Who‚??s had Bushmills on their porridge before? ¬†Well, if you haven‚??t, you should have. ¬†With cream, honey and a little brown sugar. ¬†Can‚??t promise it‚??ll help your golf, but it‚??ll certainly get your day off to a very delectable start indeed. ¬†And possibly help clog your arteries a little further. ¬†Y‚??er man Tom Cotter from Hastings Hotels (which owns the Slieve Donard in Newcastle) contacted us a week or two ago, asking whether we needed a place to stay while we were in Newcastle (suspecting that Royal County Down might feature in our plans). ¬†The toss up between The Tank and The Slieve wasn‚??t a tough one, to be honest. ¬†Luxury it was then.
The man himself, a real gentleman, met us downstairs for breakfast / a Tremendous Feast. ¬†Bushmills porridge may have been the signature dish as far as I‚??m concerned, but the buffet spread was in a micro sense life changing. ¬†Soda bread and potato bread and bacon and sausages and eggs and black pudding and cereal and toast and muffins and berries and...well, everything. ¬†Not only was the food Top Drawer, but there had been a wedding on, so there were a dozen good looking women dressed in their Sunday Best in the dining room too. ¬†Day 240 had started well. ¬†
We had our photo taken out front, then I headed along the promenade for a stroll. ¬†In this turbulent part of the world I wasn‚??t sure how long the sun would be out. ¬†Sure enough it was brisk ‚?? the wind biting through my jersey ‚?? but scores of folk were out in form, some no doubt thrilled to be out in the fresh air to ponder the lessons they‚??d learned in church. ¬†On the way ‚??out‚?Ě you marvel at the Mourne Mountains rising up above you. ¬†On the way back ‚??in‚?Ě it‚??s The Slieve sitting regally just off the beach that catches your gaze, as if it were guarding that famed links next door. ¬†A nourishing, restorative walk; and a necessary one too, after all the calories I‚??d ingested at breakfast.
Anyway it wasn‚??t RCD today, but Ardglass ‚?? a links 40 minutes up the road that we didn‚??t know much about. ¬†Ardglass itself is a bonnie wee village, and an ancient one at that. ¬†Parts of the former Manse which is now used by the Golf Club as its clubhouse date back to the 13th century. ¬†Perched on the links not 20 yards from the black rocks it‚??s a very impressive sight. ¬†With flags and canons and ruins you might be forgiven for thinking you‚??re at a medieval tourist attraction, not a golf club.
The acting general manager, Brian McMullen, and Vice Captain, Cormac MacMullan, met us for a jar of the black stuff. ¬†Two very affable fellows they were too, bursting with enthusiasm about their club‚??s heritage and very open about how it was faring in the current climate. ¬†It seems to be in good order. ¬†Certainly the busy bar upstairs was a good sign. ¬†We couldn‚??t resist the temptation to sit out on the terrace, which had views through the trellises across the Irish Sea and down to the 1st and 18th holes below. ¬†From here you can see the hair raising Championship Tee, which they only use when the wind‚??s not blowing (for obvious reasons) - see below.
After being taken on a very illuminating Tiki Tour of the clubhouse and surrounding ruins we were led to the 1st tee to meet our playing partners ‚?? Joan and Dave, a lovely couple from near Manchester. ¬†Joan was originally from this neck of the woods, but like so many left for University never to return. ¬†With their 17 year old daughter having taken off to Hong Kong to see a friend, Joan and Dave snatched the opportunity to sneak across the water for a spot of golf. ¬†They play on a parkland course back home, so Ardglass was always going to be something a bit different; in wind like this however, it was a completely different game. ¬†Nigh on gale conditions. ¬†
Your first shot is an incredibly daunting one. ¬†There are sheer rock faces at the end of a not insignificant carry, and if you go left you‚??re on the rocks. ¬†Wind howling; effects of the black stuff not quite having worn off; VC & GM watching intently ‚?? not a great time to thin shank one. ¬†Which is what we both did. ¬†Oh dear. ¬†The only thing I could do for my 2nd was hit a 5 yard pitch straight sideways, over the corner of said rock face (I was sitting right underneath it). ¬†It didn‚??t get any easier from there either. ¬†Hitting the small elongated green was an improbable proposition to say the least, with the wind howling from our backs and the greens running rapidly. ¬†Thanks to the unintended intervention of a few mounds around the green my ball somehow came to rest on the dance floor ‚?? Hooray ‚?? but inevitably a 3 putt from 25 feet followed and the round was off to a wonderful start. ¬†Mmmmm. ¬†Joan with her Tom Watson-like Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong swing looked, on the contrary, to be in full control of things. ¬†
To say that the experience was getting off to an invigorating start wouldn‚??t quite cover it. ¬†Atop the hill by now, looking down over a few keen locals doing a bit of fishing, we were getting blown sideways. ¬†The sun too was blazing, but the warmth of its rays had lost the fight with the biting chill of the breeze. ¬†I felt alive.
The opening holes really are spectacular stuff, as you play out towards The Mourne Mountains. ¬†All the while those rocks sit menacingly down to your left, the wind doing its level best to guide your ball in their direction. ¬†Distance may not have been a problem on these holes (we were nearly driving the par 4s), but stopping your pitches was. ¬†Some shrewd greenside bunkering most definitely put pressure on the shotmaking department (which in my case, like the banks, seemed to have closed for the weekend). ¬†However the greens, once you got the speed of them, were a true pleasure to putt on. ¬†Given the elements they‚??re exposed to the greenkeepers do a magnificent job.
Some rustic character really started to emerge when we got to the par 3 7th. ¬†It‚??s a fairly straightforward downhill job, about 210 yards or so. ¬†You play straight out towards the sea, with gorse lurking immediately behind the putting surface (very much in play down wind). ¬†What makes the hole unique though is the little white cottage perched adjacent to the green on the right. ¬†I made full use of the backstop and pinged my 7 iron straight into the wall on the near side, leaving me a relatively flat putt straight across the green! ¬†
Once you reach the 10th tee the lovely little village of Coney Island (from which the district of New York must take its name) reveals itself before you. ¬†From the elevated tee (it‚??s another downhill par 3) your eyes are drawn immediately to the white paint of the village, its striking little harbour and, of course, to the Mournes in the background. ¬†What a view. ¬†The next few holes play along the rocks (this time they‚??re on the right) in very linksy fashion. ¬†Hair raising stuff they are too (a short par 5 and a(nother) downhill par 3). ¬†
With very few birdies rolling in we were moved almost to forget about the golf altogether, and just enjoy the walk / company. ¬†Joan and Dave were great craic, a real pleasure to play with. ¬†Down to earth, lovely people ‚?? we may be going to visit them in a few weeks‚?? time when we cross the Irish Sea. ¬†The four of us sat in the bar afterwards and watched Monty announce his picks for The Ryder Cup team (my prediction was horribly wrong). ¬†They very kindly treated us to the famous fish and chips too, which ‚?? as Cormac had pronounced earlier in the day ‚?? was big enough to choke a donkey. ¬†The fish was straddled over both ends of my dinner plate; more a small whale than a fish.
Replete, somewhat jaded after our adventure and satisfied, we toddled off back down the road to The Slieve, to get some R&R. ¬†Instead of making use of the lovely spa facilities I caught up with a friend of a friend for a drink down in the town, a very likeable local girl by the name of Katie. ¬†It soon became too difficult to hear each other though because Every Man And His Dog descended upon Quinn‚??s, Co. Down having won their semi final against Kildare in the Gaelic. ¬†A quiet Sunday evening atmosphere soon turned into Friday night disco. ¬†Old, young, big, small ‚?? they were all up on the dance floor, celebrating with gusto. ¬†Quite a spectacle, believe me.
I retired to The Slieve content in the knowledge that in the morning I was playing my most anticipated game of golf of the year, at Royal County Down. ¬†To mark this special occasion I even cleaned my clubs!
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