23-25 September: A new TV history of Irish golf

Published in Blogging Irish History

PGA Championship - Final RoundWith Paul McGinley captaining the European team at the imminent Ryder Cup, and Rory McIlroy claiming the PGA Championship, 2014 has been a good year for Irish golf. Readers who enjoyed Daniel Mulhall’s piece on its origins might be interested in From tee to green: the story of Irish golf, the first episode of which is to be broadcast on Setanta Sports tonight. Directed by Andrew Gallimore and narrated by Aidan Quinn, this lavish three-part documentary is being broadcast this week to coincide with the Ryder Cup. The production standards are superb, and it deploys a remarkable range of archival footage, along with genuinely cinematic shots of golf courses (which tend to look far more impressive from the air). The first episode (broadcast Wednesday 23 September) very skilfully tackles the origin of the game in Ireland, with strong contributions from historians of Irish sport such as Mike Cronin, Roisín Higgins and Paul Rouse. The ultimate origins of the modern game lie in Scotland, but it’s spread in Ireland was very much due to the British garrison, with formalised clubs created in Belfast in 1881 and spreading to Dublin in 1885 (Scottish expats founded the latter). The growth of golf was very much part of the Victorian sporting revolution, and the location of the newly built courses were dictated by Ireland’s rail network (which also aided the growth of the GAA in the same era). Golf spread with remarkable speed in the generation prior to the First World War; there were 200 clubs in Ireland by 1914, many of which were then requisitioned for military purposes. L_ROY_06588 17321 copyFrom the outset it was intensely sociable, albeit elitist. While initially having a Protestant and unionist complexion, the emergent Catholic middle classes soon became enthusiasts, though it became much more demotic from the 1960s. As of 2014 there are 400 golf clubs on the island of Ireland, probably half of which are a legacy our old friend the Celtic Tiger

From tee to green is very obviously aimed at golf fans (with a major emphasis on the 2006 Ryder Cup held at the K Club), but there is much here to interest the casual viewer. In an era where Mcilroy could recently lose out on a $10m bonus prize, it was striking to to hear of the hardscrabble life led by many Irish golf pros in the 1960s and 70s, with at least one famous face admiting to missing the Augusta Masters as he couldn’t afford to get to it. It’s an impressive and beautifully filmed series, and well worth a look in the run-in to the main event at the weekend.


From tee to green: the story of Irish golf,

Tilted Pictures

23-25 September,

Setanta Sports.


John Gibney



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