From farm to golf: Roganstown on the rise with MD Ian McGuinness

Ronan MacNamara
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Roganstown Hotel & Country Club

Ronan MacNamara

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Roganstown Hotel and Country Club is still in its relative infancy as far as golf courses go but it has quickly become one of the premier parkland courses in Ireland. 

Opened in May 2004 the North Dublin club has already hosted the Irish PGA Southern Championship in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and the Irish PGA Championship in 2013 and was the first venue in Ireland to host a EuroPro Tour Event in 2006. 

What you don’t know perhaps is that this beautiful piece of land – soon to be the canvas for Irish Ryder Cup legend Christy O’Connor – was a family farm run by the parents of Ian McGuinness who is the managing director in Roganstown before receiving planning permission for a hotel and golf club in 1998. 

McGuinness’ mother Denise was a pioneer for golf, and she opened the adjacent Swords Golf Club in the 1990s. 

“It was a family farm and we redeveloped it. My mother was big into golf and she was a member of Skerries and then Balbriggan where she was Lady Captain and she started Swords Open golf course as a nine-hole and then converted it to 18 back in the 90s,” explained McGuinness who is an engineer by trade and spent time working for Siemens. 

“They still live in the house and the rest of the farm was a freesia cow and a bit of tillage so my mother was complaining about a draughty old house and my stepfather wanted to retire and none of us were interested in taking over the farm so we came up with the Roganstown model side by side with Swords. 

“My mother started it all and we do an annual Denise McLoughlin memorial at the club. She was a pioneer. She started Swords 35 years ago if she started today she would have been held out as a pillar for women in business. She was ahead of her time.” 

The transformation from a tillage farm to a luxurious hotel and country club has been remarkable and Ian a keen golfer himself has been amazed with how quickly the course has transformed despite being only 18 years old. 

“We had the land and we knew about the golf business. It started off quite small then ended up being a 52-bedroom and leisure centre, a proper country club golf course designed by Christy O’Connor Jnr. 

“Christy came back to play in pro-ams and his designs were like children, they grew up so he was always tweaking. I’m looking at it now 20 years later and it’s so different to what it was, it’s maturing. 

“Christy designs golf courses that anybody can go out and play. The fairways are nice and wide, rough not too heavy but it’s long enough to get the pros out and they can’t beat the golf course out. 

“Our greenkeeper Colm, my brother, is a phenomenon; the greens are like his babies!” 

Roganstown will be well known in the corners of the Interclub world having picked up the 2021 Fred Daly and Senior Cup pennants. What made both victories extra special is both teams were made up of similar players. 

The North Dublin club boasted youngsters, Patrick and Sean Keeling (who made the final stage of Open qualifying), Charlie Kelly and Padraig O Dochartaigh while Hugh Foley was the elder statesman at 24!  

McGuinness takes great pride in having the pennants hanging in the golf club but also feels the success is great testament to the strength of the junior club in Roganstown believing they have some of the best young talent in the country, and no better stable to be nurtured than that of Geoff Loughrey – who is Foley’s long-time coach. 

Youth is certainly the policy!

“We have equal membership so men and ladies are together. We have grown our junior club, my sister and law and brother are big into the juniors and have done a lot of work with them. Geoff Loughrey joined us 14 or 15 years ago to coach and he has been the driving force in our junior club. 

“We have 130 or so juniors and he has developed some stable of kids. The Senior Cup winning team was more or less the team that won the Fred Daly! The total age of our team was 85 and Hugh Foley was 24!  

“We have a lovely group of juniors and what tickles me is that they are extremely proud of their Senior Cup and Fred Daly medals and in such an individual sport it’s great to see that. They are such a tight knit team, they play and cheer for one another, every kid needs a team sport and golf is not that but when they play these events it becomes that. 

“Geoff has been brilliant and our committees have been brilliant and they put in savage hours. 

“Whether they become the next big things who knows. 

“We have won four Leinster pennants which is an amazing achievement and we are getting a name for ourselves which is great.” 

Roganstown is a very inclusive club with McGuinness and co always looking to give back. Together they have raised around €300,000 for charities from pro-am events over the years while also helping other children’s charities, like the medical research foundation, autism action and helping out St Francis Hospice. 

Roganstown also hosted a blind European championship eight years ago and have accomodated the Irish Homeless football team in the past. 

This year was another groundbreaking year for this progressive club as they hosted the inaugural Irish Open for golfers with a disability after Roganstown member Cian Arthurs suggested the idea to McGuinness who couldn’t say yes quick enough. 

“Cian is a great player and he asked about it and we said we would support it and Golf Ireland agreed to host it in Roganstown,” explained McGuinness who was taken aback by how inspired he felt watching the players. 

“Cian was the figurehead of the event because it was his event so he had to do a lot of receptions and speeches. It was a real feel good event and it went very well and we are hosting it again next year from the 26th –28th of June next year. 

“We had around 50 entrants this year so we were surprised how many turned up at short notice and next year it should be even better because it’s on the calendar. Because we are close to the airport and we have the accomodation so if you’re in a wheelchair you can get around the hotel so it caters for everyone. 

“A number of members contacted me about sponsoring the event and looking to get involved and it was the first time anyone wanted to sponsor a Golf Ireland event, normally they have to go looking. 

“Members bring their kids out and show them that people with a disability can play normal sport and it was humbling to look at someone like Cian with one arm to knock it 290 with a driver.  

“We have another member who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and you could easily climb into bed and not come out but he’s here playing golf. A friend of mine Paul O’Rahilly got a condition a number of years back that made him blind and he is out playing golf.  

“Their outlook on life is inspiring,” smiled the former operations director for Microsoft where he worked for seven years in the Middle East and Africa. 

While all seems rosy in the garden for Roganstown, McGuinness is always looking towards the future with a keen impetus being put on encouraging more women to join. 

“We have a vision, we have limited our membership to 450. We are trying to push to improve our ladies membership through the get into golf programme. We had ladies in doing four weeks of coaching with Joe Murray our other PGA Pro here and the lady members take them out to play three holes. 

“Women are the lifeblood of the club because without them we wouldn’t have social events. The events that we run are run by the ladies like the nine and dine, captain and vice captains day. 

“We are trying to build our ladies membership to keep the atmosphere in the club high. 

“Because we have limited our membership to 450, we want to make sure our members can get out, we do have green fees, societies and corporate days as well. We have worked to make sure everyone can get a game of golf. 

“We want to keep the facilities well, the golf course speaks for itself, we have a good practice ground we probably need some nets and things like that we need to keep adding to. In 2024 we will be 20, so we are only 18 so we are still a very young club,” said McGuinness who is busy looking after some late summer arrivals from Europe but hopes to attract a larger contingent of American visitors in the future. 

“We would normally get small groups from NI, UK, Germany, Scandinavia, so that’s where our visiting market comes from. 

“We get the odd group from the United States, the problem with them is that they don’t have much holidays so when they do go they don’t care what they spend so they feel like if the green fee doesn’t have an extra 0 on the end it’s not worth playing. 

“We do accommodate groups who play golf in Portmarnock, Baltray and the likes because we are close to them all.  

“If I was to recommend golf to Americans who come here to play links I would say play a couple of links courses but don’t play eight rounds of it. I had Americans who stayed here before and they asked could they play a round of golf and they were baffled as to why they didn’t have it on their list. 

“They were broken and battered from playing links a form of golf they aren’t used to whereas they would be better off playing a mix of links and the likes of Headfort, Mullingar, Carlow, Druids Glen and Mount Juliet for their high-end golf. 

“It’s nice to be in this industry but sometimes golf can be too cheap, we have some of the best courses in the world and we need to showcase that.” 

From farm to golf. The story of the McGuinness family and Roganstown go hand in hand and has certainly produced a legacy to be proud of. 

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