Waterville and Ballinskelligs Bay play an important part in the mythology of ancient Ireland. According to the “Book of Invasions” written about 1000 AD, Cessair, the granddaughter of Noah, landed in Ballinskelligs Bay and became Ireland’s first invader. Here too, the last of the mythical invaders, the Milesians, settled in 700 BC and reportedly left behind many of the archaeological sites found in the area.
These rich legends, along with the earliest memories of Kerry history, combine to form a mystical aura that visitors to Waterville can sense even today. No area captures this feeling more than the sand hills and strand that border Ballinskelligs Bay and form the present day Waterville Golf Links.
GOLF ARRIVES AT WATERVILLE
The early spread of golf in Ireland owed much to the influence of the forces of the British Empire. It seemed, wherever there was a garrison, there was also a golf course. Golf at Waterville on the other hand was introduced through technology by the men who arrived here to work on the first transatlantic cable relaying messages between North America and Europe.
They came first to nearby Valentia Island in the 1860s, then to Ballinskelligs in the 1870s, and finally to Waterville in 1880s. Hundreds of technicians and workers arrived in these remote areas to build and man the Cable Stations, and it was inevitable that they should turn to sport and recreation. Golf was part of this agenda but it was of the crudest kind and generally played in winter when the grasses died down.
GOLF IN THE EARLY DAYS
The earliest structured golf at Waterville has been traced back to 1889, when it came under the umbrella of the extremely active Waterville Athletic Club. It was a formalised part of the life of the village by 1900, when becoming one of the first clubs to be affiliated with the Golfing Union of Ireland.
A modest nine-hole layout, occupied the flat eastern section of the present championship links. It was operated by the Athletic Club, for, and on behalf of, the Commercial Cable Company. Over the next fifty years the club membership fluctuated with the demand for cable communication, however, in the 1950s, more advanced technology replaced this demand and the Links entered a period of dormancy throughout the 1960’s, waiting the arrival of the Irish born American, John A. Mulcahy.
THE JOHN A MULCAHY ERA
“Jack” as he was called by his friends had a vision to build the most testing golf links in the world. Ireland’s foremost links architect, Eddie Hackett, joined Mulcahy and his close friend Claude Harmon, a past Masters champion and head professional at Winged Foot Golf Club. They designed a course fit to be ranked among the best. The terrain was ideal, and after exhaustive planning and work, the course and its new clubhouse opened in 1973.
The original nine holes were reconfigured and expanded to create today’s front nine. Its layout was designed as a contrast to the more rugged and exposed back nine, yet it quickly introduces the player to the complexity and beauty of links golf. The testing begins early at Waterville with the first hole named “Last Easy”, and ends with the challenging and scenic “O’Gradys Beach”.
The course can be stretched to over 7,300 yards but players should not be intimidated as several tees come in to play on every hole so all standards of golfers can enjoy a game here. During the next 15 years under the leadership of John A. Mulcahy and its famous long driving professional Liam Higgins, Waterville enjoyed great popularity.