Cork ladies to the fore in Irish golf: From Eileen Rose Power to Sara Byrne

Niall O'Shea looks at the Leesiders who have made an impact on courses at home and abroad
Cork ladies to the fore in Irish golf: From Eileen Rose Power to Sara Byrne

Kanturk's Mairead Martin in action at the Irish Ladies Close in Ballybunion. Picture: Niall O'Shea

CORK ladies have been to the fore of Irish golf for 100 years, leading the way both in Ireland and abroad.

Cork has produced major winners since the 1920s, but Eileen Rose Power tops the roll of honour. Eileen and her brother, Brendan McDaid, put Skibbereen on the golfing map.

The West Cork native won three major titles and represented Ireland in the Curtis Cup and the Vagliano Trophy. Eileen won the Irish Women’s Close in 1990 and 1995, and she won the Irish Women’s Open in 1996.

Eileen Rose Power watches her second shot to the 16th green at Cork Golf Club. Picture: Des Barry.
Eileen Rose Power watches her second shot to the 16th green at Cork Golf Club. Picture: Des Barry.

In 1994, she helped GB&I to retain the Curtis Cup when they drew with the US in a tough away match in Tennessee.

McDaid was also a prolific winner on the Irish scratch cup circuit and she represented Ireland from 1987 through to 2002.

Eileen married Irish Close winner Eddie Power, and their son, Mark, is following in the family tradition. He’s in Wake Forrest and played in the Walker Cup earlier this year.

Claire Coughlan is another Open and Close winner. The Cork Golf Club member won her Close title in 1999 and followed that in 2003 with a win in the Open.

Claire Coughlan lines up a putt on the 14th green on her way to winning her semi-final against Holland's Christel Boeljon during the Ladies British Amateur Open in 2005. Picture: SPORTSFILE
Claire Coughlan lines up a putt on the 14th green on her way to winning her semi-final against Holland's Christel Boeljon during the Ladies British Amateur Open in 2005. Picture: SPORTSFILE

As well as appearing for Ireland for 13 years, Claire also captured two Curtis Cup appearances, in 2006 and 2006. She also featured in the 2006 Vagliano team.

In 2007, she turned to the professional ranks, but struggled to make an impact and was reinstated as an amateur a few years later.

Coughlan, who is married to East Cork club professional David Ryan, moved into team management in 2017, when she captained the Junior Vagliano team. Claire hasn’t competed in too many championships in recent years, but she has appeared in interclub events for Cork.

She also played in the Douglas Senior Scratch Cup in September and won the title by one stroke.

Eavan Higgin, from Douglas, is another major winner, winning the Irish Close in Royal Belfast in 1993. That win was well deserved, and hard-earned, considering she was a twice-beaten finalist in the 1980s.

Higgins is a three-time Munster champion, having scratch cup wins from Cork, Lahinch, Shannon, and Galway.

She was an Irish International for 13 years and helped Ireland to victory in the European Team Championships in 1983 and the Home Internationals in 1986. She was the non-playing captain of the Irish Junior European teams of 1994 and 1995.

More recently, Eavan has been involved with teams and was part of the management team behind the Munster Pennant won by the Douglas men in the Irish Junior Cup in 2015.

Monkstown’s Ada O’Sullivan developed a name for herself both as a player and a team captain. In 1994, she won the Sherry Cup in the European Masters Stroke Play, among a number of other titles.

Ada represented Ireland in the Girls’ Home Internationals and was selected for the senior team on several occasions from 1982 through to 1997.

Have played on many Munster and Irish teams, she captained several. She also captained the GB&I Curtis Cup team twice, in 2004 she led the team in Formby, and in 2006 she captained the team in Bandon Dunes, Oregan.

Following a great family tradition, Ada became president of Monkstown in 2018, and she was honoured by the ILGU in 2020 when she was made an honorary life member.

Fallon lost out to Irish star Philomena Garvey in Carlow in 1958, but she got her win in Royal Portrush in 1964.

She needed 37 holes to beat 1956 champion, Pat O’Sullivan, in a thrilling final. Zelie was the oldest winner of the Irish Close at the time, aged 44.

Fallon was an Irish international for six years and she was also closely involved with a purple period for Douglas, when they won five Irish Ladies’ Senior Cups, between 1952 and 1968.

Sara Byrne may be only 20, but she’s achieved quite a bit. She was one of the youngest winners of the Irish Close in 2018, and since then she has gone on to compete at the highest levels.

Her win in Enniscrone was particularly impressive; she survived the tough weather conditions and persevered when others fell away. In the end, she wrapped up the win on the 17th, claiming her first national title.

Sara Byrne (Douglas) pictured at the Irish Close in Ballybunion. Picture: Niall O'Shea
Sara Byrne (Douglas) pictured at the Irish Close in Ballybunion. Picture: Niall O'Shea

The Douglas member was runner-up in the Irish Girls’ Close the following year and in 2019 she headed for the US to take up a golf scholarship with the University of Miami. This year, Sara was selected to represent Ireland at the Europeans and at the Home Internationals.

Covid-19 had a big impact on Sara’s first year in college, but she’s set to benefit from a full second season and already helped the Hurricanes to three top-three finishes in the fall series.

Cork’s Gillian O’Leary, Bandon’s Rhona Hegarty, and Douglas’s Anne Heskin were three more Cork women who impressed on the international stage, each golfer representing Ireland for five years.

Kanturk’s Mairead Martin has been playing on the national circuit for several years, but she didn’t have to travel too far for her first national win. That came in Mallow Golf Club in 2017, when she captured the Irish Girls’ Close title.

Mairead is currently a senior in Louisville and has spent the last four years in the US playing the ACC conference.

The honour of the first national win goes to Cork’s Miss Stuart-French, who won the Irish Close in the Hermitage in 1921. Interestingly, she also won the Egyptian Open in 1928.

The Dwyer family have a long association with Cork Golf Club and in 1928 Agnes Dwyer won the Irish Close when the event was held in Cork. International records from the early years are difficult to validate, but you can be sure that French and Dwyer would have made the grade.

While men’s golf has generally grabbed the majority of the headlines, the ladies have proven they can also compete at the elite level.

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