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On the links at Rathfarnham Golf Club,  February 1936, Images courtesy of The National Library of Ireland  (Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Collection).

Rathfarnham Golf Club was the tenth club to be established in the Dublin metropolitan area, at a relatively early stage in the development of golf in Ireland, where in the 1890s, the game was in its infancy.  As far as Dublin was concerned, the sport began with the foundation of Royal Dublin in 1885, followed by eight other clubs, only three of which were located on the southern side of the city. After Royal Dublin the succession was: Sutton (1888), The Island (1890), Malahide (1892), Foxrock (1893) Portmarnock (1894), Greystones (1895), Bray and Lucan (both 1897) with Rathfarnham coming in the final year of the nineteenth century: 1899 (the same year as Carlow and Donaghadee Golf Clubs).  

As Dick Shiel, Life Member of RGC, makes vividly clear in his excellent Centenary History (published in 1999 to celebrate 100 years of golf at Rathfarnham, and now for available online to a worldwide audience at this link . it was the strategic location of the newly-developed nine-hole course, stretching along the Dodder River from Templeogue Bridge all the way to Rathfarnham village, and in particular accessibility of the new tram terminus at Rathfarnham (within five minutes walk of the clubhouse) that made it so attractive to potential new members.

In 1899, The Irish Golfer reported the new links at Butterfield, Rathfarnham, was open for membership. Comprising about 50 acres and lying “along the banks of the Dodder [it] has beautiful views of the Dublin Mountains…[is] well drained, having gravel subsoil and the turf for the most part is naturally short. There are numerous hazards, formed by hedges, ravines, river courses and cliffs”. Play got underway in April of that year, and by the time the first Annual General Meeting which was held the following April 1900 (at the Town Hall, Rathfarnham) the Club recorded no less than 123 members.  A selection of images of the old Butterfield Course is available here to view. Link 2. while an album from 1947 (the coldest year of the 20th century on record) including the snow-drenched fairways may be viewed here.

Initially the Club was constituted on proprietary terms, meaning it was in the hands of a leasee. Mr Patrick Yule Bogue, land agent and manager, occupied Butterfield House for over five years from 1897, enjoying limited security of tenure of the lands as laid out as a golf links from the main lease-holder John McEntaggart. Bogue undertook to “keep the links in perfect order for a term of years ending 1st November 1902”, and appears to have acted as the early Club’s manager, collecting annual subscriptions from the members. When his lease for Butterfield House and adjoining lands expired at the end of the 1902, members took over. This explains why formal record-keeping in the form of minute books only commenced the following year in 1903. The original clubhouse was also built in 1903 by which time the Club had some 230 members, no less than 90 of whom were ladies.  For an old album of ladies’ photographs click here


A detailed list of the club’s archives arranged in 18 record groups and beginning with the earliest minute book from 1903 is now available here . Following an appeal to current members in 2012, many individuals located and brought in itemsthat have now been collectively sorted and arranged by club archivist Susan Hood. In July 2013 these were transferred for permanent safe-keeping to Dublin City Sports Archive in Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street, where they are now available for public consultation . At a special ceremony held in the Library and Archive on 11 December 2013, they were formally received by Dublin Public Libraries by Counseller Gerry Ashe, representing the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Click here to view images from this event

The RGC Archives bring the Club’s evolutionary story to life. A recently-found album dating from 1947 features wonderful views of the old course in summer (and winter) weather. It was put together by RGC Member Arthur Harding (1907- 1988) and several of his photographs capture the collegiality of thr club and deep friendships amongst members. The album may be viewed at this link.   In 1904, the club colours of olive green with white were decided upon. In 1906 a matter vexing the Committee was the problem of “loafers” and others on the river banks of the Dodder who proved a nuisance because they were selling balls to players at knock-down prices, which thereafter members were banned from purchasing. More seriously, during the First World War membership numbers fell away and subscriptions were very much reduced, but in worthy spirit, the Club made its links available to members of Royal Dublin while their course was being used by the army for rifle practice. In 1920, when the landlord John McEntaggart extended the lease to the Club for ten years, the yardage of the course was increased, following reconstruction work carried out by the noted golf architect Cecil Barcroft, and the Butterfield course was regularly complimented in the golf press for the quality of its holes and scenic features along the river.



The 1950 Fixture Book reproduced at this link, gives an insight of the annual calendar of competitions by the mid-20thcentury.Click here to view here.

The records show that the leasing arrangement for Butterfield was to prove cumbersome for RGC with difficulties arising from having to renew at regular intervals. The Club was also under pressure from potential road development, as the area in the vicinity of Rathfarnham became more sought after for suburban housing. By the early 1960s the Committee was looking for alternative locations to purchase rather than lease, and when the lease for Butterfield was sold in February 1965, the Club was able to go ahead and purchase 60 acres identified as suitable in the townland of Newtown - still within the general environs of Rathfarnham but just beyond the city boundary in more rural surroundings at the foothills of the Dublin mountains. The purchase price was £25,250 a considerable sum for those days.

The foundation stone at Newtown was laid by Dr Percy G. Patton, then Captain, in September 1965. Golf continued at Butterfield until April 1966, when the Newtown clubhouse and new nine-hole course designed from a greenfield site by John Jacobs, opened to members. The gallery of early pictures available show the course on the eve of its opening early in 1966 Click here to view 

Devoid of any trees and “rough” by all accounts underfoot, temporary tees and greens were initially essential, with stone-picking parties organised amongst members on a regular basis to remove the worst of the rubble. The papers in the archive collection relating to the move from Butterfield to Newtown (arranged as group 8 in the archival collection) give background about the loans appeal that was launched to raise £10,000 towards the costs of the move. The next group in the collection devoted to maps and survey drawings includes both early visual evidence of the original course at Butterfield, but also the ‘original map from which the land [at Newtown] was bought’, showing how it looked on a field by field basis before it became a golf course. Indeed the materials serve as a reminder of the forbearance and efforts that the members of the day made to keep the Rathfarnham show on the road and lay the foundations for the future that are enjoyed today. With the course now in the pristine condition it is today and having reached its ultimate goal of becoming an 18-hole course, it is sobering to learn of the club’s testing origins at Newtown.

These papers and subsequent materials about the expansion of the course, re-development of the clubhouse (group 13 in the archival collection), the extensive files on the Club’s centenary in 1999 (group 17) together with the visual evidence of the evolving course through the decades in the photographs (group 18) all bear testimony to the commitment and enthusiasm of generations of members who have made RGC what it is today.


Rathfarnham has had its successes over the years, as the records show. Its strong reputation for mixed golf culminated in 2012 when the Mixed Foursomes team won the Leinster Championship and went on to the All-Ireland Finals. Fifty years earlier in 1962 another highpoint was the senior men’s team victory in the Barton Cup – the interclub challenge for Leinster clubs – and the same team also won the Irish Times Shield that year

Other notable records include Colum O’Carroll’s success when playing out of Rathfarnham he was a member of the  winning All Ireland Schools Cup team for his school in 1975 (playing David Feherty former Ryder Cup player) in the final).  He was the most prolific winner on behalf of the Club in the 1980’s – winning  Junior Scratch Cups (all played over 36 holes) in 1980,1982, 1983 1985 and 1988, representing the Club in the South of Ireland Championship twice as well as a record nine Club Championships.  In 1987, Colum and his partner, John Fitzgerald, won out the Irish section of the Daily Mail Foursomes and went on to represent Rathfarnham and Ireland at Sandmoor Golf Club in Leeds in 1987.  He was part of the All Ireland Winning British Airways Team and The Irish Times Shield winning team.  In the centenary year Diana Needham and Lynda Keartland were winners of the Open Foursomes held at the Castle Golf Club, while in2007 Gayle Bainbridge won the I.PG.A. Tankard. The Mercedes Matchplay winning team after a thrilling final in 2010 was Scott Furlong, Michael Keyes, Declan Sweeney and the late Michael Doyle. In 2011, Deirdre McDermott and Sandra Grey secured the All-Ireland Granard Cup. A Gallery of Team and Individual Achievement images may be found here at this.Link
Complimentary to the Club’s archives is the individual collection which came to light in 2013 documenting the golfing career of Miss Harriet Celenia ‘Ena’ Brooks (1921-2013) RGC’s only international player to date, who joined the Club in 1938 aged 17, and served as Lady Captain in 1950, at the young age of 29. By then Ena was playing off four, and won several international honours during the 1950s and 1960 when she was in fact the lowest handicapped player on the Irish team. She won the Leinster Open Championship three times in 1954, 1959 and 1962


She was particularly fond of mixed golf, and played for many years with the late Ivor Bailey, pictured here in 1956 on the first tee at Milltown beside Ena, and also with Phil Garvey - the only Irish winner of the British Open Amateur Golf Championships in 1957.
After the move from Butterfield to Newtown in 1966, Ena did not continue her membership of Rathfarnham. Indeed she was such a perfectionist at the game that as soon as her handicap began to slip, she stopped playing altogether, and pursed her professional career as a lecturer in Dublin Dental Hospital. However, in 1988, then Lady Captain Jill Forsyth invited all the surviving lady captains to return to the Club, and Ena is seated to her left in the adjoining image. Then in 1999, during the centenary year at Rathfarnham links were rekindled with RGC electing her an honorary member in recognition of her ‘magnificent golfing career’. She kept safe the letter informing her of this news, together with all her other golfing memorabilia.
Together with the RGC Archive, Ena's personal archives of papers and memorabilia are also available in the Dublin Sport Archive, and a list of these materials is to be found here

Ena's careful record-keeping has allowed us to reconstruct her golfing career, which is vividly illustrated by the wide variety of items including photographs, telegrams and letters of congratulation received on her international and other achievements, a wide range of press cuttings, her best cards at Rathfarnham (when she dropped to handicap of 3 in September 1956) and many other golf courses in Ireland and the British Isles as her handicap tumbled down. She even kept the bag tags that she was given for her golf clubs and suitcase when she travelled to represent Ireland abroad, via boat and train. The collection has been donated for permanent safe-keeping to Dublin Sports Archive, by her family whose collaboration to safeguard the Rathfarnham story is gratefully acknowledged.





List of Links

To view the list of Rathfarnham Golf Club Archives, Click here
To view the list of the Ena Brooks materials, Click Here
For the centenary history,  Click here
For the gallery of Butterfield course images, Click here
For the Ladies Album, Click here
For images of the reception to mark the presentation of our archives to Dublin City Library and Archive,  Click here
For images from the 1947 Album by Arthur Harding Click here
To view the Fixture Book in 1950, Click here
To view a selection of images of the Newtown course, Click here
To view the gallery of individual and team successes, Click here
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