Next Sunday sees the official opening of Athy Golf Club's new 18 Hole Course. The magnificent course which has been planned and constructed under the watchful eye of Denis O'Donovan and his colleagues is the culmination of 94 years work which first started on the 18th of October, 1899. On that date a number of men met in the Country Club House, Carlow, at the invitation of Dr. F. Brannan, Kilkea Lodge and P. Lynch, The Abbey, Athy, to consider the formation of a Golf Club for Athy and Carlow.
The meeting, chaired by Captain Stewart Duckett agreed to form "The Royal Leinster Golf Club" with a Golf Course at Gotham, mid-way between Maganey and Carlow. The annual subscription was fixed at one guinea for gentlemen and 10/6 for ladies. The meeting guaranteed a sum of £40.0.0. to meet the initial costs of laying out the course at Gotham. Lord Walter Fitzgerald of Kilkea was elected President with Dr. Brannan as Secretary and R. J. Nicholson, National Bank Carlow, as Hon. Treasurer. The first Committee of the combined Carlow/Athy Golf Club comprised Ms. P.A. Browne, P.D. Shackleton, E.F. Maffet, John Hammond M.P., M. Governey, Rev. J. Duggan Athy, H.K. Toomey Athy and P. Lynch of Athy.
The prime movers in establishing the Club were very experienced golfers. Dr. Brannan had previously played at Greystones where he had been Hon. Secretary of the local Golf Club. Mr. Lynch, who was residing at The Abbey, Athy, had previously been Hon. Secretary of the Bundoran Golf Club. On the 25th of July, 1899 the Irish Times reported the official opening of the nine hole Gotham course which had been laid out by Mr. Larkin, the Bray based golf professional. It was noted that a young professional named Browne was retained by the Royal Leinster Club as greenkeeper and golf coach. Some time before 1903 the Club changed it's name to Carlow Golf Club and this may have prompted the Athy members to consider the possibility of starting up a Club in Athy.
On Tuesday, 27th January, 1906 a meeting was held in the offices of the Urban District Council in the Town Hall, Athy, to consider such a project. The meeting was called by P.J. Corcoran of Athy who was later to be the Club's first Secretary. Those in attendance at the first meeting were Rev. Canon O'Keeffe P.P., Rev. W. Duggan C.C., Rev. E.H. Waller, Ms. H.F. Lesmond, P.J. Corcoran, M.J. Minch, John A. Duncan - Chairman of Athy Urban Council, R. Anderson, Dr. Kilbride, D. Carbery, John A. Corcoran, P.J. Murphy, T.G. Lumley, W. G. Murphy, J.F. White and Charles Collins. The Chairman of the Urban Council, John Duncan, chaired the meeting.
On the proposal of Rev. W. Duggan, seconded by Mr. Murphy it was agreed to establish a Golf Club in Athy. A sub-committee was appointed to report on suitable grounds in the locality and a further meeting was convened for the following Monday night. At that meeting it was decided to build a course at Geraldine on property owned by Mrs. O'Neill to be rented for £15.00 a year. As for the earlier Carlow/Athy Club in Gotham the annual subscription was fixed at one guinea for gentlemen and 10/6 for ladies, and the course was laid out by Mr. Larkin, the Bray golf professional.
The first Golf competition on the new course at Geraldine was held on Friday, the 8th of June, 1906 when the monthly medal competition was won by Mr. T. Bodley. The Leinster Leader noted the names of the other competitors in that very first competition. They were Rev. William Duggan, Rev. J. Nolan, Ms. Downey, Carbery, J. Whelan, W. Murphy, H.F. Lesmond, W. Taylor, D. Telford, B. Wright, S.M. Telford, T. Roche and J.M. White. In October 1906 the Club's first Captain H.F. Lesmond, Manager of the local Hibernian Bank in Athy, set the amateur course record for the Course.
On the 23rd of February, 1907 the competition for the Captain's prize was held for the first time in Athy Golf Club. The winner was Joseph P. Whelan whose prize was a silver ink stand of elaborate design presented by H.F. Lesmond.
On the 2nd of March, 1907 the first A.G.M. of the Club was held with Rev. Canon O'Keeffe presiding. Major Sir Anthony Weldon was re-elected President, H.F. Lesmond Captain and J.F. White was elected Secretary. Mr. Joseph Whelan, U.D.C. was elected Treasurer and A. Reeves and J. W. Coote were appointed Committee members.
Within weeks of the first A.G.M. the members of the Athy Golf Club were stunned to read of the arrest of their Club Captain H.F. Lesmond. A warrant for his arrest issued on the 21st of March, 1907 alleging embezzlement and falsification of accounts at the local Bank of which he was Manager. On the 23rd of March he was taken into custody in Dublin by Det. Love of the G Division and on the following day conveyed to Athy by train accompanied by Constables Tesky and Love. Detained overnight at Athy Barracks he was charged on the following Monday morning before Thomas Anderson J.P. on a number of counts.
As a consequence of these unhappy events an extraordinary A.G.M. of Athy Golf Club was held on Friday the 17th of May when Dr. O'Neill was elected Captain in place of Mr. Lesmond. For some reason, now unknown, the Club Secretary resigned and he was replaced by Paul Manning of the luckless Hibernian Bank. The Bank was quite obviously anxious to retain a presence on the Golf Club Committee despite the unfortunate events surrounding Mr.Lesmond.
In this review of the early years of Athy Golf Club it is perhaps heartening to note the part played by the Urban District Council in the foundation of the Club. The initial meeting was held in the Urban District Council Chamber and the very first meeting was chaired by the local Council Chairman John Duncan.
Sad then to reflect on the recent refusal of the present Urban District Council to mark the occasion of the official opening of the new Course by presenting a suitable trophy to the Club in the name of the Council and the townspeople to acknowledge the Club's achievement.