Monday, April 28, 2008

Corballis Confrontation

Corballis. A links course. A public links course run by Fingal County Council. And boy is it fun! Dangerous too, but you’re unlikely to find a links course anywhere in the world that offers some fine links holes for 20-odd quid.
Nursing a continuing dodgy foot, I walked Corballis (having played St. Margaret’s in the morning), carrying a 7 iron to hit a few bump shots around the green. I was stopped by a very irate Superintendent as I approached the four new holes (4 to 7) as I was ‘playing’ the course when I hadn’t paid a green fee. I explained what I was doing but he wasn’t remotely interested. And then he threw that most wonderful of lines at me. “I’ve been a Superintendent here for 30 years, and I have never…” blah, blah, blah!
Yet up ahead there was a six ball playing, which didn’t seem to bother him, and after he drove off in his van he merrily drove along the third fairway. [Photo of the 2nd]
Now, I know he was only doing his job, but if I wasn’t so polite I’d tell him where to stick his 30 years.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Portsalon, finally

Fortunately I made it back to Portsalon on Friday 18th, as I'd hoped. It was Dunfanaghy in the morning - a true test of links golf that will require every bump and run skill you possess - and then a trip to Portsalon to experience a superb opening stretch of opening holes. I've attached a pic of the 14th, Matterhorn, another beautiful but terrifying hole that drives over the 13th green - the flag is not visible in the pic, but a small yellow post can be seen in the middle of the pic, and the green is beyond that, in front of what looks like a white dot.

Yes, it was a beautiful day, but brutally cold. While I played a select 9 holes (1-6, 13, 14 and 18), my wife walked our dogs on the stretch of beach that is also attached. It is a beautiful spot, aside from the holiday houses, and is one of those colourful courses that thrills every step of the way.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Portsalon: a huge disappointment

My huge disappointment was not the course… but not being able to play it. With an injured foot I had to take it easy and Cathal, the club’s manager, arranged for me to have a buggy. I nipped around the course in an hour and a half, overwhelmed by the thrills it presents and furious that I couldn’t play it. I’m here in Donegal until Friday, so maybe I’ll get back there and play one of the best opening stretches on Ireland’s shores. The attached picture shows the best 2nd hole in Ireland, a truly spectacular affair that will strike the fear of God into many golfers. The yellow flag sits just over the furthest left hand edge of the river.

There is no doubt that the housing boom in Ireland has had some unattractive consequences, and these can be seen around golf courses, like Portsalon. Holiday homes are littered about the entrance and along the road before you reach the club. As you play 16, you drive straight at some of these homes and it detracts from the beauty of the course.

Talking to Cathal, he said that many of these homes are only used for four to five weeks a year, and that they’ve only popped up over the last ten years or so.

So let’s be thankful that in 1986, when the hotelier owner decided to sell Portsalon, the members grouped together and raised the funds to buy it. They sold £50 raffle tickets and managed to pull in £150,000 in just three months. The asking price was £65,000, and the additional funds went towards prizes and into the club. As Cathal was telling me this I looked out at the course and its extensive beach, assessing how this stretch of land would be any developer’s nirvana. Aren’t we lucky that a course that dates back to 1891 and is one of the GUI’s founding members, wasn’t consumed by our enormous housing boom. Golfers the world over should be extremely grateful that this great links course is alive and kicking to this day.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Athlone vs Glasson

Wherever you go, there will always be a couple of courses side-by-side that golfers will compare. County Sligo vs Strandhill, County Louth vs Seapoint, and Athlone vs Glasson.

One has the reputation, the pedigree and the celebrity factor that draws the visitors; the other, well, sits in the shadows. In all three of the above instances you'll get a real buzz by playing both courses. And for me, this is most marked with Athlone and Glasson.

Glasson is, comparatively, the young pretender. It has acres of space and it has Christy O'Connor Jr's name to it. It has wonderful views and a lilting landscape that simply begs for a golf course to be adorned across it. And it has a great hotel too, making Glasson a comprehensive, full-bodied golfing experience. [Pic: Glasson 14th tee]

Athlone dates back to 1892 and the maturity of the trees makes it a stunning course: 1 is superb, and 7 and 15 must get harder every year with trees defending against all shots. Athlone, too, has a big Irish name attached to the design (in part): Des Smyth. And the Hodson Bay Hotel sits next door. The landscape is just as captivating as Glasson. [Pic: Athlone approach to 3rd green]

So how do you compare the two?

The way to answer that is to play them in quick succession. I know which I prefer, because the course offers more enticing shots and greater challenges, as well as an impressive amount of variety.

Monday, April 7, 2008

No golf today

I was due to pick up my camper van today - after repairs - but there didn't seem much point. No course is going to let me play in this weather.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

King of the Castle

King of the Castle

I thought all my Christmases had come at once when I arrived at Castle’s 10th tee to find an RTE TV crew waiting for me. Clearly, word about my book was spreading, but even I didn’t dare dream of appearing on TV. Such coverage would be great for raising my profile, as well as future book sales. I wondered if it was for the Late Late Show or Nationwide. In one fell swoop I would be qualified to become a judge on You’re a Star, sing alongside Dustin or appear on that stunning Irish show: Celebrities Go Wild.

I was informed, quite brutally actually, that the crew was filming Castle Golf Club member Paddy Cole, a renowned jazz musician from the 60s, 70s and 80s, about whom RTE were making a life documentary. Shame really. Just for a second I was up with the greats.

Castle was a genuine surprise for me. Having been born and raised in Dublin I had never heard of the course, even though it is a stone’s throw from Milltown, a course I know well. So when I arrived at 7.30 in the morning I was immediately impressed by what I saw: a pretty, heavily-conifered, rolling course.

I was met at the door by Billy, the Facilities Manager, who welcomed me and informed me that I was going out as a fourball with him, Paul, the Head Greenkeeper, and Dave, a friend of Paul’s from Stackstown. Once we were all on the tee it was simply a question of how much money was involved. We agreed on €1, €1 and €1. I was teamed with Billy, 15, against Paul, 7, and Dave, 19. A fairly equal match that see-sawed perfectly over the opening holes. I was very impressed by the course, particularly as I wasn’t expecting such great contours, but obviously my main focus was on the money. At least that was my excuse for a triple bogey at the 2nd.

I had a two on the par three 7th, but it was only good enough for a half. It was evident by that point that Billy wasn’t used to losing money and we headed to 10th, 1 up. Here we met the RTE crew and we watched with amusement as Paddy and two friends walked onto the tee box, with Paddy hitting to the par three. Then we watched as he did it again, and again until the folks at RTE were happy. By this stage there were four of his shots on the green, 190 yards away. Not bad at all for a man of his years. And I kept one of the balls as a little memento, despite Billy wanting to return them all to the great man.

The back 9 was as competitive as the front and for the purposes of my book I had to remind myself to pay attention to what was going on around me. When you play for money, in a close match, the holes tend to fly by. But Castle has good character and charm, and all of the holes can boast plenty of interest. 16 and 17 are back-to-back par fives, while the 18th (pictured) will wreck many scorecards with its demands for a laser sharp drive between the trees. Our match went all the way to the green.

There’s nothing here that disappoints, and taking all €3 was a big help too. Thank you, Billy. I was also treated to lunch, for which I was very grateful, before heading on to Stackstown for my second round of the day.