Kilrea Golf Club was founded in 1919, and is situated a half mile to the south west of the town. Click here for directions.
The original undulating inland course, is one of the driest to be found. Recent extensions to the course, whilst reclaimed from bogland, are also well drained, and the course is often open when others have succumbed to the Irish climate.
Extended in recent years to 5672 yards long, it is longer than the typical 9-hole course. Despite the extra length, accuracy is still required off the tee to give a fighting chance of par at most holes. Generally, the course has tight fairways and small greens.
Kilrea Golf Club was officially opened for play in November 1919. The honour of striking the first ball fell to Mr James Patterson, a native of the town who had recently returned from Australia. Described in the local press as “an influential gentleman of means”, Mr Patterson was deemed to have the necessary credentials to become the club’s first President.
The task of laying out the initial nine holes was undertaken by H McNeill, the professional at Royal Portrush, and he was subsequently re-engaged to make improvements to the course. The start-up costs for the new club were expected to be Â£250 , a considerable sum in 1919, and initial membership subscriptions were fixed at one guinea and added to the one guinea entrance fee. Much of the funding, however, came from the issue of “Founders Shares” which were fixed at Â£5 and it was from this group of “Founder Members” that the first ten man Council was drawn. Much of the interest, and indeed the money, came from the local dignitaries, with the Clarks of Upperlands very prominent. In these formative years the Council was very successful in persuading a number of these individuals to donate very fine silver cups, many of which are still played for today.
One of the early driving forces was W W Woods and, following a meeting in the Town Hall on 15th September 1919 when the decision was taken to form a club, he was elected as the first Captain of Kilrea Golf Club. Mr Woods had undertaken much of the spade work in securing suitable land at The Rough Hills which many observers (past and present) have considered ideal golfing terrain. Indeed, at the clubs official opening Rev. Father P McGeown, another driving force and one of the “Founder Members”, had made a reference to both “the beauty of the surroundings” and “the dry nature of the soil” which rendered it very suitable for golf. In his address Father McGeown also expressed his belief that Kilrea Golf Club would become a place where ” all classes and all shades of opinion” could meet and ” get to know each other better… for on the golf links the only expression of anger or opinion would be addressed to the clubs or the ball. ”
The new Golf Club quickly became a focal point for the local elite and the Golf Dance, held annually in the Town Hall, was one of the highlights in the social calendar. Although the Club thrived in the mid 1920’s, when it sought to attract 100 members (male and female combined), serious problems lay ahead. Initially, the club rented adjoining land from two landlords, but differences culminating in disagreements over rent values forced the club to consider the viability of continuing at The Rough Hills. Accordingly in October 1930, the Council took the decision to re-locate, and a new nine hole layout was developed on the edge of the town in what is now known as Woodland Park. The new venture, however, did not prove a success. The Woodland Park layout was much less attractive, and golfers shared the course with the land owner’s sheep – a less than ideal situation for both the sheep and the golfers. Membership was in decline and the advent of the Great Depression only added to the club’s financial difficulties. The new course was in poor condition and often unplayable in wet conditions. Funds were not available to spend on the new course and, in spite of herculean efforts by one or two Council members, a decision was reluctantly taken in October 1934 to close the club and sell off its assets by public auction. This was a period when golf clubs often faced the threat of closure – Randalstown, Garvagh and Cullybackey all lost their clubs – but there was enough drive and interest in Kilrea to rekindle enthusiasm, and delicate negotiations with one of the original land owners led to the club moving back to The Rough Hills in 1937.
With a new configuration and a return to more suitable terrain the membership gradually increased. By 1949 the club’s Treasurer could report a balance in excess of Â£100 and the Greens Convenor was able to purchase the latest Ransomes gang-mower which further improved the quality of the fairways. In this period much of the club’s success was down to the enthusiasm and the astute management of key individuals – particularly J McIlroy, K Woods, Dr T Boyd and the Craig family. Careful stewardship saw the club continue to prosper in the 1950’s. The condition of the course, usually the responsibility of W Craig, also improved significantly, leaving the old “chestnuts” – the condition of the lane and the possibility of Sunday golf – as the recurring themes at Annual General Meetings. Green Fees were collected by Mrs Thompson who lived in the cottage behind the “old” 9th green. By this stage the club had approximately 100 full members. However, golf clubs (like the economy) tend to run in cycles and by the end of the 1950’s Kilrea Golf Club was in debt. The Council’s response was to raise the price of a Green Fee to 5 shillings and raise the annual subscription to 5 guineas. By 1962 the club’s finances had been restored, but this was a temporary respite and the annual subscription was increased to 7 guineas in 1965 in a fresh attempt to put the club in the black.
During the 1960’s further tinkering with the layout in an effort to lengthen the course brought minor changes, but a decision taken by the GUI in 1968 to recognise for handicapping purposes only those courses which measured in excess of 4,001 yards made it imperative to ‘find’ extra yardage. This was the background to the Council’s moves to lengthen the ‘old’ 2nd by some 70 yards, stretching it to 265 yards. Another problem to confront the Council was the imposition of rates for the club in 1969. Despite an appeal, these were fixed at 117 guineas.