Irish golf is teeming with great clubs with more than 100 years of history, but little Balcarrick Golf Club in the heart of Donabate golfing country, wedged between The Island and Corballis Golf Links, must be regarded as one of the great success stories.
he club currently has 420 seven-day members at its 18-hole course, which sits between the Irish Sea and the Broadmeadow Estuary, forever buffeted by sea breezes as the golfing aficionados of this glorious little corner of north Dublin feed their golfing habit.
It all began 50 years ago when Pat Ruddy, champion of the golfing underdog and a lover of the concept of planting a stick in a field, cutting the grass and letting fly, founded the Homeless Golfers’ Association in 1968 to campaign for a public golf. course in Dublin.
He managed to persuade every club from Laytown to Greystones to provide playing facilities for the homeless golfers at one old shilling for a game between 6am and 8am and eventually built the numbers up to over 1,000 players.
As Liam Kelly explained in this paper in 2002, “the idea was to demonstrate to politicians that golf was not solely an elitist game and to prove that there was a demand for public golf at a time when it was virtually impossible to gain membership of a. club.
“This was well in advance of the boom from the mid-’80s on. Eventually, the Corballis Golf Club transferred to Forrest Little and Dublin County Council was persuaded to preserve the old Corballis links as a public facility.”
Ruddy founded the Dublin & County Golf Club to play on the links at Corballis and many of these golfing nomads would go on to become captains of such clubs as The Island, Donabate, Beech Park and Forrest Little.
Corballis remains there today, but Balcarrick emerged when the Dublin & County members became frustrated at the lack of tee times and moved across the road to build their own course.
“The reason we built our first nine holes here in 1991 in the first place is that Corballis wouldn’t put a timesheet in place, and you had to queue up at ridiculous o’clock to get a game of golf,” explained Balcarrick Captain. Peter Quinn, whose dream is to see the club increase the number of seven-day members from the current 420 to over 600.
Ruddy and founding fathers Malachy Nulty, Larry Courtney, Anthony Hyland, Jack Nulty, Tommy Dent and Peter Dunne were key to planting the seeds of what is now a par 73 with water in play on 14 of its excellent 18 holes.
It started modestly when a club member and local land owner, the late Jack Collins, suggested that a course could be built on his land and the Dublin & County Golf Club, designed by Barry Langan, renamed its new nine-hole course, Balcarrick, when it opened in 1992.
It quickly expanded to 18 holes, and in 2006, the members appointed Roger Jones to redesign the course, winning an award from the Golf World Hall of Fame as the best new redesign.
The club is now celebrating its Jubilee, and the work never stops despite the challenges of the past 12 years.
“Like every other club in the country, we went through a very difficult patch with the economic crash in 2010, but we were fortunate to do our redesign just before that,” explained Captain Quinn.
“It cost us around €700,000, but we got great value when the course was very young. Now, 12 years later, you are seeing the trees maturing, and the course is far more challenging.”
Balcarrick attracted a rush of temporary members at the height of the pandemic, but the goal now is to grow its membership.
“I’d like to get to 550 and with the population booming now in Donabate, I’d expect that to happen,” Peter added. “We have just 60 ladies and only 22 juveniles right now, so we’d love to grow that number too.
“As a member-owned club, we are very fortunate in that we have very little debt and that’s a good place to be. I’d love to see the club grow and develop for our members and guests.
“So we’d like to get to 600 seven-day members and increase the number of five-days and I’d also love to get a corporate entity on board that would like to offset their carbon tax by planting trees.”
The club has a modest single-storey clubhouse with an excellent bar and catering service as well as a top-class PGA Professional in Iarlaith Keane, who has a swing studio with Trackman and a driving range for lessons.
The club’s biggest asset is the course itself, which is now an excellent test.
“It’s getting busier and busier and people are starting to recognize how good the course is,” Keane said. “There’s plenty of water out there and well-
positioned bunkers. So it’s more about course management and working your way around because it’s not a course where you can take it on with the driver.
“It’s firm at the moment, and with many raised greens, you have to be quite precise with your approach play to score well. Water and wind are the course’s biggest defense.”
Long-serving head greenkeeper Martin Sheridan maintains a high standard and the course continues to ask great questions.
Measuring 6,823 yards from the back tees (nearly 6,500 from the whites and 5,640 from the reds), it boasts three par-threes and four par-fives with the three-shot 17th a favorite.
The 418-yard 14th is arguably even more challenging – a dogleg left (index four on the card but closer to an index two) with out of bounds on both sides of the landing area.
“With the 420 seven-day members and society business, we can meet our costs,” the captain explained.
“But another 150 members would allow us to further develop our course and clubhouse for the golfers who will enjoy our facilities for the next 50 years.”
Green fees: €30 Mon to Fri; Early bird €25 before 10am Mon to Fri; Twilight €25 after 4pm Mon to Fri; Weekend €40.
Society rates: Mon to Fri €25; Sat before 2pm €45; Sat after 2pm €35; Sun €35.
Buggy hire: €25 per round
Club hire: No
Electric trolleys: €10 per round
Range Balls: No
Signature hole: 17th, 499 yards, Par 5: A needle threading tee shot is required to avoid water all down the right hand side with bunkers and trees catching anything left. Reachable in two for the longer hitters but by no means an easy birdie as the two-tiered green is protected by three bunkers and run-offs all round.
Professional’s tip: Aim for left side of fairway off the tee. Club selection on the approach is key to set up a good birdie chance.
Membership rates: (Now to 2024) Under-35 €1,100, U-30 €915, U-26 €600. 7-day Full €1,500, 5-Day Full €1,000
Nearby clubs: The Island, Corballis, Donabate, Beaverstown.