The grand opening of Maine Valley Members Golf Club at the weekend saw celebrations long-awaited and well deserved.
Five months after golfers learned Killorglin Golf Club was to be closed, last Saturday’s low-key gathering at the scenic Kerry parkland course saw Maine Valley not just mark a rebirth but an expansion from what went before, the product of reaching out to Killorglin’s then-current members, long-lost ones and similarly bereft golfers from Castleisland, whose club also shut down for good on April 6.
There is no better man to tell the tale than acting chairman Dermot Kelly. He was on the Killorglin men’s committee but like many members only found out about the club’s closure after the member-run management had made the decision to shut the gate on March 20.
“I played for the last time on the following Sunday,” Kelly said.
“I met the [land] owner, Billy Dodds, in the car park after we’d played golf. He said if anybody had an idea [to keep the club running], ‘let me know’.
“I sat down that Sunday night and felt there was a little bit of light in that window, shall we open the window and make it bigger.
“The first idea was to get Castleisland GC involved. They were going through problems and on the cliffs ready to be pushed off. So I met Billy and his accountant on March 27 at his house in Killorglin. I went on my own, presented the plan to Billy, and he said he’d back me.
“With that I decided I’d set up my own group and phoned a guy called Jimmy Foley, a retired teacher in Farranfore who is [now] the secretary, a businessman from Cork, Pat Goulding, who lives up the road from me, and Brendan Quirke, another good grafter, well known in Castleisland.
“They liked my idea and we started in. Castleisland went belly up on April 6 and we sent a letter to their members and the ex-members of Killorglin to see would they be interested in joining a new set-up. The response was absolutely incredible so two weeks after that we asked those interested to send €100 to show their intent to join.
“The response to that was not as good as the first approach but still very good. It gave us around 350 members, so it’s gone from strength to strength, especially considering when Killorglin closed they had, at the very most, 150 members.
“So what happened was a blessing in disguise, really.”
Club secretary Jimmy Foley yesterday reported an increase to 365 members as well as repeat bookings from societies who returned to the club following lockdown and describes the achievement as “beyond what we anticipated and beyond our wildest dreams to tell the truth”.
The name Maine Valley is apt given the Maine river runs through both Castleisland and Killorglin en route to the sea and the new membership reflects both towns.
“It’s a working man’s club and always will be,” Kelly said.
That’s where the true member is really. So we’ve gone to 350 members, we’ve painted the clubhouse inside and out, we’re doing magnificent work on the course itself.”
Killorglin’s closure had seen head greenkeeper Pat Foley, another full-time and one part-time ground staff member lose their jobs. Yet, the trio had been back in harness, working voluntarily, well before Maine Valley opened its doors on May 19, the day after Ireland came out of lockdown.
“We’re delighted to be back as a club. We’re delighted that the membership is so high and has got so strong. And we will get stronger. I know that. We had to amalgamate to succeed. Now we’re aiming for bigger things and we’re not going to mess around. We want to set high standards and this could be the model for other clubs in the modern world, amalgamation.
“We have to be able to accommodate everybody so we’re running beginners, juniors, students programmes, and also a back to golf fee for lapsed golfers.”
“These are big changes, people can’t believe it. It’s incredible really, magnificent altogether and it just shows what can be done if you try. I mean, even the Covid has been unkind to a lot of people, if you do try and you do put effort into something, there’s always goodness at the end of it.
“That’s what’s happened here.”