Mullingar Scratch Trophy

Celebrating 50 years

In the early nineteen sixties the committee members of Mullingar Golf Club wisely had the foresight to showcase their wonderful championship course when it was decided to introduce an annual open Scratch Cup.

Prior to the inaugural event in 1963, the club had proudly hosted the Irish Professional Championship on two occasions, and boosted by the glowing comments from some of the Irish and overseas players in this event, notably the 1951 British Open champion, Max Faulkner, Australia’s Peter Toogood, Christy O’Connor Snr., Harry Bradshaw, Fred Daly (British Open champion 1947), and other Ryder Cup players at the time, such as Ken Bousefield, Lionel Platts and Hedley Muscroft, the committee set about establishing what is today recognised as the most prestigious 72 holes Scratch Cup in the country.

Scratch Cup events were popular at the time, particularly those staged by the top clubs, and so it was decided in 1962 that representatives of the committee, who included Jim Bennett (vice-captain), Ray Macken and Ned Reilly, should attend the Midland Scratch Cup, which Carlow Golf Club successfully launched in 1950, should pick up some tips for the running of Mullingar’s inaugural Scratch Cup.

As the August Bank holiday was available it was decided that the event would be staged over 72 holes, noting that at the time most of the Scratch Cups were held over 36 holes.   The late Tommy Whelehan, who was a lifetime member of the club, suggested the club contact his brother, Kevin (of Whelehan’s of Finglas, no more in existence, alas) to sponsor the new competition, to which he readily agreed.  The cup was purchased in Weir’s of Grafton Street, Dublin, and Mr. Whelehan picked up the tab. 

Philip Walton [1982 Mullingar Scratch Cup Winner] – “It is the best and most important Scratch Cups in the country and a tough one to win"

Rory McIllroy in action on his way to victory in the 2006 Mullingar Scratch Trophy

Rory McIllroy in action on his way to victory in the 2006 Mullingar Scratch Trophy

Ireland’s leading  72 holes strokeplay tournament

In order to make a success of the event we needed the participation of the best amateurs of the day and in that regard the club set the bar very high in trying for the best and it succeeded magnificently. 

Indeed the Scratch Trophy was guaranteed to make a big impact in its inaugural year thanks to the wonderful support received from Ireland’s greatest amateur golfer, Joe Carr who through his influence and charisma was the fulcrum for the participation of so many cross channel Walker Cup players in the following years among whom were Ronnie Shade, Peter Townsend (winner in 1965 and ’66), Peter Benka (winner in 1970), Rodney Foster and Sandy Pirie. 

The club’s Hon. Secretary, Victor Fitzpatrick, strongly supported by the Hon. Treasurer, Jim Wims and the hard-working captains and committees at the time, ensured that the Mullingar Scratch Trophy would become and remain Ireland’s leading 72 holes strokeplay tournament. 

Major roles were played by club members including Paddy McCartan, Paddy Dunne and Michael Duffy to firmly establish its profile and ensure the highest quality international fields annually and they did so with resounding success. 

Victor Fitzpatrick stepped down as Hon. Secretary at the end of 1977 to take over the role of Club Captain in 1978, but very sadly passed away during his term of  office. 

However the club was indeed fortunate that Albert Lee took over from Victor as Hon. Secretary in 1978 and continued in that position until being nominated as vice-captain in 1986 when he was succeeded by Sean Donoghue. 

Albert, captain in 1988, along with his close friend Joe Healy, made an incredible contribution over the years that ensured the top players and indeed, thousands of spectators, converged on Mullingar every August Bank Holiday weekend to play and enjoy the premier tournament of its kind in the country . 

Joe’s total commitment to the cause was clearly recognised by the club when he was elected Captain in 1982, and such was the manner in which he administered his duties, and the esteem in which he was held by all the members that he was elected as the club’s Centenary Captain in 1994. 

Joe sadly passed away in October 2004 at the age of 69 but he will be forever remembered for the manner in which he enhanced the club’s annual showpiece through hard work, wit and good humour.   He was the perfect host. 

Fortunately for Mullingar, Albert has remained firmly at the helm for the past 35 years and his unstinting enthusiasm and determination has resulted in virtually every top amateur annually bidding to add their name to the illustrious list of Mullingar Scratch Trophy champions.  Albert, of course, has been strongly backed over the years by hard-working committee members and can take great joy in celebrating fifty wonderful and successful events. 

Gary Murphy [1995 Mullingar Scratch Sup Winner] – “I have such fond memories of playing the Mullingar Scratch Cup. The hospitality and welcome from the members will always stand out, notably Joe Healy, Albert Lee and many others. I am proud to have my name on the trophy. I wish the players and committee a great tournament.”

The Perfect Start

The inaugural Scratch Trophy got off to the perfect start highlighted through the victory of the legendary Joe Carr, while the first overseas player to participate, 17 years old Scot, Finlay Morris (Cawder Golf Club), finished second on a tie break rule from Tom Craddock.  Sadly young Morris sadly lost his life in a car accident a few short years later.

Immediately following Carr into the winners’ enclosure in 1964 was Tom Craddock, who, incidentally, had an ace at the second hole during the event.  The popular Malahide golfer was one of the best supporters of the Mullingar Scratch Trophy, taking part in the event up until the mid-eighties.  He continued his association with Mullingar despite ailing health up until his passing in 1998, in which year the competition was dedicated to him.

Peter Townsend, a Walker Cup player like Carr and Craddock, came on the scene in 1965 and produced sparkling golf on his way to victory, and the following year successfully defended his title.

In the sixties numerous Walker Cup players routinely accepted invites to play in the Scratch Cup, and they included Rodney Foster, Clive Clarke, Ronnie Shade, Peter Tupling, Bruce Critchley, Ronnie Shade, Michael Lunt, Sandy Pirie and Jimmy Buckley.

Virtually every Irish Walker Cup player competed at some stage in the Mullingar Scratch Trophy.  They included Pat Mulcare, Roddy Carr, John Caldwell, Richie Coughlan, Paul Cutler, Tom Craddock, Alan Dunbar, Jody Fanagan, Noel Fox, Padraig Harrington, Niall Kearney, Garth McGimpsey, Paul McGinley, John McHenry, Rory McIlroy, Arthur Pierse, Ronan Rafferty and Philip Walton.

A couple of participants whose names are not on our roll of honour and who later became big names in the world of golf were Ronan Rafferty (1989 Tour order of merit winner) and Robert Allenby (3rd in 1991 to Paul McGinley, and who won the Australian Grand Slam in 2005).

Other popular visitors included Spain’s Pepe Gancedo, John Adams, Chris Wisler and Drew Montague from the USA, and the occasional Europeans, like Holland’s V.C Swane and Germany’s V. Bagel.

Increased Popularity

Ropes were needed to hold back the spectators, and there were hundreds, particularly for the first fifteen or sixteen years or so of the event.  Indeed, the number of supporters from surrounding clubs over the years has been remarkable.

Seamus Gallen was the chief marshal for crowd control in those early years while the dulcet Scottish tones of Charlie Mulligan, the official starter, was part of the atmosphere as he called each player ‘to the first tee please’.

Other responsibilities of the competition in that era included seeking bar extension and lottery licence from the local court, contacting the overseas players with details of their arrival times etc., organising the press outing, invitations to special guests, booking ‘walkie talkies’ and trestle tables from the army, penning the sheep in the early years, etc, etc.

The ladies branch looked after the outside catering, while also assisting Mrs. Rooney and George Grey in the dining room during their tenures.

The entry fee in 1963 was £1.10s – increased to £2 the following year – and the main prizes were: Winner – silver replica and £20 voucher. Runner-up – £10 voucher and memento; Third: – £5 and a special £20 voucher prize for the lowest gross score under 70. There were ten other prizes of vouchers ranging in value from £10 to £2.

Incidentally caddies’ fees in the early years were set at ten shillings per round of which one shilling went to the Caddy Master.

In the mid-seventies the entry fee increased to £2.50 with the first prize value increasing to £50, with incremental increases to today’s rates.

In the inaugural event handicaps were limited to 5 and fields consisted of 102 and 108 players with the leading 40 making ‘the cut’.  Of those who made the second day’s play, seventeen played off scratch with one plus man – the winner, Joe Carr.

Three Shillings Entry Fee

Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf was the only golf on TV in the early years of the Scratch Cup, such as it was with the black and white picture, and with the popularity growing, helped enormously through the victory of Christy O’Connor and Harry Bradshaw in the 1958 Canada Cup and victory-laden career of Joe Carr the people of the immediate locality, town and surrounding areas were eagerly looking forward to the ‘Scratch Cup’.
In order to help with the expenses involved in running the Scratch Cup the committee decided to charge an entry fee three shillings per person initially and which was later increased to five shillings in 1965.
There was also a car park charge, with Kevin Gavin doing the ‘gate’.
It was also decided to erect a marquee on the site of the current professional’s shop, and initially this was hired from A. McNeight & Co, Donore Avenue, Dublin, at a cost of £13 for the weekend.
The craic in the clubhouse was legendary and the fun in the ‘tent’, under the stewardship of Jimmy Bennett and Luke Newman, continued apace, with rasping accordions and raucous laughing and singing echoing across Gurteen.
Notwithstanding this, Kit’s green keeping staffs (Ted, John, Chris, Finian, and Bill) were on the course bright and early each morning, close-cutting the greens with their 18” Ransomes Certes hand mowers.

Currently our fields are limited to 90 or so with an upper handicap limit of 0.5 with the top 50 and those tying making the cut for the last 36 holes.

Through the years, inevitably with the quality of the players competing, the course record was lowered on a number of occasions. As early as 1966, the winner Peter Townsend set the trend fittingly with a 66 in the final round to finish 11 shots ahead of runner-up Joe Carr.

The most memorable returns were 64’s by Roddy Carr in 1971 and Declan Branigan ten years later, a year he also won the Irish Close and the East and West of Ireland Championships.  In 1974, in a pro- am event, the former Walker Cup player Peter Tupling also returned 64, covering the back nine in 30 with six consecutive 3s from 11 to 16.

In 1982 Malahide’s Philip Walton created a new record, returning a last round 63 on his way to a runaway win with 267, a total unlikely ever to be beaten.  However in 2003 – one of the few occasions when the event was reduced from four rounds due to weather – Portmarnock’s Noel Fox returned a magical 60 (the lowest recorded competitive score in Europe that year at that level or higher) which included eagles at the par four 6th and 8th.  Alas, he had to give way to Athlone’s Colm Moriarty for that year’s title.  Colm also won in 2001.

The Scratch Cup in Modern Times

The Scratch Cup, as it was known, took its place in its permanent fixture on August Bank Holiday weekend until recently, as the International dates calendar was changed and thus brought a clash with the European Amateur Championships.  There was a change in 1966 as the date was too close to the biennial St. Andrews Trophy match between British & Ireland and Europe which was being played in Spain.  This left the British and Irish team available to play and allowed Peter Townsend the opportunity to successfully defend his title.

Interestingly sheep were still grazing on the course in that year, and minutes from a committee meeting at the time detailed one member to deal with that problem during the competition weekend.

In 2005 the event was staged over two rounds to accommodate British Amateur champion Brian McElhinney and Rory McIlroy who incidentally lost a sudden death play-off to Lurgan’s Gareth Shaw but made amends the following year beating Co. Louth’s Simon Ward, also in a play-off and as a result attaining the world number one spot as an amateur.

Over the years a large number of home players have participated in the competition alas without success.  Some, however, boxed above their weight against the top guys on more than one occasion.  Jim Murray and T.D. Shaw featured prominently in the early years with Tom joint leader with Billy Hulme in 1964 after day one, Peter Wallace, Ted Eighan and, as recently as last year, Des Morgan led their illustrious fields, the latter finishing runner-upon two occasions.  Junior Morris finished third on a couple of occasions and Joe Purcell had a ding- dong battle in 1973 with the eventual winner, Mark Gannon.

The continued success of the Mullingar Scratch Trophy is due in no small way to the marvellous sponsors the club have had down the years, the continued support from the players, from our members and of course the almost unique, nowadays, 72 holes format.

Peter Lawrie [1996 Mullingar Scratch Cup Winner] – “The Mullingar Scratch Cup was always one of the pillars on which I built my yearly amateur schedule around. Starting out as a boy watching the great amateurs play and being in awe of the famous Jimmy Clynch hitting driver off the deck, winning The Scratch Cup in 1996 was a dream come true for me. The course challenged every part of your game from long irons into small greens to tricky pin placements for your short game. The greens were always immaculately prepared and seemed quicker than Augusta. The welcome I received from all the members felt like I was coming home and of course the great Albert Lee and Joe Healy made sure I wanted for nothing. I couldn't recommend a better tournament to test one's skill, around a great course and strong field.”