Hermitage makes History
That Hermitage was recognised as the best inland course in the country at the time was shown by
the decision of the Golfing Union of Ireland to hold the Close Championship there in 1914. Since
the inauguration of the championship in 1893, it had always been decided on a links and up to
1912 on a rota of Royal Dublin, Portmarnock, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush. The first
break with that tradition was to play the Close at Castlerock in 1912, but that too was links
country. So history was made when Hermitage was chosen and the event held there as Europe was
on the brink of war.
The Irish Close Championship 1914
The title was won, for the second successive year and the fourth and last time by Lionel Munn,
the famous County Derry player, who was among the most accurate strikers the amateur game has
ever known. He beat the Earl Annesley of Royal Co. Down by the massive margin of 10 and 8 in
the 36 holes final. Obviously Annesley, whose family owned a large slice of Co. Down, was a fine
player to reach the national final, and he had proved that eight years previously when as Lord
Clerawlay, he had won the South of Ireland title at Lahinch, in the final of which, by coincidence,
he had beaten A.E. Browning by 10 and 8.
Almost incredibly, Munn reached the final of the British Amateur in 1936, 22 years after his
first success in the Irish Close. In sad contrast, Annesley was killed in action only a short time after
he had figured in the final at Hermitage. According to contemporaries he was a very popular
character. Looking back to that historic occasion 90 years ago, it is remarkable to observe how few
changes have been necessary since the site of the old clubhouse was changed in 1938. The first war
period, 1914-1918 was difficult for all golf clubs at the time, and Hermitage was no exception.
It may be of interest to mention that the Golfing Union of Ireland is the oldest national
governing body in the world, founded as it was in 1891, three years before the United States
(1894) and four years after Lucan golf club was founded. The English Golfing Union was not
officially founded, surprisingly, until 1924, but the Royal and Ancient governing body was
established in 1754. It is believed that it was the Scots who introduced golf to this country in the
early 1600’s. In 1991 Hermitage Golf Club celebrated the centenary of the G.U.I. by having two
gold medals minted and engraved with the Hermitage crest to be awarded to the winners of a
special fourball stableford competition. The lucky winners were Dr. Eamon O’Connor and Pat
McDermott who shot 52 points.
The first inter-club success came in 1912 when the Barton Cup was won by Hermitage for the first
time. The team consisted of J.D. McCormack, R.J. White, J.M. Marron, R.J. Sheehy, G.M. Sterling,
A.D. Clinch, B. O’Reilly, P. Sullivan, Rev. A.J. Ryan, and J.J. O’Neill. The trophy, was presented for
competition in the same year as Hermitage was founded, in 1905, by Sir Dunbar Plunkett Barton
after whom the trophy became known. Barton, who was born in Dublin in 1853 and educated at
Harrow and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, was a member of Hermitage as well as of numerous
other Irish clubs, and he was also President of the Golfing Union of Ireland.
A Unique Golfer – A Unique Man
While the quality of golf produced by Hermitage teams around that time was very good, no
individual in the club could touch the class exhibited by J.D. McCormack. A natural swinger of a
club from his earliest days, J.D. (he was rarely called John) was a forceful and colourful
personality. His spare frame was emphasised by his unusual looking attire of riding breeches and
tightly buttoned jacket.
He favoured a tweed cap worn at a jaunty angle. He was a hitter of devastating power with the
woods and for a number of years was rated the longest hitter in Britain and Ireland. He used a
driver four ounces heavier and four inches longer than the average, and as well as unleashing
tremendous speed of club head into the ball, he possessed a perfect sense of timing. He was the
first but not the last Irish player to move his right foot back on the back swing, and his all out
lash at the ball was a thrilling sight. McCormack’s record in amateur golf, when representing
Hermitage, has never been equalled to this day by any of our club members and after the first
world war he was to become one of the most remarkable personalities in the whole history of golf.
He played for Ireland against Wales in 1913, at a period when internationals were arranged
He joined the British army and three years later when serving in the R.A.M.C. he was so badly
wounded and shell-shocked, that his prospects even of living were regarded as slight, much less
of ever walking or playing golf again. But he lived. He was paralysed from the waist down and in
that condition he lived for almost six years. He was a pitiful sight, dragging himself along the
streets on crutches, with his legs dangling helplessly. But never was a man more determined to
return to the game that he loved so passionately – it was the prelude to the much more famous
and publicised Ben Hogan saga of 1950 when he was given little hope of living following a bad
car accident. McCormack travelled to London early in 1922 to see a physician who had
remarkable successes with similar cases and slowly, painfully, over many months, J.D. learned to
walk again. Once the first steps had been taken the recovery was incredibly rapid. Within eight
months of his return to Dublin towards the end of 1922 he won his first Championship, the Irish
Close, in June of 1923 at Milltown GC – the Hogan recovery was no more remarkable than that.
Again like Hogan, J.D. went from strength to strength. In 1924 he just failed to bring off the rare
double, retaining the Close title but losing in the final of the Irish Open amateur to E.F. Spiller.
He won the International and National Tailteann Games tournaments and reached the quarter finals
of the British Amateur before losing to one of England’s best, Roger Wethered. These
achievements brought him a Walker Cup invitation to visit the United States, but sadly he had
used up all his leave and the Local Government Department, in which he held the position of
medical officer, would not grant him permission to make the trip.
He won his third and last Irish Close Championship in 1927 at Cork GC, but he maintained
his form to such a degree over the next ten years, that he was beaten only on the 18th green in
the semi final of the British Amateur Open in 1931, by the eventual winner, Eric Martin Smith.
He retained his place on the international team until 1937, being captain in the last three years.
A truly remarkable man.
Barton & Junior Cup Success
While the intrepid doctor was performing his great deeds of derring-do on various golf courses
throughout the twenties, let’s not forget the Hermitage Junior Cup Team of 1924 who swept the
boards to win the Irish Junior Cup that year. The members of that team were J.S. Scott, J. Fielding,
J. Nugent, C. Hames, J.E. Dalton, M. McDonald, P.J. O’Sullivan.
And while that team was performing so well, the Barton Cup Team of ’24 made it a great
double by bringing that trophy to Hermitage also. Representing Hermitage that year were
T. Cormack, J. Fielding, C. Lee, C. Hames, J. Scott, W. Tunell, A. Conan, P. Conway, J. Doyle and
It was a truly remarkable year for club captain Lorcan Sherlock.
McCormack never severed his connections with Hermitage.He was also a member of
Portmarnock where he played a lot of his Winter golf, finding it preferable to the parkland of
Hermitage at that time of year. He was a great friend of Harry Bradshaw and figured with Harry in
fourball match stakes against equally qualified opposition at Portmarnock where the stakes were
J.D., The Brad, “Himself” and The Canada Cup
In 1958, the Canada Cup (now the World Cup) was played for in Mexico City and Harry
Bradshaw and Christy O’Connor Snr. represented Ireland. Harry’s son, Harry Jnr., tells an
interesting story about his father’s preparations for that trip. J.D. McCormack and Harry Snr. were
playing a match in Portmarnock, after which, J.D. took Harry aside and explained to him the
hazards of playing golf in Mexico City. J.D. had visited that fair country and played golf there and
noted that Mexico City was high above sea level.
Harry Bradshaw was a big man, rotund, but all bone and muscle, and J.D. told him he would
have to reduce his weight by at least two stone if he was to measure up to the demanding
conditions in Mexico City. J.D. directed him to lose weight by dieting, the whole purpose being
to conserve energy. He also told him to bring a shooting stick to sit on between shots, “conserve
your energy at all cost,” the good doctor told him and Harry obeyed his order. Harry Bradshaw
and Christy O’Connor won the Canada Cup for Ireland that year for the first time, and Harry was
beaten by a shot for the individual award. The Canada Cup was renamed the World Cup many
years later when the trophy was brought back to Ireland by Padraig Harrington and Paul
J.D. McCormack’s prowess as a golfer was never surpassed in the club and his leadership
of the victorious Hermitage team in the 1926 Irish Senior Cup hasn’t been repeated to this day. He
captained that team which included Joe Gorry of Naas, (whose grand-daughter Mary was a
member of Ireland’s European Ladies’ Championship winning team at Hermitage in 1979), Jack
Nugent, Tom Cormack, J.J. McGowran, Jim Scott and Captain C. Hames. McGowran was Captain
of the Club in 1926 and Scott filled that position the following year.
Meanwhile, Lucan Golf Club was thriving following the additional land eventually secured from
landlord Mr. Barr and membership increased. The goodwill which existed between Lucan and
Hermitage was reflected in the number of competitive clashes between the two. The Lucan record
books bear testimony to that fact. Much emphasis was placed on the fact that team players on the
Hermitage side, who were also members of Lucan, had to play off their lower Hermitage
handicaps. That led to keener clashes and increased the rivalry between the two clubs, which still
survives to this day, in the annual match for The Esker Shield.
An Expanding Hermitage
The ever growing membership brought a variety of individuals to the club in the twenties and there was no such thing as a waiting list at that time. One such member was Dick Duggan, who joined in the mid 20’s. He was a leading bookmaker and he was the first of a number of bookmakers who became members. Duggan was to launch the Irish Sweepstakes with Joe McGrath some years later.
A feature of play at the Hermitage in the years between the wars was the “eight ball” which set out like a small army, complete with caddies, to play for stakes which were such as to be regarded with awe by some. The group, which was more or less a regular one, consisted of J.D.McCormack, Dick Duggan, Fred Warren, engineer “Big” Bill Power and Albert Woods, who like Duggan, was a bookmaker. John Shiels of the well-known poultry and fish merchants of Moore St., Jack Nugent of the Dolphin Hotel, and Michael “Sport” Byrne, the most famous racing journalist of his era, made up the eight ball. One wonders what type of reception this “eight ball” would receive on a Saturday afternoon in the Hermitage of the early 21st Century!
Jack Byrne, a brother-in-law of former Hermitage caddy master Pat Graham, spoke in an interview about the rivalry between this particular group. “I caddied for various members of the group from time to time. Dr. J.D. Mc Cormack would never ask you which club he should use to play a shot. He made that decision. He would reach into the bag and grab a club. A set of clubs at that time consisted of a mashie, mashie niblick, a niblick, an iron, spoon, brassie and a driver” said Jack “and they were all hickory shafted”. How much were caddies paid then? Jack was paid 8 pennies a round and a possible tip of 6 pennies. Experienced caddies or senior caddies got one shilling and a tip, depending on the whims of the players. Jack was an assistant caddy master at the club in later years.
John Behan, the renowned caddy master, who came to Hermitage as a caddy in 1925 had his own experience when he first caddied for J.D. The caddies were graded and as his fourball played out the 10th hole a senior caddy told John to give J.D. an old ball for J.D.’s tee shot at the 11th. “My ball, please” said the bould doctor to John. John handed him an old ball that he had fetched from J.D.’s bag. J.D. gave a snort and exclaimed, “I want a good ball, caddy.” John, bashfully realising his error, did as he was told. J.D., one of the longest hitters in amateur golf at the time, sent his drive out and over the river Liffey. John had a little smirk on his face thinking that the good doctor’s drive was going to end up with the salmon in the river. J.D., a drawer of the ball, watched his ball curling gracefully over the trees and water, turning all the time, to land smack in the middle of the 11th fairway. “That’s the way I play the hole, boy, remember that.” he said, and marched off the tee.