Australian Golfers Take a 17 Day Tour
On one of our Ireland Golf Trips, we had a group of Australian golfers visit us for a 17-day trip. Ian Wood produced a day by day blog on his experience.
Day 1, Monday 7 September
EY0045 touched down around 8 am in Dublin and we headed straight from the airport to County Louth G.C about an hour north of the city right on the coast. County Louth (or Baltray to the locals) has an excellent layout totally exposed to the prevailing winds but on this day the wind was non-existent.
The course is extremely fair with accommodating fairways bordered by calf high rough. Wider than that is deep rough that eats golf balls but it takes a pretty awful shot to be that wide.The course opens with a medium length par four followed by a par 5 with a blind green. It gets more interesting after that with some great short 4’s and a very good collection of par 3’s. The course heads off in all directions with only two consecutive holes playing in the same direction. The 14th is a super shortish 4 and the finishing pair make for a challenging end to the round.
The fairways were in good nick and greens putted well despite some renovations having been carried out recently. In one sense I felt a little cheated with the lack of wind but will probably be thankful for that by the end of this trip.
Day 2, Tuesday 8 September
A golfing lay day giving an opportunity to check out Dublin and the best way to do that is the “hop on hop off” bus. These busses circle the city all day stopping at 23 tourist and historical sites. At €19 it’s great value and I never had to wait more than five minutes for the next one.
Kilmainham Gaol is the standout for me with a terrific 45-minute tour of the historic gaol provided in small, 30 pax, groups with extremely informative and friendly group leaders. I entered the gaol with very little knowledge of the various Irish uprisings and left with a good basic knowledge of their struggles against the English and each other. There is also a good museum and all this for €4.
The Guinness tour is almost a given for most people and that finishes with a pint on the top floor overlooking Dublin. The Temple Bar precinct is also good fun. Capped off the day with dinner at Boxty in the Temple Bar area and can highly recommend this place for good reasonably priced meals and really friendly staff.
Day 3 Wednesday 9 September
Back on golf duty again today and off to Stackstown G.C. a parkland course about 30 minutes from Dublin. The course is up high and overlooks all of the greater Dublin area and, as a result, is a very hilly course. The other claim to fame is that it is the home of three-time major winner Padraig Harrington. Photos of Padraig abound throughout the clubhouse and there is also a room with some cool memorabilia showcasing his career from amateur to three-time major champion.
With the course being as hilly as it is, there is very few level lies for the entire round. Downhill, uphill, sidehill is the name of the game here. With severe elevation changes club selection becomes everything. The first is a perfunctory uphill par four and then the second is an 180 yard straight downhill par 3 where club selection is vital. The rest of the front nine follows similar pattern concluding with the tough 404 yard ninth. The uphill par 3 tenth is followed by a terrific short 293-yard par four where placement is king. You could probably use half your clubs off this tee depending on what you want to hit into the green.
The back nine continues in this vein and finishes with an 185-yard uphill par 3 and a 520-yard sidehill par 5. A par, par finish is extremely well earned. Overall, an enjoyable but very tough physical round on a well-conditioned track.
Day 4 Thursday 10 September
Final golfing lay day before the serious stuff starts so decided on a quietish sort of day. Lazy brekky followed by a bit of work (yes 24/7, I know) and then a stroll up through the Grafton St mall. Not sure if street buskers outnumber statues in Dublin or not but it’s a pretty close race and the buskers are probably more entertaining. I’ve seen worse getting through to the playoffs on X Factor back home.
Spent a bit of time in both a Boyle Sports and Paddy Power betting shop and most of our PubTabs lose nothing in comparison. The vibe in and around the city here after work and into the evening is terrific and everyone is up for a chat and a drink.
The vibe in and around the city here after work and into the evening is terrific and everyone is up for a chat and a drink. Looking forward to K Club tomorrow. Need to find out why the Yanks found it so difficult in the Ryder Cup.
Day 5 Friday 11 September
Today was the start of the serious golf with a late morning start at the K Club – Palmer Course, the venue of the 2006 Ryder Cup. This was to be the only non-links course on the tour and is a beautiful parkland style setting. The place oozes class from the minute you turn into the property, a huge accommodation hotel, spacious locker rooms and lovely clubhouse.
The course was in superb condition with fairways manicured within an inch of their life. The fairways were reminiscent of Metropolitan without the hardness and roll we get in Melbourne. The weather gods finally transpired to toss some showers that were with us the entire back nine which made things that little bit tougher.
I have a bit of an issue with courses that have an over-reliance on water (creeks, lakes etc) as a central defence of the course and this kind of falls in that category with water present on more than half of the holes. Having said that there is plenty of room and it stands up as a reasonably fair course. Once everything dries out we head to Pat Ruddy’s European Club tomorrow to get stuck into true links golf.
Day 6 Saturday 12 September
Today we played The European about an hour south of Dublin hugging the Irish Sea. This course is simply one of the best three courses I have ever played on and if there is a better one to come in the next week or so then I am the luckiest bloke going around. It’s similar to Barnbougle Dunes in the way it plays along the coast on several holes but the size of the dunes and the routeing make it better in my opinion.
It’s unusual in that there are only two par 5’s and three par 3’s which has really been dictated by the topography. There are in fact twenty holes here (7a & 12a) which are also both par 3’s and everyone always plays them as well.It is a reasonably lengthy course with a lot of holes up higher in the dunes which bring the wind into play. Today it was mid strength without being brutal. It is also a course where strategy will win over power every day of the week. The fairways always offer you width but, usually, the longer you hit it the more the fairways narrow. So, the big hitter is left with a choice of risking a tight area or throttling back and playing a slightly longer shot in.
I could bang on about virtually every hole as the WOW factor is definitely here but that would take too long. Seven and eight are outstanding par 4’s with the seventh being long and surrounded by trouble both sides the full length of the hole and the eighth doesn’t have a single bunker on it but par is gold. 12-14 hug the beach on the right and run south to north and provide some magnificent vistas as well as super golf holes. 16 & 17 normally play back into the wind and then 18 is a beaut finishing hole. The golfing world owes a debt of gratitude to Mr Pat Ruddy for designing and building this gem and is a better place for it.
Day 7 Sunday 13 September
A welcome rest from golf today for a visit to the Irish St Leger at The Curragh. The St Leger has long been the favoured way for the Irish Invaders heading to the Melbourne Cup and was the launching pad for Vintage Crop, Vinnie Roe and others.
The first thing that strikes you is the sheer size of the actual racetrack and the hilliness of it. If you think the rise up the back at Sandown is acute, have a look at the back straight here. Talk about sorting the men from the boys. similarly, they have the capacity to run straight races of 1400 metres and faint-hearted horses don’t win those.
The Irish certainly know how to put on a show with brass bands, Swiss choirs, a vibrant and character filled bookmakers ring and terrific opportunities to get up close in the mounting yard and sheds.
All in all, a really good day enhanced by backing enough winners to pay the drinks bill.
Irish Greyhound Derby Night at Shelbourne Park
Tonight we visited Shelbourne Park for the semi-finals of the Irish Greyhound Derby. Greyhound racing is hugely popular in Ireland with tracks all throughout the country. The Derby is their biggest race with €125,000 going to the winner.
There would have been over 3000 people on track and they aren’t shy about having a bet with either the Tote or the on-track bookies. One of the most entertaining parts is watching a group of punters wait until just on race time and then hit the bookmakers all at the same time trying to get on their selection late. The bookies here simply wipe the odds off the board taking no more bets until they reset.
The Irish only have six dogs per race as distinct from Australia where we have eight which usually means less interference but that’s not always the case. Races are only 15 minutes apart which makes for a relatively quick 12 race program. Wins are celebrated very loudly and despite their penchant for liking a drink, there were no crowd problems at all. A really good night out.
Day 8 Monday 14 September
Time for more golf and it was about 30 minutes north of Dublin, just off Malahide and outside Donabate where you find The Island G.C. The Island is not a course that immediately jumps into people’s minds when talk of Irish links courses arises but given its location and topography it should be one of the first.
There are several things about this track different to other links courses. The front nine has eight consecutive par 4’s to start followed by a par 3. The back nine is a more conventional par 36 with the traditional two par 3’s & 5’s and the rest 4’s. The most interesting point though is the lack of bunkers. Not sure how many in total are on the course but there are only eight bunkered holes on the entire 18. This means the course terrain plus the elements are the defences.
The front nine is more difficult than the back as the back is laid out more clearly and is more a what you see is what you get the layout. The front nine incorporates some soaring dunes that you play between with the propensity of a lot of blind shots if you stray to the wrong side of the fairway. Unfortunately, about half of the greens had been renovated which made putting very difficult and speed judgement critical. Additionally, we were greeted with both wind and rain and, coupled with a really tough opening hole, made for a challenging start.
It doesn’t get any easier really as all fours present their own defences. The eighth requires local knowledge (read caddy or course guide) to know where the fairway runs out and the ninth is a nice 3. The tenth presents the first par 5 for the day but 15 is the better of the two by far. The thirteenth is my pick if the 3’s and require carry all the way to the green and is followed by a dead straight fairway only twenty metres wide it’s full length with the beach on the right and rough all down the 337-metre left-hand side. The finishing hole is tough as nails playing back into the wind and only reachable in two by the longest hitters. To give you an idea of the difficulty, the best score amongst our group of ten was 32 Stableford points then 27,25,24,24 & 22. It’s the type of golf course that you will play better after 2-3 rounds once you have sorted lines and carries out. In the first outing, I would strongly recommend a caddy or at the very least a course guide.
The Island is a delightful find amongst the better-known links courses in Ireland but this little beauty can hold its own in this company. The course staff from the pro shop through to the F&B crew are fantastic and will bend over backwards to accommodate you.
Day 9 Tuesday 15 September
Playing for the second day in a row we had to pinch ourselves to believe we were looking at another sunny day with light breezes for our encounter with the grand old lady of Ireland, the Old Course at Portmarnock. Founded back in 1894 the club oozes tradition as soon as you arrive in the car park. The pro shop nestled at the rear of the first tee, the magnificent clubhouse and course are a picture. Portmarnock has hosted twenty Irish Opens, a Canada Cup, Walker Cup and a plethora of major amateur events.
As an overall comment, the course is a very fair links course with only one blind drive and any other blind shots are the result of poor strategy, shot making or both. You get a good look at all the holes from the tee and what is required and the caddy (Bob) that we had could be relied on for the line of play and line of putts. The fairways are quite generous in width compared to other courses played but the penalty for finding one of the fairway bunkers is severe. There is a correct line to play each hole and if you can keep largely to that you shouldn’t have too many problems. The putting surfaces are in impeccable condition with some really subtle breaks the caddies can pick but aren’t readily seen by the first timer. I found the greenside bunkers to play beautifully with the consistency of the sand in each unbelievable.
Regarding the holes themselves, there’s really not a weak hole. Five par 4’s open the round with the fourth the toughest requiring two long shots to find the putting surface. The fifth is the blind drive and definitely requires a straight tee shot or you will be reloading. The first par 5 is the sixth and is a genuine three shorter into the wind. The par3’s start on 7 and is an excellent short hole but my pick of the 3’s is the 204 yard 15th that hugs the beach. OOB all the way down the right, three pot bunkers and Swales around the raised green and rough off to the left. A par here (like mine) is gold.
Bernard Darwin wrote ” I know of no greater finish than the last five holes at Portmarnock” and it’s a fair statement. Fourteen is a testing par 4, fifteen we have spoken about and the 16th has some strategically place bunkers that invite you to lay up and hit a longer shot in or take them on with a matching risk/reward. The last two were uncharacteristically playing downwind that made them easier but it’s easy to imagine the difficulty factor multiplying into the normally prevailing wind. 18 only has three small green side bunkers but their positioning makes your positioning off the tee crucial to your shot in. We arrived at Portmarnock with great expectations and they were satisfied 100%.
Day 10 Wednesday 16 September
Any golfer, anywhere in the world who has a bucket list, rewrite it and place Old Head Golf Club squarely at the top of the list. It’s not the best course I have ever played but it is far and away the best golf experience I have ever had.
The excitement starts to build as you turn off the road out of Kinsale on to a narrow winding lane barely capable of accommodating one car let alone two. As you approach the promontory the course sits on you get a first glimpse of the old fort and then the lighthouse. Entering via the fort gate, you are welcomed and your clubs were taken from you as you go and check in. The clubhouse and surrounds are beautiful with stone work everywhere. You immediately walk through the clubhouse to the outdoor deck overlooking the 17th and 18th for the first jaw-dropping view. It’s hard to drag yourself away to the practice fairway where your clubs await along with complimentary balls.
Twelve of the eighteen holes play with the ocean along one side. On numerous occasions, you are asked to hit shots across water carries and ravines and how much you choose to bite off is up to you. The first doesn’t give much sense of what is to come but the second spells it out in spades with a big sweeping dog leg right to left. A tough hole for the common man but your author managed to hole his second from 155 yards out from the fairway for an eagle two which kind of helped the scorecard.
The third and thirteenth are similar par 3’s playing with the cliff on the right and ocean left and greens cut into the side of the cliff. “Razors Edge” the fourth hole is awe inspiring with a long tee shot needed shaping right to left and cliffs all the way from tee to green. The green is extremely narrow and with a 200-foot drop three metres left of the green, it’s reasonably challenging! And so it continues. The twelfth is another one of those “Kodak” moments with a drive across a huge ravine plummeting down to the sea. There is actually plenty of fairway to hit to, you just can’t see it off the tee and have to trust the stone marker and your swing.
The finishing three holes are just magic, particularly the long sweeping par 5 seventeenth but the real photo shot is eighteen where you tee off under the lighthouse. Like just about everyone else I guess, we went back to the tiger tee under the lighthouse to have a crack at the fairway 240 metres away and came away smiling with a couple of solid efforts. The actual tee wouldn’t be any bigger than a smallish bedroom. A few Guinness on the deck reminiscing and we had to reluctantly bid farewell to Old Head vowing to return to this place but not before marvelling at the cable television showing the latest golf tournament above the men’s urinal. Nice touch that one.
Day 11 Thursday 17 September
After the excitement of Old Head, our next course was always going to be under the pump to deliver so it was up to Waterville, one of the oldest Irish clubs having been founded in 1889. It was tweaked in a major renovation by Tom Fazio around 2002 and is a tough test if golf. The late great Payne Stewart was Honorary Captain the year he passed away and Waterville has often been used by players such as Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara, Ernie Els and others as somewhere to get ready for the Open Championship.
It’s a links course in the truest sense with the course right in the bay. It was a very solid wind that greeted us on the first and we also copped a couple of holes of showers mid round but nothing more than that.
Waterville is very fair with the only blind shots the ones caused by yourself for playing to the wrong part of the fairway. She lays out clearly in front of you what is required and then leaves it up to you. When you play these courses, do yourself a favour and occasionally walk back to the back tees and see the difference it makes against the member’s tees. 7378 yards versus 6810 yards here. The par fours here are as strong as any we have played and are the key to good scoring. A lot of the longer 400-440 yards were into the wind and uphill which made them very hard and our short games were given a fair working over. The putting surfaces played beautifully if a little slow and had some sneaky borrow in them as well.
The par 3 fourth is a terrific short hole into a strong wind that has you guessing which club to play and Fazio’s two new holes, 6 & 7, are superb. Another characteristic of Waterville is the ability to play it in a number of ways. The traditional Australian or US golfer will look to hit the ball high and land on the green or fairway whereas I find a course like Waterville much more receptive to the lower running shot that is less likely to be affected by the wind. Each to his own in that one but I’m right!
The back nine starts with a tough par four but I think the last three that run across the top of the dunes along the beach back toward the clubhouse that are best. The 16th is known as Liam’s Ace as this is the 386-yard hole aced by club pro-Liam Higgins in his way to a course record 65. Yes, that’s 386 yards folks. We actually met Liam after the round and he wouldn’t be 70kg wringing wet so go figure. Seventeen is an exposed par three with tabletop green and eighteen a longish five that winds all the way back to Guinness Central. Waterville proudly holds a position in the top 100 courses in the world and it isn’t hard to see why.
Day 12 Friday 18 September
Day off, no golf
Day 13 Saturday 19 September
A late morning start at Tralee G.C. A course surrounded by the Atlantic with some of the most stunning beachscapes you will ever see from a golf course. Tralee was designed by Arnold Palmer who said he had never come across a piece of land so ideally suited for the building of a golf course and was happy we have one of the world’s great links in Tralee.
The course has a welcoming opening hole with a generous fairway, downhill of moderate length. The second is a much tougher four with a drive that has to be carefully assessed as to how much of the corner you are willing to bite off. The signature hole is the third that plays to 194 yards from the back tees and feeds down left to right. Depending on the wind it can take anything from a wedge to a three wood. The eighth hole is a cracker dog leg left with another risk/reward drive to a fairway that wraps around the beach below. Bite off too much like me and you will be reloading. An uphill par five ends the nine.
The back nine is, in my opinion, the finest nine we have played to date. It features reasonably hilly elevation changes on almost all holes and has great variety along with demanding shot lines. Ten is a long par four with the second played down then up to the green. The eleventh is a tough uphill par five with a blind second and the twelfth is the toughest hole on the course with the green sitting high up for your second shot. Thirteen is short but all carry across a ravine and fourteen is the last really good birdie chance.
Fifteen is a fabulous short par four with a decision to be made on the drive strategy that then dictates the second shot to a steeply sloping green. The sixteenth is the best par 3 we have played so far, a downhill 197 yard shot to a well guarded green and beach off the right. The penultimate hole is another short four with a tough drive followed by a precise shot up to a green you cannot afford to be short to as it will feed all the way back down the fairway. The round finishes with another uphill par five to a large green below the clubhouse.
Tralee isn’t often ranked up with some of the better-known links courses but for mine is up there with the best we have played on the trip. A golfers golf course.
Day 14 Sunday 20 September
Lay day for golf but no probs because it’s the GAA All-Ireland final today between Kerry and Dublin. We are in Kerry so we are supporting them but Dublin won so who gives a continental. Let’s have another pint and get ready for tomorrow
Day 15 Monday 21 September
When this trip was first put together it was Ballybunion that was my holy grail. I’d read about it, I’d spoken with people about it and I had rehearsed it. The website flyovers, the testimonials, even down to gauging yardages from the scorecard and course guide. The danger, of course, is in disappointment because you have built it up too much. Please indulge me for a paragraph or five.
The first drive was smoked beautifully left to right in the 30mph wind (yes, I’m a lefty) into centre fairway leading to a shit easy par. A crap drive on two gave some early jitters but three shots later and the first birdie is in the bag. The third produced a par of Nicklaus standard into the howler and four gave up another birdie to the unopposable force that was ME! Five through seven were pedestrian two-pointers and 8,9,10 and 12 inexplicably were all three putts from under 20 feet but all two pointers given the quality of my iron play.
As the relentless wind and rain continued to hail on my parade, I steeled myself for a huge finish precipitated by perfunctory two pointers on 13,14 & 15. The quality of driving was akin to watching Jason Day in the last month in the conditions and this only stumbled slightly on 17.Eighteen was straight downwind but still required the craft of a links surgeon to execute and I didn’t disappoint. An extraordinary 246 yard (not 245 or 247) drive placed to perfection was followed by yet another majestic punch eight iron to the heart of this difficult green for a final par. A great round finished in a way deserving of a great course.
Ballybunion is rightly ranked up there with the great links, nay great courses, of the world. The front nine may be seen as good but not great, but the back nine is fabulous. It was actually a delight to be able to play her in a strong wind and rain for 4-6 holes. It was what we had signed up for when we organised the trip and despite the difficulties, it was a real buzz to have played her in these conditions. The par 3’s are as hard a collection as anywhere in the world while still retaining a facade of fairness. From the first which hugs the graveyard off to the right through to all the holes that run parallel to the beach, this course of quality and once will never be enough. We shall return.
Day 16 Tuesday 22 September
The final day arrives and it is Lahinch G.C. that has the last crack at our group. Lahinch is an interesting club, unpretentious it just sits there right next to the northern flank of the town along the beach looking out at the surfers attempting to conquer the waves. She is a delightful members course and I say that in not a disparaging way, rather it’s the type of club that welcomes members and visitors alike, has a warm, not ostentatious clubhouse and a genuine golf challenge in her course.
The Lahinch experience begins in the pro shop with some of the most welcoming staff we encountered at any golf shop. The starter was fantastic in providing information about the layout, what you should expect out there, tips on how to play some of the blind shots and sage advice on what strength wind we were likely to encounter.
The course starts off with a fairly stern slightly uphill par four and then we were able to unload on the downhill par five second. Things get tough on the par four third and then the fun begins. The fourth called Klondyke is a shortish par five playing down the wind today. A good drive leaves you within striking distance but in the middle of the fairway is a huge sand dune blocking any view of the green. Sitting atop the dune is a spotter who indicates when it is safe to hit as well as indicating the line to the green. Different, quirky? Yes and something else to add to the experience file.
The fifth is a 150-yard par three played back into a three club wind made more difficult by not being able to see the green at all because it is obscured by another huge dune. A white stone marker gives you the line and you just trust your yardage to land on the largish green. Six through nine comprise a run of tough holes some with and others against the ever present wind off the ocean. There’s never any respite but the course is extremely fair in that there is plenty of width on fairways and you can find most balls in the rough, in fact, I finished the one I started despite trying to give it away a few times.
The back nine is more of the same high quality enhanced by a coffee and nip if whisky from the cart at the turn. Twelve is a fun longish par five made a little easier by playing downwind but OOB all the way down left. We had our encounter with the club goat, part of the club logo, on the thirteenth as he wandered across our fairway in no particular hurry. Nor did he seem impressed by my par but then again I didn’t need his approval I was playing so well.
Our final three holes on the trip encapsulated all, that is Irish links golf. A downhill par three to a very well bunkered green on 16 followed by the last 400-yard par four at 17. Another narrow entrance through two dunes to an undulating green and then into the last. A medium par five back to the clubhouse offering a good birdie chance although my double bogey three-putt finish wasn’t what the doctor ordered.
If I had to play only Lahinch for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be disappointed, just another super links course to wind up a true bucket list trip.
When, not if, we return to Ireland to replay some of these tracks along with those in Northern Ireland we never got to, I will be going nowhere but SWING to organise it. Throughout all of my changes leading up to the trip through to fine tuning accommodations, courses and other aspects you were fantastic.
As I have detailed elsewhere, when you don’t have a complaint from a party of 12 about any aspect of the trip, you know it has been put together perfectly. I have already started looking at a 2017 trip to either Scotland/England or Ireland/Northern Ireland and have preliminary interest from over 20 pax based on the success of this years’ trip. Thanks very much for all your assistance.
Looking to experience a once in a lifetime golf tour like this? Check out our various packages available for 2017 and book your dream golf vacation now.