Stephen Craig on his love affair with The Island

Irish Golfer

Stephen Craig captain of The Island golf club at the The Island Golf Club, Donabate, Dublin, Ireland. 02/05/2023 Picture: Golffile | Fran Caffrey

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Evan Ferguson is the latest, a young promising talent that the nation pins its hopes and dreams on, watching him light up the Premier League is plenty for now – talk of potential deals with Man United is almost inconceivable for a modern day Irish professional.

Plenty have tried and failed before him and thinking back to 1975 it was Martin Murray who held the limelight for more than just a fleeting moment, memories conjure up a potential reincarnate of George Best.

A combination of health concerns and injury meant that he never delivered on his significant potential at Everton but he did get to play alongside Stephen Craig prior to that. As did Ronnie Whelan, a player who did get to hit the big time.

Craig has his own storied football career but now he is more focused on golf and at The Island he has plenty of stories to tell too. He loves nothing more than delivering one of his many wonderful yarns to visitors from abroad.

“I was working there in 2019, as meet and greet come starter,” said Craig.

“I just decided one day to start telling them a little bit about the place and the history of the place. It’s a lot easier to do it when you are bringing them around and showing them the scorecards.

“Rory McIlroy played there as a schoolboy. Just showing them around the history, we have got two guys who played in the Walker Cup, Gavin Moynihan and Paul McBride. They are more recent, they are two guys that have come through the ranks there. They donated their bags to the golf club.

“There is also Kevin Le Blanc, he turned pro there at one stage and he is gone back to being amateur. He is a member there.

“Guys who want to play in the Open, play in links courses, will quite often play there. Shane Lowry has been there, Dustin Johnson, Seve was there one time. All their photographs would be in the pro shop.

“The pro David takes some shots with them. All of those guys think it’s a very good course, it’s a sleeping giant.”

Whatever about its sleeping status, the Island is definitely a giant on the Irish golfing landscape and it has been since it’s foundation in the late 1800s.

The picturesque Donabate links will host the Flogas Irish Men’s Amateur Open Championship this week, it’s star-studded field is another tip of the cap to the respect this place holds in the golfing community.

The history is well-known too, formed by ‘the Syndicate’ in 1890, it has changed so much in the intervening period. From a time where you had to access the club via boat, there is now a brand new clubhouse too while dunes still provide the unique backdrop.

Craig is the current Captain at The Island, his late father Stan is a former Captain there as well, and the members lounge is named after him. No one knows the spur of land overlooking the village of Malahide better.

“As I always say to American visitors, the boat we used to use to get out there wouldn’t pass health and safety today,” jokes Craig.

“You wouldn’t be allowed go across on it because it was only a small boat. There is a picture in the golf club of fellas in it with golf clubs and caddie cars and everything else. The engine on the back of it was a little out-board engine thing where you pull the chord and steer it with the handle, that was it.

“It used to leave the pier on the Malahide side of where you look out from the 13th and 14th hole. Nearly on the tennis club in Malahide, it used to leave the pier there.

“Because of the current in the river it used to have to go out at an angle and back in then again. It took as long as it does now to drive around to get there by boat.”

The return adventure was even more intriguing and another fond memory for Craig in his younger days.

“It was before mobile phones and all that sort of thing and there was only one way to call the boat,” said Craig.

“On the side of the corrugated iron building there was a circular sign. When it was folded over it blended in with the green of the corrugated iron clubhouse in those days, which is on the current 14th tee box. And then when you wanted to go home you used to come in off the 18th and open the sign.”

There was no bar in the clubhouse, instead drinks were consumed in the locker rooms as the members told stories of their rounds while they stood on the old wooden floorboards.

Afterwards, they opened the sign with the red stripe and the boatmaster made his way across the water from the Malahide side, the journey took 30 minutes to and from but they weren’t in a hurry.

They were simpler times and today The Island is a very different venue, the facilities are up there with the best while still not forgetting their roots. You can still see the boat, a wreck still with a heartbeat lies strewn on the bay.

The very best amateur and professional golfers visit The Island every year to test their game against the rugged landscape and it will no doubt provide another stiff test for the field of the Flogas Irish Men’s Amateur Open Championship.

Reigning champion Colm Campbell returns to defend his crown with players travelling from all over the world including Australia and Canada. Having gone close in a play-off last year, Matt McClean returns from his appearance in the Masters to try his chances.

Arron Edwards-Hill will look to improve on his West of Ireland showing, with his fellow countryman, James Claridge, who won in Co Sligo looking to further his Walker Cup claims.

The storylines and subplots are endless and it will only act to add another piece of history to a heavenly piece of land in North County Dublin.

“It’s great for the club to host this. A lot of the guys have, in the past, found it very challenging as they did last year and they certainly will again,” said Craig.

“It’s great to see it for the club and to give these players a good challenge. It’s one of the oldest links in Ireland, oldest golf courses, it’s good that they’re able to enjoy it.

“And we’ve made changes, they have played them I think but we have made changes to some of the holes as they have played them over the years. Ever since those founder members, it’s changed dramatically.”

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One response to “Stephen Craig on his love affair with The Island”

  1. George o connor avatar
    George o connor

    The name of person steering the boat was John Jo brien.he lived up the hill in malahide

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