18th February 2015 (and updated frequently since)
Claire Dowling (née Hourihane) was born on 18th February 1958 near Dublin in Ireland. She shares her birthday with another Irish amateur great, Joe Carr, who was born in 1922.
In February 2015 Claire became one of the first women members of The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (The R&A) – an Ordinary rather than an Honorary one. Within this first wave 0f 14 ladies there were just five women from Great Britain and Ireland (GB&I). These were HRH The Princess Royal, Dame Laura Davies, Lady Angela Bonallack, Belle Robertson MBE and Claire Dowling. For more information on the R&A’s Women Members click here – R&A Women Members.
This is not her first involvement with the R&A though. As a representative of the Ladies Golf Union she became the first women to sit on the R&A’s Amateur Status Committee between 1997-2001.
Her father, Bill, was a keen golfer and member of Woodbrook GC. Woodbrook is in Bray, County Wexford, on the coast just south of Dublin. Claire joined Woodbrook and represented the Club throughout her career. By no means long she developed a game based on a rhythmical swing that consistently delivered sound ball striking and accuracy. “When I was playing reasonably well, I would regularly hit 16 or 17 greens in regulation. And I really loved my 4-wood. I had great confidence in hitting it 170-175 yards off the fairway.” she recently told Irish golf writer, Dermot Gilleece. In her book ‘The Women Golfer’ Belle Robertson described Claire as ‘a wonderfully tidy little golfer who should never be underestimated’.
Her biggest individual win came in the 1986 British Ladies’ Open Stroke Play Championship at Blairgowrie, where famous Scottish golfer, Jessie Valentine, aged 71, provided lodgings and caddied for her. She also won the 1987 Spanish Ladies’ Amateur Championship.
She twice fell in the semi-finals of the British Ladies’ Open Amateur Championships.
Claire won the Irish Women’s Close Amateur Championship five times – in 1983, ’84, ’85, ’87 and ’91.
Claire Dowling in 1988
She was only the second Irish golfer to win in the USA, following Christy O’Connor Snr at the 1977 World Seniors, when she won the 1983 South Atlantic Amateur tournament.
In terms of the other leading English Women’s amateur events Claire also won the Hampshire Rose (1986), the Critchley Salver (1990) and the Bridget Jackson Bowl (1998).
Unsurprisingly she earned a great deal of international recognition: –
Claire was selected for the GB&I Curtis Cup side 4-times: –
1984 Muifield – GB&I 8.5 – USA 9.5 (Laura Davies* played)
1986 Prairie Dunes, KS – USA 5 – GB&I 13 (Belle Robertson* played)
1988 Royal St. George’s – GB&I 11 – USA 7 (Carole Semple Thompson* played)
1992 Hoylake – GB&I 10 – USA
*Other members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
The 1986 victory was memorable because it represented the first time a British or European golf team, male or female, had won in the United States.
The 1986 GB&I Curtis Cup Team (Photo: Women Golfers Museum)
Disappointingly Claire was omitted from all four series of games by Captain, Diane Bailey, in 1988 but played 8 times in her other matches finishing with a creditable individual record of W3 L3 H2.
The 1988 GB&I Curtis Cup Team (Photo: Ladies Golf Union)
She also played for GB&I in the Women’s World Amateur Team Championships for the Espirito Santo Trophy (1986 and ’90) and the Vagliano Trophy match against Europe (1981-83-85-87-89-91).
Claire also represented Ireland in the Women’s European Team Championships (1981, ’83, ’85, ’87, ’89 and ’91) and in the Women’s Home International Matches (1979, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85, ’86, ’87, ’88, ’90, ’91 and ’92). 1983 remains the last time Ireland won the Women’s European Team Championship.
Partnering Phil Wickham Claire won the Irish Bi-Centennial Foursomes in 1981-82-84 and ’85.
Claire captained Ireland in the Women’s European Team Championships in Finland in 1997 and at the Women’s Home International Matches in 1996 and 1997.
She was due to captain the GB&I team at the World Amateur Golf Team Championship in Chile in November 1998. However, the Ladies Golf Union withdrew the travelling party due to safety concerns following the arrest in London a few weeks earlier of the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. The Eisenhower Trophy event was played the following week in Chile with the Men’s GB&I team travelling and ultimately winning the competition.
Claire subsequently captained GB&I against Europe in the Vagliano Trophy in July 1999. Europe won 13 – 11.
Last but far from least Claire was non-playing captain of the 2000 Curtis Cup team. GB&I lost the match at Ganton GC 10 – 8.
Claire qualified as a Level 3 Tournament Referee in 2011 and was invited by the R&A to officiate at The Open that year held at Royal St. George’s in Kent. She was the second women to have refereed at a Men’s Major Championship following in the footsteps of England’s Elizabeth Earnshaw. Claire, and her husband, Peter, who subsequently qualified, continue to officiate at events held in Britain. Most recently the pair were seen officiating at The Arnold Palmer Cup event held at Formby Golf Club in June 2016. Claire also recently refereed at her second Open at Royal Troon in 2016.
In 2012 Claire was appointed Chair of the Handicap and Course Rating Committee for England Golf. She also sat on England Golf’s Club Services Committee. The former role means she also sat on the The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) Board and Technical Committee up until 2016, with representatives from The R&A and the other Home Unions.
In June 2006 Claire retired from competitive golf – which for her was County Golf with Warwickshire at the time. She was persuaded to come out of retirement by her friend Tracy Atkin in 2012 to play in the Brenda King Foursomes, an England Golf run national competition for senior ladies. Tracy and Claire won the competition (Frilford Heath) and successfully defended it in both 2013 (Gog Magog) and 2014 (Minchinhampton). They decided to go out at the top and didn’t defend at Coxmoor in 2015.
Tracy Atkin and Claire Dowling – Brenda King Foursomes Winners in 2015
Claire moved to England in the late 1980s obtaining an administrative job at the famous Wentworth Club in Surrey. While there she met and married her husband Peter. They subsequently moved to Solihull in the West Midlands in 1996 and Claire joined Copt Heath. Interestingly her appointment as 2000 Curtis Cup captain coincided with Peter McEvoy’s captaincy of the Walker Cup Team in 1999 and 2001, thus making Copt Heath, probably the first and last club to provide the GB&I captain to both female and male amateur teams simultaneously. Claire was afforded Honorary Membership of Copt Heath in 2014. Following Peter’s retirement the couple moved to Budleigh Salterton in 2014 and Claire now plays at the local club, East Devon. In one of her first competitions at her new club she won the Ladies’ Club Championship by 8-shots. She currently plays off a handicap of 2.
On 28th January 2017 Claire was elected an Honorary Life Member of the Irish Ladies’ Golf Union Limited at their Annual General Meeting.
On 21st January 2016 she received the ‘Distinguished Services To Golf’ Award from the Irish Golf Writers’ Association (IGWA). Claire had previously been awarded the IWGA’s ‘Women’s Amateur Player Of The Year’ award in 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986 and 1987. Brian Keogh of Irish Golf Desk recorded the event at Castleknock Golf Club – click here to download and listen to Claire’s acceptance speech.
It is clear from the above that she is well deserving of her various honours and invitation to join The R&A. Her exceptional amateur playing career, team captaincy, refereeing efforts and England Golf administrative contribution must have made her selection relatively straight-forward.
Copyright © 2015-2017 Mark Eley. All rights reserved.