Origins: The first golf in Clones was played in a field on the right hand side of the Cavan road in front of a house owned by a Mr. Parkes. There were three greens and three different tee boxes on each hole so that players could manage nine different holes by going around three times. Around the same time Mr. M.E. Knight established a six hole course on lands near Corcimmons to which he invited his friends.
At a large and representative meeting in the Town Hall, Clones on Wednesday evening the 28th May 1913, presided over by Mr. Henry Murphy, Crown Solicitor, it was unanimously decided to start a new golf club under the title Clones Golf Club. A suitable site for a nine hole course was available at the grounds of Mr. Bamford, Lisnaroe. A five year lease was drawn up with Mr. Bamford at a rent of £35 per annum and the membership fees were set at £1.1s for men and 10s 6d for ladies and boys.
The course measured 2330 yds and the greens, constructed by flattening the land with a heavy roller, were fenced with wire to protect them from wandering animals. The greens could be cut but there was no cutting on any part of the course that grazed cattle and golf on Sundays was prohibited. The ball was played as it lay save in a hoof mark where relief was allowed and good lies were a rarity. The course opened on the 2nd of September 1913 and affiliated to the GUI on September 16th 1916.
There were two main prizes in those days, the Captain’s and the President’s and mixed foursomes were frequent. A man called Mr. Beatty carried a scissors to clip the grass around his partner’s ball prior to her playing her shot.
The founding members were M.E. Knight, (first Captain and Treasurer for forty years), W.A. Parke, Henry Murphy, Bert Nixon and a Dr. Frank Fitzgerald from Newtownbutler. The clubhouse, the remains of which still exist, was a small corrugated iron structure with a veranda.
The prohibition on Sunday golf and the grazing of cows on the land became contentious issues in the twenties and when the Fermanagh members left to join Enniskillen G. C. in 1925 the Council decided to seek alternate accommodation. In 1926 Ferguson’s farm at Legar Hill, an ideal site for 18 holes at an estimated cost of £2,000 for purchase and development, came on the market but due to lack of enthusiasm amongst the members the project was dropped. One can appreciate their reticence when it is considered that the club made a profit of £11 in 1926.
The club moved to its present site at Hilton Park in 1928. The lease allowed golf but no competitions on Sundays. The clubhouse was a wooden structure beside what is now the third tee box. The course was designed by an eminent golf architect, Mr. Combe, for a fee of £5 and the greens were laid by the greenkeeper, Frank McPhillips, over a three year period. The course which is essentially the same as the present old nine had fairways which were 30yds wide with rough and ferns on either side, opened for play in 1929 although construction work was not completed until1933. Golf balls which were difficult to get at the best of times were like gold dust in such terrain.
Professionals: In the early days and indeed up into the sixties the club employed professionals on a regular basis and they were always referred to by their second names only. Some of those employed were Moore, Cromwell, Thompson, McKenna and Carroll. Cromwell joined the British army in 1915 and won the Irish Professional Championship on his return. Christy Greene and Norman Drew also worked at the club and contributed in a major way to the golden era of Clones golf in the fifties and sixties.
Ladies: The ladies were always very much to the fore and always attended the A.G.M. A Lady’s committee was established in 1922 but, unusually by today’s standards they refused election to Council when offered to them in 1926 The first Lady Captain was Mrs. Knight, the first cards were printed in 1933 and the Lady’s club was affiliated to the I.L.G.U. in the same year. Two very fine Lady golfers were the sisters Nan and Ness dArcy who could hit the ball prodigious distances and often played friendlies with the men. The Ladies won the I.L.G.U. “C” teams in 1970 and the ladies “B” teams in 1971 while Sadie Gillesbie won the Connacht matchplay championship at Rosses Point in the same year.
Eileen McDaid(nee O’Grady): Eileen O’Grady joined the club in the early fifties and got her handicap down to a low of four in 1958. She was coached by Christy O’Connor Snr. and attended a session with Sir Henry Cotton at Belvoir Park in1960. She played on the Irish Ladies International team in 1959 after being first reserve in 1958. She played interprovincial golf for Connacht and Munster, won the Connacht Ladies Championship in 1956 and 1957, the Duggan cup in 1956 and the Munster Junior Championship in 1957. She married Dr. McDaid in 1960 and raised what is regarded as the most talented and best known family in Irish golf. Eileen has many other accolades and still played off 19 when she retired from the game a few years ago.
A Golden Era: In 1950 a decision was taken by the Council to recruit new members as a financial crisis faced the club. A number of young men at the time including Paddy O’Flaherty, P. De V Kennedy, Dan Maguire, Ted Foley, Eugene McDonald, Peter McCabe, Fr. McNaboe and many others enrolled as members and the energy and enthusiasm of those new recruits gave the club a new lease of life. They joined J H Magee and J B Murphy who were already well established and together they revitalised the whole club both from an administrative and golfing perspective and within a few years all were all playing off single figure handicaps.
After 40 years M E Knight stepped down as Hon Treasurer in 1954 and P De V Kennedy fulfilled the functions of Hon Treasurer and Hon. Secretary for many years after that.
Mr. J.B. Murphy or Baldwin as he was familiarly known was an influential member of the club for almost 70 years and, as a solicitor gave his services free to the club during all that time. He got his handicap down to three and played with some distinction in many national competitions.
Jimmy Magee,( 5 Hcp) was the first member to break the mould and play in a National competition when he entered and reached the semi-final of the Lord Mayor’s Cup in Clontarf. His progress was recorded each evening in the Herald and really put Clones on the map. The last 4 from a field of 200 plus was no mean achievement.
Paddy O’ Flaherty or Pa Fla as he is familiarly known joined in 1953 and from that time until Christy Greene arrived in May 1954 he hit the ball along the ground and lost at least one ball and 2/6 every time he played. He got one lesson from Christy and went out the following day and won the Hilton Cup. From then on he was hooked. Pa proceeded to get his handicap reduced to 1 and for nearly two decades played in all the major Irish championships represented Connacht in the Inter-provincial championships and played in the Barton and Senior Cups with Rosses Point. Paddy rates Pat Brennan as the best match player the club ever had and at one stage was three up on the great Joe Carr in a match in the West of Ireland but eventually lost by 2 and 1 on a terrible day. Joe went on to win the title that year but was very impressed by the Clones man.
On the home front the club were a force in all the Ulster competitions. They were beaten in the semi-final of the Ulster Cup by Shandon Park in 1956, won the Rossmore Cup, several Alliance Shields, and retired undefeated from the Robert’s Cup after winning it three times in succession. In more recent times the club acquired its first GUI pennant when the Ulster Fourball team won the trophy in 2005 and repeated the feat in 2008.
Juveniles: Exactly 60 years after the formation of a Lady’s section an underage section was formed in 1986 and Keith Douglas was the first recipient of a Captain’s Prize when he received a putter from the Captain of that year. In subsequent years the Juvenile section prospered under the tutelage of professionals and prominent local members and culminated in the winning of the Ronan Rafferty Trophy in 1997 and 1999. Unfortunately this section is not now as strong as it once was but it does appear that the present committee are presently putting an organisation in place to rebuild it.
The Modern Era: The original membership was drawn mostly from Clones and Fermanagh but the Fermanagh membership dropped in the late fifties. However this drop was compensated for by an influx of members from Cootehill, many of whom have played an important role in the development of the club. In recent times the Fermanagh members have returned in ever increasing numbers and the catchment area has extended to enrol excellent members from as far away as Kill, Redhills Ballybay and Rockcorry.
In the late eighties a small group of enterprising members felt that the era of a nine hole course was coming to an end and embarked on a program of expansion. In 1989 the existing nine holes was purchased from Mr. John Madden for £100,000 and when the debt was cleared six years later the land for an additional nine holes was procured. Dr. Arthur Spring was employed to design the new nine holes and it was a matter of great celebration when the eighteen hole course was officially opened by Barry McGuigan on August week-end 2002. Two additional holes were added later so the club can now boast an excellent 20 hole course with the added bonus of having room to expand and improve the layout whenever finances become available. The present membership is really not sufficient to maintain 18 holes so any prospective golfers reading this are asked to contact the club where they will be made more than welcome. However the club is nothing if not resilient and the spirit of voluntary effort and unstinted devotion from its members that has overcome many difficulties over the last century is still manifest and undoubtedly will continue to manifest itself over the coming hundred years.