The southern coast of Ireland, around the city of Cork, is not short of a golf course or two, such is the splendour of the topography. So, when GCSAI editor, Alan Mahon, visited Monkstown Golf Club in the cold February sunshine, he was pleasantly surprised to find a course thriving against the local competition
Monkstown Golf Club rejoices in a distinguished history and a unique setting overlooking Cork's glorious harbour. The club celebrated its centenary in 2008 and has hosted many Golfing Union of Ireland and Irish Ladies Golf Union events throughout its history.
The antiquity of the site is evoked by the old castle, which dates back to 1636 and was the clubhouse until 1971. It is fitting that the outline should form the crest of the club since its inception in 1908. The castle has recently been tastefully restored to its former glory.
The sun was shining magnificently on a February day when I visited. I had taken the wrong turn and came to Monkstown from the village of Passage, which led me up a steep,narrow and remarkably quiet winding road with plenty of trees along the way.
When I eventually arrived, I was greeted by a welcoming handshake from Martin Travers, the club's Course Superintendent. Even though it was a bright sunny day, the course was closed due to heavy frost. Ireland was in the grip of a polar airflow that week, which had prevented temperatures rising above freezing point in many parts of the country.
Martin was making the most of the course being closed, by doing some essential maintenance work - removing branches and debris after recent winter storms. "We can only do this when the course is closed, so we took advantage of the situation," said Martin. Indeed the course has many trees, some dating back to long before the club's formation.
The town of Monkstown derives its name from the area's link with the Benedictines but, following the dissolution of the monasteries in Ireland in the mid-sixteenth century, the religious lands at Monkstown passed into secular hands. In 1636, John Archdeacon and his wife Anastasia built a fortified house in Monkstown. It was this structure, Monkstown Castle, that became Monkstown Golf Club's clubhouse in 1908. By the early twentieth century, Monkstown was well established as a desirable place to live, with a local population consisting of many members of the middle and upper classes. It became a health and leisure area where activities such as rowing, cycling, tennis and sailing took place, so it was not surprising that a new golf club was formed.
The man in charge of designing the course was Peter O'Hare of Greenore, Co. Louth. He became the club's first professional. The ground was set out as a nine hole course of 2,500 yards and was on a sloping site with magnificent views over Cork Harbour. The existing mature trees in the area complemented the course. Most of the work was completed in three months, during which time the committee spent £300 on setting up the club and course. On Saturday 11th April 1908, in glorious sunshine, the club was officially opened.
In 1925, the club sought advice from the renowned golf architect Alister MacKenzie on how to improve the course. After many long debates about the cost of carrying out these improvements, alterations were eventually carried out in 1926.
In 1958, during the club's golden jubilee, Viscount de Vesci, owner of the land and clubhouse, from whom the club rented, died. The following year, the club received a letter from de Vesci's solicitors offering to sell the entire demesne to them for £5,000 or else to vacate the property within three months. Faced with this 'gun to the head', the club eventually made an offer of £4,000, which was accepted, much to their relief.
This put a huge burden on finances, so the club sold off Castle House, a nearby residence, together with some land adjoining the avenue, to ease the financial pressure.
In 1959, members were dissatisfied with the state of the greens and course, despite the club's professional carrying out a programme of improvements.
The condition of the Monkstown Castle clubhouse was deteriorating and, in the mid 1960s, it was estimated that between £10,000 - £12,000 would be needed to carry out essential repairs to the building. In 1966, the owner of the Parkgarrife Estate approached the club with an offer to sell part or all of their land to them. The estate bordered the golf club to the north and the 61 acres of land on offer afforded the club the opportunity to extend to eighteen holes. Subsequently, the property was bought by the club for £12,500 and the renovation of the clubhouse was abandoned.
The site of the historic Parkgarrife House (which was destroyed by fire in 1956) was to become the location of the new clubhouse. To pay for the development of the new nine holes, 32 acres of land from the old course was sold in 1967, realising £22,000 for the club. This included the selling of Monkstown Castle, the building that had served as the clubhouse since 1908.
The design and construction of the new holes was carried out by club member Tom Carey. Tom worked for the building firm Sisks, which provided him with the skills necessary to design and build a golf course. Work started on the new holes in 1968 and, just like the old course, the new greens were constructed using a soil based rootzone. The greens on the front nine holes are still the same as they were when they were constructed in 1908. The new eighteen hole course was opened for play in late 1970 at a cost of £20,000; a remarkable achievement.
Martin has four staff working with him; Kevin McCarthy, Chris O'Flynn, Des Coen and Frank Cronin. They have served the club well, with over fifty combined years between them.
Martin is a Scot born in Glasgow. Talking to him you would be forgiven for thinking that he had just got off the plane from Scotland, as his Glaswegian accent is as strong as ever. His first job on leaving school was as an apprentice at Haggs Castle Golf Club in Glasgow. He worked there for several years but, at the time, there seemed to be no opportunities for him to develop his career so, in 1989, when he became aware of a job vacancy at Monkstown Golf Club, he decided to apply for the position. He travelled to Ireland for the interview, which happened to be on St. Patrick's Day and, to his delight, was offered the position of Head Greenkeeper (as the job title was back then). He has remained at Monkstown ever since, marrying and starting a family in the meantime.
When Martin arrived at Monkstown, the course was suffering from drainage problems and many days of play were lost due to it being waterlogged. When he went for his job interview on that St. Patrick's Day in 1989, the course had been closed every day since the previous Christmas. The cause was an impervious soil pan 25cm below the surface throughout the course.
It was decided, therefore, that the fairways should be verti-drained. This work was carried out fifteen years ago using twelve inch tines. The soil pan was shattered and the results were immediate. Since then, the fairways are verti-drained annually and followed up with an application of 600 tonnes of sand. Sand slits were installed on the 11th and 18th fairways. It is very rare now that the course is closed due to heavy rainfall.
The greens are all soil based. However, after many years of sand topdressing, the top five inches of rootzone is sand. Hollow coring is carried out only once a year in the autumn, using half inch tines, but the greens are solid tined monthly from October through to and including April.
The feeding programme changes each year. The reason for this is that Martin relies on the results of soil tests, taken the previous spring, before deciding on what nutrients to apply. Based on these results, he applies a granular feed in spring and then, every three to four weeks, applies a liquid feed during the growing season with plant growth regulators added to the mix. During the winter months, 20kg of Sulphate of Ammonia and 10kg of Sulphate of iron is sprayed every six weeks, with liquid seaweed added.
The greens are lightly sanded every second week in summer. This practice is very popular with superintendents nowadays.
Tees and greens are irrigated with water coming from an old reservoir located beside the 16th tee. This reservoir used to serve the village of Monkstown.
Many mature trees are growing on the old part of the course (the front nine), but conifers were planted on the back nine during the 1960s and 1970s to give definition to the new holes. However, these eventually grew too big and had to be dealt with. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, new trees were planted, mainly Scots pine, oak, beech and ash. The violent storms that hit Ireland in January and February 2014 took their toll on many trees in Monkstown, so more will be planted to replace these.
My visit to Monkstown Golf Club was a memorable one. The course overlooks Cork Harbour and, on a fine sunny day, the views are spectacular. It is a lovely place to play golf and remove the cobwebs of life.
This article first appeared in Greenside, the official publication of the GCSAI.
What's in the shed?
Jacobsen Triplex Greens mower x 2
John Deere Pedestrian mowers x 4
Jacobsen Triking mowers x 2
Jacobsen 3800 fairway mower x 2
Jacobsen Bunker rakers x 2
Articulator rough mowers x 2
Tru Roller x 1
Toro 5700 sprayer
Ultra Plant topdresser for greens
Ultra Plant topdresser for fairways
Ford 2120 tractor
New Holland tractor
John Deere Aercore
Verti Drain (greens)
Verti Drain (fairways)
John Deere Gators x 4
- Peter O'Hare, the club's first professional emigrated to the US in 1914. He was tied seventh in the 1924 US Open, which was the best finish by an Irishman in the US Open until Rory McIlroy won it in 2011
- In 1959, the club purchased a second tractor for £45 to help with the maintenance of the course
- During construction of the 16th green, a former captain, who was an employee of Cork Distilleries, buried a bottle of Cork Dry Gin in the green. Inside the bottle was a note promising a free bottle of gin to any player who got a 'hole in one' in a competition. As luck would have it, the new course designer, Tom Carey, achieved this in 1971