Students of both the college and game

 

BOOK REVIEW DUBLIN UNIVERSITY GS:The characters who down the years played central roles in the DUGS make for a delightfully informative history, writes PHILIP REID

IT’S A fascinating image, of a time long before the concept for floodlit golf materialised. The nocturnal golf took place in the hallowed grounds of Trinity College, and the par four in question started with a “tee” on the lawn in Front Square where, it was judged, an eight-iron would take the golfer past the Campanile and Lecky’s statue, from where a wedge might find its way on to the tennis courts in New Square.

The third shot required a five-iron “sliced” around the eastern end of the Museum building and over the gate leading into College Park. Placing was permitted on the cricket field, and the object then was to land the fourth shot inside the wall in front of the Pavilion to achieve par.

This is one of the anecdotes recounted by Michael Halliday, co-author of a book with Gavin Caldwell celebrating the centenary of the Dublin University Golfing Society (DUGS).

If, at first, you might wonder why a society should produce a book in the first place, the characters who down the years played central roles in the DUGS – often overlapping, as you would expect, with the golf club in the university – make for a delightfully informative history.

And characters there were aplenty, many of whom contributed enormously to the early development of golf in Ireland – North and South – and their stories merge to provide a picture of times past when golfers from Trinity College were among the pioneers of the sport in this country.

Golf was already firmly established in the university when the society was founded in 1909. Indeed, Dubliner University Golf Club won the inaugural Irish Senior Cup in 1900, and would add further victories in 1910 and 1911, while the first interprovincial championship featured eight Trinity men playing for Leinster and Ulster.

That 1910 team was captained by Lionel Munn – a four-time Irish Close champion – but also featured a gentleman by the name of RM Elvery and, as the authors point out, “golf was an expensive game, but presumably having an Elvery on the team was good news for the undergraduates. Elvery’s were advertising their ‘New Gypsy Ball’ at 1s 9d and ‘special boots’ at 17s 6d. Considering that a pint of Guinness was 2d at the time it can be seen that it was possible to get inebriated for well less than the cost of a golf ball.”

The so-called “golden era” for golf in the college featured some extraordinary players: Cecil Barcroft, a long-serving secretary of Royal Dublin; Anthony Babington, Munn and James Cecil Park, a sportsman of considerable repute and touted in this book as “arguably the greatest Irish sportsman ever”. He was at the founders’ meeting for the DUGS.

A native of Clones, Co Monaghan, Parke played rugby 20 times for Ireland and captained the side, forming a wing/centre partnership with Harry Thrift for Trinity and Ireland. He became a scratch golfer and played for Ireland in the Home Internationals in 1906.

But, remarkably, it was as a tennis player that he truly excelled and in 1912 was ranked by US Tennis Journalas the best in the world, at which stage he had won 15 Irish championships and claimed a first Wimbledon title at mixed doubles.

The first World War affected the development of the society. Royal Dublin, which had become the “home” course for the society, had become a training ground for the army and College Park became a field for grazing sheep. “Sport was abandoned, to reappear in the fragile new world devastated by the ‘war to end all wars’ and the flu epidemic of 1918-19, which killed more people than had died in the war.”

The DUGS was hampered in its early years by matters outside its control, most particularly the war, and it was only revived in 1926. In a letter sent to The Irish Timesthat year, Denis Pringle outlined the society’s revival and asked “any club or society willing to play a match” to make contact. This announcement revived much interest among “dormant DUGS” and the society’s rebirth was to be a considerable success.

Many members of the DUGS excelled in other sporting fields, be it rugby or cricket or racquet sports. But one notable member was Samuel Beckett. Indeed, Beckett would claim that, when suffering from insomnia in his Parisian exile, he used to play the nine holes of Carrickmines in his head.

Beckett was first introduced to golf at Carrickmines where his father, Bill, was captain in 1914. Beckett represented Dublin University Golf Club when a student (1923-27) and, in 1925, won the DUGC tournament at Portmarnock.

Beckett was given his first set of clubs when he was 10, but developed “an unorthodox approach by using only four clubs and putting with a two-iron”.

In the post-second World War years, the credit for keeping “the show on the road” for the society is given to Pringle, but there also continued to be strong North-South links with Peter Froggatt – a graduate and former Irish international who had a distinguished academic career in medicine – and Ian Bamford, who had a highly successful legal career and became president of the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1993.

One of Bamford’s recollections of his time in Trinity is that his room had bare floorboards, so he would visit the rooms of James Clinch above who “had the luxury of a moth-eaten carpet . . . . here, he could practise chipping into an armchair. This was a much safer activity than hitting balls from New Square into Pearse Street, over (rooms) Nos 36 and 37, a sport that had been initiated by other inmates.”

The finest golfer of the modern era, though, was Arthur Pierse. On arriving at Trinity in 1971, Pierse, who considered tennis his first love, “brought his golf clubs and a double-figure handicap . . . however, fate took a hand when, suffering from an ongoing elbow ailment, his tennis was curtailed and he was persuaded to play for the Golf Club Wedges (the second team) against Woodbrook.” His handicap fell “like a shooting star” and golf became his number one game.

On Pierse’s first appearance in the West of Ireland at Rosses Point, he travelled to Sligo with his new Trinity team-mates and pitched a tent on the beach. As it happened, he was pitted against the legendary Joe Carr in the first round . . . . and proceeded to beat Ireland’s finest amateur, although he subsequently faded (perhaps the effects of sleeping in a tent took its toll). But Pierse had signalled his arrival as a serious golfer and would go on to become the first Dublin University man to be capped for the Walker Cup and, in 2007, won the British Seniors Amateur Open.

As a society, the DUGS have – and still do – had some august members . . . . as well as some wonderful characters. This book does them justice.

  • From College Courses to Lasting Links – A History of Dublin University Golfing Society 1909-2009, by Michael Halliday and Gavin Caldwell, is available on www.dugs.ie or directly from the society’s honorary secretary, Huntly Lauder, at hon.sec@dugs.ie, priced €30 (plus postage).