Irish Close Championship
THE IRISH CLOSE CHAMPIONS WHO WON AT ROYAL DUBLIN
W.H Webb of Royal Portrush GC was the first man to win an Irish Close Championship hosted by Royal Dublin. In the modern era, Dara Lernihan (Castle) has the honour of, to date, being the last player to become the champion of Ireland at the Dollymount links. From 1895, the year Webb rose to national prominence, to Lernihan’s success in 2010 inclusive, 116 years elapsed during which the club staged the Irish Close on 11 occasions.
Just two Royal Dublin members - Lionel Munn (1913) and Captain Ernest (E.F) Carter (1921) - have won the title, but neither succeeded in doing so on their home turf. Carter triumphed at nearby Portmarnock in 1921 winning emphatically by 9&8 against local member Dr Gerald Moore. A total of nine players won the Close at Royal Dublin, as Webb (1895 and 1898), and John Burke (1940 and 1946) were double winners. The other champions crowned at Royal Dublin were: F.B Newett (Malone) 1902; Captain Henry A. Boyd of Portmarnock 1906; John F Jameson (Malahide) in 1910; Donald Soulby (Fortwilliam) who retained the title in 1929; Dr David Sheahan (Grange) 1966; John McHenry (Douglas) 1986, and Dara Lernihan (Castle) 2010.
Lionel Munn actually became Irish champion as a member of three different clubs. Munn represented Dublin University in 1908 and 1911; then Royal Dublin in 1913; and finally North West in retaining the championship in 1914. Born on May 4, 1887 in Derry, Munn was an all round sportsman who played rugby for Dublin University. He followed up his maiden Irish Close success of 1908 with the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin in 1909 – the first of his three Amateur Open wins.
Munn enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers when World War 1 broke out. He survived the war but took some time to return to golf. When he did, he did so in style, capturing the Belgian Open championship in 1931 and 1932. His quality as a golfer was exemplified by Munn reaching the final of The Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s in 1937. Unfortunately there was no fairy tale ending for the 54-year-old Munn who lost by 3&2 to Robert Sweeny of the Royal and Ancient.
THE FOUR CHAMPIONS OF THE POST-WORLD WAR 2 ERA
John Burke: 1940 and 1946.
John Burke was a formidable competitor whose record of achievement in Irish golf was only bettered by the great Joe Carr. Burke made the Irish Close championship almost his personal property by winning eight times, two of them at Royal Dublin. The man from Lahinch defeated Dr Billy O’Sullivan of Killarney 4&3 in 1940 for what was then a record sixth Irish Close win. World War 2 then intervened and the next staging of the Irish Close was in 1946, again at Royal Dublin. Burke eliminated Joe Carr in the early rounds in a titanic struggle and progressed to the final in which he met Cecil Ewing of County Sligo. A large gallery followed the 36-hole decider and saw Burke come from 1-down after 18 holes to eventually retain the title with a 2&1 result.
Dr David Sheahan: 1966
Dr David Sheahan was among the favourites for the 1966 Irish Close at Royal Dublin, not least because of his magnificent achievement in beating the professionals in the Jeyes Pro-Am four years earlier. The Grange golfer could also draw on the experience of a previous Close win at Rosses Point in 1961. As events transpired, his record at Dollymount remained intact, despite a close shave against Bill McCrea of Walton Heath in the 1966 semi-final. McCrea had a short putt to win at the 18th but his ball slid by the hole.
Dr Sheahan made good use of his reprieve to finish the match on the 19th, thereby setting up a final contest with John Faith of Royal Portrush. Unlike the previous Irish Close Championships at Royal Dublin, the format had evolved to stroke play qualifying, followed by a match play series that ended with a last day of 18 holes semi-finals and a final over 18 holes. The 3&2 result in the decider looked reasonably convincing but Faith was praised for his fighting spirit, albeit that his tenacity was not enough to prevent Dr Sheahan from once again enjoying the plaudits at a big tournament in Royal Dublin.
John McHenry: 1986
John McHenry from Douglas GC enjoyed a spectacular run of success in the summer of 1986, following his graduation from the William and Mary University in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Douglas GC member had wins in the Waterford Scratch Trophy and the Waterford Crystal Bowl event in Sundridge Park before a memorable fortnight in which he swept all before him. On July 31, McHenry made his GUI amateur major breakthrough with a 3&2 victory over Liam McNamara of Woodbrook in the South of Ireland championship at Lahinch.
On August 4, he won the 72-hole Mullingar Scratch Trophy, and on August 13 was crowned Irish Close champion at Royal Dublin, defeating Paul Rayfus of Trim GC 4&3 in the final. Rayfus had earlier won the West of Ireland at Rosses Point but was no match for McHenry who thus became the first golfer since Sutton’s Jimmy Carroll in1949 to win the South of Ireland and the Irish Close in the same year.
Dara Lernihan: 2010
Royal Dublin celebrated its 125th year in 2010 and to mark this significant anniversary, the GUI awarded the club the Irish Close Championship. A starting field of 150 players, all of 0.9 handicap or better, competed in stroke play qualifying on Saturday and Sunday, June 19/20, with the top 64 going into the match play stages. Dara Lernihan (23) of Castle GC had previously reached the Close final in 2008 but lost to Paul O’Hanlon of Royal Curragh. The +2 handicap golfer once again threaded his way through to the final where he faced the experienced Rory Leonard of Banbridge, the 34-year old reigning West of Ireland and Munster stroke play champion.
Lernihan was not to be denied his breakthrough. He had not been taken past the 16th green in the match play series and finished the final on the 15th to record a 3&2 result. The Castle GC golfer had become his club’s first men’s international in 2008. By winning the Irish Close Lernihan added to Castle’s history as the club’s first member to win a GUI men’s championship.