Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Donegal: The Power of New

It is surprising – to me at least – that Irish golfers are not that aware of the many ‘new’ things happening at Irish golf courses. We all knew about the massive upgrade at Adare Manor and many of us had heard that Skellig Bay was evolving into Hog’s Head, but the changes going on in Co. Donegal over the past three years have slipped by relatively unnoticed.

One of the new (Pat Ruddy) holes on the Old Tom
course at Rosapenna.

I conducted a poll on Twitter asking if people knew that Tom Doak was redesigning

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

€600,000 R&A Funding for Irish Clubs Announced

110 clubs took advantage of the funding that was made available to Irish golf clubs during the 1st phase of the Covid19 pandemic. Personally, I can't decide if I'm impressed or disappointed at that number of 110. It's approximately a quarter of Irish golf clubs, and I'd expected more clubs to take advantage of the 'free' funding. 

Here's the press release from Golf Ireland with the details.


  • Almost €600,000 secured for golf clubs across Ireland
  • 110 clubs awarded grants
  • Boost for clubs after difficult year


A total of €596,550 will be awarded to 110 clubs which applied for The R&A Covid-19 support fund. Since its return, golf had been under immense pressure in a number of respects and a second closure will now heighten that pressure.


The phased nature of its initial return, beginning with limited tee time capacity for members only and without revenue-raising potential through green fees, open competitions, shop sales or catering meant that clubs were required to operate their facilities without any revenue streams to support the significant ongoing maintenance requirement. 


Notwithstanding this, the level of compliance with the Covid-19 Protocol had been extremely high, however many golf clubs and facilities will be facing serious financial difficulties as the global pandemic continues.


The R&A launched a Covid-19 Support Fund earlier this year with the aim of assisting National Associations in GB&I to support their affiliated clubs. Golf Ireland was responsible for administering a funding package of £555,000. 


The application process has now been completed in Ireland, using a criteria that targeted small to medium sized clubs and specifically those that could showcase immediate financial need. Of the clubs that applied for funding, 96% of clubs were successful in their applications.


Clubs who were successful in their application will receive a grant, ranging in value, and have met specific criteria including the following:

  • The club is eligible for relief from income tax and corporation tax for clubs under the exemptions provided for Games/Sporting bodies in ROI and clubs registered under the Registration of Clubs Act in NI. 
  • The club is member owned.
  • The club is in urgent need of The R&A funding in order continue to provide facilities for the normal playing of the game for their members and visitors.
  • The club has no entrance fee or an entrance fee of less than €1,500/£1,500.
  • The club’s membership income is lower than €600,000/£535,00 and/or green fee/society revenue is lower that €100,000/£90,000 as reported in the clubs 2019 financial statements. 
  • The club does not provide a financial return to stakeholders/owners.
  • The club's subscriptions are paid up to date for 2020 to both the GUI & ILGU.


Clubs successful in their application for funding must commit to signing the Women in Golf Charter and create an implementation plan to achieve the gold standard within an agreed timeline. In addition clubs must be compliant in all safeguarding regulations and will receive a safeguarding audit.


Mark Kennelly, CEO of Golf Ireland said: ‘‘Covid-19 has significantly impacted all areas of our society, sport and golf are no different. We are extremely grateful for the on-going support of The R&A throughout this turbulent period. While there are challenges ahead for golf, the funding supports made possible by The R&A will help those clubs most in need at this time. Clubs have demonstrated a need for this funding which will assist them in recruiting and retaining members while also ensuring appropriate safety procedures are in place at their facilities”.


“The R&A Covid-19 Support Fund will enable clubs to invest in areas which will make them more sustainable. Investment will be made to the way services are provided to club members and guests including to online platforms and/or facilities that will ensure the safety of all going forward.” 


Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said, “The pandemic is continuing to have an impact on the day-to-day operations of golf clubs and many of them have suffered loss of income due to circumstances not in their control. We have a responsibility to help protect golf from the effects of this crisis where we can and so we hope that our Covid-19 Support Fund will allow affiliated national associations to support clubs in dealing with the challenges of the pandemic and begin the process of recovery.”  

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.