Malone Golf Club was founded in 1895 – with a course laid out at Stranmillis. Here is an extract from the Belfast News Letter – “That the ‘Royal Game’ as it is usually termed, has lost none of its well merited popularity in our northern province and especially in the suburbs of Belfast is a fact that has been practically emphasised by the advent of another golf club, which has just been organised in the beautiful suburb district of Malone”.
Within a few years there were 450 members.
In 1903 Caddies were paid 6d (2.5 pence) a round. Mr A McIlwaine who had acted as a caddie at Stranmillis recalled his reasons for starting the job. He was paid 6d for carrying a bag 18 holes, and if he did not lose a ball received a silver 3d as a tip. 6d was a fortune to this young caddie, when his father earned between 10 and 15 shillings a week working in Anderson McAuley Department Store in Belfast.
In 1905 the Club entered the Golfing Union of Ireland Senior cup for the first time – and won – defeating Greystones in a very close final.
Queen’s University Golf Club applied for affiliation to the GUI in 1907. They needed a course to play on so the relationship with Malone began that continues to this day.
Hunter Sharpe, US Consul in Belfast in 1911 was elected an Honorary Member – a practice that continues to this day.
The first indications that the club would move to the Harberton Estate are noted in 1914. 110 acres was leased and possession was from 1st November 1915. Dr McKenzie, a well known golf architect is engaged at a sum of £1200 to complete the course. All is put on hold as war breaks out.
World War I The daily life of the Club was curtailed by the effects of the Great War, as many members were involved both directly and indirectly. Those that fought are commemorated on the Roll of Honour in the entrance of the current Clubhouse.
Not long after the opening members are unhappy with the state of the new course (members unhappy...that is a surprise) Dr MacKenzie returned £200 of the £300 that he was paid as reparation. The dispute resolved, Dr MacKenzie’s reputation was safe. He went on to design Cypress Point, the Augusta National and Royal Melbourne golf courses (whose members were happy). The restriction on Sunday play was proposed with the change in course location, causing much debate.
In the 1920s the social life of the Club was central to the lives of many members. The Duchess of Abercorn came to acquaint herself with the game of golf and remarked on the beauty of the surroundings.
The economic crisis of the 1930s affected Malone... The incoming President of the GUI remarked on the economic changes: “we do not have so many men of independent means in the game. In the old days they had the time and the money, and they simply spent it.”
The Irish Open Championship came to Belfast for the first time – played at Malone in 1933. There were 128 entries, with some twenty Irish amateurs. The winner was E W H Kenyon by two strokes.
In 1939 An exhibition match featuring ‘Bobby’ Locke took place. While he was from South Africa, his father had left the Lisburn Road in Belfast to emigrate.
World War II many members joined H M Forces. At the time of the 50th AGM eighty two men and twenty five ladies had served or were serving. Ten had been killed, or died while serving. Despite the War, Saturday at the Club had a great atmosphere, with a golfer’s fry being the standard meal, made from accumulated rations.
In 1948 There are 750 members, green fees are 2s 6d with a member, and 5s on Saturday, or 7s 6d without a member. Dunlop 65 balls were 4s
The Irish Amateur Close was played at Malone in 1956. A fire in the Clubhouse only a few days before the competition started caused havoc.
By 1957 there was talk about the possibility of new houses being developed and the road being widened that would result in costs being incurred, and protection erected. Had the time come to move again? J.F. Stevenson had been advocating for several years a move to the Ballydrain Estate, owned by his friend Maynard Morrison. The first approaches were not fruitful, but discussions continued into 1958 and ’59.
W.J.J. Ferguson and J.G. McErvel walked the land at Ballydrain, and brought clubs and balls, reporting enthusiastically about the potential. £90,000 was required for the purchase, and £115,000 raised from the sale of the existing course to Queen’s.
The new course was designed by Commander John Harris from C.K.Cotton. In May the golfers moved from the old course to the new one by playing from one course to the other.
Architects Hawtree and Son proposed a new layout of the first nine holes in 1965. Members would recognise these as the current Ballydrain nine, and they also suggested playing the course in its current order.
The Blaxnit International Golf Tournament was staged in May 1966. The winner of the tournament was none other than future major winner Tony Jacklin, who while in Northern Ireland met his first wife.
The 1971 Ulster Open was held at Malone with a prize fund of £12,000. The event was won by Tommy Horton, but was not to happen again due to the worsening political situation in Northern Ireland.
On the 25th February 1972 the clubhouse was entered in broad daylight and a bomb placed, which caused considerable damage around the Ladies’ Room and the Snooker Room collapsed into it. Malone Members were immediately offered the facilities of Balmoral Golf Club by their Captain.
In 1976 it was proposed that part of the Ladies’ Locker room should be used for a snooker room, with the ladies moving out to the courtyard. This was not a step forward in the relationship between members and associates. The dispute that arose was only settled when the decision was made to build a snooker room as an extension.
The Irish Close Championship returned to Malone in 1984, with the course and the organisation of the event receiving much praise. The event was won by Brian Hoey, of Shandon Park Golf Club.
The Captain, Brian Boyd and his wife Glenis, visited Malone Golf Club, New York State, in 1987, thus reviving a relationship that had been lost for 80 years. A letter from 1907 had been discovered that included an explanation of the name of Malone and a score card from the course at that time. At the opening of their new course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, the prize was a trip to Malone in Belfast for two people.
For the Centenary Year of the Golfing Union of Ireland and Malone was honoured to be selected to host the All Ireland Cups and Shields Finals. This was the first time that a Stimpmeter, showing that the average speed on the greens was normally 7 – 8 feet, was used. At the All-Ireland Finals the speed was 9 – 10 feet.
Positively Belfast were tasked with changing the image of Belfast in the 90’s. As part of this they promoted the Irish Senior Masters, with Malone being selected as the venue. The first star golfer was Billy Casper, but the competition was won by South African John Fourie The Second Irish Senior Masters was held the following year and eight times major winner Gary Player was the star attraction.