The Beginning

 

The arrival of Mourne Golf Club on the Irish Golfing scene is recorded in the Golfing Union of Ireland centenary book with half a line - "1946 Mourne, A 1946.". Expanded into a sentence, this reads "Mourne Golf Club was founded in 1946 and affiliated to Golfing Union of Ireland in 1946.".

The centenary book of Royal County Down Golf Club is a bit more generous and gives the event the following two paragraphs:
"There was, however, one very significant move which took place in the closing years of the war. Gerald Annesley, grandson of the first president and now landlord, took a positive step forward on behalf of the townspeople of Newcastle. He wrote to the Council of Royal County Down reminding them that the town had become a substantial seaside resort and was no longer the fishing village of 1889. He proposed the establishment of a club for the residents of the Newcastle area, under the auspices of Royal County Down, and with separate premises. Council's characteristic reaction was to appoint a sub-committee. This did not betoken reluctance but they wished to be sure of the implications for all parties. For example, on handicapping and other issues, the Golfing Union of Ireland had to be consulted.
Two years later details were finalised, but in the meantime Mourne Golf Club, as it had been named was seeking accommodation and the huts which had been used by the Civil Defence Authorities between the Clubhouse and Slieve Donard Hotel were found suitable. A lease was arranged as soon as the government sold them. Hours were set during which the members should play and financial relations, membership control and overview of their rules were agreed. Mourne would fix it's own subscriptions and handicaps and be afflicted to the Golfing Union of Ireland. Thus was established what quickly became a thriving club and a major contributor to the golfing scene in Ulster."

Mourne made a generous and complementary gesture to Royal County Down by electing Gerald Annesley and Wilson Smyth honorary life members.

Hidden behind both entries however, is the story of the founding of Mourne Golf Club - a story which Mourne members at least should know.

The beginning of the parent club, Royal County Down, the design of the course by old Tom Morris and the evolution of golf in Newcastle are well documented and well known by golfing historians throughout Ireland since the publication of Royal County Down's centenary book in 1989.

Perusal of that well-produced volume will show even the most casual reader that the new County Down club (it didn't get the royal patronage until 1908) was almost exclusively associated with Belfast. The local interest was mainly supplied by the landlord, Lord Annesley. The Annesley name became associated with both clubs, and is still held in high regard in Mourne. As time progressed more locals became involved in the game of golf - some as caddies, some as employees of the Belfast and Co.Down Railway (a special relationship existed between the railway including the railway hotel and the golf club to their mutual benefit). Some of these young locals exhibited such a prowess for the game that they became assistants to the local professionals and later became professionals themselves, spreading the gospel of golf throughout many parts of Ireland.

James Cromwell (Knock), Irish Professional champion 1921.
Joe Edgar (Portadown, Kilkeel, Helen's Bay, Clandeboye).
Danny Murray (Lurgan, Castletroy, Ballybunion).
William McCavera (Lahinch).
John McCourt (Warrenpoint, Limerick, Enniskillen, Rosses Point).
Tommy McGrath (Greenisland, Limerick, Enniskillen, Birr, Adare).
Pat Sawey (Royal Belfast).
Hugh Sawey (The Curragh).
Louis Skillen (Donaghadee).
The Golfing Wallaces:
     Leo (Ormeau, Bundoran) Irish Professional Champion 1928.
     Willie (Carnalea).
     Bobby (Galway).
     Paddy (Adare, Dungannon).
Jack Williams (Downpatrick, Portadown, Ballymena).

Other locals apart from caddies and BCDR employees, began to take an interest in the game and the category Town Member was created by the Council of Royal County Down. The name Town Members persisted until the 1980's when it was replaced by the term Town Associates. Town Members were drawn from an area within five miles of Newcastle. They paid a reduced fee for restricted playing rights but had no clubhouse facilities or official handicaps. They left their clubs in the local professional's shop and the then professional, one Jack McLachlan, a canny Scot with an eye for business, organised a weekly sweep for these Town Members. His unofficial handicapping system bore a distinct resemblance to the Turkey handicaps which obtain in many clubs in the 'close' season. The price of entry to the sweep was one shilling. The famous 'Shilling Sweep' was born and survived into the early years of Mourne Golf Club.

The numbers competing in the Shilling Sweep increased. Town membership was easily obtained. Bill Cleland, for example, applied verbally for membership through the caddie master on a Friday afternoon and on the following Wednesday was informed that his application had been successful.

In tandem with an increase in membership of the Shilling Sweep came an increase in golfing skill. Many of the golfers under Jack McLachlan's handicapping system became 'plus men', notably the Toner brothers, Jimmy and John Joe, Alfie Corry and Brian McManus. The last name in particular was a major factor in the train of events which led to the formation of Mourne Golf Club. Brian was the son of Jack McManus, owner of Ye Olde Bar. Following his education in St Malachy's, Belfast, Brian had the time and the inclination to enter many open competitions which he did with distinction collecting en route the scalps of such notable golfers as Joe Carr and John Burke.

He had however one major problem - he did not belong to a duly afflicted club. Newspaper cuttings from the time show that Brian entered these competitions under the auspices of Warrenpoint GC and Downpatrick GC.

In the opinion of many it was this fact that prompted Gerald Annesley, grandson of the first President of Royal County Down, to write to the Council of Royal County Down during the closing stages of World War II, proposing the formation of a local club for the residents if the Newcastle area.

The proposal was accepted and a meeting of local golfers was held in the lifeboat house, later the Women's Institute and now the Elim Pentecostal Church on the Downs Road. The name Mourne was proposed by Mr Gerald O'Donoghue and accepted as the name of the new club.

The first captain was Mr P.J.McEvoy, a local bookmaker, who, although Irish by parentage, was raised in Glasgow and had a distinct Glaswegian accent. He was a keen sportsman with a great interest in soccer and was for a while on the books of Glasgow Celtic.

Luckily for Mourne he had two other qualifications which led him to captaincy. He had a great interest in golf and had sufficient money to grubstake the infant club in it's shaky initial stages.

First and foremost, the club needed premises. Wartime huts situated between Royal County Down and the Slieve Donard Hotel were deemed suitable. Unfortunately on demolition they were purchased by Mr Ivor Taggart, a local builder who was then developing the Tullybrannigan area. It was at this time that P.J.McEvoys third great attribute came into play -he was an able negotiator. A meeting was arranged with Ivor Taggert in a licensed premises(it is presumed) and the combination of good Scotch whiskey and Scotch blarney won the day - the huts were acquired from Ivor Taggart for the price he paid for them - £100, which just happened to be the amount P.J.McEvoy had in his pocket.

Pat McEvoy's efforts on behalf of Mourne were rewarded by making him Captain for the first four years of the existence of Mourne. When he indicated he wished the captaincy of Mourne to go to someone else a grateful AGM created for him the office of President, a post he held until his death in 1965.

An original painting of P.J.McEvoy was commissioned from Bond Walker and hangs in a place of honour in the Clubhouse.

Lest it be thought that the founding of Mourne Golf Club was a one-man show let it be known that he was aided, abetted and constantly encouraged by many others but chiefly by Peter McGrath, manager of Quinn's of the Milestone, and by Fred Wadsworth Sr, a local draper, both of whom were very friendly, in a conventional sort of way with Gerald Annesley, hence the latter's letter to the Council of R.C.D. It was a tribute to the above named triumvirate that they were appointed first trustees of the new club.

A strong supporter of the Annesley proposal within Royal County Down was D Wilson Smyth. He was a powerful ally to have. He was Captain in 1921, 1922 and 1931. He was Honorary Secretary from 1936 to 1953 and, above all else, he was an excellent golfer. In the year of his first captaincy, 1921, he won the Irish Close Championship over the local course. His family inherited his golfing talent especially his daughter Moira. One day while she was practising on the Number 2 course she met P.J.McEvoy who was so impressed with her play that he invited her to join the Shilling Sweep where she would meet golfers worthy of her talent. She was delighted but, more importantly, so was her father and it is no coincidence that the two premiere cup competitions in Mourne Golf Club are the Wilson Smyth Scratch Cup and the Annesley Cup. In return both G.F.Annesley and D Wilson Smyth were elected Honorary Life Members of Mourne.

So began Mourne Golf Club, and it was not without an amount of nostalgia that the remaining few Shilling Sweepers saw their home fall to progress leaving them with nothing but their memories.