Monday, 10 December 2018
Colm Smith with Seve Ballesteros at the 2001 Volvo Masters  (Getty Images)
Colm Smith with Seve Ballesteros at the 2001 Volvo Masters (Getty Images)
Golf in Ireland lost one of its great characters with the passing of former Irish Independent writer Colm Smith, writes Brian Keogh

Reprinted by kind permission of the Irish Independent - December 6, 2018

RORY McIlroy loves his tennis, but it’s hard to imagine the Holywood star playing a few sets with a member of the press corps the day after a Ryder Cup. And yet that kind of camaraderie and sporting ‘brio’ was par for the course for the Irish Independent’s former rugby and golf correspondent Colm Smith, who passed away last Friday. Colm will be sorely missed by the sportsmen and women he covered from his arrival in Abbey Street, Dublin, as a cub reporter in 1958 until his retirement in 2001.

“Colm was one of the great characters,” recalled Des Smyth of those more innocent days when Smith, a former interprovincial tennis player, was a regular on the golf circuit.

“We spent a lot of time together over the years and he was a hell of a character and a great tennis player too.

“When I played my first Ryder Cup in the Greenbrier in 1979, we were free on the Monday and I fancied myself as a bit of a tennis player.

“Of course, I thought it would be no problem to take Colm out. But no, he beat the bejaysus out of me. He had me running around the court. He was great fun and I enjoyed his company for years.”

Eamonn Darcy, Paul McGinley and Pádraig Harrington all look back fondly on those days when ‘Smithy’ roamed the fairways from Rosses Point to Muirfield Village – a fellow sportsman and kindred spirit.

“I was only thinking of Colm the other day and how he was doing,” Darcy said just a few hours after calling time on his 50-year career last weekend.

“How can I describe it? It was a thing of the past, the way things were, dealing with Colm. He was old school. He was the best.”

Harrington went from promising boy to Ryder Cup star under his watch, describing the late scribe as “such a positive influence on my career and a good friend”.

He added: “He will be greatly missed but not forgotten. RIP Smithy.”

For McGinley, he was part of the Irish golfing family that made the good days better and eased the pain on the bad days.

“Colm was just part of that great Irish entourage with Dermot Gilleece and Charlie Mulqueen that covered all the amateur golf when I was coming up,” McGinley said. “Then when we went on tour they would regularly come to events.

“He was always a friendly face, always very fair and good company. We’d see him and his wife Helen too and he was part of the fabric of Irish golf – that bigger Irish family we all benefited from over the years. Colm was part of that.”

The great amateur Mary McKenna said: “He was so much a part of our tournaments. He knew everything about the game and was always a happy face. He was probably there for most of my wins – just a great pal. Every time you’d meet him, you’d just pick up where you left off.

“He was very knowledgeable about the game but there was also lots of banter with all those boys, like Dermot, Charlie and John Redmond and Edmund Van Esbeck. The reporters were so much [part] of our golf back then and made our events feel all the more important, at home or abroad.”

His sense of humour and bonhomie made him popular with his colleagues across the Irish Sea, as the Daily Mail’s former golf correspondent Michael McDonnell – a frequent house guest and regular ‘foe’ in the Golf Writers’ Home Internationals – recalled after Monday’s requiem mass.

“I remember being in Dublin with him once, walking along by the Liffey and saying to him, ‘Which side of the Liffey are we on now Colm?’, to which he replied, ‘Well this side, obviously.’ That’s the kind of guy he was and typical of his dry wit.

“He was always great company and a terrific competitor when it came to playing golf.”

Smith, whose father Billy was the chief reporter for the Irish Independent when he joined the paper in 1958, was the first man the golf writer and golf course designer Pat Ruddy called upon when he dreamt up the Golf Writers’ Home International matches in 1992.

“Colm was one of those men with ink for blood,” Ruddy recalled fondly of a man who would become an eye-witness to so many historic sporting moments, just as his father (a keen member of Clontarf) had chronicled epoch-making events in the history of the State, such as the harnessing of the Shannon at Ardnacrusha or our first tentative strides in civil aviation.

“He was second-generation Independent House and very welcoming to those of us who came from the country but needed marking as he would still seek the scoop from under your nose. Professional!

“He was shy, hidden behind gentle brusque, but gregarious and responsive to a sporting challenge. When I conceived the home internationals for golf writers, he was the first man called because he knew everyone in the profession in the UK and Ireland, having spent many hours on the road and ‘at the bar’ with them.

“His particular pals Michael McDonnell of the Daily Mail and Richard Dodd of the Yorkshire Post, who holidayed in the Smith home very often, were quick to respond to his call and the event took-off in style with flag-raising, the Artane Boy’s band and R&A captain Joe Carr setting hearts thumping at the newly opened St Margaret’s.

“He loved to play golf and was good from a medium handicap, and his choice of fourball partner was Charlie Mulqueen of the Cork Examiner. They became inseparable as they remained undefeated for about a decade and revelled in repeat wins over Dodd and McDonnell as ‘the auld enemy’.

“His most joyous week of golf happened when he and Charlie gained the deciding point for Ireland in the Home Internationals at The European Club despite a mid-round crisis when the pair landed in a water hazard in a golf car!

“When the win was secured there was no time for the modern jump in the lake. No question of spraying the champagne . . . just put the bottles to the head and rejoice.

He was always a friendly face, always very fair. He was part of the fabric of Irish golf.

“He was admirable in every way and not least because of his steadfast devotion to story gathering and telling . . . even staying up until dawn in hotel and clubhouse bars seeking inspiration. He was one of a great generation of hardened newsmen.

“As time went by came the glamour days at British Opens, US Masters and Ryder Cups. But he never forgot his happy start with, for example, many years of attendance at the West of Ireland at Rosses Point.

“With the story filed and after a few drinks with his friends, he would drift into the darkness across the Greenlands towards his wee rented caravan for a short rest before getting back into the middle of the action.

“He’ll be in the action, waiting for his pals, when we follow him out-of-bounds. We will miss him greatly and express sympathy to his family on their loss.”

According to ‘Forgive Us Our Press Passes’, which recounts the history of the Association of Golf Writers, his old headmaster, upon hearing of Colm’s appointment, declared, “lt must be nepotism.” And it was.

“There was no formal training,” Colin recalled in those pages. “Just a five-year apprenticeship learning the trade. It was tough, but it was thorough. Not a bit of glamour.

“You were glad to get out of the office even if it was to cover the dog racing and then pick up the table tennis or badminton results later, but l graduated to higher-profile sports like currach racing in Galway Bay and lacrosse in Alexandra College.”

When he protested that he knew nothing about these sports, he was told: “Just ask. You’ll learn.”

Rugby was another great love and he never forgot how the Lions beat the Springboks in the 1974 series in South Africa, where the celebrations (as much as the rugby itself ) were to become the stuff of legend.

He recalled later how the noise from the celebration party reached such a deafening height, the hotel manager warned that he was bringing in the police:

“Willie John McBride, the massive Lions captain asked him, ‘Excuse me, sir, how many will there be?’ The manager stared for a moment, then burst out laughing. So did the Big Man.”

That trip to South Africa took place at the height of apartheid and it left its mark on Smithy, who arranged with Fergus Slattery to take a clandestine tour of the townships in a taxi.

“The segregation he saw shocked him an affected him deeply,” his friend Fr David Tuohy told the congregation at his funeral on Monday.

“A number of years later he was asked to speak at an ecumenical service for sports people at St Patrick’s Cathedral. His address included a moving account of that secret tour and his reaction to it.

“When he told me this story – indeed, every time he told me this story – he would then turn to me with that twinkle in his eye and say, ‘David, have you ever preached at St Patrick’s Cathedral?’

“Behind that gentle piece of gamesmanship, Colm was happy to have done some political journalism and built awareness of a serious injustice.”

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Colm Smith was born on 13th July, 1940 and sadly passed away on 30th November, 2018.  His life was celebrated on 3rd December with his family and so many of his friends and former Association of Golf Writers (AGW) and newspaper colleagues present at the Church of the Holy Cross, Dundrum, Dublin.

Colm joined the AGW in 1971 and was an extremely proud member for just short of 50-years.

A very considerable number of Association of Golf Writers members paid tribute to Colm and they have been led by past AGW Chairman who served the Assoication while Colm was a member.

Mike McDonnell (Chairman 1978-82 and 1992-95)

I knew Colm for over 50 years as a colleague and a family friend.

I proposed him  for AGW membership and he was largely instrumental in establishing our Home Internationals.

He had an  impish sense of humour. Once when we were in O’Connell Street , Dublin, I asked: “Which side of the River Liffey are we on”? He replied: “This side.” Very droll. He had a great and enduring rapporte with Irish golfers at all levels. But above all, he was good company.

After one boisterous evening in Dublin – where else?- I asked:” What time did  we turn in last night?” He thought for a moment:” About half past” Pause: “But it could have been a quarter to!” I remember him and smile.

Thanks for that and the memories big man. 

Renton Laidlaw (Chairman 1995-98; President 2004-2015; Secretary 1978-1995;)

Colm Smith will be badly missed.  He loved his job covering golf but enjoyed playing it much more. He may not have played off scratch but he was a single figure man at the bar where he enjoyed a pint or two with the lads and always drank responsibly. He was fun to be with. He was always the same. You could depend on him.

Colm’s love of life was infectious and we who knew and worked with him all benefitted from his Irish charm. Others knew him rather better than I did but I always knew him as one of the good guys.

I am happy our paths crossed from time to time in a work capacity as well as on social occasions. He was honest, reliable and above all hugely agreeable and always amiable. He was a true ambassador for the Association and for the game of golf.

Thank you, Colm.

John Hopkins (Chairman 1998-2007)

I knew of Colm before I knew him. I was aware he had covered the all-conquering 1974 Lions tour of South Africa with Terry O’Connor of the Daily Mail, Chris Lander, the Mirror, and John Reason, Daily Telegraph among others.

When Colm and I got to know one another, which would have been after the autumn of 1980 when I switched from writing about rugby to covering golf, he and I had numerous conversations about rugby in general and that tour in particular. I sensed that that tour was something of a milestone in his journalistic life and that he loved rugby as much if not more than golf, though I may be wrong.

We had conversations about many other things, too, because you just did with Colm. You weren’t always sure what the conversations were about when you tried to remember them afterwards. Indeed, you often were not sure what they were about when they were going on.

He was very keen on the Association of Golf Writers, proud of its history and its achievements for its members. If he took me to task once with the words “Hoppy, I’m very disappointed in you” because he perceived I, as chairman, had failed to do something, the right thing, for the AGW then he did so many times. He was particularly keen that the AGW badge should not be diminished in importance.

One other Colm Smith idiosyncrasy has stayed with me. When you asked him what time he had gone to bed the night before, a perfectly normal question of a very sociable man last seen with a drink in his hands in the early hours of a morning, any morning, he had a standard reply.

“Half past” he would say, looking you in the eye.

“Half past what Colm?”

“Half past.”

Bill Elliott  (Chairman 2010-13)

SO sad to learn of dear Colm’s death and perhaps even sadder to know that the last few years have been such a trial for him and for those who loved him. He was, as everyone who knows him already realises, a larger than life character, a seeker after fun and diversion, a sensitive friend and an outstanding journalist whose devotion to, and knowledge of, the game of golf and particularly Irish golf had few, if any, peers.

He and his wife Helen – an outstanding, international class sportswoman herself as well as a charming and witty companion over so many years – have both now been taken from us far too soon. The warm memories linger on however.

Colm, occasionally incomprehensible in sobriety, was totally incomprehensible to me when a few drinks had been taken but, for one reason or another, we rarely stopped laughing.

May he rest in peace, hopefully in the caring company of Helen. My condolences to all his family and many, many friends.


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