History of Athenry Golf Club

 

The history of golf in Athenry probably began before 1902 but there is little evidence to indicate this except that some organisation must have existed prior to the Athenry Golf Club affiliating to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland. The first reference to golf in Athenry was in The Golfing Annual 1907/08 which lists November 1904 as the foundation date. However, the record was corrected in 1910 in The Irish Golfer's Guide (William H. Gibson) which gives 1902 as the year of institution. Athenry Golf Club was affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1929.

Evidence indicates the first actual golf course located in Athenry was situated in Rockfield. The course was a parkland nine hole golf course. This land was originally owned by the Concannon family. The Concannon family came to Rockfield around the turn of the twentieth century. The family had made their money on the stock exchange and were also associated with the Dublin City Tram Company. Jim Cassidy from Clamper Park, who died in the mid 60's, worked for the Concannon family. Jim looked after the greens and the tee-boxes and occasionally caddied for the Concannon family or any visitors that came to play in Rockfield. However, in 1939 the Blythe family bought the lands at Rockfield and moved into their new home in 1940. At this point the Club was no longer located in Rockfield.

The first actual records of golf in Athenry are from the period when the course was located in Cullairbawn and Park. Local descriptions would have the course located in 'Raheen', however the actual town land was called Cullairbawn and Park. The land used for the golf course belonged to three land owners. Pat Holland provided approximately 20 acres in Cullairbawn and both Tom Coyne and Michael Coyne provided 12 acres each in Park. Dan Delaney, who had worked for the Concannon family in Rockfield, worked on the construction of the new greens and tee boxes in Cullairbawn and Park.

Early records from the Irish Golfer's Guide indicated that golf was not permitted on Sundays and that the club was not affiliated. Irish Golfer Guide observed that the course was 'laid out on dry limestone soil. The hazards were natural. Two ranges of low hills intersected the course in such a way as to permit the laying out of a very enjoyable links. The greens were undulating, and bore favourable comparison with those of any other Irish inland course'. The course measured 2,353 yards. The Cullairbawn and Park course survived until 1952 when the lease was not renewed.

Athenry Golf Club moved to its third home in Mounbawn in 1952. The land in Mounbawn was own by the Dobbyn family. The course was built on similar lands to the Cullairbawn and Park course except for the land was not as hilly in Mounbawn. An interesting feature of the Mounbawn course was the number of walls crossing the fairways. A  new clubhouse was erected in 1958. The clubhouse was composed of an extra building from the Hanger Ballroom in Salthill. The floor for the new clubhouse came from Dunsandle House in Co. Galway. The membership of the club grew steadily over the next two decades. However, the increased membership were shocked in 1977 when the lease of the land was lost.

In 1977, under the captaincy of Willie Higgins many important steps were taken to ensure the future of club. During the 1977 season Mountbellew Golf Club provided Athenry Golf Club with the use of their golfing facilities. For this reason Athenry Golf Club became known as the 'Nomads' during the 1977 season. It was ironic that Athenry Golf Club should win its first major trophy, The Connacht Shield, during the 1977 season.

In September 1977 a suitable site was identified in Palmerstown by Sean Ward, who was co-opted onto the committee earlier in the year to help source potential lands for the Golf Club. This land was owned by two brothers, Dennis and Sonny Conneely. In November of 1977, after many long discussions between the two brothers, Sean Ward and Willie Higgins, an 21 year lease agreement was agreed. In 1978, under the captaincy of John Murphy the development of the course began. Many different fundraising events, such as a special club draw at the suggestion of Jimmy Reilly and a Poker Classic was held during the Galway Races in the Salthill Hotel, took place to finance the development work.  John Murphy's captain's prize in 1978 was the first to be played on the present site and was played over 6 holes. The final three holes of the nine hole course were completed in 1979.

In 1980 was another breakthrough year in the development of Athenry Golf Club. The first major development was when Willie Higgins re-negotiated the agreement with the Conneely brothers. The agreement was changed from a lease agreement to a lease to buy agreement. This proved to be a significant agreement since it copper-fastened the club's title to the land. The other major development in 1980, was the construction of a new clubhouse on the Palmerstown lands. Over the next seven years the club consolidate its new position and attracted new members from Athenry, Oranmore, Clarenbridge, Carnmore and Galway City.

In 1988 under the guidance of Luke Glynn, Club Captain, the club undertook another major redevelopment. The membership took the decision to buy some of the adjacent land and to extend the course to 18 holes. The following year, 1989, saw the opening of the new 18 hole course. The course was officially opened in October 1991, with members treated to an exhibition of golf from Christy O'Connor, Christy O'Connor Jnr, Eamon Darcy and Paddy McGuirk.