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A New Addition to the Royal Family

Curragh GC, Ireland's oldest club, may revive their Royal Title, writes Dermot Gilleece

Posted Aug 28, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece


Depending on which source you care to believe, the world contains 61, 62 or 65 golf clubs which can claim a bona fide right to the “royal” title.  My belief is that the number is actually 63 and includes Curragh Golf Club which could have it royal status activated before the end of this year.

This development follows on a recent gathering to mark the discovery that the club has been in existence since 1858 and not 1883, as was originally thought.  Which makes it the oldest golf club in Ireland, some way ahead of Royal Belfast, founded in 1881.  And those recent celebrations have prompted Curragh officers to consider using the royal title for the first time since it was conferred in 1910.

In fact such a proposal will go before the club’s members at their annual general meeting on December 3rd of this year.  And if, as expected, it is adopted, the international list of golf clubs for 2014 will officially include the entry of Royal Curragh Golf Club.  If this happens, it will be the fifth Irish club to carry the distinction, joining Royal Belfast, Royal Portrush, Royal Co Down and Royal Dublin.  There is, in fact, another royal Irish club, Royal Tara, but its title relates to the seat of ancient Irish kings, not British patronage.

On which point, it is interesting to note the contents of a letter from the Home Office to Bill Gibson, historian to Curragh GC, back in September 1981.  Written by a certain L P Little, it read: “From our records, we have been able to trace the following information which I think answers your three questions:

“On August 6th 1910, the Commander-in-Chief of the [British] Forces in Ireland, wrote to the Secretary of State applying for the grant of the title Royal to the club [Curragh]. In doing so, he informed us that all early records of the club had been lost around the time of the South African War, but that there were references in an ‘Irish Golfers’ Guide’ to the club being founded in about 1855.

“Our records show that the club was granted the title Royal in September 1910 and we have a letter from the then Captain of the club, dated October 1st 1910, addressing the club’s thanks to His Majesty for conferring the title on the club.”

The letter concluded: “We have no evidence to show that the title was ever withdrawn from the club.”

For those who may not be familiar with the process, the title “royal” is bestowed on a club if a member of the royal family considers it worthy of such status.  This may have to do with its hosting a number of prestigious events, or simply because they enjoyed its amenities.  In the case of Curragh GC, the latter would have been the case, given that the Duke of Connaught, a brother of King Edward VII, is known to have played there.

The latest club to be so honoured was the Mayfair Golf and Country Club, Edmonton, Canada, in October 2005, by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2004, New Zealand’s Wellington Golf Club received the Royal title from Prince Andrew, an accomplished golfer in his own right. All the royal golf clubs are located in the United Kingdom (34) or the Commonwealth (26), with three exceptions, Royal Dublin and Curragh GC in the Republic of Ireland and Marianske Lazne GC in the Czech Republic.

This last-mentioned was honoured in 2003 as an establishment with historically strong connections to British royalty.  In fact it was a favourite holiday destination for King Edward VII who visited the course on 10 occasions after performing the opening ceremony on August 21st 1905.

Much has changed on the Irish political landscape since the Royal Curragh Golf Club was so designated 103 years ago, but the cachet attaching to the term “royal” has, if anything, been enhanced by the passing years.  Which makes the idea of reviving it, all the more attractive.

- Dermot Gilleece

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