UCD Golf: A Brief History

Image Credit: Colours Match on 15/03/2024 in Portmarnock Golf Club

Andrew Doyle dives into a brief history of the UCD Golf Club, tracing its origins back to the 1930’s. Doyle discusses notable alumni such as David Sheahan and Shane Lowry, and looks to the future of the club in the form of Emma Fleming

The UCD Golf Club was affiliated by the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1931, and was founded by Professor J.N. Meehan and Professor W.D. O’Kelly, with Michael Smith acting as the first Honorary Secretary. Committee meetings were held at 86 St. Stephens Green, and there were as few as a dozen golfers in the Club at the time. 

The UCD Golf Society was then founded in 1945 by Dan Lynch, Jack Eustace and Pierce Purcell, and attracted influential members such as Tim Healy. Purcell was elected as the inaugural President of the Golf Society in 1945, with Lynch first Honorary Secretary. The latter was responsible for driving the Society forward in its early years.

Purcell was a significant contributor to the UCD Golf Club and Society; he was the first Professor of Engineering in UCD, and was a crucial link between UCD and Portmarnock Golf Club. The connection between UCD and Portmarnock goes back more than one hundred years, as in 1923 fifteen University members were recorded. 

The Engineering Professor was the driving force behind the acquisition and development of the UCD Belfield Campus, as it moved away from Earlsfort Terrace. This is without mentioning Purcell’s contributions to golf in Ireland, which most notably included bringing the Canada Cup to Portmarnock in 1960, which was a competition that put Irish golf on the map globally. 

In 2007, then Honorary Secretary of the Society Paddy Power initiated a memorial match for Pierce Purcell played between the UCD Golf Club and Portmarnock. Peter Purcell, the grandson of Pierce, donated his grandfather’s putter to the match, which is now played for each year.

The UCD Golf Club has produced a number of exceptional golfers over the years, Dr David Sheahan being one of them. Known as one of Ireland’s ‘greatest shot makers’, in 2007 Sheahan was described by Ryder Cup player John O’Leary as a “born winner”. He won the Irish Close Championship three times and won both his singles matches against the USA in the 1963 Walker Cup match at Turnberry. In 1962, he won the Boyd Quaich Memorial Golf Tournament held in St. Andrew’s, which was also won by UCD golfer and Irish International Alex Gleeson in 2015. 

The UCD Golf Club has produced a number of exceptional golfers over the years.

Sheahan held the record for forty-five years of being the only amateur to win a professional golfing event in Europe, which he did at the Jeyes tournament hosted by Royal Dublin in 1962. This is a feat also completed by ex-UCD Sports Scholar Shane Lowry, who won the Irish Open as an amateur back in 2009. Lowry has gone on to have an illustrious career, winning the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in 2019. 

Sheahan held the record for forty-five years of being the only amateur to win a professional golfing event in Europe.

Two other members of the UCD Golf Club have followed in Sheahan's footsteps in gaining Walker Cup selection; Jody Fanagan in 1995 and Noel Fox in 2003. At the Walker Cup in 1995, Jody Fanagan and Padraig Harrington beat Tiger Woods and John Harris in a crucial foursomes match which saw ‘Great Britain and Ireland’ win 14-10.

Another well-established golfer who came through the golf scholarship system at UCD is Peter Lawrie, who won on the European Tour at the Spanish Open in 2008. I had the chance to speak with Lawrie, who says that his time on a golf scholarship in UCD “had a huge effect” in his turning professional, not only in terms of his golf, but also sponsorship and managing his finances. 

Lawrie reflected on his membership of Portmarnock, which he describes as “one of the best things” to come from membership in the Club. Finally, he spoke about the camaraderie among the group of golfers and the Colours Matches he played, including in 1996 when he was paired with teammate Ronan Flood, who now Caddies for Padraig Harrington.

The Colours Match is a staple of the UCD Golf calendar and is an annual fixture played against the Dublin University Golf Club (Trinity College). The match was founded by PJ Murphy, Captain of The Royal Dublin Golf Club at the time in 1938. The match was first played in Royal Dublin, until it was moved to Portmarnock in 1965 where it has been played since. 

The Colours Match is a staple of the UCD Golf calendar and is an annual fixture played against the Dublin University Golf Club (Trinity College).

Over the years, the UCD Golf Club has played matches against a variety of different clubs. In the 1960s and into the 1970s the Club played annual fixtures against the likes of Lahinch, Tullamore, and Rosslare. The attraction for the Club at this point was largely fuelled by the Sheahan era. A number of UCD players also competed in the Irish Universities match against Brigham Young University (BYU) located in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1965 the Irish team was captained by UCD’s Eric O’Brien, whilst US Open Champion Johnny Miller competed for BYU.

In recent years, an annual match has emerged between Iona University’s Iona Gaels golf team, located in New York, and UCD. The origins of this match go back to 2002, when Jim Hynes, a trustee of Iona University, was introduced to the then President of the UCD Golf Club John Reidy. A plan for an annual match was made, and was supported by UCD’s athletic Director Brian Mullins, and Iona University’s athletic Director Patrick Lyons. 

The first match was played in Ireland in 2003, playing The K Club, The Island, and Portmarnock and has alternated between the US and Ireland each year. When visiting New York over the years, the students have had the chance to play courses like Winged Foot GC, Sleepy Hollow Country Club, and Wykagyl Country Club. In an effort to garner interest beyond just the student level, alumni matches have also taken place every year alongside the student matches.

Today, with sponsorship from Kingspan and Carne Group behind the Club, students are encouraged to play in the elite University events including the Irish Intervarsity Championship, R&A Student Tour Series and the Boyd Quaich Memorial Tournament. They also compete in the aforementioned Iona Match, Colours Match, and annual match against Queen’s University Belfast, the away leg of which is held in Royal County Down.

The UCD Golf Club values the generous membership opportunities provided by Portmarnock and Royal Dublin for its elite players. Irish International Emma Fleming is currently part of the Club, and in her first year in UCD has already won the women’s title at the Irish Intervarsity Championship, and her debut R&A Student Tour Series Event in Portugal. The Club also runs regular events for beginner and intermediate golfers who are looking to play the game.

Irish International Emma Fleming is currently part of the Club.

The UCD Golf Club has a rich history, and the contributions that have been made by its members are undoubtedly significant in the landscape of Irish golf. We hope that this continues into the future, and with exceptional players like Fleming coming through the ranks at the Club, it is ever more likely.