Swinford Golf Club

Swinford Golf Club is situated on the outskirts of Swinford, County Mayo, Ireland. The course is on the N5 road, located 18 km (11 miles) from Ireland West Airport Knock (formerly known as Knock International Airport). The history of Swinford Golf Club has been published in the Anniversary booklets of 1972 and 1997. In 1922 Swinford G.C. was affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland. Since then the club has celebrated its 75th anniversary of its founding in 1998.

Brabazon Park (1840-1923)
The story of Swinford Golf Club began in Brabazon Park, the seat of a minor, though well-connected family of the landed gentry. Sir William Brabazon, who died in 1840, was M.P. for Mayo. He was succeeded by his nephew, Major Hugh Brabazon. Shortly after Major Brabazon's death in 1864 the family departed for England. The last of the Brabazon's to visit Swinford was Colonel Sir John Palmer Brabazon who came in 1877 with his sisters for a few days. He was a close friend of Winston Churchill who described him as "one of the brightest military stars in London society". Winston Churchill, Winston; William Manchester (1996). My Early Life, 1874-1904. London. p. 31. ISBN 0684823454. He was also destined to be Swinford's last landlord. The Congested Districts Board acquired the estate from him in the early years of this century. He died in Switzerland in 1923. The Brabazons are today remembered in the Park where the Golf Course is situated which is called after them and by the Brabazon Cup which is played for annually.

The Park Trustees (1916 - 1919)
In 1916, the Convent of Mercy acquired Brabazon Park House and some land from the Congested Districts Board. On the 28th April, 1919, Brabazon Park was committed to the care of a number of trustees. The original trustees were Dean Connington, B. F. Cunniffe, Michael F. Campbell, Michael J. Campbell, Patrick O'Connor, Solicitor, Thomas Morrin, J. P. and Patrick O'Hara, Swinford, thus became almost unique for a town of its size having a community owned public park. The Golf Club pays an annual rent for the use of the park. The original rent of £10 had grown to £60 by 1947 and now stands at £120 (1972). The relationship between the Golf Club and the Park Trustees has always been very good. In the lean years of the early 'forties' the rent was halved for £60 to £30 enabling the Golf Club to survive.

The early years (1917-1922)
Golf, which was still something or a rarity in the West outside the larger centers such as Sligo and Galway, was first played in Swinford about 1917. Dr. E. Mulligan, who died in 1920, is reputed to have returned to Swinford a few years previously already a keen enthusiast of the game. The newly-arrived nuns in Brabazon Park House were astonished at the sight of reputable citizens "hitting a little white ball round the Park." During the "Troubles" the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders who were billeted in Swinford took their time off on the golf course and the local Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) retaliated by ploughing up the greens.

The Old Course (1922-1929)
In 1922 Swinford G.C. was affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland. The earliest recorded officials of the club are Paddy McManus, who was secretary, and C. A. Bowles, who was possibly captain. Both of them represented Swinford G.C. at a meeting in Claremorris called to set up an interclub competition for the county. Swinford played host to Castlebar on Sunday, 31st April, and the home side won 8-5 in the singles and 4-2 in the foursomes. They played Balla on Sunday, 4th June. The old course began at the present sixth and ended on the present fifth with some minor changes throughout. A feature of the course then was the great number of trees, many of which have fallen since. The entrance to 'Dooneen' was guarded by two giant oaks whose spreading branches nipped many a fine drive in the bud. Another great oak stood to the right of the present 9th green and served for hanging coats. Standards had risen considerably by 1924 when Swinford reached the 4th round of the Mayo Cup, being defeated by Ballina in Ballina on the new course opened there that year. McManus and O'Neill were Swinford's only winners.

Between 1925-1930, membership increased from 30 to 100 with country members standing at 23 in that year. Fund raising activities are a feature of 1928, with a whist drive, a very successful golf dance in the Cliff Hotel, Enniscrone, and a donkey derby which raised £20, and plans were laid for a new course and Pavillion.

The New Course (1929-1930)
In 1929 a loan of £100 was raised in the Provincial Bank, the guarantors being Rev. T. Morrin, C.C., Rev. G. Hannon, C.C., Patrick J. Durkin, Patrick McManus, Dominic S. Walsh, Captain Frank Douris, Dr. Michael Henry, Michael P. Horkan, William F. Gallagher, James Foley, C. B. Adams. Construction of the Pavillion began which was ready for the new season of 1930. Paddy McManus called on the services of Major Benson of Rosses Point to design a new course. The result was the present course. As evening golfers began by playing into the sun, thus losing a lot of balls, and as it was regarded as most desirable to have competitions finishing beside the Pavillon, the present order of the holes was established. French drains were laid under the 5th as it tended to be marshy. A unique feature of the new course was the raised tees which still evoke considerable comment from visiting golfers. In this work the secretary was ably assisted by Dick Henry. The lockers were ready for members in 1930 at the rent of five shillings, the membership fee being then £1.

The club had just gained two perpetual trophies: The Dr. Mulligan Cup was presented to the club in 1929 in memory of Dr. Eddie Mulligan; the Bishop of Achonry, a frequent player on the course, donated the Dr. Morrisroe Cup in 1930. The year 1930 was a peak one in the club's history with country members from Ballymote, Ballina, Tubbercurry, Charlestown, Kiltimagh and Kilkelly. Competitions ran from May to October and the fixtures were as follows: 2nd May - stroke competition, prize 17 Ace golf balls; 10th May - Captain's prize; 31st May - Ladies competition; 19th June - Mulligan Cup; 5th July - Priests' competition; 15th July - mixed foursomes; 23rd September - ladies competition; 11th October - P. Feeney's prize; October - The Bishop's Cup. The two cups, Captain's prize, mixed foursomes were match-play competitions which continued to be the most popular form of competition until the early fifties.

The Lean Years (1935-1939)
Paddy McManus finally relinquished the post of secretary in 1937 with the club firmly on its feet, and Swinford was fortunate in finding another outstanding secretary to replace him, Mr. Thomas M. Whelan. He was ably assisted by Miss Patricia Egan who succeeded him as the club's only lady secretary. Two other ladies who played an active role during these years were Ms. P. McQuinn and Miss Cahill, teachers in the Park House. The ladies were presented with a fine perpetual trophy by Fr. Morrin, C.C., in 1936. Fr. Morrin was a keen member ever since his first appointment to Swinford as a curate in 1925.

In 1939 the club staged a rather unique competition knows as 'Jack's Prize'. Jack was of all things, a dog, the property of M. A. Ryan, manager of the provincial Bank. Jack was every golfer's dream dog, a finder of lost golf balls. In that year he unearthed no less than eighty balls which Mr. Ryan offered as a prize to the club. Forty were won by Bernie O'Connor and M. K. Colgan; the remaining forty being shared between W. Ormsby and B. Howley. These golf balls played a very important role in helping the club to survive the shortage of golf balls due to the war. But they were difficult years.

It was the time when the fifteen-odd members began the season by signing a promissory note in the bank for £30, the reduced rent, and when a 9-hole competition consisted in the players walking from one green to the next and 'putting the four corners,' as they could not afford to have the fairways cut. But it survived thanks to the 'half-a-crown fourball-shilling on dykes' of regulars like Michael Joe Cassidy, Jack Doris, Fred Cahill, Bill Ormsby, William Swords, Tom Carney, Frank Douris, Michael Egan, John Loftus, etc.

The Revival (1945-1958)
After the war the fortunes of the club began to improve. Canon Higgins, who first came to Swinford as a Curate in 1922, donated two fine perpetual cups for open competitions for men and women. The first open day was a spectacular affair with Cecil Ewing, captain of the Walker Cup team, teeing off with Bill Ormsby. He carded a 72 and Ormsby a 73, Jim Loftus won the cup. The club reached its peak for the second time in the early 'fifties, recording over a 100 members. Standards also rose. Single figure men were becoming common. The climax was reached in 1953 when Swinford won the Connaught Shield from Ballina, with Bill Ormsby deciding the issue on the twentieth. It was the last year of the singles. Swinford reached the finals again in the following year but were defeated by Mountbellew in the new foursomes competition. Swinford was also making a name for itself in the wider world of golf. Two Swinford players Seamus McHugh and Barney O'Beirne reached the last eight in the West of Ireland Golf Classic. The diminutive McHugh, a 9-handicapper, caught the popular imagination as a giant-killer, taking the international Michael Edwards 2 and 1 before going out to the eventual winner, T. Mahon, McHugh later played in the Irish Close in Galway. Barney O'Beirne, a scratch player and interprovincial was the greatest golfer Swinford ever produced. In 1962 he was defeated by Joe Carr in the final of the West of Ireland. His tragic death in the 1968 Viscount crash was nowhere felt more acutely than in Swinford Golf Club.

In the Doldrums again (1960-1970)
The fortunes of the club sagged again in the '60s with membership to a record low of fifteen members in 1962. But even then it had its moments of glory. In 1960 and again in 1969 Swinford, acting as the host club to the county, won the County Cup with McHugh taking the Scratch Cup on both occasions. In 1962 Swinford again reached the final of the Connaught Shield, to be defeated by Ballina. That year, too, McHugh reached the last eight in the play-off for the Evening Herald Golfer of the Year Trophy, a feature repeated by Bill Ormsby.

In 1962 Fr. Martin McManus donated the African Cup, in honour of African Missionaries of the club, in particular Fr. Gerry Lambe, C.S.Sp., and Fr. Denis McManus, son of the club's first secretary. An extension to the clubhouse was added in 1960 providing a bar and in 1970 with the co-operation of the Park Trustees, a car park was added.

The Next 30 Years (1973-1999)
The late Harry Brennan, as men's Captain, ushered in the second half century for the club in 1973. Membership began to increase slightly in the early 70s with the age profile of new members getting gradually lower. This influx of new and younger members augered well for the future of the club. The 70s and early 80s proved to be a glorious chapter in the Club's history, principally through the efforts and success at national level of our teenage golfers, both boys and girls. In 1979, '80, and '83 our schoolboys team won the Connacht Schools Championships and advanced to the National Finals. They won the Kenny Cup in 1982 for boys under 18. In 1983 they won the Connacht final of the Aer Lingus youths and again advanced to the National Finals.

It is worth noting that all these young stars are still playing golf at a high level today. John Harnett has been, for the past few years, the Club Professional at Milltown Golf Club in Dublin. Gerry Ronayne also qualified as a professional and commenced his career in Wexford Golf Club. The Benson brothers - all single handicappers - are still bisecting the fairways both in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Noel, Don, Aidan and David were part of those teams in the 70s and 80s, and later on Paul and Eugene followed in the footsteps of big brothers. In recent years Paul has been capped for Connacht as well as being a regular on the m Mayo inter-counties team which has reached the finals of the Jonnie Walker sponsored national event, ably captained by Donal Benson, patriarch of the golfing dynasty. Pete Walsh (Junior), Eamonn Brady, Eddie Kelly and John Sheehan also contributed to the success of those great years.

Among the stories that will be told are retold for many a year will be John Sheehan taking an up-and-coming Dublin golfer to the 17th hole in the schools final in 1980. His opponent's name was Philip Walton, hero of the Ryder Cup in 1995. The girls, not to be outdone, also carried the flag in style during those years. Niamh O'Neill and Sinead O'Kelly ruled the roost in girls golf in Connacht for a few years. They also scaled the heights of national finals, winning in 1979 and 1980. Niamh, without doubt the finest female golfer the club has ever produced, was honoured by being selected for Ireland in 1979 and played in the Home Internationals over the famous Wentworth Golf Club, home of the World Professional Matchplay event. She is still playing golf to a high standard and in recent years has played at county level for Surrey where she now resides. One of the main reasons for Swinford's success during those years was the support, encouragement, time and effort by many of the parents of our young stars.

Swinford Golf Club was a byword in national underage golf circles in those years and every player was a credit to the club, thereby ensuring that Swinford Golf Club was held in the highest esteem. A lot of effort in the 70s and early 80s was applied in bringing about improvements to the course and clubhouse. In 1977, captain Charlie Quinn bought up plans to extend the original clubhouse, adding on ladies' and gent's washrooms. In 1980 the first major addition to the clubhouse - an extensive new bar and lounge - was opened during the captaincy of Donal Benson and Mary O'Connor. The plan for the extension were the work of the then Vice-Captain, Luke O'Malley. During this decade we also brought about the relocation of livestock which had shared the fairways - and sometimes the greens – with golfers for many years. With the end of sheep and cattle on the course, members were able to remove the wire fencing which had enclosed all nine greens. This brought about a major improvement in the overall appearance of the course. Members were thus able to extend the greens and tees, and locate new bunkers at all nine holes.

In 1993, the patrons said goodbye to the final portion of their original corrugated iron clubhouse with the opening of new locker rooms, foyer, office and toilets/showers by Captains Tony Spain and Josie Prendergast. Monsignor Sean Leonard, P.P., blessed the new extension and paid fulsome tribute to the dedication and efforts of the members of Swinford Golf Club who now had a clubhouse that compared with the best.

Among the clubs successes were the Men's County Cup-winners in 1963, 1991 and 1993; and later in 2002; Connacht Shield-winners in 1953; Ladies' County Cup-winners in 1987; Connacht junior foursomes-runnerup, 1986; Connacht Shield runners-up, 1995. Our victorious County Cup teams of 1991 and '93 were captained by Tom Keane and Donal Benson whose vast experience and astute selections bore fruit on both occasions. They had a perfect blend of youth and experience in action and this proved very successful.

Swinfords ladies, too, flew the flag in style over the years, and although not too often reaching the winners enclosure, they played on every occasion with style and grace, thereby enhancing the club's reputation on the circuit. Over the home course in 1987 they proved victorious in the County Cup with Mary Smyth, Lady Captain, urging them on throughout the day. Sinead O'Kelly made it a local double by winning the individual prize for the best score.

The clubs junior foursomes team of 1986 lost by the odd match in three to Loughrea in the final. Sadly two members of that side, Owen Roe O'Neill and Eamonn McAndrew, passed away within a few weeks of each other in 1996. Another long-standing and probably the most frequent player on the course for many years, Dr. Joe Cullen, also died in 1996. Another lamented passing in recent years was Harry Brennan who, not only an excellent golfer, but provided musical entertainment on many a joyous occasion in the Clubhouse.

Although only a 9 holes course, Swinford Golf Club has produced golfers who have scaled the heights at representative level. Barney O'Beirne reached the West of Ireland final in the early 60s only to lose to the great Joe Carr of Sutton. Barney was subsequently capped for Connacht.

In 1995 another Swinford man reached the same stage - Sean Horkan, who plays at Walton Heath Golf Club in England losing to another Walker Cup player, Garth McGimpsey. Sean has since been honoured by being elected an honorary life member. Another player who advanced to the later stages of the West of Ireland was Seamus McHugh who reached the last eight in the 1950s.

Paul Benson was the next to qualify for the matchplay stages of the West - a feat he also achieved in the annual South of Ireland event played in Lahinch. A One handicapper, Paul has a formidable record at schoolboy and youth level - his wins include the Connacht Close under 16 in 1981 and under 18 in 1982; reached the final of the Munster Boys Championship in 1984 where he lost on the 18th; 4th in the Leinster boys in 1981; 6th in the Irish Boys in 1983; reached the last 16 in the South of Ireland in 1993 in Lahinch. All his efforts were crowned with selection for the Connacht senior team in 1996.

The Glory Years (2000 – 2010)
The first success (for nearly a decade) for the club in a team competition was the Men's County Cup which took place in Ballina in 2002. Nobody would have known it at the time, but this victory would be the start of ‘the golden era’ for Swinford Golf Club. However, “the greatest test of courage on the earth is to bear defeat without losing heart (Robert Ingersol: 1833 – 1899)”. This was none more apparent in 2005 and 2006 when the club was narrowly beaten in the Connaught Shield final by Co. Sligo (2005), and Ballinsloe (2006). In 2008, Swinford’s Connaught Shield team wasn’t about to let another final slip through their fingers. They went onto comprehensively beat Barna in the 2008 Connaught Shield final. Among the clubs successes to follow were the Jack O’Sullivan (Winners 2009), and the Jimmy Bruen (Provincial Winners 2010).

All-Ireland (Semi-finalists 2010)
Swinford made their way back up the road to Castlebar Golf to compete in the National decider where they were drawn against Ulster Champions Tandragee Golf Club in the All-Ireland Semi-Finals on Friday 17th September. First on the tee Sean Geraghty with Niall McNicholas against Gordon Haire with Johnny Quinn went 3 and 2 to the Armagh men, next up was Eamon Byrne with Tomas Geraghty against Stefan Greenberg with Mark Bannerman this match went 2 and 1 to the men from Swinford, they were followed by Sean Kavanagh with Simon Ronane who lost their match by the narrowest of margins with a 1-hole victory for Ryan Harpur with Warren Jardine. The penultimate match of Michael Rooney with Kevin Feeney lost their match by 2 and 1 against Ross Dutton with Stefan McNeill and with it their hopes of reaching the All-Ireland Final and the bottom match of David Ronane with Niall O’Neill was halved against Emmit Nixon with Jeff Forde. Tandragee went on to play Leinster Champions Clontarf Golf Club the following morning in the decider in which they lost 3 ½ - 1 ½.

The Course (Re-development)
In 2002 under the leadership of incoming Chairman and Captain Kevin Quinn, Swinford Golf Club saw the commencement of a ten year plan to upgrade the course. Two new greens, four new tee boxes and several new bunkers have been constructed by European Golf Services. While all course and clubhouse developments were taking place, activity on the course continued apace. The teams played in all the G.U.I. golfing competitions and the ladies also performance well in the I.L.U.G. competitions.

During many summers the late Matt Groarke tended to the greens with a loving and dedicated approach. A most loyal, dedicated and vastly experienced greenkeeper, Matt devoted years of his skill in ensuring that Swinford had a state of the art golf course. He was, on his retirement, fittingly and most deservedly elected an honorary life member. Matt passed away unexpectedly in 2008.

Michael Farrelly (present greenkeeper), has carried on Matt's proud standard and tradition. With larger greens, tees and bunkers now a feature of our course, Michael has further enhanced the reputation which of the course. In recent years the club has also benefited from the efforts of those employed on FAS schemes. Many valuable improvements have been brought about by the members of these teams and in completing an array of projects.