Cecil Ewing - One of the All-Time Greats of Golf

By Leo Gray

An extract from The Sligo Champion Sesquicentenary 1836 – 1986

Considering that his family was steeped in golfing tradition, it was hardly surprising that young Cecil Ewing received a set of golf clubs from his father on the occasion of his 15th birthday.

Tom Ewing, of Rosses Point, County Sligo, could hardly have anticipated it then, but the birthday gift he have to his fifteen year old son was about to launch the career of one of the greatest golfers the country has ever produced.

In the same year as his 15th birthday, 1925, Reginald Cecil Ewing played in the West of Ireland Championship for the first time. When he retired in the early 1970s, he had won the prestigious amateur event ten times as well as many other top prizes in a game he graced for the best part of fifty years.

First Clubhouse

Born on July 11th, 1910, Cecil Ewing was destined to become a top exponent of the game of golf. His grandfather, Thomas, was one of the founder members of the County Sligo Golf club in 1894 and indeed, part of his hotel, The Greenlands Hotel (now the Yeats Country Hotel) was used as the first clubhouse.

His father, Tom, played to a handicap of one and his uncle, Willie Ormsby, was a scratch golfer. With that sort of pedigree, Cecil was bound to inherit a great passion for the game and there was a sign of things to come when, at the age of eighteen years, he reached the final of the West of Ireland Championship in 1928.

Beaten one hole by A.W. Briscoe on that occasion, Cecil hadn't long to wait for outright glory. In 1930, he beat Clifford McMullan 4 and 3 to win the Championship for the first time.

Although relatively young, Cecil was to dominate the local and national golf scene for most of the 1930's, 40's and 50's. He won the West of Ireland Championship in 1932, 1935 and 1939; reached the semi-finals of the British Amateur Championship in 1936 and was runner-up in 1938.

Walker Cup Team

Now firmly established as one of the leading players in Britain and Ireland, Cecil was selected on the British Walker Cup team in 1938 in place of Harry Bentley. This turned out to be one of the highlights of his career as he helped Britain to beat America and so claim the Walker Cup for the first time.

This is how a national newspaper reported Cecil's contribution to the historic victory:

Cecil Ewing, the Irishman who had come on in place of Harry Bentley, justified his captain's faith by defeating Ray Billows in one of the closest matches of the day on the last green. Ewing was one down at the interval with a score of 76 but he played well in the second round to be four up with four to play. Billows won the next two holes. Ewing driving out of bounds at the 16th, but the Irishman won the 17th and halved the last hole to clinch the issue.

Cecil, himself, regarded the match with Billows as one of the best rounds he ever played. I was one down at lunch-time but I struck an inspired patch over the second eighteen to win by one up he recalled in an interview later in his career.

Cecil went on to play five more times on Walker Cup teams and when illness prevented him playing in 1953, he was honoured by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews by being appointed a Walker Cup selector.

Exceptional Talent

The promise and exceptional talent displayed in the 1930's continued to be evident during the remainder of Cecil's career. He won the West of Ireland Championship five times in the 1940's, in 1941, 1942, 1943, 1945 and 1949.

His last outright success in the event came in 1950 although he was runner-up in the 1956 and 1958. In all, Cecil finished runner-up in the West on eight occasions.

On two occasions he was beaten in the final by Joe Carr who was to go on to beat Cecil's record of ten West of Ireland Championships. He lost in the final to Carr in 1947 and again in 1948 but he gained some measure of revenge when he beat his great rival in the Irish Open Championship in 1951.

This was Cecil's second success in the Irish Open as he had previously won the event in 1948. He completed a great double that year by winning both the Irish Open and the Irish Close Championships.

Around that time, there were some memorable matches between Cecil and Joe Carr. Apart from the West of Ireland finals in 1947 and 1948 and the Irish Open Final in 1951, the pair were also involved in a marathon Irish Open final in 1950. This turned out to be the longest ever final of the event and Cecil battled to the 40th hole before being defeated.

Cecil also enjoyed great success on the international circuit, having won 46 caps for Ireland. Were it not for the suspension of international matches from 1939 to 1946, his record might have remained unequalled by any Irish golfer.

He played for Connaught in the inter-provincials in 1938 and 1939 and again in 1958 when they were revived.

On his retirement from international golf, he was elected an Irish selector and non-playing captain of the Irish team. It was under his captaincy that Ireland won the European Team Championship in Sandwich in 1965 and in Turin in 1967.

Cecil was captain of the Co. Sligo Golf Club in 1940 and 1961 and also served as President of the Golfing Union of Ireland and, in the same year, he presented a Cup for the inaugural Irish Seniors Open Championships at Lahinch. The winner of the event was Cecil Ewing.

Cecil died in August 1973, at the age of 63 years.