Lifelong golf enthusiast Gerry Kelly has explored the history of golf in Ulster for a new BBC NI documentary which will be broadcast tomorrow evening.
As anticipation builds for next month’s Open at Royal Portrush, the veteran radio and TV presenter visited the host course as well as clubs like Royal Belfast, Royal County Down and the town of St Andrews in Scotland – recognised internationally as the home of golf.
Gerry starts his journey at his home club in Ardglass tracing the beginnings of golf in Ireland and reveals a few surprises as he discovers the relatively unknown Ulster-Scots golfing pioneers who helped establish the sport here.
He visits stately homes including Mount Stewart on the shores of Strangford Lough and Grey Abbey House – chatting with Lady Rose Lauritzen and William Montgomery – and travels to St Andrews to explore how the Scots claim to have invented the sport and what part they played in bringing the game across the Irish Sea.
He also sets out to finally answer the age-old dispute about which club is actually the oldest in Ireland.
Gerry, who has been playing golf for over five decades at Ardglass Golf Club, said: “Before I began filming for the programme, despite playing the game for most of my life, I actually knew very little about its history, and that’s a shame because there are few sports with as long and as rich a history.
“The thing that amazed me the most was the fact that golf was played in Scotland in the 1400s and it took over 400 years before it came here. With all the movement of people between the two countries, that Ulster-Scots connection, why did it take so long for the game to be finally organised here?”
Gerry, who has been playing golf since he was a teenager, said: “Golf is a sport you can get easily hooked on. It’s a game for life. I know people still playing in their nineties.
“For me it’s not so much now about that standard of golf now. I used to play off single figures, now I’m a teenager (handicap), it’s about the craic with your fourball.
“We would get out once or twice a weekend and play for a fiver. It’s the most important three or four hours of the week to win that fiver.”
Links To The Past: Pioneers Of Ulster Golf is on BBC Two Northern Ireland tomorrow night at 9pm.
The one-hour film has been produced by NPE Media for BBC Northern Ireland, with support from the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.
l Morning View, page 10