Beginning our build-up to the fifth Irish International Open this weekend, here is a profile of the Rocklodge club which will be play host this weekend submitted by Mark Keohane.
The game of Pitch & Putt originated in Fountainstown, Co. Cork in the late 1930’s and within a few years another couple of courses had opened in the city namely Altona and Millfield. Those three clubs got together and decided to form the Irish Amateur Pitch & Putt Union and so on December 8th 1944 the first steps of organised Pitch & Putt were taken. The first competition played were the Club Leagues which are still played to this very day. In 1945 two other clubs Collins and Rosemount opened in the city and the game started to get a foothold and gain popularity with the people of Cork.
In 1946, this popularity had spread to the Carrigrohane area and from this Rocklodge Pitch and Putt Club was formed. From these humble beginnings the game of Pitch and Putt has spread around the world and has become hugely popular in Europe and as far away as Australia and Rocklodge Pitch and Putt club has become one of the most famous clubs throughout the country and further afield. The club has produced some of the greatest players the game has seen and have also produced some of the best administrators that have helped bring the game to the level it is at today. This year Rocklodge will celebrate its 70th anniversary and what follows is a brief history of this great club.
The Rocklodge course is rated one of the leading championship courses in the country. The club is situated on a scenic hillside at the edge of a wood, looking across a steep valley. When you look today at the layout of the greens, fairways, bunkers and tee box positions, you can quickly see that a lot of thought and planning went into the design of the course. In 1946, the founding members acquired the use of what is now the lower part of the course which they rented from C.J. Lane and laid out a nine hole Pitch & Putt course, of which only one green remains today - that is the championship 11th, which was played from the nearby 14th tee box of today’s course. The amount of work in shaping a steep and rocky field into what it appears today was colossal and the present members will always be indebted to them for this work.
In 1972 Benjamin Alan Haughton sold 5.5 acres of land to the Club for £2,500, this is where the top part of the course lies today. This transaction belies the enormous amount of work put in by club members in the previous twenty-six years. Under the guidance of the founder members and many committees, negotiations were held to purchase the entire course and build a new club house, at a cost of £20,000. This feat of fundraising by hard working committees was achieved by 1977 and Rocklodge became one of the few Pitch & Putt clubs in the country to own its own course. Over the years, the club members who helped to shape the club as it is today, deserve all the praise one can muster, and so too do the members who brought acclaim to the club in outside competitions.
The club hosted many All-Ireland championships and major competitions since it’s formation. In total the club has hosted twenty-four National Championship finals (more than any other club), which breaks down as six National Matchplays as well as the Ladies Championships in 1966 and ’70 as the Ladies and Gents events were held on separate courses up until 1994, seven Gents Stroke play, three Ladies Stroke play, three Inter-County’s, mixed foursomes twice and the original inter–club, once. The club has also hosted Provincial and County Championships. The club has had numerous Champions at all levels with club members winning National titles on no less than twenty-seven occasions, as well as being part of winning Cork teams in the Inter-County Championship. The honour of being the first Rocklodge national champion fell to Joan Dilworth who won the Ladies match play in 1951. In 1952 Lily Dilworth beat Hannah Dilworth in an all Rocklodge final to keep the Elvery Cup in the club. In 1955 Hannah Dilworth won the first of her three national titles and to complete a good period for the club Hannah won again in 1957.Alas we are still waiting a fifth title.
The men were not too far behind in the Gents Matchplay with Michael Crowley winning in 1952 and he went on to add another win in 1963. TJ O’Riordan won the first of his three titles in 1956 and was champion again in ’64 and ’65 when he became the first man to retain the title since the PPUI was restructured in 1961. In fact, TJ’s father Paddy played a big part in the forming of the PPUI when both the IAPPU (Munster) and the Leinster Union amalgamated. He also reached the final in 1962. Ted Reardon won his first title in 1957 and won again in 1960 in what was a golden era for the club. We had to wait until 1976 for the next win when Michael Forrest beat Joe (Junior) Buckley in an all Rocklodge final. Michael also won the National Stroke play the same year to be the first Gent to complete the double in the same year. Another dry spell followed as it was not until 2012, when Kevin McCarthy had a great win in Claycastle that the next title came, hopefully it won’t be as long a wait again until the next time the Day Cup arrives in Rocklodge.
Michael Forrest also had the distinction of winning five inter-county titles with Cork at a time when Cork had only seven wins in total. In fact, there were three Rocklodge players, T.J. his brother Michael and Michael Crowley along with Mattie McDonnell (Highfield) on the first Cork team to win the Inter-County title in 1964 at Collins. Cork had to wait ten years for their next title and this time both T.J and Michael Forrest were part of the team and also had the added pleasure of winning on their own course. Three times the Inter-county championships were played in Rocklodge 1974, ’84 and 2001 and each time the Cork Gents were victorious, the Ladies were also successful in 1984 with Mary Hayes part of the team as Cork won the double for the first time. In 2015 Mary Murray was on the Cork Ladies team that won the National inter-county’s title with fellow club members Eileen O’Riordan Murphy and Margaret O’Riordan (non-playing captain) also been part of the team.
Again the Ladies beat the men to the first National Strokeplay title with Hannah Dilworth winning the senior title in 1961 to go with her two match play titles. Eileen Dilworth won the only other Ladies title in 1967 to add to her earlier Intermediate title. Like the Ladies, the Gents have two senior titles with Michael O’Riordan winning in 1964 and Michael Forrest in ’76. The Ladies Intermediate grade is without doubt the most successful with no fewer than six winners with Eileen Dilworth 1963, Mary O’Riordan ’64, May Buckley ’65, Angela Roche ’71, (Angela along with Denis Kiely finished runners up in the National Mixed Foursomes the same year), Chris Cunneen 1976, Phil Murphy in 1984 and Mary Murray only two short months ago in St Stephens. Michael Dilworth won the only Gents Intermediate title with his win coming in 1964. Two titles were won in the junior grade with Denis Byrne winning the Gents in 1962 and Mary Riordan winning the Ladies in ‘64.
1964 would have to go down as the most successful year in the club’s history, with five National titles coming to Rocklodge, with members winning the Gents National Match play, Gents National Senior and Intermediate Strokeplay titles, Ladies National Intermediate and Junior stroke play titles and also having three players on the first Cork team to win the Gents Inter-County Championship. The O’Riordan trio of brothers and sister of TJ, Michael and Mary each winning National titles in the same year must be some sort of record. Even though the period between 1976 and 2012 was barren at adult level Valerie Leahy kept the flag flying at National level winning the Girls National Juvenile title in 2002. In 2001 Valerie won the Cork and Munster stroke play titles and just missed out on the clean sweep when she finished runner up in the National stroke play. She also added the Munster Match play to her collection. Valerie has Pitch& Putt DNA as her grandparents were the already mentioned Michael and Eileen Dilworth.
The club has also had a lot of champions at provincial and county level. The club dominated the Munster Strokeplay at the beginning, with Ted Riordan winning the first ever championship in 1954 followed by Jim Walsh in ‘55, TJ O’ Riordan in ‘56 and ‘57 and Michael Crowley 1958. TJ won again in ‘61 and Ted Riordan won his second title in ‘62 with T.J. claiming his fourth in 1966. Hannah Dilworth also won the Ladies title in ‘66 to complete a notable double for the club. However, it wasn’t until Mary Murray won in 2014 that the next title came to Rocklodge. At Intermediate level Elizabeth Dilworth won the Ladies title in 1974 and Siobhan Foy in 1988 with Des Quinn triumphing in 2012. Mary also won the Munster Intermediate Matchplay title in 2011.
In the Cork Senior Strokeplay championship Michael O’Riordan won in 1964 to go with his National title and Hannah Dilworth won the Ladies title the same year. TJ won in 1965 and 1968 and at a time when he was one of the best players in the country he had a three-in-a-row of Cork Matchplay titles 1965-67. In the Matchplay, PJ O’Riordan won the Junior in 1971 and Tom Dunphy won the Intermediate title in 72. Elizabeth Dilworth was the 1975 champion and in ‘76 the club had another double with John Crowley and May Buckley capturing senior titles. In 1981 Tim O’Connor and Eleanor Murray won the Intermediate Championships and for good measure Bernadine McSwiney won the Intermediate Matchplay. Eleanor went on the following year to add the senior title and was also victorious in 1987. Bart Millard was the 1982 champion but there was a big wait for the next win which didn’t come until 2014 when Maurice Carey won the title. At Junior level Christopher Richmond 2007 and Tony O’Driscoll in 2013 both brought success to the club.
In team events the club has had a lot of success down through the years. The Senior Gents County League title has made its way to Carrigrohane on no fewer than 12 occasions. A golden period was had between 1956 and 64 when eight titles were won in a nine year period including from 1960-64 a five in a row, a feat equalled by Carraigaline 1979-83 and St Annes 2010-14. The Intermediate title was won in1971 and ‘78 with the juniors winning in 1956, ‘57 and 1970. The Ladies have also been successful in League competition winning the senior and intermediate league titles in 1967 and the senior league in 1975. The club has also been successful in the various different formats of team events down the years with wins in the Munster Club and Munster Mixed Team (1996) competitions amongst the titles won. In the Mixed Foursomes, the Munster title was won by Ann and Michael McCarthy in 1994. In the Cork mixed Foursomes there were wins for Theresa and Ger Cotter in 1981 with Eleanor Murray and Pat Walsh and Eileen O’Riordan Murphy and Dave Ahern winning in the early 90’s.
In 2008 T.J. O’Riordan was chosen for the PPUI Hall of Fame.
Apologies to anyone left out of the above record as it was very hard to find full records of all events. However, we will keep checking to see if we can track down other winners maybe before the 75th anniversary.
On the administrative side the club has never been found wanting to supply members to hold office in various roles. Paddy Harkins held the top position in Pitch & Putt when he was President of the PPUI. John O’Riordan Snr was a member of the first Central Council in 1960. At present, the chairman of the Cork county board Mark Keohane and competition secretary John Byron are both Rocklodge members with Mark succeeding fellow club-mate Margaret O’Riordan in that position after Margaret was chairperson for a number of years. A lot of other members held position at county board level. Mark Keohane was also this year elected to the NEC as Munster/Connacht Coordinator and was also part of the Irish team which won the World Cup in Andorra in 2016.
At club level, the club have been blessed with some great people down through the years from current Chairman Michael Mannix who has held that position for nearly twenty years back to the founding members in 1946. We’re not even going to try to list some of these people because inevitably we will forget someone and may cause offence. Just to let them know that all the current members appreciate their incredible efforts down through the years and are very thankful for the great course and clubhouse which is the legacy these people have left behind and to let them know everything will be done to continue their great work into the future.
This year started with Craig Cahill winning the Munster Intermediate Matchplay title in Lakeside but the year has undoubtedly belonged to Mary Murray who won the National Intermediate Strokeplay, National Over 55’s Intermediate Strokeplay and Munster Intermediate Strokeplay. Mary also won the British Open in July as well as numerous titles in open competitions. Martin O’Sullivan meanwhile captained the Cork Junior team to the Munster Inter-County title recently.
So as the club celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2016 the future of the club looks bright both on and off the course.
Tomorrow: John Manning speaks to the defending Gents Holder Eamon Gibney from Castletown.