Coburn, George

George Coburn born c. 1876/77

George Coburn was born in East Lothian in Scotland and was engaged by Portmarnock in 1895 as a professional golfer and greenkeeper when he was no more that nineteen-years old. He likely secured the position through his greenkeeping experience in Scotland with Old Tom Morris. He left his mark as both a player and course designer. His career started in his native Scotland, followed by Ireland, back to England and would eventually move across the “Pond” to the greater New York area where he would be engaged by numerous Golf Clubs. He lived in the Burrow, Malahide a village close to Portmarnock and married Kathleen, a Dublin girl two years his junior [Source: Census 1901]. He may well have converted to Roman Catholicism to facilitate his marriage to the Dublin girl as his brother James was a professional at Portrush around the time of the census and records his religion as Church of Ireland.

M.J. Cahill (1899-1904) joined Coburn as as assistant professional at the end of nineteenth century and would remain until 1904. Although Scottish by birth he was during his tenure at Portmarnock considered ‘adopted Irish’ and his progress was watched attentatively by the golfing scribes. His weakness was considered to be his driving as..“having an exceptionally long swing and a rather exaggerated body swing he is rather subject to lapses in the accuracy of his wooden club play.” In 1899 when the main professional players in Great Britain and Ireland gathered at Portmarnock Coburn held the course record of 72 but despite this only just finished in the prize-money £2 10s but was responsible for the course for the duration of the amateur and professional championships.

Coburn participated in a number of Open Championships including those of 1900 (St. Andrews) ,1904 (Sandwich),1906 (Muirfield) and 1908 (Prestwick) where he finished 26th, 16th, 35th and 24th respectively. Coburn made the final four of the British Match Play Championship in 1903 along with Ted Ray, J.H. Taylor and James Braid the eventual winner. Coburn also participated in a series of matches pitting Scotland versus England. The NY Times (May 19, 1912) reported that Coburn had represented Scotland in 1903, 1904, 1905 and 1907 and won all his matchesand was a four-time Irish golf champion 4 and the Scottish champion once. Despite this there was no formal professional championship in Ireland while Coburn was based here although there were regular competitions and in the early years of the twentieth century Coburn would have been considered the best player in Ireland. The professionals were given handicaps and as his was plus 6 he would likely take the gross score but wouldn’t necessarily win the competition. His nearest rivals would be W. Clay and James McKenna who both played off plus 2. In September 1900 a thirty-six hole exhibition match was arranged between Coburn and Harold Hilton (1 US Amateur, 3 British Amateurs and 2 Open Championships) at Portmarnock. At the end of the first eighteen Coburn was three up (80 vs 82) but the scores had been reversed by the final-hole (83 vs 79) and holing a putt from off the green secured Coburn’s victory by one-hole. At the time Hilton was the guest of Malcolm Inglis, a member of Portmarnock, and resident in Montrose in Donnybrook the current site of R.T.E.

Upon leaving Portmarnock he took a position in Erskine, Glasgow and then Sandwell Park Golf Club in West Bromwich in 1906 (and still there in 1908).

Coburn went to the United States sometime circa 1912. The Glenwood Country Club near Glen Head Long Island was his first engagement as the Club Professional.¹ He later would assist Emmet Devereux in the design of the Salisbury Golf Club on Long Island. (Eisenhower Park today). He also apparently had an affiliation at some time with Quaker Ridge Golf Club near Harrison NY. The following article appeared in The American Golfer magazine:

George Coburn, a Scottish international player, who was until recently professional to the Knebworth Club,
Herts, and formerly attached to the Portmarnock Club, Ireland, has landed in America. He is taking up professional duties to a club near New York. —The World of Golf, London, Feb. 27.
Coburn arrived in New York early last May and has since been professional to the Glenwood Country Club, of Glen Head, Long Island.

Coburn is attributed with the layout of the nine-hole course at Naas Golf Club, the Dundalk Golf Club and assisting Old Tom Morris with the New Course at St. Andrews and may have assisted with the Royal Dublin Golf Club.

Reading Sources:

¹ Spalding's Official Golf Guide 1914
T.M. Healy: Portmarnock Golf Club 1894-1994 - A Centenary History