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Golf

Carving its own place in history

Where there might have been the forlorn stump of a once-proud Douglas-fir, a beautiful wood-carving adorns the left side of the first green. Which is perhaps typical of the progressive thinking at Skibbereen and West Carbery Golf Club, whose members have much to celebrate this weekend.

he strategically-placed tree, often the source of grief for hopeful handicappers, fell victim to a particularly destructive storm. This prompted an enthusiastic member to enlist the wood-carving skills of Nathan Solomon, who left his native Kent 28 years ago and found a new home in West Cork, in the village of Drimoleague.

It features an eagle, the emblem the club adopted from the celebrated local newspaper (since replaced by The Southern Star), looking east towards the second tee. At the back is a carving of a wood nymph, while the creation is completed by a beefy branch which has evolved into a cleverly carved fox.

Solomon’s skills grabbed my attention, not least because of a familiarity with the so-called Tree of Life, completed in 2018 by another gifted Englishman, Tommy Craggs, on the north-east corner of St Anne’s Park, near my home in Dublin. Now it became a charming introduction to a golf course I first became aware of back in 1980.

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That was when I saw Skibbereen member Brendan McDaid compete for Ireland in the European Junior Championship at the Hubbelrath Club in Dusseldorf. Ten years later, his sister Eileen Rose brought further distinction to the club at The Island, by winning the first of three Irish Women’s Close Championships.

A visit to Skibbereen sharpens one’s awareness of remarkable sporting achievements associated with West Cork. Less than two months ago, bonfires blazed and fireworks fizzed in Castletownbere as Berehaven GC returned in triumph from Donegal with the 2020 AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield, their first national pennant.

Mention rowing gold medallists Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy in the current climate and you’ll be informed that no fewer than seven from the area have been competing as Olympians in Tokyo.

Situated in the barony of Carbery West, a golf club bearing that name and located a quarter of a mile from Skibbereen railway station, was listed in The Irish Golfers Guide in 1910. Both names were incorporated in the club’s title when it moved to its present site at Licknavar in 1935.

When gaining international recognition through the McDaids, it was a modest nine holes on land with a long lease, not unlike many rural courses at the time. Which brings me to one of Skibbereen’s leading members, Mary Crowley.

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Arising out of a piece I wrote about Donald Trump and earlier US golfing presidents, Ms Crowley gently informed me of an Irish connection I had overlooked. While noting the set of Dunlop golf clubs which Seán Lemass brought as a gift to John F Kennedy during a White House visit in the early 1960s, I had neglected to mention a similar gesture from Richard Nixon. The really nice part is that I have since seen these clubs, up close.

From one left-handed golfer to another, they were a set of Wilson X31s, presented by Nixon to Jack Lynch, who, in turn, donated them to Skibbereen GC.

That’s where I observed them recently, proudly on display in the club’s function room. And they’re remembered with particular affection this weekend, as the annual Jack Lynch Memorial Open Week draws to a close with tomorrow’s Men’s Fourball Competition.

Noted for a different set of sporting skills which brought him five All-Ireland hurling and one football medal with Cork, Lynch became an enthusiastic supporter of Skibbereen GC, arising largely from a holiday home which he and his wife Máirín had nearby. In fact he accepted the role of patron in 1981, on a proposal from Liam O’Regan, a member of a famous newspaper family.

Four years later, he presented a silver and wood trophy for the Jack Lynch Classic, which remains a highly-regarded team event, even 40 years after his retirement from Dáil Éireann.

Meanwhile, ongoing plans to extend the course to 18 holes finally became a reality on July 7, 1993, when Lynch was on hand to do the formal opening. Indeed his influence was also evident in the scope of the week’s celebrations which included an appearance by Tony Jacklin, only four years after he had helped keep the Ryder Cup in Europe as captain of the side at The Belfry in 1989.

Jacklin’s presence was sponsored by businessman Bernard McNicholas, who had a residence at that time in Kilfinnan Castle, Glandore. In the event, the two-time Major champion played in the Jack Lynch Classic on July 10 and 11 and then headed for Royal St George’s where he made one of his last appearances in the Open Championship.

Typically, Jacklin didn’t disgrace himself. Though he missed the cut at Sandwich after rounds of 73 and 76, he was level with David Feherty among others in a share of 132nd place. Jack Lynch died in 1999 and his link to the club was maintained in 2002 when a clubhouse commemorative bust, sculpted by Jeanne Rynhart, was unveiled by Máirín, in a glass case beneath the lettering ‘The Lynch Legacy’.

Golf remains a constant gift to the local community. Indeed, future members have already been secured through the coaching programme of Sarah Claridge, an English teaching professional who has coached British Women’s champion, Georgia Hall. Like many of her compatriots, Ms Claridge succumbed to the special appeal of West Cork.

The additional nine holes, on the other side of the road linking Skibbereen to Baltimore, were completed at the relatively modest cost of £270,000. A measure of its importance to the development of golf in the area is that when the project was completed no other 18-hole layout existed on the coastline between Cork Harbour and Waterville, in south Kerry.

Meanwhile, good husbandry remains in evidence in the club’s most recent project, a purpose-built office costing €30,000, which was opened last week. The simple objective was to relieve pressure on the function area of the clubhouse which, up to now, had to handle just about every activity, including administration.

Members are keenly aware of the gem they possess, stretching over a very generous site of 168 acres of classic rolling parkland. Looking at an overall length of 6,024 yards for a men’s par of 71, head greenkeeper John McCarthy remembered the official opening 28 years ago. He talked about ample room for expansion and the natural hazards the course presents with brambles, undergrowth and lines of mature trees flanking generous fairways.

Expertly re-routed by the design skills of Eddie Hackett, the original nine holes now constitute one to seven and the 17th and 18th. Across the Baltimore road are the eighth to the 16th, inclusive. There, I took in the stunning view from the 12th tee, the highest point on the course, just as Jack Lynch had done for a famous photograph.

When he died, Máirín succeeded him as club patron. And when she, too, passed on in 2004, a specially-raised tee on the 12th was constructed in her memory.

“That’s what the tree was suggesting,” Solomon explained about the carvings now dominating the first green. “I like the idea of releasing sunlight with my chainsaw and though I have no involvement in golf, I’m glad my work seems to be appreciated. With preservatives, it may last 20 years, though parts of it could succumb to rot before then.”

For his part, the former Taoiseach was never a keen golfer. He simply liked the people he found around the game. Which is an image Skibbereen are determined to perpetuate.

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