Friday, May 23, 2008

10 Years To The Day

After the very, very wet day on Wednesday, when it rained non-stop from 3am to 6pm, I elected not to play golf – no surprises there. I met Jim O’Brien, the General Manager, and we had a long conversation about golf and all the rest. My favourite part was when he said he’d been a member of 17 golf clubs in Ireland. And then to make the day even worse, he mentioned he was off to Cardiff for the Heineken Cup final. So I spent the evening in the Waterville Lakeside Hotel drowning my sorrows, only to flee when I discovered it was the night of the Manchester vs. Chelsea game. Football doesn’t do it for me!

Thursday morning, May 22, was beautiful, so I was on the 1st at Skellig Bay by 7am, as I was due at Waterville at 1pm. The course sits on a clifftop (13, 14 and 15 are right on it) with superb views – although even better was to come at Waterville and Dooks – and one of the most unique features on an Irish golf course, or any course for that matter: dry stone walls. [Photo: par three 16th and other holes behind]

When you travel deep into the Irish countryside you will see miles and miles of these beautiful walls, and you wonder how long it took to build them. You see them climbing mountainsides in perfect straight lines and you ask yourself how they got the stone up there. And now, in the 21st Century, they’re being used (and rebuilt in some cases) to define golf holes at Skellig Bay. It’s a remarkable sight and this brand new course has all the touches you’d want from a modern course – as well as a few ‘American’ ones [Photo: Dolmen between holes 2 and 3].

There is no clubhouse, but the hotel has a golf shop and locker rooms downstairs, and golfers get good deals on accommodation.

Waterville came next, and as I waited for my best mate, Charlie, I realised that the last time I had been there was almost exactly 10 years before, on my honeymoon. Fiona and I had spent the week at Parcnasilla (the new version is opening at the end of May after massive refurbishment and a bloody great housing development) and Charlie was living and working in Killarney so we agreed to meet up at Waterville. Fiona was being her patient self as we went into the clubhouse and discovered that the green fee was IR £50. We thought that was a fortune and returned to Parcnasilla to play their pretty 9 hole course instead. 50 quid seemed like a rip-off, but these days it’s €180! It’s owned by some American consortium and went through considerable design changes a few years back, and, a bit like the Old Head and Doonbeg, it is aimed at Americans with dosh. Perhaps that will be changing in the near future.

And today it is a magnificent creation. Right from the 1st tee, after you’ve passed the statue of Payne Stewart, you are struck by how beautiful the course is. And it just gets better and better. Charlie and I were stunned by how amazing it looked and by how thrilling it was to play. [Photo: Par 5, 'Tranquility', looking back from the green]

I’ve known Charlie all my life, and when we were about 12 or 13 we ended up playing golf at O’Mahony’s Point (Killarney). On 18 we decided to hit a drive, simultaneously, into the lake. And since then it has become a bit of a tradition. Tralee, The European, The Island, Woodbrook, even Machrihanish in Scotland. So Waterville was next on our list. Standing on the 3rd tee, overlooking the River Inny estuary, we teed up a couple of old balls and counted to three. Embarrassingly, and for the first time I might add, neither of us found the water. One hit the rocks; the other found a field. We moved on, quickly. [Photo: view from the 13th tee]

After the game we drove back to Killarney where Charlie was staying, and got ready for a boys’ night out in the town. But Charlie had spent 6 hours driving from Wicklow to Waterville, and I had been up early to play Skellig Bay, and by 9.30 we were practically asleep in Chapter 40 – a new restaurant in Killarney. I was asleep in my camper van by 10pm and never heard the rain.

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