Sligo’s Golfing Legend – Cecil Ewing
Cecil Ewing (fourth from left) made his Walker Cup debut against the U.S.A. in 1936.
Cecil Ewing won two Irish Amateur Opens, two Irish Amateur Close and ten West of Ireland titles (between 1930 and 1950) during a career which also saw him play for Ireland in the seventeen Home International matches played between 1934 and 1958; he also played in six Walker Cup matches between 1936 and 1955 and proceeded to become Irish team captain and president of the Golfing Union of Ireland.
Ewing was one of the dominant figures in world amateur golf before World War II, having been a semi-finalist in the British Amateur Championship of 1936 and losing only in the final to Charles Yates at Troon in 1938, and his career would have been even more distinguished but for the loss of so many years of competition from 1939-through-1946. Golf was fortunate that Reginald Cecil Ewing was born into an era when most of the best amateur players stayed in the amateur ranks and made the various amateur championships into wonderful spectacles. He was virtually born on the first tee and destined to be a golfer from the word go. His grandfather, who was owner of the Royal Hotel in Sligo, built a hotel at Rosses Point for his son Tom. This structure was known for some forty years as “Ewings” and some of its rooms served as the first clubhouse for the County Sligo Golf Club! The hotel is now known as the Yeats Country and it looks out onto the putting green and front porch of the clubhouse at the County Sligo club.
The young Ewing took to golf like a duck to water and was a regular fixture on the links from age five. His father played to a handicap of one so he had a useful role model to follow along with his brothers Aubrey and Harry who gave him every encouragement and not a little competition. By age 18, he was making his presence felt at championship level as he reached the final of the West of Ireland of 1928 before losing to the leading Connacht player of the time, Bertie Briscoe from Castlerea. By then, Ewing’s handicap was scratch.
The Ewing career was almost totally a rapidly rising graph from that point. But it did have one set-back, in 1930 when the big toe on his right foot became infected and he was hospitalized in Dublin for a time. Amputation was avoided but Ewing was understandable reluctant to return to his original full, free-flowing swing on his return to golf, as he didn’t want to experience the pain of that right foot again. Thus was born the narrow stanced, three-quarter swing which became his trademark.
Soon he found that he could hit the ball the same vast distances as before, using mostly his shoulders and arms, and this method stood the test of time as he was still a winner at age 48 when he won the Irish Close title of 1958. One’s childhood memories of the man are all centred upon that unorthodox swing. We would watch this man step onto the first tee and send the ball soaring into the distance with such an abbreviated action and then wonder, and curse, when our best lunges weren’t nearly as effective.
The art of the champion was carefully concealed within the frame of a giant of a man, both physically and morally, who seldom missed a day playing at the Point which he loved so well not least because it is an old-fashioned course which goes out into the country and away from civilisation. Out around the tenth and eleventh holes at Rosses Point one is almost as far from cars and houses as one can get in Ireland, and that is the way that Ewing liked his golf.
Ewing’s international life began in 1934 when he helped Ireland to their first ever win over England. Other firsts were to follow in that he was to become a member of the first British & Irish side to win the Walker Cup, in 1938; in that same year he became the first home-based Irish player to reach the final of the British Amateur; and in 1965 he captained Ireland to victory in the European Amateur Team Championship at Sandwich in the first year that the Irish competed that event.
His own international debut was spectacular as he won his three singles from Harry Bently of England, Eric McRuvie of Scotland and R. Chapman of Wales; and in foursomes he won against England in partnership with J. A. Flaherty, and halved his against Wales. He was to miss only one Home International match from then to his retirement from top-line amateur golf in 1958. That was in 1952 when he had a serious illness which gave him a chance to try the administrative end of the game as a Walker Cup selector in 1953. Two years later, he was back onto the side himself!
As an Irish international he played 92 games and won 45 and halved 8. His wins included 26 singles, and his sixteen appearances in the Irish colours stands second in the record books only to Joe Carr. His Walker Cup debut at Pine Valley was a really exciting affair as he and Alec Hill were seven down with eleven to play in their foursomes against George Voigt and H. L. Givan, but they fought back for a halved match!
His singles, however, proved a true baptism of fire as he covered 29 holes in level par but lost by 8/7 to Johnny Fischer who produced a birdie barrage and went on to win the American Amateur that year!
He and Jimmy Bruen contributed mightily to the home win in the Walker Cup at St. Andrews in 1938. Ewing was not played in the foursomes but did the business when beating Ray Billows by 1 hole in the singles. In the British Amateur Championship that followed at Troon, he reached the final only to three-putt five times against the amiable Charlie Yates of Atlanta who never took three putts, winning 3/2. The lessons learned that day helped form Ewing’s “public persona” on the course as a man who had total concentration and strode along, head down talking neither to friend of foe as he set about the task of demolishing even his friends!
Ewing lived in Dublin, working for Guinness, from the start of his working career until 1943 when transferred to Ballina and thence back to his native Sligo in 1955. In the interim, his father died in 1938 and his mother sold the family hotel at Rosses Point in 1943.
One of the most brilliant games he ever played was on the occasion of his last big win, the Irish Close at Ballybunion in 1958 at age 48. He covered seven consecutive holes in the final in 21 phenomenal strokes to defeat Greg Young by 4/3. A truly sensational finish to a truly sensational career of a man who, through it all, remained modest and unassuming and a perfect role model for the amateur golfer.
Here was a giant who strode the amateur stage internationally for two generations.