The return of The East

Alex Maguire is the reigning champion in the East of Ireland. Photo: Thos Caffrey / Golffile.

By John Brennan.

One of the great stories about the East of Ireland Golf Championship at Baltray didn’t even take place during the tournament.

It happened on a beautiful summer’s evening in July as the great JB Carr, then in his 70s, was leading a group of American friends around the course he loved so much and on which he had won ‘the East’ so often.


Carr had booked a caddy for each of the fourball and his personal porter was a young lad who could play the game reasonably well, but hadn’t the foggiest idea that the man whose bag he was carrying was one of the greatest amateur golfers the game had ever known, good enough to take down a young Jack Nicklaus in one of his 11 Walker Cup appearances as player and manager.

The older man was playing some superb golf, laced, alas, with moments when age would weary him and the ball would fly nowhere near the flag in the distance.

Carr’s caddy was intrigued by all this as his man clearly knew every blade of grass on the course and could no longer contain himself as he watched this mix of sublime skills and ten-handicapper golf.

“Did you ever play in the East of Ireland?,” asked the caddy. “I did,” boomed Carr, “in fact I won it 12 times.” To which the caddy responded, “well the standard must have been a lot worse in your day.”

We missed ‘the East’ in 2020 and 2021 as Covid meant the event could not be played on its usual June Bank Holiday weekend date and could not be fitted in later in either year to a crowded golf calendar.

It came back last year and fittingly was won by ‘a neighbours’ child’ from across the Boyne estuary in Alex Maguire, from Laytown and Bettystown.

Thus his name is down beside Carr, and those of Darren Clarke, Garth McGimpsey, Mark Gannon, Raymond Burns, Pat Mulcare and many other of the greats of Irish golf on the Winners Board in the clubhouse.

Missing from that Board are many other elite Irish golfers who never won the East of Ireland in spite of trying several times. Paul McGinley, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington are just four of the top men of Irish golf who never won the title.

The latter says it is one of the greatest regrets of his amateur days that he could not triumph in ‘the East’. Lowry may not have won it either, but he did have four of the greatest days of his life around the County Louth course – winning the Irish Open there as an amateur in 2009.

You see it is not easy to win ‘the East’. The three other geographic golf championships in Ireland, the North, West and South, are won through a mixture of strokeplay to qualify and then matchplay to win it all.

The East of Ireland is pure strokeplay, 72 holes, 18 on Saturday and Sunday and 36 on the Monday for those who make it through. So there’s no duffing a chip, conceding a hole, and walking on to the next tee in the East.

That duffed chip counts as one shot against your name in the East of Ireland and you’ve got to play your next shot from wherever you put your ball.

This June Bank Holiday weekend the greats and the good of Irish golf will gather at Baltray again to renew a tradition started in 1941, where a course that sits in what was once a little fishing village becomes the centre of Irish golf.

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