The Ladies of Hermitage in the Early Years
In any history of Hermitage Golf Club, it must be noted that the major role played by the Lady Associate members was a very significant factor in the successful growth and development of the Club. The wives of the founding members became part of the new enterprise, and they threw themselves wholeheartedly into making it the success it became. Mrs. Clinch, Mrs. H. Harrison, Mrs. Inglis, Mrs. Levins Moore, all the wives of major players in the setting up of the new club, were former members of Lucan Golf Club and still maintained links with the mother club. From a golfing aspect they had become very proficient at the game itself, and like their male counterparts, they soon became a force in inter club competitions.
On the social side, the Hon. Mrs. Dewhurst who lived in the Luttrellstown area and was driven to the club by pony and trap, was part of a very substantial circle of ‘well to do ladies’ who shared in the social activities which the club provided. The Lady members contributed very much to fund raising events and finance was needed in these early years of the club’s foundation. Social gatherings helped to attract not alone the wives of members but also family members, their boy friends and girl friends.
The club was also attracting ladies of very great golfing ability from other clubs. Frances Mabel Harrison, who besides being a member of Hermitage was also a member of the Island and Royal Portrush, won the Irish Ladies’ Championship in 1910, ’11 and ’12 off a handicap of plus 1. Another plus 1 lady, Miss G. Stanley Lauder, a member of Sutton and Hermitage, was an Irish international in 1911 and held the ladies’ record for Hermitage, Sutton, Skerries and Malahide Shore. While a third plus 1 lady, Miss Rhoda Stanley Lauder was also an Irish international in 1911 and won the “Ladies’ Pictorial” scratch gold medal in Portmarnock in 1911.
Affiliation to the I.L.G.U.
By that time Hermitage Lady golfers had affiliated to the Irish Ladies’ Golf Union (1910) along with Killarney, Tramore, Tralee, Limerick, Greencastle and Milltown to bring the total affiliated to 42. Hermitage, with its high number of excellent lady golfers was keen to avail of the official handicapping system enjoyed by those clubs affiliated to the Irish Ladies’ Golf Union, and of course, the right to compete in the Union’s inter club competitions and the National Championships.
The “Irish Golfer” magazine of January 20th 1903, carried a letter from Miss C.I. Neile, who was to resign some months later as Union secretary who wrote: “The Union was first started in Belfast 10 years ago and the first rule runs thus … Any ladies’ golf club in Ireland, having a designation and golfing green, shall be admissible into the Golf Union” The letter went on to say “In December 1902, it was decided; “That recognised golf clubs, having lady members or associates who have a separate club of their own can join the Union on their behalf and shall also be eligible to elect delegates to send to meetings..”
In 1931, “The Irish Times” devoted a major feature to the Union which was praised highly for its splendid progress, given that it was founded only 38 years previously. The article read: “An experience of ladies’ golf running into close on 20 years has convinced me that the ladies are much keener on everything connected with the game than are the men, particularly as to what is written about their competitions and the part that they play in them.” Ladies Competing. It was not all a bed of roses however for the lady golfers as they made strenuous efforts to attract more clubs to their Golf Union, believing in the motto of having strength in numbers. There was still a bias against their role and in some clubs the ladies were deemed an irritant that had to be put up with.
Quoting from a newspaper report in 1890 referring to a ladies’ golf competition the writer stated “Rightly or wrongly, the fairer section of humanity are now found competing with men in many walks of life... under these circumstances it is well that the physically weaker sex should be encouraged to engage in outdoor games suitable to their powers and such as can be indulged in without loss of that sweet decorum which must always be the sex’s greatest charm.” Under the heading, “The Maligned Lady Golfer”, an editorial in the “Irish Golfer” of October 18th, 1890, reported “Golf undoubtedly owes much of its popularity to the enthusiasm with which it has been taken up by what men are pleased to term the weaker sex. Many conscientious fathers of families can now take their families to the seaside and enjoy their rounds of golf, because their womenfolk also pursue the game, instead of boring themselves to death in seaside lodgings talking scandal or reading trashy novels.” Hurrah for the liberated fair sex! What Irish newspaper would dare print that statement in this day and age?
Major Successes Hermitage lady golfers had established themselves as a power in the sport even before the club had joined the Ladies’ Golf Union five years after the club’s foundation. The club won the Leinster section of the Senior Cup in 1913, ’22, ’23, ’30 and of course the national title in ’35- ’36. In the ’30’s there were many players with handicaps of scratch to 9.
There is no doubt that in the 1930’s Hermitage had some of the strongest players in the country, headed by Eithne Pentony and Pat Sherlock (Mrs. Fletcher), both players who put Hermitage on the golfing map and on the honours roll.
MISS MABEL HARRISON
The most distinguished woman player in the early days was surely Miss Mabel Harrison who won the Irish Ladies’ Close Championship in 1910-’11-’12 and was runner up to her Island club mate, Janet Jackson in 1913, the latter going on to win the prestigious trophy again in 1914, ’19, ’20, ’23 and ’25.
Eithne Pentony started to play golf as an 8 year old and was a juvenile member of Sutton G.C.When she was 16 years old, the club made her a full associate member in order to give her experience of playing in regular competitions. Later on she joined Hermitage Golf Club and in 1930, as a nine handicapper, she entered for the Irish Close Championship at Portmarnock. She just managed to qualify but was beaten in the third round, after which she was described in a press report as “a richly promising Hermitage player by the name of Pentony.”Through constant practice and encouragement, Eithne’s handicap had come down to five when she entered for the Irish Close at Rosses Point on October 1st 1931. The weather was atrocious, gales raged for two days. Tents were blown down and it was impossible to open an umbrella. But Eithne defied the weather and won her first Close title. She always claimed that being able to spend many hours practising at Royal Dublin in all weathers, where her father wasa member, helped very much to further her career. Royal Dublin had an arrangement in those days where by the wives, sisters and daughters of members could play free there, three days a week.International Honours In 1932 Eithne Pentony was chosen on the Great Britain and Ireland team to play France at Saint Germain. It was the first International match played in France. Mme Vagliano was captain of the French team, and it was after her family that the Vagliano Trophy was named. Eithne lost her Irish Close title at Ballybunion in 1932 but the following year she received a major boost to her morale when the Irish Ladies’ Union wrote to her asking if she would be available to tour South Africa in September, if chosen by the selectors. That gave her a marvellous incentive as she set out from her Clontarf home to travel to Newcastle in County Down, where the Irish Close Championship was being staged. Needless to say Eithne, went on to regain her Close Championship title and shortly after her return to Dublin, she took off by boat for her two months tour of South Africa.
The following year Eithne got to the semi finals of the British Amateur Championship at Portcawl but was beaten by the eventual winner, Mrs. Holm. But the Hermitage star player did figure in a number of very important international events in England apart altogether from her domestic record of titles won. After winning the Senior Cup in 1935 and ’36 with Hermitage, she got to the semi finals of the Irish Championship at Ballybunion in 1936.
Later that year Eithne developed tuberculosis and was on the waiting list of a sanatorium in England. She thought it was to be the end of her world. She had just met the one and only Dr Mick Roberts however, and by the grace of God and the loving care and attention of her mother, she recovered before being called to the sanatorium. She was well enough to play again on the Irish team in 1939 – then marriage to Dr. J.H. Michael Roberts for 47 happy years. He was the inaugural Captain of Castletroy, Captain of Adare Manor, Captain of Lahinch in 1953 and Club President there from 1979 to 1981. She won the Munster Cup in 1953 when her husband Mick was Captain of Lahinch. She was asked to play in their Senior Cup team and entered from Lahinch for the Munster Cup which was always played at Little Island in those years. She will always be remembered for her golfing greatness as a member of Hermitage Golf Club and for the standards she set as a national golfing figure.
Another Hermitage lady who had to suffer the ghastly weather in 1931 at Rosses Point was Pat (Sherlock) Fletcher. “The Irish Times” golfing correspondent gave this graphic description of her: “It was something more than a test of golf at Rosses Point today. Physical fitness played as big a part in it as the quality of the golf and, at the end of a wild day in which wind and rain played havoc with the best intentioned shots, one slightly built, bedraggled little figure wended her way from the 19th hole to the clubhouse to hand in the official result”. The player in question was Pat Sherlock, who, as Mrs. Fletcher, would capture the title at Portmarnock in 1934, before going on to give splendid service to the Union at an administrative level as President in 1983-1984.
In an interview with Mrs. Fletcher at her lovely Foxrock home she said that she had the dubious honour of being the first lady golfer in Ireland to wear long pants on the course. “Tweed skirts was the norm but my mother encouraged me to wear the long pants which were far more comfortable. There was a lady golfer from Wales who always wore long pants and she was never out of the news.” she said. Pat Fletcher rated Hermitage as being the best inland course in Ireland. “It was always a great challenge, with hills to get over and dog legs to make it that degree harder. I loved its hills because it was a true test of your golfing ability rather than a flat course which was much easier to play.” When Pat won the 1934 Irish Close championship at Portmarnock it fulfilled an ambition of hers. “Eithne (Pentony) was easily the top golfer in Hermitage at the time and I played a lot with her. I learned a lot too from the way she would line up the ball before hitting it. She always took great care before hitting any shot. She was a long hitter of the ball and that was one of her advantages in match play” she added. Pat Fletcher (Sherlock) played in 9 home International matches: 1932, ’34, ’35, ’36, ’38, ’39, ’54, ’55, and ’66 (captain). She won her two Senior Cups on the 1935-’36 teams and partnered by her father, former Hermitage Captain, Lorcan Sherlock, won the prestigious Milltown Mixed Foursomes. Eithne Pentony and Pat Fletcher were easily the two dominant Hermitage lady players of their era, and were members of the successful Senior Cup winning combinations of ’35 and ’36.