A SUNDAY morning in early January 2018 and Padraig Slattery was expecting a call — about a game of golf in Lahinch, but about much more than 18 holes around his beloved and boyhood field of dreams.
“Hi Padraig, it’s Paul McGinley here.”
“Howya Paul, great to hear from you.”
Of course, the informalities follow among the pair who know each other well — from Lahinch, the South of Ireland battleground and much more — but the formalities follow as well.
“I have been asked to host the Irish Open and I would really love if I could host it in Lahinch,” says McGinley.
A few days earlier McGinley had made the pitch to John Gleeson — another Lahinch stalwart and now the chairman of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open — who turned the Ryder Cup hero in the direction of Slattery, Lahinch’s captain in their 125th year.
“I immediately said I would love to see the Irish Open in Lahinch as well,” remembers Slattery, “but if it is going to come to Lahinch it was going to have to have approval of the club’s Council. I brought it to Council after that.
“I told them ‘we have the opportunity, Paul wants to have it here, I think it would be a wonderful once off opportunity for Lahinch and I would recommend it strongly’. The feeling was ‘let’s do it, we’ll have one chance at this’ and they unanimously approved it.”
And so the wheels were in motion — in truth, however, they’d already started moving the previous August when the highlight of Slattery’s captaincy was having McGinley and over 20 other former South of Ireland winners back in Lahinch to celebrate the club’s 125th.
“Paul was guest of honour and he came over at his own expense,” says Slattery, “because of his great memories of Lahinch, caddying for his father in the South and playing in it himself.
“He wanted to see the course as he hadn’t played it since Martin Hawtree’s changes, so myself, John Gleeson and Padraig McInerney brought him around in a buggy. We knew he was impressed.
“He absolutely articulated that and couldn’t believe how good the course was and how far it had come on. What he was more impressed with was the whole atmosphere of golf in the club and in the village.
“The South of Ireland was on and the whole talk was golf and when he went up the town after the dinner and had a few drinks everyone was talking about the golf. He said this place was unique, you just don’t get this anywhere else, even St Andrew’s. There was no discussion about an Irish Open, none whatsoever, but he knew at that stage the European Tour were putting together a plan for having new hosts for the coming years,” he adds.
The announcement that McGinley would be the host for 2019 was made that autumn — then came those New Year calls and 18 months later the Irish Open is coming to Lahinch.
It’s not stretching to say that for Padraig Slattery and his brothers Austin, Ian and Michael it’s the realisation of their late father, Brud Slattery’s dream — the world coming to Lahinch thanks to some of the best golfers playing the Open and the exposure Lahinch and Clare will get around the world from this week of golf.
BRUD Slattery’s great friend Justice Gordon Hurley was larger than life itself and famously told anyone who was listening in 1964 that “Lahinch always had the best course in Ireland and soon will have one to compare with any other in the world”.
Brud mightn’t have made such a boast, but he certainly gave to Lahinch as if it was the best in the world — all because as Padraig says “Lahinch Golf Club was his world, it was all our world growing up”.
The land on which the original course was laid out belonged to Brud’s grandfather Daniel Thynne, while once he joined the club as a 20-year-old in 1936 he was there nearly every day for over 60 years before his death at age of 80 in early 1997.
He was a winner of the South of Ireland in ’47, being the only man to ever beat 11 times champion John Burke in a final; he was secretary manager from 1954 to ’84, while he was still a formidable golfer at elite level into his 50s as he proved in 1967 when taking Walker Cup star Dr David Sheahan to the 18th in the South.
“Brud Slattery is the sage of Lahinch,” wrote Colm Smith of The Irish Independent in 1992. “Born in the Clare village in 1916, he won the South of Ireland, played for Ireland, served as secretary for 30 years.”
“We grew up there,” says Padraig, “being only two houses up from the entrance to the clubhouse. From when we were small we all ran the office with him — doing timesheets, putting people out in competitions, collecting the cards, doing the scorecards and deciding the results.
“It was like being in a GAA club — where you’re in doing everything. You’re washing the jerseys and lining the pitch and all that. His life was Lahinch Golf Club — every talking moment, everything he did was Lahinch. I remember him saying once “religion and golf are at the same level in this house’.
“He sold sites down the Liscannor Road — that was his land — and was laying out in his own mind the Castle Course as it is now and could only get 17 holes in because he wanted to keep land at the front close to the castle for sites. When he finally couldn’t work it he said ‘to hell with the sites’ we’ll use it for the golf club. He needed the land for another hole for the golf club,” he adds.
“The golf club was part and parcel of every day life,” says Austin. “It was everything, because golf was everything. I remember I went to the Aran Islands to Irish College in 1962 — myself and my brother Michael went and we sent a postcard home that simply said ‘No Golf Course Here’.
“We were almost shocked that there wasn’t, because no matter where we went, it was golf, always golf,” he adds.
Brud Slattery was the club’s centenary captain in 1992; Padraig followed him onto the captain’s table 25 years later; in between the eldest son Austin was 2009 captain, with Ian filling the role in 2014. And in that 25-year stretch the work was done to make Lahinch what it is today — Irish Open ready.
“MacKenzie did a marvellous job, although there aren’t many signs of his work out there today,” said Brud in 1984 when he retired as secretary manager. “Pete Dye, the noted American architect, walked the links one day last year and when he came in said to me, ‘I can only see two signs of MacKenzie’s work out there, the 9th and 11th’ and fair play to him he was right.
“The others had changed for various reasons, notably the number of double and triple tiers he put on some of the greens. They might have done today with watering so common, but in the hot summer months long ago a putt from the top of the 13th, which had three tiers, frequently ran away down the fairway.”
Now the MacKenzie design is ‘faoi lán seoil’ as the national school teacher in Brud Slattery would say, making Lahinch ready for the world.
“I remember going back into the 1960s and Brud spent his time trying to promote the place around the world,” says Padraig ,”and in their own way Lahinch were enlightened about it.
“They started their honorary overseas membership. I remember they went to London — conferring overseas membership on a group of Irish in London, among them was a man called Mick Clancy, a builder from Lissycasey and very big in the London/Irish circles. He got Terry Wogan to agree to join; they also got Peter Allis to take on honorary overseas members and he’s coming to Lahinch this week for the Irish Open.”
All that’s left is for some of Brud’s old tricks of his secretary’s brief to be taken on by the European Tour. Many times when arranging the competition timesheet he’d pencil in Messrs Allen, Larkin and O’Brien — not in homage to the Manchester Martyrs, but so as to leave a line for some late entries.
What chance the European Tour doing the same — Messrs Allen, Larkin and O’Brien, then a few wildcards entries at the 11th hour parachuted in by the European Tour.
T Woods maybe, Rory…member Phil.
But as the “sage of Lahinch” Brud Slattery would tell all if he were with us, he wouldn’t be the first T Woods to grace the links.
T Woods was already here — not Tiger, but Thomas Woods, a chief-superintendent playing out of Portmarnock who played the South in the mid-1930s.