The Irish Amateur Open Championship is an amateur golf tournament held annually in Ireland and organised by the Golfing Union of Ireland. The championship has been played as a 72-hole stroke-play event since 1958. Previously it was played as a match-play tournament. Royal Dublin has hosted the event a record of 29 times, most notably between 1998 and 2016 they held the event 17 times.
The Irish Amateur Open Championship 1924-1958
Following the cessation of hostilities in the Great War, the Championship resumed in 1919, but only returned to The Royal Dublin in 1924 when Edwin Spiller (North West) beat the renowned Dr J.D. MacCormack of Hermitage Golf Club by 3 &1 over 36 holes.
Spiller, a bank clerk from Derry, was the underdog but outplayed his opponent who had won three tournaments in the previous month including the Irish Close Championship. Apart from praising the host club for the fine condition of the course, Spiller told the “Irish Independent” – “Dr MacCormack taught me to putt, but not only that, he presented me with a driver – the club that I used throughout the championship and which played a big part in earning me the proud distinction this day.”
The all-Irish pairing in that final was typical of those early years of the Twenties when overseas entries diminished, not least because the formation of the Scottish Golf Union (1920) and English Golf Union (1924) opened up new competitive opportunities for the British players.
Four years later Spiller again reached the final at The Royal Dublin, but lost a captivating contest to Seymour Noon by one hole. Noon was English-born but played out of the Edinburgh Burgess GC.
Jack McLean, the 21 year old Scottish champion from Hayston Golf Club, added the Irish Amateur crown to his laurels by defeating Waterford’s Joe Brown, also 21, by 9&8 in the 1932 final at Dollymount. Royal Dublin had one more hosting of the Amateur Open just two years before World War 2 broke out.
The 1937 Championship was one in which Joe Brown, the heavily defeated finalist of 1932 came to the Bull Island as defending champion, having won at Portmarnock the previous year. Brown battled his way to the quarter-finals but was eliminated by Willie Gill of Portmarnock. In turn, Gill lost the semi-final to John Fitzsimmons from Bushfoot GC, the latter thereby qualifying for the final against Robert McKinna, a 26 year old Scottish solicitor from Edinburgh. Fitzsimmons, 38, the club steward at Royal Portrush, was making only his second appearance in the Amateur Open. He took full advantage of his opportunity to shine on the national stage and defeated McKinna by 4&3.
Ten years were to pass, including a period from 1940-’45 during which the Championship was suspended due to the War, before Royal Dublin returned to the Amateur Open roster in 1947. The final brought together two of the top men in Irish golf – John Burke, 48, playing out of Limerick GC, and Sutton’s Joe Carr, then aged 25. This was their fourth meeting in a GUI ‘major’ final and Burke had won the previous three. The galleries expected a thriller and they got it.
“It was a great match, one which will not be forgotten quickly by those who saw it through from start to finish,” wrote “Cam” in the Irish Independent. Burke was 5-up after the first 18 and 4-up with nine to play. Carr typically defiant, fought back only to fall just short and lose by one hole. Royal Dublin was one of Carr’s favourite links, and he atoned for his ’47 defeat by taking the honours in 1954, defeating arch-rival and fellow Walker Cup player Cecil Ewing by 6&4.
This was their fourth meeting in the Amateur Open final. Ewing outshone Carr in 1948 and 1951, but the Sutton golfer won a marathon 40 hole battle against Ewing on the latter’s home turf at Rosses Point in 1950. Carr by his wins in 1946, 1950, 1954 and 1956 equalled Harold Hilton’s record of four Irish Amateur Open titles.
His hopes of a fifth were dashed at The Royal Dublin in 1958 by Malahide’s Tom Craddock. That year was the first in which the Amateur Open converted from match play to a 72-hole strokeplay championship. Craddock led by six shots going into the final round. Warrenpoint’s Willie Hulme was the closest challenger and Carr trailed by nine shots.
The big lead slowly evaporated as the Malahide golfer struggled to find his best form and got home in 77. Hulme shot 72, and Carr powered through the last 18 holes in 69. Craddock, however, had one shot to spare, finishing on 294 with Carr and Hulme a shot further back on 295.