Cork GC was formed in 1888 by prominent Cork businessmen. The first location was at Rathcooney Hill above Glanmire village. Thereafter a number of moves were made while searching for a better site. The present location at Little Island was chosen in 1897 when Messrs Maudslay, J. H. Gubbins and Sharman Crawford spotted its potential while sailing in the adjacent estuary.
Initially the members laid out just four holes along the shore amongst what were still working limestone quarries, owned by the local Cantillon family. To allow play, many craters had to be filled with waste stones and top soil, producing a fast draining, links-like turf; still an attractive feature to this day. A club house was built shortly afterwards near the present eight tee.
In 1898 the ambitious club appointed a professional, David Brown, from Edinburgh who was destined to remain with the club until his retirement in 1926. It was he, who in 1901 with some external assistance, created an extension to nine holes.
Click to see a map of the nine hole 1901 layout
Not content with these nine holes, within a short time thoughts turned to extending the course to eighteen. Harry Vardon then in his prime as a professional with four victories in the British Open behind him, was invited over in 1909. In addition to playing an exhibition, his opinion was sought on the suitability of lands, known locally as ‘The Park’, which had become available for lease and were being considered by the club for the extension. Despite the embarrassing fact that as a professional he was forbidden entry to the club house, Vardon approved the concept and David Brown was tasked with the new design which came into play by 1911. A fine new clubhouse was also constructed on the newly acquired lands.
After WW1, the club decided on a major upgrade entrusting it to Alister MacKenzie, then considered the most creative golf architect in Britain who subsequently created such masterpieces as Augusta National, Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne and Pasatiempo. Design and construction were ‘not to exceed £600’. He proposed three entirely new holes, created new greens and, radically, installed sand filled bunkers. The design incorporated his signature undulating greens, large and free-form bunkers and substantial contouring. On completion in the summer of 1925 the course measured 6,200 yards with a par of 78. It received widespread publicity and favourable comment when the club hosted professional tournaments in 1925 and 1926 followed by the Irish Professional Open in 1932 and the Irish Amateur Close Championship the following year.
The MacKenzie-designed layout approximates the course in play to this day.
The club house together with most of the club’s early records was destroyed in a fire in 1945. An impressive replacement was designed, built and opened before the end of 1946 a remarkable achievement at this time of post-war austerity. This in turn was refurbished in 1968 and completely redesigned in 2001 which is the fine clubhouse of today.
Left: The club house which burnt down in 1945. Right The replacement club house opened in 1946.
The club did not rest on its laurels as a MacKenzie course, but continually upgraded and modernized, using prominent golf architects such as Frank Pennick, well known for his work in Portugal and Dave Thomas associated with the Belfry in England. Even the renowned American architect Robert Trent Jones Snr. commented on a proposal for a new green.
Thus, over the years, new greens, bunkers and tees were established and the course was considerably lengthened. However the planting of a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees drastically altered the course appearance, leading to the attractive original features of rock, gorse and water becoming less obvious.
Recognising this and the progression in golf technology, in 2010 an up-grading proposal presented by the well-regarded architects Hawtree Ltd, was sanctioned. This included re-modeling all tees to American PGA standards, re-landscaping and more significantly re-bunkering to more faithfully reflect the original MacKenzie design concept. The ambitious program was successfully completed in 2013. The revamped course is now a worthy challenge for players of all standards.
Dermot J. Russell, Cork Golf Club 1888/1988 (Cork, 1988)