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The Early Days
The current Bray Golf Club was founded in 1897. However, it was not the first time golfers teed up in the north Wicklow seaside town. Remarkably golf was played in Bray in 1762, only 18 years after the formation of the club at Leith in Scotland by the Honourable Company of Edinburg Golfers. The Leith club is accepted as the first in the world. This makes Bray a strong candidate for the first golf course in Ireland. In the 1700’s golf was played on what is now Bray’s Seafront.
Remarkably also, a member of the of the 1762 club, as per a notice in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal on Oct 23 1762, was an Elias de Butts Esq. The de Butt residence was Ravenswell House, on whose lands Bray Golf Club built its first course in 1897.
Cyril Dunne, past Captain and past President of Bray Golf Club, has written a full history of Bray Golf Club, recommended reading for all interested in the history of the sport in Ireland. Copies are available from the Club’s Office
The first meeting of Bray Golf Club was held in the International Hotel on July 16
1897. Bray’s Bowling Alley is now on the site of the International. James Smiley Robson and David J. Stewart convened the meeting having negotiated an option on the Ravenswell lands from Lord Meath.
With subscriptions at one guinea and no joining fee charged for the first 150 members, the club began to establish the course and members’ facilities.
James Paxton, a 23 year old native of Musselburgh, close to Edinburg, became the first professional having been assistant at Purley Downs near London.
The suppliers of equipment included Elverys from whom the hole tins, flags and tee markers were bought.
The first Lady Members were E Moorehead, Mabel Moorehead, Mrs Busby, Mrs Carson, Mrs Craig, Mrs WK Johnston, Miss Corbett, Miss Riate and Miss Thompson.
By 1902, the Club was bold enough to host a professional tournament with George Coburn of Portmarnock winning by 7 strokes. Bray was represented by E Martin and R Larkin who finished 4
The Club’s keen interest in competitive golf was set very early. In 1905, Bray won the inaugural Barton Cup and repeated the feat in 1907. E.K Figgis, F.A. Kennedy, F. McCormack, R. Rice and L.R. Sealy featured in both winning teams. The original 1907 trophy featured in a “job lot” of antiques in the United Kingdom, was cleaned by the purchaser who identified Bray Golf Club as the winners! The trophy is now proudly on display in the Club’s trophy cabinet.
Since 1907, the Club has continued to enjoy success on the representative playing field while on the individual front the achievements of Walker Cup player, Keith Nolan, are recalled with great pride in the Club.
Bray’s first open week was held in 1908. In those days there were not so many neighbouring Clubs. Invitations were sent to Delgany, Greystones, Foxrock, Killiney, Rathfarnham and Skerries.
In 1911, land erosion required the relocation of the adjoining railway line to its current location. The 1897 course was redesigned to facilitate the railway. Cecil Barcroft, who also, designed Carlow, Tullamore and Naas courses, was commissioned for the redesign of the 9 hole course. For 90 years, through two world wars, Barcroft’s testing course was unaltered until 2003 when Bray Golf Club moved to the Greystones Rd.
Over the years, Bray Golf Club’s Ladies Section developed to the lively group it is today, mirroring the development of equality in the country as a whole. In 1925 following a complaint about women heating themselves at the fire in the lounge after dark, a club “Direction” was made that women should use their own sitting room after 5.00pm. By 23 December 1951, Ladies were allowed use of the Bar…. for one day only! In 1993 full membership of the Club was opened to our ladies.
The 2000 Equal Status Act, with the formation of the Equality Authority, was an important step for women in Ireland. Its application to golf made the headlines with Bray Golf Club featuring in the media. By 2003, when the club moved to its fine new home at Ballinamuddagh, equality of membership was acknowledged by all.
Bray Golf Club has been represented by many fine lady golfers over the years. Barbara Hyland was Leinster Champion in 1965 and 1966 and represented Ireland in 1964, 1965 and 1966. Laurette Higgins, as a junior, was granted permission to play in boys competitions and progressed to represent Belgium internationally.
From the late 1970’s it became increasingly clear to some of the more far-seeing members of the club that the Ravenswell site while providing a very good 9 hole layout had major limitations in terms of expansion potential, in coping with the problems which building development on its peripheries was creating and the possibility of a road through the course to link up the Dublin Road and the seafront.
Efforts then began to try to identify a suitable alternative site within a reasonable distance of Bray which would accommodate an 18 hole course. Bray Golf Club owned only 31 acres of the site in Ravenswell, the remaining 19 acres were held on a sporting lease from Lord Meath. Several possible sites were looked at, the most attractive being land situated in the Kilruddery Estate, but at a meeting in 1996, Lord Meath made it clear that he was not interested in selling a site south of the Greystones Road.
In 1997, the then Club Captain, Paddy Murphy, was approached by the Captain of Woodbrook G.C. asking if Bray would be interested in meeting representatives of Abbey Builders with a view to discussing a move to an 18 hole course. A meeting was subsequently arranged which proved to be very positive with the Abbey representatives offering to identify a suitable site and reverting to Bray to report progress.
Abbey subsequently approached Lord Meath and having failed to convince him to sell a site on the lower level of the estate which would be far more topographically suitable for the construction of a golf course, agreed, in principle, to purchase land in Ballinamuddagh which was situated north of the Greystones Road as well as the 19 acres in Ravenswell which Lord Meath owned.
Further meetings were held and Abbey commissioned Peter McEvoy to design the proposed new course and drawings for a new clubhouse were also being prepared. At this juncture everything appeared to be progressing very satisfactorily with documentation being prepared for presentation to Bray Golf Club when to everyone’s surprise Eddie O’Dwyer of Dwyer Nolan Developments Ltd made an offer to Lord Meath for the land at Ballinamuddagh as well as the land at Ravenswell which Lord Meath decided to accept. This effectively ended the involvement with Abbey and negotiations then commenced with Eddie O’Dwyer. Plans for the new course were drawn up by Des Smyth and Declan Brannigan and submitted for planning permission to Wicklow County Council. Eddie O’Dwyer undertook to lodge 100,000 Irish pounds to the account of Bray Golf Club to cover the clubs initial legal and consultants’ expenses in progressing the proposition which the club would retain even if the project fell through. The offer by Eddie O’Dwyer comprised a new 18 hole course, a new fully furnished clubhouse, a machinery shed with all the new machinery required to maintain the course and a substantial cash payment to Bray Golf Club.
The proposal to move was put to a general meeting of the Ravenswell membership in Nov. 1998 and was overwhelmingly accepted with many of the elderly members magnanimously voting in favour of moving in the interest of future generations even though they knew the new 18 hole course might present difficulties for them.
Following the decision to move, Eddie O'Dwyer applied to Wicklow County Council for planning permission which was granted in October 1999. However the permission was appealed to an Bord Pleanala by a number of parties. An oral Hearing was subsequently held in the Royal Hotel on the 2
March 2000 and planning permission for the course was received in May 2000 from an Bord Pleanala.
Bray Golf Club had employed Arthur Cox Solicitors to draw up a contract with Eddie O’Dwyer which was signed on 1
March 2000 by both parties.
Planning permission was subsequently received for the new clubhouse and machinery sheds and work progressed satisfactorily interspersed with numerous meetings between the club representatives and Eddie O’Dwyer to try to resolve problems which constantly arose in relation to the course and the clubhouse. While a lot of people contributed to the planning and negotiations relating to the move from Ravenswell and gave most generously of their time two people in particular, the late Ken Lambe and Barry Kealy made exceptional contributions and devoted a huge amount of time and effort to the project from the very beginning. A special contribution was also made by Seamus Reynolds who chaired the re-location committee throughout the two years prior to moving and worked almost full-time in overseeing the move which finally took place in May 2003.
The move to the new course despite numerous minor crises was effected satisfactorily with a huge demand for membership despite an entrance fee of €15,000. It was decided to build up the full membership capacity on a phased basis to facilitate the assimilation of the new members. This policy was very successfully implemented and the club has made significant progress in adapting to its increased membership and new location over the intervening years.