“Sir” Walter Hagen

“Sir” Walter Hagen

Walter Hagen visited Ireland on two occasions in 1928 when he was scheduled to play in the Irish Open Championship and agreed to play an exhibition match in Clontarf Golf Club and in 1937 as part of his world tour with Joe Kirkwood, the famous Australian golfer and trick shot artist.

Clontarf Golf Club

On Saturday 26th May, 1928 Hagen played an exhibition match <click here for Pathe newsreel> over Clontarf’s new eighteen hole course. Hagen partnered Jack Quinn against Willie Holley and Willie Nolan and was probably facilitated by Hagen’s decision to play in the Irish Open at Royal County Down the following week.

Hagen was probably the world’s most famous golfer at the time with the exception of Bobby (Robert Tyre) Jones, it was originally meant to be a singles competition but because of the small turnout and the weather, Hagen (who was playing for gate receipts) cancelled the first match, between himself and Holley, and played in the afternoon fourball citing his unwillingness to get drenched twice in the one day.

The Irish Times covered the match reporting that Hagen’s very serious facade deserted him when:

“…he made a poor stroke..a cynical smile was visible, and occasionally, when Nolan hit one with the wood well outside him, he would watch the ball soar and drop and, looking down on the tee box, would utter the one word S-h-o-t’, taking longer over it than others would overOh! A grand shot.’ ”

The better ball figures were as follows:

Holley and Nolan 5 3 5 3 4 3 4 4 4 5 2 4 3 3 2 54
Hagen and Quinn 4 5 4 3 4 4 4 4 4 5 3 6 3 4 3 60

Hagen, a born exhibitionist, was surely disappointed with the turn out which, the Clontarf Golf Club: A History (1912-1987) quotes someone as saying it was “no more than a few stragglers”

Walter Hagen played with Joe Kirkwood in the North South Championship in the early twenties at Pinehurst and after the tournament Joe was asked to give an exhibition for the spectators but many of the professionals watched on, including the “Haig”. While there was no payment for the exhibition, the Mayor of New York suggested a whip around for Joe which earned him a “staggering $770” which he recalled later in his autobiography: Links of Life. Nobody was more impressed with this easy money than the Haig and he suggested a partnerhship to travel the country doing exhibitions. The “show” consisted of thirty-six holes with leading professionals or amateurs in the area followed by an hour long show following the matches.

In January 1937 Kirkwood and Hagen set out on a world tour which with take in all the continents in- season and last a year and a half. The seed was set by Kirkwood when according to Hagen in his autobiography, The Walter Hagen Story, Joe told him, “We’ll pick up some real dough, Walter, if you’ll get your mind on golf and do a little work.”. They had toured Australia before but this was altogether a far more ambitious undertaking. The format was similar to the early days of the partnership but was now reduced to a single round of golf on any given day.

Greenore Golf Club

On Sunday, 5 September 1937 at 2pm Hagen and Kirkwood played an exhibition match against Joe McCartney and John McKenna. John McKenna was a professional at Bundoran at the time. The scoring was in favour of the visitors with approximate scorings of Kirkwood (67), Hagen (68), McCartney (70) and McKenna (72). The match came down to the individuals short games as there was nothing between them tee to green.

Limerick Golf Club

Thursday, 9th September 1937

John Burke and Stanley Martyn played the duo and came out victorious beating them by 63 strokes to 65. Austin Reid in his book, A History of Limerick Golf Club recalls:

“It was a great occasion requiring a marquee for catering, stewards, four forecaddies and two off-duty gardai who were paid 10/- each to ensure no one gained admission free.”

Kirkwood invited Burke to play a shot with a rubber driver which was part of his trickshot routine but to the surprise of both visitors he was able to hit a perfect shot. Hagen asked John Burke for a lesson on playing the run-up shot with a four iron.

Baltray Golf Club

Friday, 10 September 1937 4 pm – Trick Shots and Lectures by Joe Kirkwood : spectators 3/-

Over two hundred turned out to watch Hagen play Kirkwood over eighteen holes of the Baltray links with Hagen coming out on top by one hole.

County Sligo Golf Club

Sunday, 12th September 2.45 pm

Over one thousand people came out to watch the Hagen/Kirkwood partnership take on Cecil Ewing and John McCourt, the local professional. After the match was a trickshot display and “illustrative lecture” on how to improve your game. The entry fee was five shillings for the men and half that for the women. Ewing gave a good account of himself winning the first two holes but the vistors had squared the the fifth but two more birdies by Ewing on the seventh and ninth restored the home teams lead by the turn. However the visitors had a one hole lead by the thirteenth after some brilliant long putting from Kirkwood and Hagen then stepped in with a birdie at fourteen and a chip-in at sixteen to close out the match 3 and 2.

Derry Golf Club

Tuesday, 14 September 1937

The Haig and Kirkwood took on W.G. Robertson, the local professional and North West’s best amateur at the time James McKenna. Over four hundred spectators showed up for the exhibition in bad weather conditions for the “princely sum of half a crown”, according to the City of Derry’s 75th Anniversary booklet. The match result was 2 and 1 in favour of Hagen/Kirkwood with the three professionals shooting between 75 and 77 with Kirkwood likely the better of the three while James McKenna shot forty for the front nine and picked up on three occasions on the back nine.