Christy O'Connor Snr winner in 1975
Established in 1921, by Sir Stanley Cochrane as his private club, Woodbrook was first affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1926. Sir Stanley had previously indulged his enthusiasm for cricket at Woodbrook, a fact that is still reflected in the pavilion-style clubhouse and the cricket bell, which tolled the start and finish of play and now hangs in the bar.
However, it is as a venue for top class international golf, that Woodbrook is justly famous.
Woodbrook hosted the first major professional tournament in Ireland. The Hennessy Tournament in 1958. This once-off event, proved so popular amongst the Irish sporting public, that the following year it became the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes Tournament with the then biggest prize fund 5,000 guineas.
All the leading players arrived to play Woodbrook and International Tournament Golf in Ireland was born. In 1963 the tournament that really established Woodbrook as a major golf venue began – The Carrolls International. Carrolls brought the cream of British European and, indeed, American golfers to play the fairways of Woodbrook in the ensuing years up to 1975. Many of today’s legends of Golf played the course.
Some, as winners, like Christy O’Connor, Senior and Junior, Bernard Gallagher, Neil Coles, Brian Huggett and Bernard Hunt. Others, as rookies on the day, like Jack Newton, Eamon D’Arcy, John O’Leary and Sam Torrance. Superstars, like Open Championship Winners, Max Faulkner, five times winner Peter Thompson, Gary Player, Tony Jacklin, Tom Watson and Ken Nagle all delighted the larger Irish galleries. Anybody who was anybody, in the history of British and European golf from 1963 to 1975, appeared at the Carrolls in Woodbrook.
The Irish Open
The Irish Open had been discontinued in 1953, having run almost continuously since 1927. Carrolls revived this great Irish Title in 1975 at Woodbrook and the modern Irish Open was born. This is now an integral part of the European PGA Tour. An all-star field, including the British Open Winner Tom Watson, played for the first Prize of £5,000 and the inaugural winner was Ireland’s Christy O’Connor Junior, nephew of the great Christy O’Connor Senior, himself a four times winner of the Carrolls International.
Trains have always played a major part in Woodbrook’s history. In olden days the Dublin-Bray train stopped at the club and in the early days of tournament golf, spectators alighted on the course. Up to 1956, when members wanted to go home, they pulled a switch in the club house bar and the next train, to pass along the way, stopped for two minutes to pick up those who were travelling to Bray or Dublin. Alas! Today, such hospitality is unavailable, but on six holes, the spectre of the DART and the railway line looms large for the wayward driver.
Although a flat course, “Woodbrook”, as Christy O’Connor, Senior put it “may look easy, but it is a very difficult course, with the constant threat of out of bounds and other hazards that can wreck your card”. In this regard the wind plays a most significant role. When it blows from the North, nine holes are affected, including three out of the last four.
When it’s from the South, the index one tenth plus the par three eleventh, and the par five – 12th, 14th and 16th, all become very difficult long holes. A crosswind from the East affects almost every hole on the course and calls for shot making of the highest calibre. With its configuration of five par threes and five par fives, Woodbrook’s layout is unusual but, in the opinion of those who have played there, it is a championship course in every meaning of the word.
Recently redesigned, with three new holes and 18 sand based greens, built to USPGA standards, Woodbrook is once more a challenge for the best.
The club has hosted 18 major international championship events, a record unlikely to be surpassed, and numerous Irish Professional and Amateur Championships through the years. The staging of the AIB Sponsored Irish Seniors Open in the club in 1998 completes a remarkable journey for many of those stars of yesterday, bringing them back to the fairways they once graced so well.
Woodbrook is unique in Irish Golf, with its heritage and tradition, ambiance and atmosphere and the quality and layout of its course. For members and visitors alike it represents a challenge to be met weekly or just occasionally, but always enjoyably.