcey then took the chair and the first officers of the club were elected. Mr Day was elected the Honorary Secretary and Mr E. Stuart became the first Captain of Howth Golf Club
First Golf Competition:
The First competition for the members was a mixed foursomes played on the 27th Dec 1915 and Mr Butson offered prizes for the Ladies and Gentlemen. Two other Prizes would be played for in 1916 as and when decided by the committee.
First Sponsored Golf Competition:
Within two weeks of the mixed foursomes competition, the first sponsored prizes in the history of the club were put up by Elvery’s, the sports store, one each for the ladies and gentlemen.
First Club Medal:
The Captain, Mr E. Stuart, put up a gold medal that would be played for in a strokes competition on St Patricks Day in 1916 and other competitions were to be organised for Easter Monday, Whit Monday and the first Monday in August.
Founded 1916 – A most dramatic year in Irish History
In comparison, with other clubs established in or around the Howth & Sutton area, such as Beann Eadair GAA founded in 1880’s, or Howth Lawn Tennis Club founded in the early 1880’s (predecessor to the existing Sutton Lawn Tennis Club today) and a Rugby Club that flourished in the 1890’s, Howth Golf Club was a relatively late arrival.
The Club takes 1916 as the foundation date as that is when the first elected Captain Mr E. Stuart took office.
1916 – The First Full Season Club:
That first season of 1916, was a major success in the Club and it was clear that the Club had been set up with strong foundations: The level of confidence amongst the members can be gauged from the fact that by November 1916 – only twelve months after the inaugural general meeting – Mr Butson was not only offering a further two prizes each for the Ladies and Gentlemen, but was also considering extension to the course to a full 18 holes. This however, proved to be very ambitious but it did prove two things, one was that there was already consideration for the development within the club membership and two, that the club in its nine hole form was not able to satisfy demand, a healthy position indeed.
The First Green keeper:
The first full time green keeper was Mr Patrick Keegan. At the request of the committee, the club secretary of the time Mr W.B. Crawford, was instructed to write to Mr Butson, due to the unsatisfactory condition of the greens. The letter dated 18th of March 1918, requested that Mr Butson offer employment to Mr Keegan, “A first-class man as green keeper who thoroughly understands the work”. Soon afterwards, Mr Keegan was brought into the employment of the Club as the first permanent greens keeper.
First Clubhouse Expansion
In response to an ever growing membership, the club as a matter of urgency was obliged to look at its facilities in 1919 as the clubhouse was little more than a changing room.
A sub-committee was formed in the middle of 1919 with the express purpose of overseeing the building of a new clubhouse that was to include a tea room and accommodations for the green keeper.
A local builder, Mr Clarke won the tender for the contract of the equivalent of £ 383.50. Heating for the new premises was donated by one of the members, who donated an anthracite stove. Sadly this proved either inadequate or unsuitable as another stove had to be purchased two months later at a cost of £ 7.90. The clubhouse has over the years since undergone numerous expansion plans and upgrades and is now located in such a position that it offers majestic views over Dublin Bay, Fingal and North County Dublin .
First Scratch Golfer:
Cecil Lee was the Clubs first scratch golfer, when he joined the ranks in the 1930’s and found himself keeping good company. He won the Captains Prize in 1937, but in 1938 it was won by Des O’Sullivan, second of the clubs scratch golfers. Des O’Sullivan’s golfing development had been halted by the Effects of the Great War, but afterwards, he produced one of his finest performances in the British Amateur Championship of 1949, by defeating the great Big Bill Campbell, perhaps the most prestigious scalp ever claimed by a Howth Man, in a tournament that has a good history for Irish golfers such as J.B. Carr, Gareth McGimpsey, Michael Hoey and most recently Brian McElhinney.
Third of the scratch golfers in Howth was Noel Mason who dominated the club scene in the 60’s and early 70’s. He won the Howth Scratch Cup on five successive occasions from 1962 to 1966 and reached the semi final of the Lumsden Cup in the latter year, beating Joe Carr in the senior cup match against Sutton in 1964. He also won a number of scratch cups around the country and brought great honour to Howth Golf Club. Andy Foran was a great competitor and rival of Noels and a tenacious competitor. Andy, playing off a 2 handicap, won the Club Golfer of the Year in its inaugural year 1961 and was crowned club champion in 1974 and 1975.
The Early Club Professionals:
Howth Golf Club has a long standing history with the Golf Professional and had some of the highest standard of Professional grace its fairways and serve its members. Pat Keegan, who was appointed as the Greens Keeper was the first “Professional” per say, but , having found work in the Curragh, was replaced in 1922 by Willie Nolan, then Professional of Galway Golf Club. The Committee decided to approach Willie, and he accepted the position on terms of two pounds and ten shillings a week plus 2 shillings a lesson.
Willie Nolan was one of the great figures in the History of Irish Golf. He was born in Bray, but hailed from Baldoyle where his memory stills live today in the form a street name. When he joined Howth, he was still very much on the way up in his career, but it was later, after his time at Howth, that he reached the pinnacle of his career. He was the Irish Match play Champion and the Irish Professional Champion in 1934, the previous year 1933 he had finished runner up in the Dunlop Championship with a score of 294, one behind eventual winner W.H. Davies of Wallasey. Another who tied with Willie on the same score of 294 was the great Henry Cotton. Willie Nolan also led the British Open at the half-way point on the old Course at St. Andrews, at that time he shot a course record 67 in the second round, beating the previous record held by Bobby Jones.
Tom Phelan, a member of Howth, recounted on a number of occasions that he used to watch Willie practise his driving from beside Harfords Cottage, where the 18th Tee is today, and commented that his drive used to land about or on the green. Willie was happy in Howth, so much so, that when a more prestigious position came his way, he was reluctant to take it. In 1926, the professional’s job at Portmarnock fell vacant when Tom Shannon left to go to Milltown where there was a greater demand for lessons. Jim Bourke encouraged Willie to go for the position, which he did so hesitantly. Portmarnock snapped him up and it was there as Professional that his glory years began. Sadly, Willie died from cancer in 1939 at the young age of Forty-three – a tragedy in every sense.
When Willie left Galway, he was succeeded by Jack O’Neill, and again history would repeat itself as Jack O’Neill followed him to Howth. Jack’s association with Howth Golf Club was to last some forty-seven years. Since the 70’s John McGuirk of McGuirks Golf has been the Club Pro.
1919 – The Members buy out the Owner.
In 1917, issue of who should control the affairs of the club took priority. Relations with Mr Butson, founder and Proprietor of the club appear to have been amicable, but as with all clubs of that era, it was a natural progression that members, who at this point were really subscribers in the true sense, would look to take control of the club’s affairs.
It took a number of meetings and various negotiations spread over a few years, and the formation of a new joint committee to represent both the Proprietor and the Members, before the issue got resolved.
At the AGM held on the 17th November 1917, the members requested that a small sub-committee be formed to confer with Mr Butson with a view to the taking over of the Club, and to report back on its negotiations.
A meeting with Mr Butson was held on the 12 Jan 1918, where Mr Butson made a request of an annual rent of £ 150 to be paid. This was not accepted. As a result, Mr Butson, as a gesture of goodwill and friendship proposed that a new committee of eight people be formed, four in his representation and four forming the members representation. The members accepted this and with that, a committee of Messer’s Crawford, De Courcey, Hussey and Stuart represented Mr Butson, whilst Messrs Howard, Lynch, Mahon and Maguire represented the members via election.
All of this indicated Mr Butson’s willingness to make a deal if the terms were right. The negotiations dragged on into early 1919 before finally being resolved, as by late January Mr Butson was still asking for a rent in the region of £ 130 annually, but eventually, after what seemed like never ending haggling, a bargain was struck for a one off fee of £ 800, of which £ 700 was to be paid immediately and the rest over a three year period. A debenture plan was installed among the members, and although up- take was slow, the members eventually raised the funds. April 1919 was a seminal moment in the clubs history as it now belonged to the members as a result of their purchase.
Whilst all these negotiations had been underway, the club members were also negotiating a new lease agreement with the St. Lawrence Estate and during these negotiations Mr Julian Gaisford St. Lawrence agreed to accept the Presidency of the club.
Howth Golf Club and Golfing Union of Ireland Affiliation:
On March 11th, 1919, a letter from the Leinster Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland, penned by Mr George Price LL.D, then secretary of the Leinster Branch, informed the committee that Howth Golf Club application for membership of the GUI had been accepted subject to their satisfying that the Club had complete running over the elections of members and the clubs finances. All details were quickly furnished to Dr Price and Howth Golf Club took its place as a full member of the Golfing Union of Ireland. All in all, 1919 proved a very important year in the development of Howth Golf Club.
James Braid, Five Times Open Champion and Designer of Howth Golf Course:
James Braid, Howth Golf Course Designer
James Braid was a renowned Scottish Professional Golfer and Architect. Records show that Mr Braid played the game of golf from an early age. Born in Earlsferry, Fife, Scotland on the 6th February 1870 Braid was a club maker before he turned to golf as a professional in 1896. In the early days, it is said that he struggled to get to grips with his putting, but by switching to an aluminium putter (that would have been lighter) he started to find his winning ways.
He recorded the first of his Five Open Championships in 1901, when the tournament was played at Muirfield. He won by four shots from Vardon and by five from Taylor who finished second and third respectively. Braid followed this up with four more wins in 1905, 1906, 1908 and 1910. He was the first ever golfer to successfully defend the Open Championship title in 1906, were he did so by winning again by four shots, this time with Taylor finishing in second place and Vardon a further shot behind in third. But what is even more impressive is that he was runner-up in the Open in his first full season as a professional 1897, a fact that gets overlooked and a feat in itself considering some of the greats of the game graced the fairways at that time, none more than that of the likes of Harry Vardon and John Henry Taylor. Braid, Vardon and Taylor would become the most renowned golfers of that era. Incidentally the 1897 Open Championship was won by an amateur called Harold Hilton who won with a score of 314, one shot ahead of Braid – Vardon finished in sixth in that same event.
Braids career wins weren’t limited to the Open, he also won four PGA Match play Championships in the years 1903, 1905, 1907 and 1911 and he was winner of the French Open in 1910, held in La Boulie G.C. He won with a score of 298.
James Braid retired from tournament golf in 1912 at the age of 42 and took up the post of Club Professional at Walton Heath Golf Club, Surrey, England. He held this position until 1950, the year in which he died. He was also a renowned golf course architect with what must be over 60 designs to his name, the most well known of which are the “Kings” and “Queens” Courses at Gleneagles in Scotland and he was also responsible for remodelling of the Carnoustie Golf links in 1926. Braid was first invited to inspect Howth Golf Club and propose a redesign in the late 1920’s.
From 9 to 18 holes:
Even though the extension of the course had been mentioned in 1916 at the November General Meeting, by a very ambitious Mr Butson, it would be more than a decade before the dream of an 18 Hole Golf Course was to be realised. The very nature of the terrain itself was the principal reason for the long delay, as the terrain ran uphill and was defined by thick gorse and unique heathers which would require a large amount of physical effort to make fit for golf. So wild in fact was that surrounding ground, that when Mr James Braid first walked the ground he somehow got separated for the party leading him, so lost in fact that a search party had to be got up, which happily found him. No doubt this experience brought home to Braid the toughness of the task that would face him.
Just before this initial inspection, in late 1927 Howth Golf Club was offered a further 12 acres and an additional 30 acres had been offered by the (then) neighbouring estate of McDougall, an area known as the “Bay of Loughs”, all parties sharing the vision to extend the course to 18 holes. The terms of these offers had been agreed by the middle of 1928, an initial inspection by Tom Shannon, now professional at Milltown Golf Club took place and with that done, the committee decided to approach James Braid to offer him the job of designing the new course.
James Braid was a founding member of the Professional Golfers Association, and having retired from tournament golf, had become well known for his course design success and was in much demand. Braid accepted the Job for a total fee of 28 guineas and living expenses. A Scottish Company called J.R. Stutt & Co. of Paisley were awarded the job of clearing the difficult terrain and to lay the course as per the design of Mr Braid’s instructions. The work of laying the 18 hole design took just over 14 months, and on the 15th of June 1929, the Opening Ceremony was performed by the President of the Executive Council (the title given to the head of government between 1922 and 1937).
At 6.30pm that evening Mr W.T. Cosgrave, was the first to drive his ball down today’s 16th Hole (then the 14th) and turned to the crowd that had gathered to formally announce the opening of the new nine holes.
The committees report for the Annual General Meeting of 1929 stated “The President received a very hearty and warm welcome from the members and their guests, and he (the President) was very much impressed with the magnificent situation of the links”. A one pound note was presented to the caddy that retrieved the Presidents Ball.
It was not until 1937 though that the bank overdraft needed to build the extra nine holes, was cleared. James Braid continued his work in Ireland as a course designer, designing not only Howth Golf Club’s new nine and introducing a new layout for the 18 holes, but he also designed Mullingar Golf Course in the midlands, Newlands Golf Club’s course in West Dublin and the golf course atWaterford Golf Club in the South East of Ireland. Howth Golf Club is James Braid’s only known design in North County Dublin to the best of our knowledge, and we’re chuffed about i!t. ( but if you know different then let us know!)