Rathdowney golf club was established in 1930 and was the brainchild of Fr. Dunphy who was a curate in the parish at that time. Fr. Dunphy collected a number of interested parties and they set about the task of getting a “golf links” underway. The first formal meeting of the club was held on the 24th of October 1930 in the Ossory Hotel (now Supervalu) Rathdowney.
The conditions which prevailed in the clubs early days were of necessity primitive, even by the standards of the time. Early plans for the 9 hole course were drafted up by a Mr. Collins (Birr professional) and the committee set about the task of implementing this. A wooden Pavilion was built and this continued to be used right up to relatively modern times with some changes to the general structure in the intervening years. During the clubs early years membership was approximately fifteen men and six women with a subscription of one pound and ten shillings.
The club entered its second decade during the Second World War. This was a time of shortages and scarcity and not unnaturally a quiet period in the club’s history. The club acquired its own horse and a very narrow gang mower for the cutting of fairways. It was during this decade that other clubs began to hear of the existence of Rathdowney, most notably through the golfing achievements of Paddy Malone. Paddy won the well known “Auction Cup” in Tramore Golf Club and competed with distinction on several occasions in the south of Ireland Championships.
By the 1950’s the club was well established and the predictions of its early demise had proved unfounded. However the club experienced difficult times and this was mainly due to its small membership. The annual subscription in 1957 was three pounds and ten shillings.
The annual rent at the beginning of the 1960’s was forty pounds and you could play the course as a visitor for a green fee of half a crown. By mid 1960’s the membeship had risen modestly to 43 men of whom 5 were distant members and 9 were country. The club also had 17 lady members at this time. In 1964 the clubhouse was improved and running water and toilets were installed. Some improvements were taking place on the course but these were very slow. In 1966 the club held its first open Week. This was a very ambitious undertaking and was followed in later years by local clubs. This event has developed over the years and now forms the highlight of the golfing year.
The club headed into the seventies still facing many of the problems which had be-devilled it from its inception. Other clubs in the locality were now beginning to move ahead while Rathdowney’s prospects for progression seemed dim. From the mid seventies the club experienced a modest increase in its membership. By the late 1970’s the club was awarded a “99 year Sporting Lease” and this called for annual rent of seven hundred pounds (reviewed every 25 years) for the course. This gave the club a platform on which to build and to move forward in a way that could not have been contemplated up to this time. Towards the end of the 1970’s this lease was purchased outright and Rathdowney Golf Club became freehold.
The 1980’s saw the construction of a new clubhouse and the implementation of the “Hackett Plan”. The well known golf course architect Eddie Hackett visited the course and drew up a plan to maximise the use of the club’s resources and to greatly improve the nine holes. This work was tackled in 1984 and when completed brought the course par from 66 to 70. It included a new par 5 which had not existed up until then. By the end of the 1980’s the club was well and truly on its feet with progress being made in every aspect of the club’s affairs. This decade undoubtedly had been a time of the most enormous changes for the betterment of the club. Membership passed the 150 mark for men and 50 for women.
The beginning of the 1990’s saw a big push for an end to full membership for men only in golf clubs and the allowing of women to participate as full members. A great deal of research was completed before the committee decided to use the three tiered model as recommended by the Golfing Union. This system allowed for a management or joint club, and both a men’s and a ladies’ club. The former was to administer the overall affairs of the club and the latter two were for the men’s and ladies’ golf respectively. This was adopted in 1994 when a new constitution was passed incorporating these changes. It was a big step for the club and one which truly brought it into the modern era.
1994 saw the final piece of the Rathdowney Golf Club jigsaw puzzle come together. The then landlords, the McGovern family, put up for sale a parcel of land adjoining the existing nine holes. In total 57 acres were acquired and this was added to the 47 acres that the club had already in their possession. Work on the new land was spread out over three years and was completed in phases. The end result of all the work was made available for everyone to see on the 31st May 1997.
Today the course is of a matured state with challenging holes and fairways. Ongoing investment in and development of the course adds new challenges each year, and the club is a unique location to play an enjoyable round of golf.