I‚??m about to tell you that Portmarnock took us quite unawares, as an impeccable example of links golf. ¬†Now, before you erupt into a rowdy chorus (‚??What? ¬†Wake up and smell the coffee you nitwits...‚?Ě), allow me to explain myself. ¬†If you please. ¬†With all the carry on that‚??s been going on ‚?? with Gretta The Great holding the reins of the puregolf2010 gypsy caravan and, more recently, The Parents Goldstein coming along for the ride too ‚?? any sense of ‚??normality‚?Ě (ha!) has disappeared without trace. ¬†It‚??s been like a rowdy courtroom sans gabble pounding judge. ¬†Order! ¬†Order! is what‚??s been missing. ¬†And so, forgive me Father, I‚??ve not had the presence of mind to mentally prepare myself. ¬†Hell I‚??d hardly realised we were playing Portmarnock until The Morning Of. ¬†Anyway. ¬†Excuses aside.
The salient point is that: Portmarnock Is Pure And Utter Class And Quite Scottish In Character (the latter being a compliment in and of itself, coming from a Scot). ¬†But before I launch into a flowery fairytale of the wonders of this little peninsula of golf wonderland, I‚??d like to introduce a couple of new friends of mine ‚?? a Kiwi and and Englishman, no less ‚?? who were gracious enough to invite me into their house for a couple of nights, which happens to overlook the course and surrounding harbour. ¬†Paula and Peter, they be named. ¬†Paula hails from the Bay of Plenty region back in Aotearoa, and moved here fresh out of school like many a Kee Wee before her. ¬†She‚??s made a very successful go of it as a property & financial consultant, and Peter (auf Somerset) has recently joined her in business. ¬†They make quite a pair.
After the chaotic day that was Baltray (burst tyres, darkness and the like), I turned up at their door looking dishevelled and weary. ¬†And I was late. ¬†Like foster parents they took me in, gave me supper and we all sat putting the world to rest in their living room for a good while. ¬†I felt like Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables when he was staying with the Bishop (although y‚??all will be glad to hear I didn‚??t steal any candlesticks). ¬†There was something comforting about Paula‚??s Kiwi accent, and that of her mother Annalise‚??s (who‚??s moved over to spend time with the grandchildren while they‚??re still young). ¬†A little slice of Nu Zillin in suburban north Dublin, of all places. ¬†Not being an authentic true blue Nu Zilliner I felt a little fraudulent, at first, but once we started sharing favourite cafes in Wellington and the like any apprehensions faded. ¬†
Mike had gone to stay in central Dublin with his posse but came to pick me up at sparrow‚??s. ¬†Paula set out a mouthwatering breakfast that thankfully didn‚??t involve any bacon, eggs or black pudding (though delicious, they‚??ve taken their toll in Ireland). ¬†And we were in the wind, some 2 kilometres or so to Portmarnock. ¬†The suburb itself is a quaint wee one. ¬†I know this because we missed the turn off to the golf course and ended up trawling up and down the main street for the right road. ¬†I‚??ve mentioned before on this blog how the Irish don‚??t like to give tourists too many clues ‚?? of course, the locals know where they‚??re going, so don‚??t need sign posts... ¬†Anyway, we got there. ¬†
Portmarnock has the only security gate we‚??ve come across in Ireland. ¬†I was having flashbacks to the gated communities of the US, to turning up in Dodgy when all y‚??er man usually sees is the latest Mercedes, BMW or Bentley. ¬†This time we were in a slick unit ‚?? The Tank ‚?? so there was no Pretty Woman On Rodeo Drive moment. ¬†Yes folks, we were in our element.
As we hit a couple of practice putts a battalion of Americans tumbled out of a ‚??Paddy‚??s Tours‚?Ě bus. ¬†Loathe to get stuck behind their number we hurried across to The Starter and politely enquired whether we might get on our way. ¬†‚??On you go boys‚?Ě. ¬†Good. ¬†
Out of Bounds all the way along the right, marked by a million white posts. ¬†It looked like the Arlington Cemetery of golf. ¬†As if the huge big estuary itself wasn‚??t enough to draw our attention to Trouble. ¬†Needless to say I pinged an ugly little punch draw 2 iron down the left, perilously close to a sadistic miscreant of a pot bunker. ¬†A few vistas at Portmarnock will do that to you...
There‚??s a wonderfully spartan, almost pared back feel to the place. ¬†Under a sky a thousand shades of grey the miniature pots looked raw. ¬†And some of them are quite miniature ‚?? take this couple that line the right hand side of the 2nd fairway (a short par 4 where the play is a long iron down the right, opening up the green). ¬†Further below is a row of the little blighters lining the entrance to the par 5 13th green. ¬†Almost Pine Valley-esque in their character. ¬†
I loved the simplicity of the 3rd hole, a short dogleg left playing around the contours of the marshland (again, marked by a sea of white pegs). ¬†No fairway bunkers; just a fairway turning smoothly away from the eye, eventually to a lovely green complex (pictured below). ¬†Here you see the variation of Portmarnock‚??s bunkering: the Tillinghast-like coffin bunker (cut a good few yards short of the surface) foiling the runner shot coming from the right, and the mineshaft-like pot guarding the left. ¬†Right and long is a generous apron, giving you a bail out area. ¬†The green itself was subtle although not flat. ¬†A tremendous hole.
By the time we reached the stroke index 1 4th hole, the morning light was quite brilliant. ¬†Contrasts abound. ¬†While the light danced across the fairways it avoided the deep pots, giving them a yet more sinister quality. ¬†Certainly a hole you want to hit a good tee shot on. ¬†The view also evoked nostalgia for my home course, Paraparaumu Beach ‚?? with the odd pine tree not really in play but making its presence known nonetheless.
It was a shame we played through a group so hurriedly on the 5th, because we ended up missing what is a crafty and enjoyable hole. ¬†The tee shot is the only blind shot on the course. ¬†Lamentably their caddie stood on the hill and marked our line, but gave us the wrong one! ¬†Both balls sailed just over his head, or slightly left, but in the event straight into the thick bracken lining the left hand side of the hole. ¬†It‚??s unfortunate to have to look for balls as you‚??re playing through...especially when the group you‚??re playing through are all sitting pretty in the middle of the fairway (albeit a wee way back).
Some of the holes at Portmarnock provide graphic illustration of why holes don‚??t need to be long to be hard. ¬†Take the perilous 8th. ¬†You tee off slightly uphill to a fairway that dodges left to avoid gorse. ¬†It‚??s the second shot however that presents the real test. ¬†With a mid- to short iron in hand you‚??re required to land the ball on a dime in order to avoid the Deep pot bunker guarding the front left and the Dornoch-like run-off to the right. ¬†Even once you‚??re on the dance floor, it has a marked pitch from back to front, so putting from behind the pin is no easy 2 putt. ¬†Great little hole. ¬†The 10th is similar (this time a dogleg to the right following a blind tee shot). ¬†And, if you ask me, even better.
Best par 3 on the course would have to be the 12th ‚?? about 140 yards or so to a green that looks impossible to hold. ¬†Michael felt that apart from this one, they were a little weak. ¬†I‚??m not so sure myself ‚?? the 15th too was a grand little hole possessed of the capacity to drive one mad. ¬†See for yourself.
14 would have to go down as one of the better par 4s in Ireland. ¬†It‚??s stroke index 2 and, I imagine, is just as hard down wind as it is with a helping breeze. ¬†The trio of pots you see in the foreground below are cut at about 240-260 (or thereabouts), so low handicappers can take it past them comfortably particularly if the wind is behind. ¬†Through the eye of the needle. ¬†However. ¬†I had something like 60 yards in after one of my better 3 woods off the tee ‚?? but a trickier 60 yard pitch you‚??ll do well to find. ¬†The green has sharp contours and a severe run-off to the left (which is invisible from down below). ¬†If you get your par here run for the hills.
18 was a grand finishing hole and one befitting of such a great course. ¬†The tee shot is daunting enough, the clubhouse revealing a bit of skirt in the background. ¬†As you round the corner onto the home stretch a sea of red and white opens up in full splendour ‚?? but then you have to concentrate on what is a demanding final blow. ¬†Big green, big pots. ¬†(I ended up in the one front left, Mike in the one front right!). ¬†Just a gorgeous picture though, more than anything. ¬†Walking off the green you feel like you‚??ve just played one of the great links. ¬†You have.
We had a good chat with Jeff Fallon ‚?? who deals with Reservations at the club ‚?? afterwards, and he very kindly furnished us with a book on the club‚??s history. ¬†I haven‚??t read it yet given our time in and around Dublin has been a manic one, but look forward to doing so...ummmm...next year. ¬†Thanks Jeff!
Being such a nice morning by this point ‚?? we were back at base camp Paula and Peter by 11ish ‚?? I decided it was high time I went for a run. ¬†The last time I pounded the pavements, I must confess, was on our last day in the US ‚?? on 12 July!!! ¬†What a lazy sod. ¬†Peter lent me a pair of his old trainers and I was off into the wind. ¬†Instead of running through the plush woodlands of Long Island, past multi-million dollar mega mansions, I was passing through the coastal villages of suburban north Dublin. ¬†Equally lovely were Sutton and Howth, where you‚??ll a vibrant harbour lined with upmarket cafes. ¬†¬†From the pier there‚??s a great view back down the harbour and all the way to Portmarnock. ¬†By the time I got back within sight of the house Peter was 50 yards from the driveway. ¬†So I raced him. ¬†Unfortunately the legs weren‚??t a hundy at this point and he pipped me to the finish. ¬†A younger, fitter JP might‚??ve had a different result.
In the evening we had a good old Kiwi BBQ under evening (ahem) sun (the type of sun that doesn‚??t radiate any heat). ¬†Very relaxing stuff. ¬†A huge thank you to Paula and Peter for your wonderful hospitality. ¬†Friends ‚?? if you‚??re ever over in Matarangi in years to come, look out for the cookery school / caf√© that Paula‚??s planning to open up!
Baltray ‚?? or County Louth Golf Club, to give it its proper name ‚?? has long been a place with which I‚??ve had a fascination. ¬†That fascination stems from a story my father‚??s told on one or two occasions, dating back some years to a trip he and mum did around The Emerald Isle. ¬†First of all, he raves about the course. ¬†But that‚??s not overly interesting in the scheme of things. ¬†It was the fact that the pair of them got locked inside the clubhouse overnight and couldn‚??t get out that stuck in my mind. ¬†Baltray has one of the last remaining clubhouses in Ireland at which you can spend the night ‚?? they have 12 bedrooms upstairs, much like Victoria GC in Melbourne.
The club sits at the mouth of the River Boyne, 4 miles down the road from Drogheda. ¬†It shouldn‚??t be a hard place to get to, but Michael and father Jeff (‚??fresh‚?Ě off a direct flight from Nu Zillin) managed to have something of a mozza en route. ¬†First, they ended up overshooting the turn off on the motorway. ¬†No problem, really, other than we were a little pressed for time given daylight was evaporating and we were playing at the end of the field. ¬†Second, a tyre blew. ¬†Badly. ¬†Fortunately no one was hurt, and Michael was able to veer off to the side of the road safely ‚?? but obviously a bit inconvenient. ¬†Thank Goodness Jeffrey was there to change the tyre ‚?? neither Mike nor I would have the foggiest about how to do so. ¬†Mechanically inept to say the least.
All the while, I was standing in the pro shop with Paddy watching Manchester United swindle a victory from poor Liverpool, then Down taking an early lead against Cork in The All Ireland Football Final at Croke Park. ¬†(I‚??d zipped up the road earlier with Carmel Cahill, with whom I‚??d been staying; Carmel being the lovely lady who‚??s taken custody of our old holiday home up in Portnoo...). ¬†Carmel was diligently practising her putting while all the calamity was unfolding. ¬†Paddy being the good natured soul that he is put us all at ease, and offered up a cart in case we needed one to zip round. ¬†Our 3.30pm tee time would be pushed back to after 4...cutting it fine.
Eventually the Goldstein boys arrived, Jeff with oily hands and Michael with a harrowed look on his dial. ¬†In the melee we did the introductions and moved swiftly towards the first tee. ¬†Our four, however, became five ‚?? when Aidan, a local just back from a weekend‚??s golf up in Donegal (at Narin & Portnoo and Rosapenna, no less!), decided he‚??d come down to show us around. ¬†A gentleman. ¬†He heaved our clubs onto the back of the buggy and zipped from player to player as we marched down each hole. ¬†It would‚??ve looked rather curious to the fly on the wall, but apparently this is how he and his mates do their golf.
The balls deemed that Carmel and I would take on The Gentlemen Goldstein. ¬†Luckily for me, Carmel is a demon putter and a quite brilliant ball striker to boot. ¬†There had been hints from various people that Carmel was a bit of a player, but even they couldn‚??t have prepared us this dazzling display up ahead from the red markers. ¬†Dare I say it, a competitive streak was also evident ‚?? I wouldn‚??t have liked to come across Mrs. Cahill on the squash court, another battleground where she has inflicted damage on opponents over the years (at a high level too).
There‚??s something quite charming about Baltray. ¬†It‚??s not a course that kicks you in the nether regions then laughs unceremoniously. ¬†Rather it invites you to play your shots and, if you play a bad one, it‚??ll turn away to hide its grin. ¬†A good natured, polite golf course.
Mind you, there‚??s nothing good natured about the bracken that lines many a fairway. ¬†I was taken back to our day at Glasgow Gailes ‚?? some 55 days ago ‚?? which I would say is of a similar character. ¬†Easy enough if you keep it straight (not being too long), but nigh on tyrannical if you stray far enough. ¬†The kind of course that‚??s great fun to play, because you‚??ve only yourself to blame if you get in strife, and if you don‚??t you feel in total command.
Grey skies loomed large as the round progressed. ¬†As Aidan‚??s predictions got more apocalyptic ‚?? he had a penchant for making each hole sound much harder than it was, probably because his handicap isn‚??t what you might call proximate to scratch ‚?? the cumulus gathered in numbers. ¬†Darkness wasn‚??t far away. ¬†The atmosphere was intensifying. ¬†Would we be running around under the night sky with standard issue puregolf2010 night vision goggles on?
More or less, yes. ¬†Here are a few snaps we took along the back nine ‚?? some with a flash, some without (it‚??ll be obvious which are which). ¬†
My Partner, the star of the show, held her nerve on the long par 3 17th to knock a 4 footer in for the match. ¬†2 and 1 it finished, Team Goldstein looking dejected as a pair of wet hens. ¬†Buzzing with the contentedness of victory, Carmel very nearly managed a birdie up the last too ‚?? no gimme par 5; one of the more majestic finishing holes we‚??ve seen in Ireland.
Paddy who‚??d so kindly looked after us had gone for his dinner, so I didn‚??t get the chance to thank him in person. ¬†Email will have to do for the moment, until my next visit ‚?? which will be a much anticipated one! ¬†Smashing spot.
As many of you are aware there is a considerable amount of organisation or administration behind the scenes to ensure we have golf arranged every day.¬† That said our meticulous planning at the beginning of the year has given way to a more care-free-go-with-the-wind approach.¬† It has got to the stage that as I write this we have nowhere to play tomorrow (after the Belfry today).
In Ireland I took the reigns in organising the itinerary.¬† Life was helped by the good folk at Failte Ireland hooking us up with a few B&B vouchers but 27 days of golf were to be arranged.¬† About half of these were arranged prior to arrival after a number of letters were sent to club secretaries.¬† Half of the courses were ‚??TBC‚?Ě.
This is where, what I now call, our fairy godmothers come into the picture.¬† Three different folk in Ireland helped us out immeasurably through calling on their contacts to help out the kiwi boys.¬† Without them our Irish leg wouldn‚??t have been what it was.
The first such soul was Kevin Markham ‚?? the chap we played with yesterday at Druids Glen. ¬†For example an email came through from Kevin one day late in our Scottish leg with tee times at about 7 Irish courses.¬†¬† When it came up on the iPhone whilst driving along JP and I still shake our head with disbelief.
The second lad was Tom Cotter from the Slieve Donard who not only put us up there but put us in touch with plenty other folk around ‚?? including the gregarious Aine (Onya) Morgan who, today we met and thanked her for putting us up at Carton House.¬† Now I‚??d give you a huge spiel on Carton House but I am under orders from Bart to keep the blogs short.¬†
Carton House was quality, deluxe 4 star lodge 20 minutes out of Dublin.¬† It is luxury. And there are some amazingly cheap deals there for weekends away which surprised me.¬† We bumped into a group of about 25 guys across from London for a boys weekend ‚?? half of which are from NZ (one said he‚??d email me about getting him and his lads out to join us for a game in London and I haven‚??t heard back so mate pull your finger out and flick me an email!).
Back to Carton House.¬† If you can rewind back one dastardly blog post and recall poor Gretta hanging out in golf clubhouses feeling sorry for herself after too much Guinness? Well that feeling was fixed by the tonic that is Carton House.¬† The biggest (and most comfortable) bed you‚??ve ever seen.¬† A bottle of wine on arrival and a plush spa facility and I was back in the good books.
We met Aine in the morning to say a huge thank you, for a tour of the property and a spot of lunch (after a breakfast that Gretta could write an entire blog post about) and then it was time for the golf of the day at the jewel in the Carton House golfing crown ‚?? the Montgomerie course.
This is where the third fairy godmother comes into this blog post - and he‚??ll be particularly scathing at me calling him both a fairy and a ‚??mother‚?? ‚?? but Eamonn Kinelly thanks a million mate!¬† Eamonn works for a company called Golf Vacations Ireland so has a few contacts in and around the world of golf from helping punters like us travel around Ireland golfing and enjoying the fantastic culture here.
Eamonn and I took on Jamie and Ruaridh ‚?? Eamonn‚??s son in a best ball match.¬† The weather was poor and I‚??d say that normally we‚??d all be fair weather golfers enjoying the comfort of the warm clubhouse.¬† But we zipped around in GPS fitted carts having a crack at this Colin Montgomerie lay out from the back tees.¬† The course would be described as an inland links course with huge pot bunkers (each about 3 times the size of the gems you find on the more traditional links courses) widish fairways and exposed greens.¬† With the wind and rain it was a real test and despite some fine golf being played the scoring was well above our handicaps.
Despite the conditions the match was a well-fought one.¬† And it came down to this ‚?? this story is for you John an avid follower of the blog from the famous course in Aussie called Kingston Heath.¬† All-Square on the last (a short par four actually the 13th hole after we started on 14 so as to get a clear run at the course).¬† Jamie standing over a birdie putt, Eamonn in the bunker for 2 ‚?? with a shot.¬† Eamonn knocks it just out of the bunker in the collar.¬† JP misses his birdie putt.¬† So Eamonn, needs to sink his putt to win the match and 2 putt for a half leaves it 10 feet short! I look on in disbelief.¬†¬† But never to fear we collectively line up the putt and agree on a line a cup outside the left.¬† A downhill sliding left to right ‚?? the hardest putt in golf ‚?? to halve this epic battle.¬†¬† Now with all respect to Eamonn, I did not expect him to ever give this putt enough borrow ‚?? and I¬† was resigned to yet another best ball defeat.¬† But then something marvelous happened.¬† Without a bit of hesitation yer man hit the perfect putt which took the borrow and rolled right into the hole. Match halved.
That golfing interlude done we went inside for a Guinness with a couple of random lads Declan and Gavin who‚??d been following the blog and saw we were playing here today and popped around the corner for a chat and a beer. Very random but also very cool and these were more top blokes - it pretty much sums up Ireland.¬†¬†
To sum up the evening we went out in a place called Lexlip to the pub which was the home of Guinness ‚?? where Arthur Guinness originally started brewing the stuff before he purchased the now famous brewery in the middle of Dublin.¬† Good chance to chat with Eamonn without the wind and rain hurtling at us! Thanks to everyone involved in another cracker of a puregolfing day.
Day 259‚?¶ 106 to go and this was a day where it felt like the countdown was on.
We need to put this day in context of the night before - a night out with Mr Sweeney (aka Chief champ boss captain skipper). ¬†My body did not approve of such shenanigans and threw a biological wobbly on me at around 11pm resulting in an early nights sleep.¬† Gutted and not the opportune time to fall ill with Gret across.¬† Didn‚??t stop her and Jamie from showing more fortitude and making the most of the Kilkenny nightlife.
So the car ride from Kilkenny to Druids Glen was always going to be a tough one.¬†¬† JP and Gretta, goblins in the front in the kind of mood where crazy schemes such as playing golf every day are dreamed up, and me in the back seat, in a womb of luggage and feeling queasy.¬†¬† We got rolling around and around the streets of Kilkenny trying to find a way to escape this city (smallest city in Europe in fact as it is where the parliament of Ireland used to sit) only to look towards the dash and a complete lack of petrol in the car. ¬†After a few kilometers we made it to the motorway not a petrol station in sight and wondering whether we were going to keep rolling.¬† After 10 minutes of all of us holding our breath we exited off the motorway and winded our way through a couple of small country towns.¬† The first had a petrol station that had been closed down and replaced by a second hand car yard‚?¶ Just our luck.¬† The second station looked promising and the gas was even being sold at a good price so we took a collective sigh of relief and pulled in.¬† Only for the power to be out and all petrol sales had been ceased for the foreseeable future.¬† Only in Ireland.¬† We hit the road again, rolling the 8km or so down the road to the next station almost waiting for the Tank to die.¬† But the excitement of this episode ends there as we made it, filled the car up and went on our way.
A phone call to our destination at Druids Glen followed alerting them to our issues.¬† They said not to worry and the pro said we should have an Estimated Time of Arrival of T + 70 minutes.¬†¬† Some 80 minutes later we pulled into Wicklow, stomach churning with a mixture of hunger and the remnants of whatever had poisoned my system the night before.¬† At this stage we turned right, weaved through the village amidst delays by heavy congestion in the wee township.¬† After ten minutes or so I looked out and saw a road sign directing us to various golf courses in the area.¬† No road sign mentioned Druids Glen.¬†¬† The maps were rechecked and the car was swiftly redirected some 180 degrees back traveling north, weaving through the village again amidst delays by heavy congestion in the wee township.¬† Over 3 hours after our initial departure at Kilkenny we pulled into Druids Glen approximately one hour late for our tee time (amidst a busy tee sheet). ¬†¬†Our 110pm slot became 220pm and like that we were off. ¬†The worst travel debacle of the year.
At Druids Glen we were joined by Kevin Markham who has an interesting story.¬† Kevin pinned his ears back and played every single golf course in Ireland (bar one miserable farmyard course which told him to sod off) over 2008 and 2009, traveling the country in a campervan and writing a review of each course after he played it.¬† He writes a golf blog (that has a recount of our day on it) that has morphed recently into a golf book called Hooked on Golf.¬† Over the last few days I‚??ve been flicking through Hooked on Golf reading a few of Kevin‚??s reviews.¬† After ‚??only‚?? playing 27 courses in Ireland we‚??ve experienced just a small snippet of Irish golf but when I‚??m back for more golf over here in the Emerald Isle it‚??ll be a great point of reference.¬† If you‚??re traveling to Ireland to play golf and want to get off the beaten track it‚??s a must read! ¬†Kevin is in the business of ranking golf courses which is a difficult task to undertake. He uses a formula to give each course a number out of 100.¬† The top ranked course in his book in Ireland is Rosses Point at Sligo coming in with 95 points.¬† Whilst we at puregolf2010 are not here to rank or rate golf courses on a daily basis ‚?? just enjoy the craic and share our experiences, Kevin has goaded me on his blog to share my thoughts on Mt Juliet & Druids Glen.¬† Despite my fatigue, poor golf and completely exhausted state, I thought Druids Glen was a good notch or two up the league tables.¬† Asides from getting a warm welcome and being very accommodating (Side note: Druids Glen had a full tee sheet and still let us play ‚?? Mt Juliet‚??s ‚??sorry we have a full tee sheet‚?? was more of a euphemism for an empty car park with a sign saying no kiwis allowed) the golf course was quality. ¬†The greens were pure and the design varied. ¬†The conditioning made the greens a real test as subtle slopes made getting the ball within ‚??gimme‚?? range very difficult.¬† There were a mixture of holes from short par fours to the tough as nails par four 13th which I made a complete meal of going in the water right, then bushes left only to take a triple bogey ‚?? as Kevin has descried on his blog! ¬†The poor form on the golf course in Ireland continues.¬† This fine day, on this fine golf course ¬†I could barely muster the strength to swing the club.¬† Out in plenty a long day was in store but a couple of snickers bars and some water at half way and the wheels stayed on.¬† Just.¬† Gretta retired to the clubhouse after 9 after watching enough of the struggle..
[tee shot on the par four 13th]
[second shot on the 13th]
[looking back down the 13th. Glad to be finished with this beast of a hole]
Kevin was very good company and we could have talked golf for hours and hours.¬† I asked him the question we are continually being asked ‚?? what do you do once you‚??ve finished such an undertaking? All the courses in Wales perhaps?¬† It was also very interesting to hear how his book moved through the phases to become published.¬† Jamie and I are planning a book to come out early next year but we are still very much open to suggestions about how we progress this.¬†¬† Kevin (pictured amongst us mugs below) is not only a good chap but he plays a fine game as well off around a 6 so he sees a golf course from a varied perspective.¬† A golf course is not just for pro‚??s ‚?? it must be playable for golfers of all levels and so I think it‚??s a good starting point to go and rank courses.
Anyway we got around Druids Glen, enjoyed it, and then hit the road to Carton House where we‚??d all been kindly put up in this luxury pad.¬† Back in the good books with Gretta after she had a fairly ordinary couple of hours in the clubhouse.¬† Details of Carton House to follow tomorrow ‚?? stay tuned! ¬†[Some pictures of the beauty that is Druids Glen are below]
[the par three 2nd hole. ¬†See the old stone wall behind the green - features of the old estate like this remain around the course]
[the par three 6th hole across the pond]
a swing bridge - a perfect tonic for the queasy stomach
[the downhill signature par three 12th]
You poor lot have been subjected to us harping on for the past couple of months about the wonders of links golf. ¬†Dunes this; pot bunkers that...you must be bored out of your skins. ¬†Happily Ireland ‚?? like Bonnie Scotland ‚?? has one or two parkland treats that provide a welcome diversion from the wind. ¬†Mount Juliet is one of ‚??em. ¬†Having held a couple of WGC Amex Championships in ‚??02 and ‚??04 it may well be a name with which you Dear Reader are familiar. ¬†Certainly it was always on our radar when planning the Irish leg. ¬†And how appreciative I am that they were kind enough to host us on a serene Thursday morning.
Old Head though quite a spectacle was an affair of endurance, truth be told ‚?? in that it took us a level 5.5 hours to get around, just in time as dusk fell. ¬†3 exhausted Kiwis stumbled into The Tank, which we pointed towards Kilkenny. ¬†There was waiting a Top Drawer human who goes by the name ‚?? as far as I could tell ‚?? of Owen Sweeney. ¬†OS has been in touch with us for some time, after originally coming across our adventure on Slambino‚??s blog. ¬†The poor sod is a lawyer ‚?? a burden he appears to carry with admirable tolerance and, even, mild enjoyment. ¬†His firm‚??s into wind farms and all of that carry on: one of the more glamorous fields of practice these days. ¬†Anyway. ¬†Owen God Bless Him is also a keen golfer and has played in such illustrious settings as Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs and National Golf Links of America (where he caddied for a couple of summers throughout university). ¬†A like minded soul.
Owen and his good brother Barry have a flat together in Kilkenny, which they very graciously vacated so we could rest our heads. ¬†Poor Ina and Joe ‚?? Mother and Papa Bear ‚?? had to endure having the pair back on home turf. ¬†So up front then I‚??d like to 1. Thanks The Brothers Sweeney; and 2. ¬†Apologise to The Parents Sweeney. ¬†
Given Mount Juliet had a shotgun start on at 1pm (or, at least, they were supposed to), we had to be on the tee at 7.30am. ¬†The dew lay heavy on the grass. ¬†A terribly anti-social hour to be getting your feet wet, but once we were out I was thankful to be getting the most of the day. ¬†Broken sun was casting the odd shadow and lighting up the liquid frost: quite a sight, friends. ¬†In the distance, across County Kilkenny, Owen pointed out Mount Leinster ‚?? which the man himself had been smacking balls off the top of, not several weeks ago. ¬†And why not? ¬†The more pertinent point though is that Mount Juliet at this hour was, in its mature and fertile glory, absolutely magnificent. ¬†It‚??s hard to believe peace can be found in Ireland ‚?? peace away from the endless socialising, craic; not peace as in The Peace Process ‚?? but it can, at Mount Juliet. ¬†In the early morning. ¬†When the ducks don‚??t seem too bothered by one‚??s presence.
Now, Owen is a bandit. ¬†Granted, a fine bandit at that ‚?? and one with a cracking sense of humour. ¬†But a bandit nonetheless. ¬†His 9 handicap should be turned upside down before subtracting a couple. ¬†79 the rascal carded, pillaging nearly every skin on offer. ¬†Just as well we weren‚??t playing for Euros. ¬†In fairness to the man, he acknowledged ‚?? with impeccable modesty and not a hint of arrogance ‚?? that he should be playing off a couple less, but that he never gets the chance to play in competitions because he is a lawyer and has a loving girlfriend. ¬†Thus I retract the ‚??bandit‚?Ě label and apologise for any offence caused Owen my friend.
The course wasn‚??t a taxing test of golf ‚?? at least from the whites (blues weren‚??t out) ‚?? but rather a meandering sequence of delightful holes framed by huge oaks and ashes and the odd pond. ¬†The 2nd hole (pictured below) is a gorgeous dogleg right par 4 to a green that‚??s 36 times deeper than it looks. ¬†And it‚??s very much a game of angles. ¬†You can‚??t really hit driver from the tee, unless you fade it around the tree on the corner (a brave play); instead a 3 wood or long iron to the middle of far side of the fairway sets up an ideal approach. ¬†Well done Jack (it‚??s the first and only Jack Nicklaus Signature Design in Ireland, having been opened in 1991 with an exhibition match between The Golden Bear himself and Christy O‚??Connor Snr)...
As I often promise, I won‚??t take you through Every Hole. ¬†But. ¬†Indulge me for a moment while I round off one of the most agreeable opening stretches in Irish golf. ¬†Nummer drei. ¬†Tremendously picturesque little par 3 over water. ¬†At this point in the proceedings that big ball of gas in the sky was mercilessly burning off any cloud in its way, and casting a blinding glow on the still water below. ¬†Even the geese ‚?? which are in most cases cantankerous creatures that will peck your eye out at the earliest opportunity ‚?? managed to look convivial. ¬†You never know, they might‚??ve still had a go if I‚??d got close enough. ¬†And I wasn‚??t going to find out. ¬†On this hole I snatched one of only a few skins from Owen‚??s grasp after he very charitably 3 jacked from the front apron. ¬†We hang onto what we can...
The fourth ‚?? nummer vier ‚?? is stroke index 2 and a ba*tard of a creation. ¬†Just as well it‚??s so good looking, otherwise I wouldn‚??t be so complimentary. ¬†Hit a good tee shot Or Else. ¬†Mick being the creative soul that he is thumped one off the trees on the left and bounced back into the fairway ‚?? he sees shots none of the rest of us see, much like that man McIlroy. ¬†He tried the same trick shot for his approach but wasn‚??t able to recreate the same magic, a triple bogey 7 ensuing. ¬†He won‚??t like me for mentioning this, but I would‚??ve been so impressed had he been able to repeat the trick shot that had so gripped Owen and myself with wonder. ¬†The local and I halved the hole in 4s, except we didn‚??t, because he was burgling shots and I left my birdie putt in the jaws. ¬†No grudge here. ¬†Take my word for it though folks: a lovely, lovely hole. ¬†
Truth be told there are a couple of indifferent holes that follow. ¬†Not ‚??bad‚?Ě; just a slight comedown from the opening stretch. ¬†Below is a photo of Herr Goldstein blasting off on the 8th ‚?? note how he uses those huge calf muscles to devastating effect in launching a pro-v1 into orbit (it later came back down to earth, sadly between a few trees). ¬†But for my photographic ineptitude you might‚??ve seen both feet right off the ground ‚?? another one of his myriad trick shots. ¬†So you see, it‚??s a pleasure to wake up every morning and watch Michael play golf. ¬†That‚??s how I can do it. ¬†Sheer amusement.
There‚??s something else I‚??d like to share with you. ¬†Unusually, it‚??s a house. ¬†Said house is pictured below. ¬†It belongs to a chap whose name escapes me, but he‚??s the man behind a huge telecommunications conglomerate called Digicel. ¬†Owen pointed this fact out to me as we approached the 8th green, just as we‚??d been discussing onerous files we or our comrades in law had worked on. ¬†Which was a tremendous coincidence. ¬†Because a good friend and former colleague of my own ‚?? one Julian Brown Esquire ‚?? spent a year or two of his life on a deal for Digicel in the South Pacific. ¬†That file nearly drained every ounce of life out of poor Julian, who has since moved on from the nightmare and these days pondering life beyond ‚??Digi‚?Ě. ¬†May your recovery be a sharp and happy one Julian, my friend. ¬†I tried to smack my 3 wood into the front window but it didn‚??t have the legs and ended up by accident next to the pin instead...ha! ¬†Anyway I hope you will find comfort in knowing that the house doesn‚??t look as nice in person as it does in the photo...
Below is the par 5 10th, which splits into 2 giving you options. ¬†A narrow chute on the right giving a more favourable angle into the green, or a wider lay up area out to the left which requires a bigger 2nd blow. ¬†The choice is yours. ¬†Sadly I hit my worst shot of the day in laying up and carded a diabolical 6. ¬†Below below is Owen looking mystified and dashing with divot in hand. ¬†
Curiously the stroke index 1 13th hole was a bit of a gimme. ¬†But a pretty picture nonetheless. ¬†3 wood, 9 iron, 2 putts, thank you very much. ¬†Beware however the pond propping up the front of the green and the killer geese that make their home there. ¬†
Here‚??s a photo of Owen and me cuddling each other. ¬†He looks like Liam Gallagher after a good night out and I look like I‚??m chewing on a very acidic lemon ‚?? what a handsome couple...
Behind the 16th green you‚??ll find a huge waste bunker that runs right up to an ancient looking wall. ¬†It was an unusual feature on a course of this character, but for whatever reason, it ‚??worked.‚?Ě ¬†Just thought I‚??d share.
17 and 18 are a super pair of holes. ¬†The former being a short par 5 through feature oaks; the latter being a long par 4, again, framed by trees and a pond too. ¬†A delightful American chap from Michigan named Charlie Nemis whom we‚??d met in the pro shop joined us for the last couple, providing a bit of comic relief and light hearted banter. ¬†I love American enthusiasm. ¬†Naysayers who haven‚??t yet had the pleasure of visiting the land of the free should ‚?? I would say ‚?? reserve judgment on this fine people until they‚??ve met the Yanks on their own terms on home soil. ¬†Once you‚??ve been there you have a newfound appreciation for their quirks. ¬†Charlie is pictured below trying to wrestle Owen from my grasp.
No sooner had we finished our golf, done the thank yous and retreated back to base camp than we found ourselves playing dice games with Gretta and Barry. ¬†We were then lucky enough to be invited to The Parents Sweeney‚??s pad down the road for a Home Cooked Meal To End All Home Cooked Meals. ¬†How comforting it was to heap ladlefuls of chicken something onto a plate next to roast potatoes and green beans. ¬†Joe provided adversarial like razor sharp banter and struck me a good blow on the arm as I left, no doubt in disbelief at the cheek I‚??d displayed in duelling with him. ¬†Ina was a dear. ¬†How she could be responsible for 1. Marrying Joe; and 2. Creating the monster bandit that is Owen, I don‚??t know. ¬†
We all had a famous time. ¬†Singing ‚??The Weight‚?Ě at the top of my lungs in the early hours with Owen and co at a gig will be a fond memory cherished for years to come. ¬†Owen ‚?? muchos gracias for your hospitality and on course burglary.
DOOKS. Isn't it a fun word to say. ¬†Today we're playing at Dooks. A good one for pronunciation classes. ¬†JP and I found ourselves chanting the name of this gem all the way around the course.. ¬†The course where the natterjack toad famously graces the logo..
But firstly back to the start of the day and our awakening at Waterville House (back to my legal training it's best to work the way through the day in an orderly fashion).
Waterville House is one of the better places to wake up.¬† The fish flowing on the river outside ‚?? the rain drops falling peacefully on the window as the mountains climb from the ocean in the distance.¬†¬† Bliss.¬† Having someone to share it with? Piriceless. ¬†All three of us owe a huge thank you to Jay for taking us under his wing for 24 hours and showing us the ‚??Waterville Experience‚?Ě (which might almost push the now world famous ‚??Westhampton Experience‚?Ě ‚?? BTW congrats Andy on your recent arrival).¬† Rather than give another blow by blow of the Tom Fazio Waterville course and the 1775 Waterville House I‚??ll keep it short and simply proffer a huge thank you to Jay for having us.¬† A true gentleman.¬† Obviously revered by many over the pond, Jay embodies the Irish virtues which have made us love this country so much‚?? laidback, great craic, fun loving, a love of music (and Jamesons) and of course famous Irish hospitality.¬†¬†¬†
[M&G with Jay. Behind us are some old photographs of Waterville GC. These were found by Jay at Pebble Beach, unframed and disused and the Californians were not sure of where or what golf course they were of. ¬†Jay instantly recognised the land as Waterville and as they say the rest is history]
Leaving Waterville House was almost quite sad ‚?? I could have happily stayed here for a week relaxing, learning to fish and soaking in the surrounds.¬† We took a few photographs with the big man and along the famous weir (which unfortunately it was too cold to have a cocktail on last night) and jumped in the Tank en route Dooks GC.¬†¬†
[the 3 musketeers at Waterville House]
Before DOOKS we passed thru Caharsiveen where the Daniel O'Connell memorial church sits. ¬†The only church in Ireland not named after a Saint, but instead the founding father of Ireland. ¬†Gretta O'Connell was proud and so in we went for a gander and a couple of quick photographs..
DOOKS Golf Club. ¬†Let me start by painting the scene with this picture...
At Dooks things just started to get a bit overwhelming.¬† The golf course, the people and the scenery were just all too good. Day in day out overwhelming has to be the word for it‚?¶ Waterville / Dooks / Killarney is the heart of the Kerry part of the South West Swing and now I can see why golfers the world over make the pilgrimage to travel this route golfing.
Let me start with the people that make this course tick.
Brian Hurley is the General Manager here and a top quality Irishman. ¬†He is probably still in Irish heaven as well after his team won the All Ireland football at the weekend. ¬†A huge Cork fan and on our day at Dooks the excitement was building in anticipation of the big game. ¬†Brian made us very welcome helping with some local accommodation in the local township and then setting us on our way with the challenge of break 80 and dinner is on him... ¬†He had also arranged for the President of Dooks, Helen Aherne, to come down and meet us for a quick chat and photograph before the round. ¬†Another genuinely nice avid Irish golfing enthusiast. ¬†
Golf was difficult today as the elements were out to ensure we had a fight on our hands. ¬†The course record challenge of 2 under par off the tips was acknowledged and with optimism we played down the first hole straight into a 4 club wind. ¬†Brian, watching on, must have thought to himself 'these boys are in for a long day' as we battled down the first hole making doubles. ¬†His dinner was safe... Brian is a GM with a business background who is also a trained PGA professional so understands all aspects of the golf course. ¬†A good combination.
The golf course was recently redesigned by the impressive Martin Hawtree (who also did Lahinch and in England, Royal Birkdale). ¬†It has a simple charm to it - playable but ankle taps you. ¬†Hawtree is also known as a bit of a Mackenzie doctor so generally his redesigned are very impressive. ¬†Dooks is no exception - it's a fun course to play where you feel like your next birdie might not be too far away, yet stop paying attention and it all goes horribly wrong! ¬†
[the 2nd green - wind hurtling in off the sea]
[G taking a cheeky shot on the par three 3rd. ¬†She would have fared better than our two 5's!!]
The course was armed at its full defense today as the wind was hurtling in. ¬†Creativity was to the fore - there was no such thing as a straight shot. ¬†Everything is exposed too as the dunes are short. ¬†It is a softer course than many of it's Irish counterparts which makes it fun, even from the tips in a gale. ¬†Don't get me wrong it absolutely tore strips off JP and I and Brians dinner was safe as houses, but it strangely felt like we could go out and play again - despite being battered by one of the windiest days of the year. Perhaps this was because the course routing is such that the wind is always coming at you from a different angle, giving you a chance for much of the round before it slams the door shut on the final two holes which play straight into the teeth of it. An example of the wind - on the last I had 90 yards through the doorway like opening between the dunes to an elevated green. ¬†My wedge I was holding all of a sudden felt like a toothpick and it went back in the bag. ¬†The 9 iron did not look much better. ¬†So out came the 8 iron, delofted and slammed under the wind onto the middle of the green.¬†
The course is one of the most picturesque in Ireland. ¬†It is coated in heather, wild flower and wild gorse and as you play you can look across the small rolling sand dunes and out towards some of the best views of the year. ¬†Gretta was on camera duty for the front nine so we picked up a couple of good action snaps:
Then she went for a stroll along the beach and returned to the clubhouse. For a Guinness with Helen. ¬†
From the Dooks website: "The golf links is set out on one of the three stretches of sand dunes at the head of Dingle bay. In the immediate foreground are the sand dune peninsulas of Rossbeigh and Inch and just a few miles away the whitewashed houses of Cromane fishing village provide an eye catching distraction. South eastwards are the famed McGillycuddy's Reeks, to the Southwest are the lovely cooms and hills of Glenbeigh and across the bay to the north are the Slieve Mish and Dingle mountains. A truly magical location for a stunning golf course."
Before I go I will share with you the logo for the DOOKS GC - the natterjack toad. ¬†I'm not sure the history behind this, but these toads spawn in a pond on the golf course by the 15th green / 16th tee pictured below. ¬†They also feature on our new wet weather tops which I can report have come into great use since our day at DOOKS.
After our round we scooted up the road to meet up with Gav from BallyB after his day teaching to reminisce on our time up the road and so that he could meet Gret. We had planned on staying with Gav but it was to be some detour back in the opposite direction and Brian from Dooks had kindly arranged for us to stay at Glenbeigh. Brian had also caved on his bet and invited us for a meal at the clubhouse. ¬†So after another farewell to Gav (who we will hopefully see in NZ some time soon) we headed back to Dooks for a smashing meal, a guinness and some great craic with Brian.
Dooks is one of those places that oozes charm. ¬†And despite it being very much on the visitors circuit it retains a completely natural charm. ¬†Over our day we'd bumped into the locals on the golf course, been looked after famously by Brian and Helen, met the greenkeepers, been tested by the course and definitely loved the views. ¬†Thanks for having us guys and I think DOOKS is onto a good thing.
Ladies and gentleman, I know we have a good few more blogs to come from our last week in Ireland, but before we post them I'd like to share with you a couple of snaps from our First Tee Manchester visit yesterday. ¬†The wee ones were great fun, just gushing with enthusiasm for the program. ¬†A more in depth post to come...for the moment, just a couple of snaps:
[Back row, L to R: Brian, the delightful manager at Heaton Park; Rob, First Tee coach; James, star pupil and budding pro golfer; two strange Kiwis; Molly, First Tee Exec Assistant, and friend. ¬†Front row, L to R: Charlie, Olivia and Marley - a trio of characters if ever there was one!]¬†
On opening my laptop this morning I was delighted to see "Bob" (cf. Waterville blog below) had taken the initiative to come up with the following:
Waterville. ¬†One of the wettest parts of Ireland. ¬†By extension, one of the wettest parts of the (golfing) world (Is there any other world? ¬†Not this year anyway...). ¬†A wonderfully scenic part of Kerry, it lies just off the ghastly Ring of Kerry (which if Johnny Cash were to write a song about he might not be so kind, depending on which barbiturate was moving his conscience at the time). ¬†By ghastly I‚??m referring not to the breathsnatching vistas but to the busloads and busloads of goldfish that stare with wonder upon prompting while their bus driver runs other vehicles off the road. ¬†Why on earth would you? ¬†
Waterville is one of those names that crops up in every other conversation between foreigners about golf in Ireland. ¬†I suppose you might say it‚??s a ‚??name‚?Ě course. ¬†It was the dream of a chap named Mulcahy ‚?? an Irish born New Yorker. ¬†Right enough there was an original 9 hole course that dated back to the late 19th century (originally part of the Waterville Athletic Club), but that was brought forward into the current links back in 1973. ¬†Y‚??er man Mulcahy and his pal Claude Harmon ‚?? past Masters champion and long-time pro at Winged Foot ‚?? brought in Eddie Hackett, ‚??Ireland‚??s foremost architect‚?Ě, and between the three of them they laid out what is the current track. ¬†The plan was to make it the most testing links golf course in the world. ¬†Since those days the course has played host to many revered pro‚??s, the likes of Woods, Els, Furyk, O‚??Meara and Stewart. ¬†Tragically the last golf honour Payne Stewart would accept before his untimely death was the Captaincy of Waterville.
In 2006 the current owners brought in another fella named Fazio to update Hackett‚??s original masterpiece. ¬†While he was at it they also got him to design a practice facility at the nearby Waterville House and a petanque area! ¬†A man of many talents clearly...
Anyway, it was down from Killarney that we tripped, sad to leave Killeen House Hotel after a wonderful two days. ¬†A pal whom we‚??d met recently had mysteriously fallen ill the evening before we played Waterville ‚?? his favourite course in the world ‚?? and, to bring him back to good health, he decided it would be better to join us for a hit than to go to work. ¬†[puregolf2010 does not condone people taking sick days from work to join us on course]. ¬†For what it‚??s worth it seemed to work ‚?? y‚??er man, who obviously will go unnamed for risk management purposes, appeared to be back to full strength by the 18th. ¬†The medicinal qualities of the fresh sea air...
Upon arrival we were greeted by Noel the manager and Jay Connolly, one of the partners that own Waterville. ¬†Jay‚??s a larger than life character who after carving a very successful investment banking career on ‚??The Street‚?Ě fell in love with this place and wanted to continue Mr. Mulcahy‚??s legacy. ¬†In the clubhouse we also ran into Matt Adams ‚?? a roaming radio journalist for the PGA Network ‚?? and a few of his pals. ¬†Matt did a quick interview with us for live broadcast back to the US, which was great timing because a particularly apocalyptic downpour was battering the course outside the windows ‚?? we were in no rush to get out there... ¬†He and his friends Norm and Bill were delightful gents, obviously very relaxed and quite taken with this place that is Waterville.
The time came to take on what ‚??the most testing links golf course in the world.‚?Ě ¬†Number 1 is ominously called ‚??The Last Easy Hole,‚?Ě and it‚??s not that easy! ¬†Jay had made a bet with us that we wouldn‚??t break 80 from the backs ‚?? a challenge we were determined to conquer. ¬†Poor Mike didn‚??t get off to the best start with a topped 2 iron that crawled 50 yards or so just past the end of the tee block ‚?? but being the grinder he is he got his 5! ¬†I managed to par the 1st and even the 2nd ‚?? ‚??Christy‚??s Choice‚?Ě, stroke index 1 from memory ‚?? and was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. ¬†It didn‚??t take me long to remember what to do though...
The 3rd ‚??Sanctuary‚?Ě is a gorgeous par 4 playing along the estuary to a precariously cut green that before Fazio‚??s reinterpretation was even more hair raising. ¬†Despite managing to hit a solid drive and one of my better 3 irons to the front of the green I took 3 putts and wandered off to the next tee pondering whether that was the start of things to come. ¬†Gretta meanwhile was in her element snapping away, absorbing the invigorating sea air and chirping encouraging words to her other half who by this time was finding things a bit tough.
It was great having our pal there, who because he‚??s so fond of the place had plenty of insight to offer on the walk around. ¬†If he won the lottery this is where he‚??d move in flash. ¬†We‚??ll call him ‚??Bob‚?Ě for the purposes of this blog post, so I don‚??t have to keep calling him y‚??er man. ¬†
One of Waterville‚??s virtues is its variation: you never feel like you‚??re playing the same hole twice. ¬†The par 3s are the most vivid example of this; the 4th, 6th, 12th and 17th each pose very different challenges. ¬†I loved the ‚??Mass Hole‚?Ě 12th, which has a bit of history behind it as you can see below.
Jay came out on the 9th green to see how we were faring. ¬†Now, on the 9th the strokesaver instructs in no uncertain terms not to miss the (raised) green right, under any circumstances. ¬†Bob also reiterated the accepted wisdom before I addressed my ball. ¬†With wind hurling from the right at a rate of knots and my natural draw I thought the chances of my 5 iron hanging out there to be slim, even non-existent. ¬†But the golf ball has a mind of its own. ¬†So when Jay arrived expecting to hear about how his beloved links was tearing us up there was a wry smile on his face when he saw me down below. ¬†In hell. ¬†At that point I was 4 over the card and getting on OK; an inevitable double bogey ensued before the big man‚??s eyes, drawing a knowing glance. ¬†His course was winning and he thought he was on course to win the bet.
Our four paused for quiet reflection and sustenance in the clubhouse before taking on the back nine. ¬†Folks had you been present you may never have seen a cheese and ham sandwich inhaled with such vigour. ¬†I was Starving. ¬†
The back nine starts with a bang, the par 4 10th ‚?? stroke index 2 ‚?? being something of a brute. ¬†Big drive and a 4 iron; welcome to the back side. ¬†11 is a grand par 5 that snakes through the dunes, through a valley and up to a raised green guarded by the biggest false front in Ireland. ¬†At last I‚??d carded my opening birdie, ensuring I wouldn‚??t be running into the sea fully clothed as I did at Ballyliffin (the same bet was made before play). ¬†
To give you an indication of how strong the wind was by this point: On the par 5 13th, a mere 488 yards, I ended up over the back with driver, 8 iron; On the par 4 14th (ominously named ‚??Judge‚?Ě) I couldn‚??t quite make the 458 yards required with a full blown driver and 3 wood. ¬†This no calm day. ¬†Bob in the pandemonium had stepped up his smoking, to 3 fags a hole!
The closing stretch from 16 to 18 is class. ¬†A short par 4 playing uphill to the left, along the beach to a tabletop green is no gimme if there‚??s wind blowing. ¬†Then on the 17th tee, ‚??Mulcahy‚??s Peak‚?Ě, you find yourself at the highpoint of the course, under which Mr. Mulcahy is buried upright (seriously). ¬†From here you can see right across the course and around Ballinskelligs Bay. ¬†It‚??s a phenomenal viewpoint. ¬†Again Jay arrived at an inopportune moment, just as I was making a third double bogey. ¬†18 (‚??O‚??Grady‚??s Beach‚?Ě) then is gargantuan closing par 5, the tee shot playing literally along the edge of the beach, pot bunkers guarding the left side. ¬†It gets the blood pumping. ¬†Much to my satisfaction I closed with a birdie and broke 80 ‚?? that Jay fella didn‚??t know he was messing with a Patton...
The four of us were washed by this stage, having endured a real battle of the elements. ¬†Jay sat us by the fire in the bar and uttered for the first time in a very Wall Street fashion, ‚??Here‚??s The Deal...‚?Ě ¬†Rather than hurtling back up to Glen Beigh to stay as planned, our plans would be changed (‚??Tell them you got polio or something...‚?Ě) and we would instead be staying as Jay‚??s guests at Waterville House. ¬†Who were we to argue with this very commanding Nu Yawker? ¬†The House is an 18th century manor, which Daniel O‚??Connell reputedly ate dinner at back in the day. ¬†The big guns like Woods and O‚??Meara and co stay there when they‚??re in town. ¬†It‚??s a grand but understated affair with a rich salmon fishing hotspot (Butler‚??s Pool) running right alongside it, out into the bay. ¬†Of course it has the practice facility, short game area and spa facilities too...the full shilling.
Jay ran the evening in militant fashion, uttering ‚??Here‚??s The Deal‚?Ě on several occasions much to our delight. ¬†We got cleaned up for dinner; had an aperitif in the lounge with a few guests from Minnesota; went out for dinner to The Fisherman‚??s Inn down the road in the village (the best fish and chips I‚??ve ever had, hands on heart); then had a good old sing song in the bar. ¬†Jay had one of his local mates ‚?? Mick ‚?? come and give us a tune or three after we‚??d finished eating. ¬†Mick had a voice purer than Pavarotti‚??s. ¬†He‚??d ask Jay what he wanted to hear; Jay would say sing what your heart‚??s telling you to sing; then Mick would ask again what Jay wanted to hear...and so this continued until his lungs burst into song. ¬†His renditions of Danny Boy and You‚??ll Never Walk Alone will stay with me (and Michael and Gretta) for years to come ‚?? a less determined man might‚??ve shed a tear. ¬†Mike banged out a tune or two on the piano through in The High Bar too, at Jay‚??s insistence. ¬†What an evening. ¬†
Jay met us for breakfast at 0800 hours ‚?? in that very endearing American way, he wouldn‚??t let us do anything without him as our chaperone ‚?? before we got ‚??into the wind,‚?Ě off to Dooks. ¬†Over porridge and a smashing fry he dispensed a few pearls of wisdom and explored with us some of life‚??s bigger questions. ¬†A man whose company you could never describe as dull. ¬†And then, just like that, we were into the wind.
7am sharp JP & I arrived at the recent home of the Irish Open ‚?? the Killeen course at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.¬† This was an even more grueling episode of pyjama golf than 7am would suggest as I‚??d been up till the early hours of the morning picking Gretta up from Cork airport.¬† But trust me, I was not complaining ‚?? it is fantastic that she has survived the 32 hour journey and made it for the first time to the northern hemisphere!¬† The early tee time was perfect as it allowed Gret to sleep in whilst us golfers got out for a quick hit before the busy Sunday field.¬† She is taking the reigns on this blog post shortly to give her initial descriptions of Ireland on day 1 in Killarney, and probably to describe her first (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th¬†and 7th) impression of real Guinness.
Maurice, the GM at Killarney was very accommodating allowing us courtesy of the course at this early hour and we thanked him at the end of the round.¬† Maurice must be one of the busier GM‚??s around running the three golf courses here keeping a huge membership in line and hosting the biggest tournament in Ireland.¬† The clubhouse itself paints a picture of the club - chocablock and absolutely buzzing.¬†¬† Maurice was with another brilliant Irish human named Brian from Dooks (who will feature on the blog in coming days) and the two of them were hosting Matt Adams and his crew from the PGA Network as they travel the South West loop of Ireland broadcasting back to the USA. ¬†¬†This loop is known as the SWING and we‚??re currently right in the middle of it.¬† JP is having the full experience as well staying at the golfers paradise Killeen House Hotel ‚?? just across the road from Killarney G&FC.
Rewinding to sparrows and our arrival at Killarney where we were welcomed by a local member named Dermott (two t‚??s like Gretta). ¬†The connection? Dermott was at BallyB the day prior¬† ‚?? and knowing of our schedule turned up showing his support in his favourite All Blacks cap and bantered us from the group behind as BallyB repeatedly ankle tapped us.
Dermott played tour guide around the Killeen course and then took us on some tour of Killarney (starting and finishing is various watering holes).¬†¬† The first few holes are something special as the course winds its way around the loch.¬† Your typical slicer wouldn‚??t love the start as water and trouble flanks the right on the first 4 holes‚?¶¬† Fortunately I survived them around par and Jamie, well trouble on the right will never phase his draw!
We had the best of the weather for the day as the sun poked its head between the mountain ranges and the low lying cloud providing us with some spectacular light.¬† It was calm too and across the loch there was barely a ripple in sight.
The course is a world class parkland track.¬† Mature trees,¬† pure fairways and greens and a few quality water hazards (like the par three 6th¬†hole which is dastardly difficult ‚?? trust me I hit what I thought was a decent chip and it went into a hazard.¬† I took some comfort knowing that during the Irish Open a pro managed double figures on it..).
It gives you a chance ‚?? as Ross Fisher found out when he shot 62 around here on route to winning the tournament a few weeks back ‚?? but it‚??s by no means easy.¬† For example? The par four 13th¬†hole at 490 yards played over a burn for your second shot to a green nestled between the trees.¬† There were some ugly numbers there.¬† And the next hole is by no means difficult but the green complex is perfectly placed, again, amidst the old trees.¬† There‚??s also a halfway house here (late in the round yes but good nonetheless) which is home to quite the impressive display of pitch mark repairers.¬†¬† Adding one to their collection and a muffin later I was marching off down the last couple of holes eager to finish and get back to pick up Gretta so we could see the sights!
Before I move on from the golf course I must note that any comparison with Loch Lomond is a fair one.¬† Like L.L the Killeen course is both beautiful and a quality test of golf.¬† It‚??s a parkland course that rates right up there with the cr√®me of the stable of parkland courses in the USA - the home of parkland golf.¬† ¬†¬†It was a pleasure to hit the ball of the pure fairways and the greens were a joy to putt on (although with limited success) so compliments to the green staff (in particular the broad sounding Scottish fulla we met in the bar who heads up such green staff).
After golf I nicked back to pick up Gret and we headed back to the clubhouse.¬† Lunch, sightseeing and, of course, Guinness followed. ¬†Dermott was one helluva tour guide and, indeed, may have swept Gretta off her feet with his Irish twang. ¬†I‚??d like to say that with golf the following day we had a quiet night in ‚?? like JP‚??s most recent blog ‚?? but, well, someone‚??s got to tell it like it is over here in Ireland!!! Over to G.
After a very long & sleeping-pill fuelled flight, I arrived safely in Ireland. It was 9/11 and I had arrived in Cork (flying past customs on my handy Irish Passport) without issue.¬† When I scuttled out of the arrival gates I was greeted by a very tired, weary & unshaven Michael. It seems that he didn‚??t recognize me at first & I wondered whether I had been indulging too much over the past 5 1/2months (I am a bit partial to cheese, wine & treats ‚?? but not necessarily in that order). But it turns out he was shattered from a night out [and long day] & when I was about 5m away he began smiling. I would like to think our reuniting was like one of those romantic airport scenes from Love Actually‚?¶but I can‚??t be 100% sure.
After an hour drive I arrived at a Green B&B¬† (the name escapes me but Michael tells me it‚??s called Noroville House). ¬†The next morning (after the boys played golf) we went to the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club for some Irish banter & golf talk ‚?? I am not a golfer so I relaxed & consumed my first meal in Ireland ‚?? a Guinness - with my new friend Mr Dermott Walsh. After a quick lesson from Dermott how to drink this magical brew, I had my first sip/breakfast in Ireland & I loved it (surprising as I am not a beer drinker). Needless to say I felt a bit light headed & red faced after 2 more and a delicious lunch. As I am typing this Michael Poole is barking at me to ‚??make it funny Feta, make the blog funny!‚?Ě ‚?? how am I meant to do that pray tell? The pressure is a bit much.
Anyway, Dermott then took us on a nice drive to Ladies View via a tumbling waterfall. (see pic of the boys below)
Ireland is much like NZ in this regard. After a bit of sightseeing¬† (MG asleep in the back seat) we met Durmott & his lovely wife Marie (pronounced Maaa-rie) for my 4th¬†Guinness (Guinni?) of the day! After visiting a few local pubs we said our goodbyes to Dermott & Marie as they had chicken roasting in the oven (I hope it wasn't burnt Dermott..). Our last stop for the evening was a little irish bar where we got chatting to some local dairy farmers who were drinking quite a lot for a Sunday evening. When i asked whether this was a regular thing to do on a Sunday in Ireland they replied "Aye tis" and i later found out that those particular cows never got milked on a Monday morning (Si Le Heron would not be pleased). Plenty more where that came from but perhaps that will be told another time. Great to be in Ireland, signing off - Miss O'Connell
Every now and then something happens that makes us step back from what we're doing to reflect. ¬†This week we were touched to receive a wee message from our pals - The Birdie Students - at The First Tee NZ. ¬†It gave us a real boost.
Thanks guys - it looks windier in Auckland than it is here in Ireland! ¬†Keep up the good work, we'll see you in December.
Jamie & Michael¬†
Ballybunion struck me as having the most Irish of essences. ¬†It‚??s a reflection that‚??s drawn several puzzled looks of late, both from Michael and from locals alike. ¬†But I‚??m sticking to my guns. ¬†The place; the people; the golf club ‚?? they are all, for me, the epitome of Irishness. ¬†And I love it.
The golfers among you will know that The Old Course at Ballybunion is held in high regard among golf aficionados. ¬†You‚??ll see it pop up in the top 20, or even top 10, in many world rankings. ¬†It‚??s easy to brush aside ratings as sham exercises of bribes, kickbacks and prejudices; but the more and more we play these Top, Top ranked courses, the more and more we see why they invariably end up atop the pile. ¬†There are exceptions, of course. ¬†But Ballybunion ‚?? I can categorically report ‚?? is not one of them. ¬†It‚??s Class with a huge great C. ¬†More on the golf later though.
There‚??s a character by the name of Gav Quinlivan that I want to introduce you to first. ¬†We‚??re indebted to the man on a number of counts, the first of which dates back to our last day in the US. ¬†Remember when we were driving around Long Island trying to find somewhere to play, after having been a bit nonchalant about it all? ¬†Gav was the chap at Piping Rock (over at the time seeing his brother Sean, the pro) who helped us out in our time of need (he‚??s since admitted to having been grilled by older brother for failing to make further inquiries at the time about whether we were just scammers wanting a free game!). ¬†We nipped around Piping Rock that day in just over an hour, then caught a flight bound for Iceland. ¬†Gav mentioned he was from Ballybunion, and said there was a bed at his place for us if we needed one when we eventually arrived. ¬†He‚??d only just met us, and in unusual circumstances at that.
Well, Gav got in touch again a couple of weeks back and reiterated his earlier offer. ¬†We gratefully accepted, of course. ¬†Gav also arranged for the Assistant Pro ‚?? one of the most enigmatic characters of the year, Padraic O‚??Rourke ‚?? to make up a fourball. ¬†The stars were aligned then for a memorable visit to the famous little town. ¬†
After a sublime morning at Lahinch ‚?? and a chance encounter with the very interesting John Ashworth (founder of Ashworth clothing) and nephew Jeff (who together are working on a great project called Linksoul) ‚?? we ducked down the road and over the Shannon ferry to meet Gav in Listowel. ¬†Even though we‚??d only spent 15 minutes or so with the guy on Long Island, and hadn‚??t really spoken to him since, it was as if we‚??d been friends for years. ¬†He‚??s a champion among men. ¬†Soon we were back at base camp (a wee house in the country Gav bought a few years ago; he‚??s a reclusive school teacher!) eating a finely crafted meal of frozen pizza, readying ourselves for a bit of craic down the road in Ballybunion Proper.
Scores of the locals were out in force at one particular tavern. ¬†What I didn‚??t know at the time was that the same characters would all be down at the golf club the next day ‚?? either working or playing. ¬†The whole town really does revolve around golf, much like some of the Scottish towns we visited. ¬†The likes of the Head Pro, the local news guy, Padraic, Denny (Padraic‚??s caddie) and a good few others were out ‚?? although given Golf was the order of the day in the morning, moderation was strictly observed. ¬†Still, there was sparkling craic and the anticipation of what the morning would bring was at fever pitch.
Our fourball congregated for breakfast at a tea room type establishment in town. ¬†Fresh as daisies we chowed down enough bacon, eggs and black pudding to feed the Black Watch Regiment and, in my case, enough porridge to plug BP‚??s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. ¬†Down to business.
It wasn‚??t surprising that on a changeable Saturday morning the club was alive and kicking with the buzz of a thousand golfers. ¬†Coach tours and locals alike filled the carpark, the clubhouse and the putting green to the brim. ¬†This be golf country. ¬†Inside we had the pleasure of meeting Vari McGreevy, the General Manager of the club and a lovely lady from what we could gauge in a few brief moments. ¬†Vari very kindly presented us each with a fine Ballybunion vest, which will no doubt get a great deal of wear given the temperatures are dropping and I have an aversion to sleeves on the golf course. ¬†
After all the extra-curricular fun the time had finally come to do what we had come to Ballybunion to do: golf. ¬†The rain clouds were threatening, but for the moment the sun was trying its best. ¬†To the right of the 1st hole is a very ancient looking graveyard, into which a few famous personalities have driven. ¬†Y‚??er man Clinton is reputedly among them (there‚??s even a statute of him in the town, I guess he must be well liked around these parts). ¬†With my strong draw it was never looking in play, but I‚??d be lying if I said the thought wasn‚??t buried just below the surface of my consciousness. ¬†We all escaped unscathed, mercifully.
Right away I was fascinated with the militant march that Paddy (pronounced ‚??Pawdy‚?Ě) demonstrated. ¬†As soon as the fourth ball was struck from the tee, Paddy was off like a shot, marching upright with his huge frame down the fairway. ¬†Denny his admiring and charismatic caddie would rush after him and squawk a few words on the way. ¬†They were like twins born 30 years apart ‚?? hugely entertaining.
Things got serious when we stood on the 2nd tee, which is stroke index 1. ¬†No messing about. ¬†The second is a gargantuan par 4 that plays between 2 huge dunes up to an elevated green; and on this occasion there was a stiff breeze into and from the left. ¬†The Chairman of the Council appeared from nowhere as we were approaching the green to greet us; poor Michael at this point was pitching and managed to double hit the ball, sealing his fate with a certain triple bogey. ¬†There wasn‚??t a par between us.
While we were pondering the 3rd hole Gav took a couple of moments to show us the Payne Stewart memorial plaque that‚??s been erected on the tee. ¬†Payne obviously made quite an impression over here in Ireland, and particularly at Ballybunion. ¬†A stalwart of the game and its traditions, he struck a chord with a lot of people. ¬†Golf needs more Payne Stewarts. ¬†I‚??d like to think one or two of the future Paynes will come out of The First Tee.
If you were going to be a nitpicker you might say the back to back par 5s, 4 and 5, are the course‚??s only weakness in this day and age. ¬†To be sure they were playing difficult enough with OB right and strong winds coming off the left, but the wind really is their only defence. ¬†Mind you golfers are their own worst enemy: believe me, I know ‚?? I took 6 on both after standing with a lob wedge in hand for my 3rd. ¬†Tragic.
6 is one of the great par 4s of Ireland if you ask me. ¬†A real stroke of genius. ¬†It‚??s a tough enough tee shot, right enough, to a fairway that doglegs left in the foreground of the caravan park behind. ¬†Those straying too far right and with enough heat on their ball can end up out of bounds; those biting too much off the corner (as Gav tried to do on every dogleg left with his canny fade) are left with a grassy lie and a gnarly angle. ¬†Hell, even from the middle of the fairway the probability of keeping your ball on the putting surface is slim if there‚??s any wind to speak of. ¬†Which there was. ¬†Not a single bunker guards the green; rather, the contours have been beautifully used to make the landing zone much smaller than it appears. ¬†On this occasion, about a square foot. ¬†Most mortals will be bumping and running or flopping to get up and down ‚?? but you can easily enough putt from one side over the other, as Paddy had the misfortune to do. ¬†Innocuous enough to look at from the fairway; treacherous when you get there.
The weather really started coming at us when we reached 7 tee. ¬†Here‚??s a photo of 4 likely lads in survival mode (from left to right: Paddy, Denny, Mike and Gav):
And here‚??s a snap of something you won‚??t see many places outside Ireland ‚?? a tractor down on the beach, gathering seaweed. ¬†Another one of those times where I found myself uttering ‚??only in Ireland‚?Ě.
7‚??s class too, and again it‚??s all about the approach. ¬†Coming from the left I couldn‚??t see the left side of the green, but assumed the contours would bring any ball landing left of the pin down towards the middle of the green. ¬†I was wrong, and Gav being the swine that he is declined to tell me because I was on the other team. ¬†My partner was way over on the right hand side so he had an alibi. ¬†Gav had a sly grin on his face as he walked up to the green ‚?? I‚??d managed to cling onto the left edge of the green, just ‚?? obviously thinking what I was thinking. ¬†Gloves off.
It‚??s a spectacular view from the 8th tee, right along the strand and down to the stroke index 2 11th ‚?? like the 2nd, a leviathan of a hole. ¬†8 is a tremendous little short par 3 in its own right, with a knife edge green guarded by an arsenal of bunkers and sharp drop offs to the right. ¬†Par, again, was a good score. ¬†
By this stage I was beginning to get the impression that at Ballybunion you can‚??t just hit your ball at the green and hope to have a makeable putt or even an easy chip. ¬†No, sir. ¬†The contours are such that you need to be coming in with the right trajectory and landing on the right portion of the green; Or Else. ¬†Nowhere was that more the case than on 9, which has a terrifying table top green that probably plays a central role in its indexing of 3. ¬†
10‚??s a gorgeous dogleg left par 4 (again, Gav tried in vain to cut the corner!) playing to a green perched above the Atlantic. ¬†The girl you can see in the photo below is Gav‚??s friend Joanda ‚?? a Kiwi ‚?? who joined us for a stroll on the back nine. ¬†There are Kiwis everywhere, even in Ballybunion (although Jo lives in Cork)! ¬†Also note Paddy reaching the green first, on the double.
Now we‚??ve seen some intoxicatingly beautiful views in Ireland, but the one from 11 tee has to be up there with the best. ¬†If you could bottle up the euphoria it induces the stuff would the next big problem drug. ¬†Breathtaking. ¬†The tee shot is an inviting one too, to a fairway that runs away from you through gullies and up towards an elongated green. ¬†A giant of a par 4; and one that you can‚??t help but stare back at once you‚??ve left it. ¬†Likely to make the Top 10 Par 4 List come December 31.
12 as a par 3 is a thing of beauty, and a hole I can‚??t gloss over without mentioning. ¬†It plays quite sharply uphill to a green that slopes front to back ‚?? albeit with a slight bowl in the middle ‚?? and that‚??s exposed enough to bring wind very much into the mixer when you‚??re putting. ¬†Apart from anything else, the 12th green‚??s just a gorgeous creature to look at too.
13 would be one of the more gentle par 5s at a driver and a 6 iron (with the breeze helping ever so slightly), but true to the course‚??s calibre the green complex makes up for what the hole lacks in length. ¬†3 pot bunkers stand guard, and there‚??s a steep drop off from the back and left ‚?? not to mention a false front. ¬†Ballybunion‚??s not going to give shots away that easily now...
14 and 15 are back to back par 3s that present very different challenges. ¬†The former is an uphill shortie to a narrow green; the latter is a monster when played into the wind, but the two tiered green‚??s the size of Texas. ¬†Gav God Bless Him hit one of the shots of the year into 15 with a driver (he‚??s only a little man, mind) to set up a high class par. ¬†He was getting a shot too...sod.
16 would be one of the easier par 5s ‚?? perhaps Ballybunion‚??s only weakness ‚?? but it is no less enjoyable to play for it. ¬†Indeed if it wasn‚??t down wind the 16th would no doubt have proved a more challenging beast. ¬†Walking through the natural chute created by the dunes I felt like Jason with his Argonauts going in search of The Golden Fleece. ¬†Loved that movie as a kid. ¬†Those dunes had a mystical energy about them ‚?? although no sign of the giant with lava in his heel.
Just as we reached the high point of the course (17 tee) a force 9 gale decided we posed a threat, and tried to eliminate us. ¬†If it weren‚??t for our studs we may have been whisked off to Dublin. ¬†Devil‚??s Elbow is tough enough ‚?? a sweeping dogleg left towards the ocean ‚?? as it is. ¬†I‚??d managed to hold out without making a double bogey until then, but The Devil and his Elbow spoiled the party. ¬†Another gorgeous hole though I must admit.
As was 18, which gives you options when the wind‚??s behind. ¬†Paddy Daly took the high road with driver and dam near pulled it off ‚?? which would‚??ve left him with a chip. ¬†Those up in the clubhouse have a great view of the weary golfers down below struggling up the final stretch. ¬†Had Paddy flown it All The Way (over a sharp incline into which a deep bunker is cut) a few old biddies looking on might have choked on their scones. ¬†In the end Paddy and I made four, which was enough to earn a just half I feel. ¬†Gav had been burgling strokes all day despite hitting 15 fairways and 19 greens in regulation. ¬†The little tyke‚??s handicap will be coming down, I‚??d predict. ¬†Mind you he was good enough to buy us lunch so I can‚??t level too much abuse at him.
Ballybunion was, as I said up top, the epitome of Irishness. ¬†The grass was a bright emerald green; the people across the board were instantly endearing and hospitable; and the weather, well, you‚??ve heard the ‚??four seasons in one day‚?Ě clich√© before. ¬†Once I settle back into life in NZ I‚??m going to try teeing up a bi-annual match between Paraparam‚?? and Bally B...any takers? ¬†Swap heaven for heaven for a week? ¬†Go on...
Thanks to Vari and everyone at Ballybunion GC for making Day 253 one of the best of the year. ¬†And to Gav and Paddy for being such smashing hosts. ¬†I‚??ll be back for sure.
Folks you'll have to excuse me for the belated posting of this blog. ¬†But Ireland is just far too much fun. ¬†And it's getting the better of us. ¬†There, I said it. ¬†No use pretending. ¬†Far. ¬†Too. ¬†Much. ¬†Fun. ¬†
Lahinch was no different. ¬†In fact, dare I say it, Lahinch was a special special experience. ¬†It‚??s probably no secret by now that Michael and myself are big fans of a gentleman named Dr. Alistair MacKenzie. ¬†His courses are so cleverly designed so as to be playable by golfers of all shapes and sizes ‚?? the likes of Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point, Royal Adelaide and Pasatiempo are among the creations of his that we‚??ve been fortunate enough to play this year. ¬†Lahinch is the emerald in his crown. ¬†
It was Old Tom Morris, to be sure, that was brought in first to recommend alterations to the original course laid down by The Merchant Princes of Limerick (with the help of the Black Watch Regiment, who were in town at the time). ¬†The first game of golf was played on 15 April 1892; Old Tam was then brought over in 1894 by Alexander Shaw, the brains of the operation. ¬†Apparently the old boy was deeply impressed by the natural terrain and sandhills. ¬†In fact, it‚??s reported that Old Tam believed the course would be on a par with the five great links courses of the UK, once his changes were implemented; the finest natural course he‚??d ever seen. ¬†Now a lot is said to have been said by famous golfers about golf courses over the years ‚?? you never have to go far to see a quote from Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan or Tom Watson on a strokesaver, proclaiming this is ‚??their favourite hole in [insert country]‚?Ě ‚?? but I can believe it. ¬†Lahinch is quite something.
Indeed it became known as the ‚??St Andrews of Ireland‚?Ě ‚?? ¬†probably because of the Old Tom Morris connection and the similar atmosphere of the village. ¬†By September 1926 the Committee had got wind of Dr. MacKenzie‚??s growing pedigree, and so invited him across to recommend alterations to the course. ¬†He agreed. ¬†By 1928 his wand had been waved, and Lahinch was now a McKenzie course. ¬†Hooray! ¬†If you‚??re wondering how I know all of this ‚?? by the way ‚?? it‚??s because we were each given a fascinating book on the club‚??s history ‚??A Century of Golf at Lahinch: 1892 ‚?? 1992‚?Ě. ¬†Not to mention we had a cracking lunch in the clubhouse with a past captain who was only too happy to share a few tidbits about the club‚??s rich history. ¬†Lahinch is a place that you can‚??t help but want to know more about.
It‚??s also a huge amount of fun to play, which really is the main thing. ¬†On a benign Friday morning we had the privilege of doing just that ‚?? on this occasion, with a new friend of ours, a chap by the name of Connor Shields. ¬†Great lad that he is. ¬†Connor had taken the day off work to join us on the tee at 7.30am. ¬†Not only that, but Friday was the day after his birthday, and the 14th anniversary of his wedding! ¬†His wife‚??s obviously an understanding lady indeed (who was at work anyway, and don‚??t worry folks he whisked her off to somewhere fancy for the night after he left us).
When we left our plush pad at Doonbeg it was dark, and the rain was tumbling down as it tends to do over here. ¬†Tumbling. ¬†‚??Feck‚?Ě I exclaimed ‚?? which as you know is not a real swear word and so can be used in the blog without fear of adverse comment. ¬†Imagine our delight and surprise then when the clouds turned whiter as we approached Lahinch, the bonnie wee village that we‚??d passed through the day prior en route to Doonbeg. ¬†As if by the command of Moses himself, the rain stopped. ¬†The clouds parted. ¬†Well, almost anyway. ¬†And there was Connor getting kitted up in the carpark, ready for action. ¬†Super.
Even at the anti-social hour of 7.15am there was a crowd starting to gather around the 1st tee. ¬†These folks like their golf around here, and well they should. ¬†Wouldn‚??t want to be late for your tee time... ¬†Anyway we got away without fireworks and found ourselves pacing up the 1st fairway with a butterfly like sense of anticipation. ¬†Yes, we were playing a MacKenzie course. ¬†Someone asked me the other day what type of course I would play for the rest of my life if for some unnatural reason I was restricted to playing one type. ¬†Now, the question is an elastic one. ¬†But nonetheless I responded quickly and without hesitation: I would play MacKenzie courses. ¬†What say you friends? ¬†Links? ¬†Parkland? ¬†Par 72s? ¬†12 holers? ¬†Take your pick.
An opening bogey on a seemingly innocuous hole reminded me that The Good Doctor‚??s courses ankle tap you if you‚??re not careful. ¬†So I took matters into my own hands and hit driver, 3 wood to 8 feet on the par 5 2nd, to exact my revenge. ¬†Then missed, unfortunately ‚?? could‚??ve been a good few bob for The First Tee but for my omnipresent ineptitude. ¬†The hole however was one to be marvelled at. ¬†From the tee you look back past the clubhouse (on the left) to the village behind. ¬†Lahinch sits there looking quaintly Irish, the waves crashing against its sea wall like an impetuous dog grabbing the leg of a disinterested master. ¬†MacKenzie‚??s signature bunkering style ‚?? aka rather fierce, and fierce looking ‚?? is there for all to see as you approach the green, some 5 or 6 of the rascals waiting to catch you out.
Holes like 4 and 5 have a Prestwick like quirk factor. ¬†Both demand that blind shots be hit over the famous ‚??Klondyke‚?Ě, the 4th being a par 5 and the 5th being a par 3. ¬†The fairway on 4 is like a tunnel, which can gather tee shots towards the fairway ‚?? although you have to be long enough to ensure you can get it up over the Klondyke for your second blow. ¬†On 5 you‚??re told to fire 150 yards or so over a little white stone perched atop the dune; although the strokesaver actually said the stone creates an optical illusion, and the pin is in fact 5 yards left of where it appears to be. ¬†All very confusing, but a huge amount of fun. ¬†Poor Connor got a little too cute and ended up a couple of inches away from the stone itself, leaving a treacherous pitch down onto the green. ¬†It was hard not to laugh, but thankfully y‚??er man being a self-respecting Irishman has a good sense of humour. ¬†
A brief shower threatened to spoil the party as we marched to the 6th tee. ¬†The rain clouds in question were however blown away by our golf. ¬†Perhaps they thought we looked tormented enough? ¬†A gentleman by the name of Martin had come down to meet us while playing the 5th, at the request of a mutual friend. ¬†Just as I was waxing lyrical about the fantastic start to the course, Martin insisted that things were only just getting started. ¬†At the time I couldn‚??t believe he was speaking truth, but he was. ¬†Each hole is more fun than the next, it seems.
6 is a good par 4 playing down towards the sea that I‚??m sure could be treacherous ‚?? although if you get a good drive away you‚??ll only have about 140 down to the green, which is a wonderful example of MacKenzie‚??s work. ¬†7 then is an up-then-down-then-up short-ish par 4 to a green that looks improbable you‚??ll manage to hold. ¬†Vicious bunker to the right of the dance floor caught Connor, who was quaking in his boots but nearly in the end managed to get up and down in a display of Seve magic. ¬†8‚??s an uphill par 3 (Goldy was pleased after all the downhill par 3s he‚??s been complaining about playing in Ireland...) possessed of wonderful features, not least the greenside bunker on the left that is so steep and deep that it has steps to take you down into its depths. ¬†I always find steps are a bad sign when they lead to sand on a golf course. ¬†9 then is a fun short par 4 with a 60 yard long green, so you need to pay attention to where the pin is for your wedge approach in.
What‚??s great about The Good Doctor‚??s courses is that ‚?? and I‚??ve said this before, so please excuse the repetition ‚?? under normal conditions, they‚??re very playable. ¬†Good shots get rewarded, bad ones punished. ¬†You don‚??t need to be hitting the ball a country mile to be making birdies and (unless the greens are shaved quick and the pins cut in awkward spots) putting‚??s generally a pleasurable ritual. ¬†In this case, it was a delight ‚?? Lahinch‚??s greenkeepers obviously know what they‚??re doing. ¬†Martin Hawtree ‚?? who has come in recently to make minor tweaks, and who has developed a reputation as being to MacKenzie courses what Rees Jones is to US Open courses ‚?? has dun good too. ¬†His new par 3, the 11th, is pure. ¬†It feels like a MacKenzie hole, which is a huge compliment. ¬†
Connor despite having played the course before was just as inspired as we were. ¬†The three of us were like kids at Christmas, beaming with enthusiasm and not wanting it to end. ¬†We all agreed Lahinch was a course you could play every day until you die and not get sick of. ¬†Not many courses fall into that category. ¬†A short par 4 will get your blood pumping and plant the seed of birdie in your mind (like the 13th), then a longer one will bring you back down to earth before a really long one ensures you‚??re not getting carried away with your own brilliance (like the 15th). ¬†It‚??s a veritable rollercoaster of mini-examinations. ¬†
Eugene the Club Captain and his contemporary whose name very frustratingly escapes me greeted us on the 18th green. ¬†The encounter was a very easy one as we had so many nice things to say, that we wanted to say. ¬†We were taken into the clubhouse and fed like Kings, not to mention entertained with stories about the club and its impressive history I was alluding to before. ¬†Lahinch is a golf lover‚??s club and one with a proud record of hosting the South of Ireland which, I‚??m told, is a big deal. ¬†Quite simply, it‚??s class. ¬†In an unpretentious way, thank God. ¬†I‚??m bursting with superlatives but will spare you the monotony of having to read them all. ¬†
One of the best, no doubt.
First, let me apologise for the lateness of this blog post. ¬†I think I have a relatively good excuse and that is that Gretta has made the journey from New Zealand to spend 10 days on the puregolf2010 bandwagon. ¬†It is great to see her and I think if you're lucky a guest blog might be forthcoming shortly...
To Carne Golf Links on day 250 of our journey (and the day prior to our lengthy drive south to Doonbeg). Generally Jamie and I ask for directions to our next destination only a day before, or even at times on the actual day we're heading to the golf course.¬†¬† Fortunately, with Carne Golf Links next on our schedule, we were advised with a good 24 hours notice that no, this was not a half hour drive down the road from Sligo and that we should give ourselves plenty of time.¬†
The drive west from our luxurious base at the Mount Falcon Lodge (thanks Alan again for having us!!) to the Carne Golf Links is about an hour long and the roads flip between¬† the 1910‚??s variety and the 1990‚??s. ¬†Whilst driving across some of the more antique concrete going around we were encompassed by a couple of serious showers.¬† The type of rain that has penetrated through our helpless wet weather gear of late.¬† As the windscreen wipers were turned to full speed silence fell on the car as Jamie and I both thought ‚??here we go again‚??. Our freshly cleaned and dried golfing clothes were about to get another hammering.
As we pulled into the car park at Carne Golf Links the skies lifted and whilst we prudently packed our wet weathers into the golf bags it looked like we were in for a dry day! ¬†The car park at Carne was not jam packed with tourist busses and nor were there swarms of golfers and caddies buzzing around the first tee.¬† From the get go this place exuded a rustic charm.
The club that plays it‚??s golf at Carne Golf Links is the Belmullet Golf Club.¬† Belmullet is the local village out here and one of the main service towns for the western ring of Moy - so it has a police (guarda) station, school and other services usually reserved for larger towns. Belmullet is inhabited by lovely people as we found out when we arrived and were greeted with an amazing welcome.¬† Sorcha, the commercial manager who had invited us out here initially, had worded up the locals that some kiwi lads were in town and so it was that on day 250 we were greeted by possibly the welcome of the year! ¬†A couple of lads from the US were arranged to make up the four ball, one of which (Fred) is an international life member here. ¬†Fred was traveling Ireland for a couple of weeks with his buddy David a chap from Virginia.¬†¬†¬† We said g‚??day to these boys, and then got chatting with the secretary manager, Liam, who was to walk the course with us.¬† The club captain also came out to welcome us and we were ushered into the pro shop to meet the charming Mary whose folks, Sheilagh and Chris also came out to walk the back nine with us.¬†¬†¬†
Teeing off in front of a crowd after the customary photographs has not been going so well for me of late (think first tee Aberdour and some shank magic).¬† Fortunately both JP and I got away down the first and so we were off and keeping up the charade of low handicap golfers!¬†
The Carne Golf Links was designed about 15 years ago by a chap named Eddie Hackett.¬†¬† A minimalist, Mr Hackett was determined to keep the use of any machinery to a minimum as he carved a course through this pure links land. ¬† Wandering the course with Liam, the stories flowed about Mr Hackett needing a minder to hold him up in the strong wind as his frail frame traversed the land deciding the routing.¬†¬† I think a minder was also needed for the guy operating the heavy machinery to ensure he didn‚??t go overboard and move any more land than is necessary.
The outcome?¬† Quality.¬† Absolute class.¬† A rustic ‚??rough and tumble‚?? links course which touches those creative senses in the brain making you approach each hole as a calculated form of art.¬† A 3 iron might go 140 yards, an 8 iron 200.¬† I think that Mr Hackett has, in his years of experience, learnt not to underestimate the wind. ¬†He has built this course to embrace it.¬†¬† Rather than simply cut each hole between the sand dunes, minimizing the impact of the wind and instead creating a funnel for the golfer to play down, he allows the wide expanse to lull the golfers into a false sense of security, only for them to watch helplessly as their ball is captured by the wind and soars wildly off into the nether-regions.¬†¬† In this respect, the front nine is routed across only mildly undulating land.¬† Some think it‚??s the smaller brother of the back nine, but I enjoyed it.¬†
Holes like the par four 6th, (pictured above) with an exposed table top green, the 180 yard 7th hole that plays uphill 25 yards and normally requires a driver for most souls into the prevailing wind are brilliant.¬† And the 8th green which, after an array of flat land is nestled amongst the dunes is sheer class as you can see below.¬†
On the front nine a local couple came out to meet us and walk the course, Gemma and Michael Kavanagh (pictured below with the lovely Belmullet in the background).¬† We chatted about life out here, the devestation of the earthquake back home in CHCH and, of course, golf.¬†¬† Everyone is very proud here of the success in Irish golf of late.¬† And rightly so.¬†
The golf was solid if not spectacular, although Jamie gave the onlookers something to cheer about with a birdie on the par five 4th hole. ¬†I got everyone involved on the next - looking for my ball in the hay. ¬†12 eyes proved to be the trick as it was found nestled down in wrist breaking position. ¬†Although it wasn't as bad as the lie that poor Fred found himself with on the 9th as you can see below:
We did something very ‚??un-irish‚?Ě and stopped for lunch after 9 holes.¬† A smashing seafood chowder later and we were off to play the more revered back nine.¬† You can see why it gets a good wrap as playing 10 through 12 the dunes are, all of a sudden very much in you face as you need to strategically negotiate around them or else you‚??re left with ‚??quite a stance‚?? and ‚??quite the recovery‚??.¬† Good luck.
[Above: the par four 11th hole. ¬†2 iron to the left of the dune and then wedge up. ¬†Or, if you're Tiger, you could go over the the top with driver carrying the ball 350 yards onto the green. Not the safe play]
[the short par four 12th. ¬†A reasonable chance to fly over the dune on the left to the green, or play safe to the right and knock up to the elevated green - pictured below. ¬†My first birdie for the day - (or even the week?)]
Personally I liked the par five 13th hole which plays out beyond the picture above towards the farthest point on the course.¬†¬† The 13th is as simple as they come.¬† A wide fairway, out of bounds well to the right, but generally a hole completely exposed to the elements.¬† For us, the wind was in our face (as it would be most days) meaning this is a real test of ball striking. ¬†Upon reaching the green, it is exposed to the wind and, if you can keep your focus away from the breathtaking views, you can negotiate the subtle slope from back to front and escape with a par 5. ¬†On the next tee everyone stopped to catch their breath and take in the truly spectacular, and unspoilt view.¬†
I think a couple of the folk watching were particularly interested to see how we went at the short par three 14th. ¬†Their advise that we had a landing area of about a foot wide proved to be not far from the truth. ¬†This green is not Mr Hackett's finest work as the slope is too severe from left to right meaning that you generally need to sink a long putt to manage a two putt. ¬†Jamie put his 20 foot sidehill sloping putt about 12 feet right, as it appeared to stop right by the hole. ¬†A touch of luck involved on this one - but this type of criticism would be few and far between as a rule in Mr Hackett's generally simplistic design. [The next hole - a cracking par four up the hill has a beautiful green that craftily slopes from front to back creating all kinds of headaches without being a smidgeon unfair].
The 16th was another one of the steeply downhill par threes which have been causing me all kinds of de ja vu in Ireland. ¬†Many of the courses we've been playing have consisted of 2 or 3 such holes. ¬†They're generally not my favourite - but this one - well I particularly enjoyed it. ¬†Mainly because it came out of nowhere. ¬†The undulations had not been used to such dramatic effect throughout the round, and then all of a sudden there you are on a surprisingly high point on the course looking down upon the wee green below. Photo time..
The course gave us some respite with a down wind par five to finish where JP and I made matching birdies, gave a celebratory fist pump, shook hands with all and sundry and, with that, round 250 was over. ¬†We thanked all of the locals who gave the day some real character and went inside for a customary pint of the black stuff whilst chatting with the local barman (who had broken his ankle and was gutted to be off golf for a couple of months). ¬†
Final words on Carne is that it is one of my favourite tracks in Ireland to date (and even 7 days subsequently as I write this blog). ¬†It is different to many of the heavily duned courses, and has a more laid back feel than some of the 'more popular' courses. I think part of this is that the North West of Ireland has a charm that has not been fully appreciated by foreigners yet. ¬†Something I'm sure will change (particularly as more of the roads change to the 1990's variety and it becomes even more accessible).
Thanks to the team at Carne Golf Links and at Mount Falcon. ¬†This is a golf weekend away I'd recommend hands down.