Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Best 9-Hole Courses in Ireland?

It was fantastic news when published their recent Top 50 Best 9-Hole Courses in the World, and Ireland had four entries. Cruit Island, Mulranny, Castlegregory and Bushfoot were all included and anyone who has played them will know why. 

Mulranny came in at 16th, and the review read as follows:

Expert’s take: Guarded by electrified fences, the greens are surprisingly large and full of character. Punchbowl and plateau, embankment and benched, their sites are well varied, often at the end of some astutely occupied seaside terrain. The hardly believable left-to-right cant of the short 8th, perched beyond hidden burn with village in the distance above, will be a favorite.

Mulranny 6th green, with the famous barbed wire 
fencing around the putting surface.

Castlegregory was at 21st:

Expert’s take: Another brilliant seaside links test, Castlegregory is everything

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Sands of Time - End of an Era at Cork Golf Club

These are the final days of Matt Sands' 32 year career at Cork Golf Club. As General Manager he has steered the club through both difficult and glorious times, and retiring must leave some mixed feelings for him. 

With a course attributed to the great Dr Alister MacKenzie, he was always managing a course that, at times, feels like a work of art. Managing the club and its members is a different matter entirely. 

You can read my interview with Matt, for the Irish Examiner, here. I have been writing for the Irish Examiner for a few years now and I have learned that they rarely adopt the article headline that I give them. On this occasion though, I felt I'd nailed it with 'Sands of Time'. 

Nope... instead the newspaper ran with 'What next for retiring Cork GC manager Matt Sands? ‘Play more golf, I suppose’'

Hmmm! I'm going to put that one down as a win for me.

Best of luck with your retirement, Matt. It is well deserved.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Galgorm Castle - What a September in Store

For most of us, 2020 has been an 'annus horribilis'. Little wonder with Covid-19 leading the charge to a different way of life and putting fear and doubt into most people's minds. 

Golf has benefitted as things started to reopen. The current figure from the GUI is that golf has attracted 12,000 new members since May. Plenty of clubs have seen over 100 new members.

On the flip side, one of major Irish casualties was the cancellation of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet. It had to be done but it was sad to see it go and the initial thought was that there would be no event in 2020. But that wasn't the case.

Take a bow, Galgorm Castle, which is part of the five star Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort. In what should be an 'annus mirabilis'... or perhaps that should be miraculis... the resort on the outskirts of Ballymena will host not one but two two European Tour events in September. The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is scheduled for the end of the month (24th - 27th) but the Challenge Tour's Northern Ireland Open supported by the R&A will be the forerunner as it hosts competitors from the 3rd to 6th September. Galgorm Castle has hosted the NI Open for 10 years so knows full well how to host a big event.

It is great news for Irish golf even if Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and some other big names don't make it back from the US. Maybe the spotlight can fall on Galgorm Castle instead - it is a fine parkland course.

The Northern Ireland Open supported by The R&A will be played behind closed doors but European Tour Productions will have daily highlights programmes broadcast through as well as the tournament website Tournament highlights will also be shown on Sky Sports with daily updates on local TV networks. For live scoring during tournament week, visit

Roll on, September.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Island Golf Club Upgrades - 2020

When I first started writing about golf courses I never thought that I'd end up talking to and meeting some of the world's great golf architects.

Over the past three years I have spoken to Tom Doak about his Renaissance Club, on Scotland's Golf Coast (East Lothian), met Martin Hawtree during his work on Castlerock, and had lunch with Gil Hanse, at Narin & Portnoo (now open for play).

I have played golf with Ally McIntosh several times and chatted to both him and Ken Kearney during a Top 100 ranking meeting.

Talking to these guys just demonstrates how differently I look at a golf course. Golf course design is a discipline quite a distance from my sphere of interest.

And that was my concern when it came to The Island Golf Club, and the changes being

Monday, July 13, 2020

Ireland's Top 100 Golf Courses... with a difference

Strandhill, a popular and high ranking choice
Rankings always stir debate. Usually that debate is well behaved and considered, but sometimes it gets out of hand with insults being flung in all directions. That's partly the Social Media age where people feel they can say what they like, how they like. Gone is the age when people acknowledged that others were allowed to have an opinion different to their own.

I knew full well that would be the case when I started the project to produce a list of Ireland's favourite golf courses. I called it a Top 100 because that's what catches the attention and, by inviting three other golfers to join me in selecting their favourite 25 Irish golf courses, I was fulfilling that brief. As it turned out there were 48 courses mentioned in all.

The purpose was to get four golfers to pick their FAVOURITE courses... and not what

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Beaufort GC - Unfounded Rumours and Powering On

The power of a rumour has become ever more potent in the digital – and specifically social media – age. One wrong word, one slip, one misinterpretation… and your world can turn upside down. Facts are misconstrued, quotes are taken out of context, spite bares its soul.
Take a President starting his own idiotic rumour that Covid-19 can be tackled by injecting disinfectant and many of us are waiting for the first deaths by bleach ingestion to be announced. His fixation with hydroxychloroquine has already caused the death of an engineer in Arizona who consumed a fishtank cleaning chemical believing it contained the Trump-touted cure. OK, so the word ‘rumour’ should probably be replaced by ignorance… but the two often go hand-in-hand. 
On the golf front we’ve all heard rumours about this and that and it’s not always easy to separate fact from fiction. I read an article some eight years ago that suggested Co. Sligo had been selected to host the Irish Open, and foolishly tweeted about it. Someone was having a laugh, started the rumour and I compounded it. 
At the moment the most dangerous rumours circling Irish golf are the ones claiming that courses are closing. Such rumours are like sharks scenting blood and no sooner does the rumour start than more predators emerge to get their teeth into the story. 
An old pic of Beaufort Golf Club
What we do know is that Killorglin GC has gone and so too Castleisland GC**. They were near neighbours (30 km apart) and they closed within a week of each other. I know of one other course that is supposed to have closed… although I won’t fall into that trap again… and there are undoubtedly rumours swirling around others.
Interestingly, a club that is located between these two Co. Kerry courses, Beaufort Golf Club, is another venue rumoured to be closing. Last Saturday was the first time I heard about this one… and the only reason it came to my attention was because the golf club contacted me to make it clear the rumour was false.

There are rumours being spread that we are closing,” said Fiona Dunne, Marketing Manager at the club. “This is far from the truth. I want to put to bed that we are not closing and we are looking forward to a successful second half of the year, welcoming members old and new, and visitors too once we are allowed to re-open. Maintenance work is being carried out on a continuous basis, alongside the implementation of our BRS booking system and a refurbishment of the Pro Shop.” 
The club is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special membership offer as all anniversary celebrations have been put on hold. No doubt there will be some celebrations in the future, especially when the rumours of closure have ceased.
**Killorglin and Castleisland members are in the process of forming a new club to be based on the Killorglin course.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Does Golf Go Above and Beyond?

Douglas Golf Club
There are calls across the UK to open golf courses to the general public. 
There is a movement in the UK that’s gathering momentum and it is already being muttered about over here. Should golf courses be opened to the general public?
Caroline Lucas, former leader of the UK Green Party, was one of the first to suggest it, specifically in more urban areas where green spaces are more limited… and where parks have been closed because people aren’t following the rules. 
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Golf courses are vast green and pretty spaces where no one is hitting balls these days and people can enjoy fresh air without getting close to others.

You know what… I wholeheartedly approve of the idea. It’s fabulous.
On one condition.
These people respect the environment they are in. And that means the following:
1.     Every single dog crap has to be removed and disposed of responsibly, and not chucked in the nearest bush. Chances of that happening? 2 out of 10.
2.     No ball throwing for dogs onto greens where putting surfaces could be gouged by claws. In Scotland, where there is a ‘right to roam’, people typically walk their dogs on paths through the golf course, but at Prestwick – the birthplace of the Open Championship – they have a ‘neighbour’ who likes to throw tennis balls onto the green for his dog, thereby causing considerable damage. Chances of no ball throwing onto greens? 4 out of 10.
3.     No sunbathing or picnics on fairways, by ponds/lakes or in the woods. That’s one of the main reasons you got kicked out of the parks in the first place, you dummies. Chances of that happening? 6 out of 10.
4.     People don’t dump their rubbish wherever they choose. Chances of that happening? 0 out of 10.
5.     Natural habitats and wildlife are not disturbed by dogs or humans. Chances of that happening? 1 out of 10.
6.     No kids (or adults) cycling over greens, playing football, frisbee or any other ‘sport’ on fairways or greens. If there’s going to be any sport you can sod off and let us play golf. Chances of that happening? 0 out of 10.
7.     Dogs and/or children are not allowed to play or dig about in the bunkers, thereby damaging drainage, the banking or edges. Chances of that happening? 4 out of 10.
8.     No one brings a golf club with them to ‘practise’. No one brings a dozen balls and then leaves a series of unrepaired divots and/or unrepaired pitchmarks on the green. Chances of that happening? 3 out of 10.
9.     People obey all of the above rules. Chances of that happening? Absolutely zero.
Based on the above, any suburban course, be it Milltown, Castle, Elm Park, Mahon, Douglas, Shandon Park, Williamstown, Rathbane would be very generous to open its gates to the general public. It would be a strong showing of community spirit and social responsibility for these clubs (and all clubs for that matter) to make their courses so accessible… but then you also have to consider mundane details like insurance, security and health & safety.
Castle Golf Club
And who is going to monitor the general public when they are enjoying the golf course surroundings? And who picks up the tab for the damage caused? Based on recent Twitter and Facebook posts, it is abundantly clear that it only takes a few morons on quad bikes or bicycles, with beer cans and/or dogs to damage a course and get every golfer's temperature up.
Ireland is fortunate to have cities that are nothing like the size and spread of those in Birmingham, London or Manchester, where green spaces are few and far between. I see the point of the arguments being made because it would be a fabulous gesture in these difficult times and I know that some courses have indeed opened their gates but the demands to open up Irish golf courses will be nothing like as intense. And, as restrictions are relaxed - in the next fortnight with luck - we golfers will be the first to experience courses where greenkeepers have been working so, so hard to keep everything in the best condition possible. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

COVID-19 and Irish Golf

Galway Bay Golf Resort 14th green
The anxiety surrounding the Covid-19 virus has been growing stronger by the day and will continue to do so as the days become weeks and weeks become months. The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is the first event now listed to be played on the European Tour, at the end of May, but no one is expecting the tournament to happen. We have a long way to go.
We all know what has been happening with pub closures, the cancellation of large events (sports, music, weddings etc.), the requirements for employees to work from home where at all possible... never mind the lay-offs. ‘Social distancing’ will undoubtedly become an official term in dictionaries around the world, people will get into the habit of washing their hands properly and families will discover new ways to entertain themselves thanks to the varying demands of self-isolation.  
At the same time life must go on and, for now, we are still able to enjoy the open spaces around us. Golf is a ‘good news’ story in that regard. Yes, clubhouse bars, restaurants and Pro shops – even the clubhouse itself – may be closing but plenty of courses remain open and payments can be made online or over the phone. In terms of social distancing and forming a group of no more than four people, golf is the perfect opportunity to get outdoors for some physical exercise and stimulate mental wellbeing with friends and/or family. The government has emphasised the importance of both of these.

Yesterday's joint statement from the GUI and ILGU included the following:
The GUI & ILGU recognise the significant impact that the current Coronavirus / COVID-19 crisis is having on golf clubs across Ireland. While areas within golf clubhouses may not be available due to the need for social distancing, the sport remains open and accessible.

Golf club members can still play and enjoy their golf while acting within the guidelines issued by the Health Service Executive in the Republic of Ireland and Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland. Visitors (e.g. societies, open days) either require some form of screening or should be discouraged for the time being."

The restrictions do not prevent casual rounds of golf taking place. Indeed, golf is a great sport for people generally to get out and about, exercise and enjoy fresh air. It is played in an outdoor setting where the risk of contracting Covid-19 is low.
Strandhill's 5th hole
Golf clubs are aware of the difficulties presented by this virus and are taking the necessary precautions. The HSE has not yet placed any specific restrictions on golf clubs (clubs in Spain and Germany are now closed, for example) and while this may yet come, for now you can take time out to play a few holes.
Clubs are adapting to the new climate by introducing a number of essential precautions as well as offers to keep golfers playing the game. Essential precautions include removing rakes from bunkers, taking away bins, benches and ball-washers, and requiring flags to be left in the hole and untouched (the bottom of the cup insert can be turned upside down so the ball can easily be retrieved and you can use a glove to do this). They are simple steps but all designed to stop the spread of the virus through unnecessary engagement and contact. This includes how you pay (online, phone, contactless).
It is no easy task to attract golfers as concern grows, but Galway Bay Golf Resort has introduced a heavily reduced green fee as well as strict clubhouse and golf course protocols… none of which is arduous.
During these very difficult times we feel it is important for the community to keep active and safe,” says Dave Wensley, Sales Manager at Galway Bay Golf Resort. “We have therefore reduced our green fee to €30 for 18 holes, seven days a week. This reduced rate applies because we can offer contactless payments in the club. Visitors can also call us to pre-pay and then head straight out at their allotted time without coming into the clubhouse.”
Galway Bay Golf Resort's 10th hole
The GUI/ILGU's statement indicates that large groups of visiting golfers should be discouraged, and while I agree with dissuading large groups from turning up my own feeling on the matter is that members and visitors are the same when it comes to playing golf and embracing the relevant protocols. As long as everyone follows them and signs in on arrival (for tracing purposes) then golf courses are still there to be enjoyed.
Whether clubs remain open just for members or for everyone, the ‘rules’ remain the same: use a hand sanitiser frequently (clubhouses - if open - are stocking them), change your shoes in the car park, wash your hands thoroughly, don’t shake hands, keep your distance especially on the tee, and avoid touching your playing partners’ clubs or ball. 
At Macreddin, golfers are limited to one person per buggy.
If, as assumed, far worse is to come then it will come as no surprise when golf courses close their doors. In the meantime, playing this game remains an outlet to get outside and enjoy limited and careful social interaction, mental relaxation and physical exercise.