Golf is nothing but a passion for some people. They can talk and analyse and debate for hours over the minutiae of one shot, one player or one golf hole. One of the most passionate men around is Pat Ruddy. Starting out as a journalist he has now become a revered golf course designer, with The European his shining and global success. Several other courses bear his hallmark, but many Irish golfers will never have heard of Ballinlough Castle. It is undoubtedly a course in waiting. The condition of it may not be as refined as other nearby ‘big’ courses, but look at the aesthetics, the space, the potential, and you’ll see a course of the future. This is a great challenge of golf and one of the most unexpected on my travels. I played with Tony Brady who is an instrumental member of the club. He pointed out all of the changes that will come in the years ahead, from the practice range to the clubhouse and, more dramatically, to the location of new tees and greens. As I said, a passion.
I am in the happy position of writing a golf book on the 18 hole courses of Ireland. All 360-plus of them. And that means visiting every one in my camper van. [Photo: Rathcore Par 3 11th]
Yes, it is another golf book. And yes, of course it’s different to every other golf book out there. For one thing, I’m reviewing every course personally and there is no other book out there that even comes close to doing that. Some may ask why I’d bother when there are so many books that deal with the ‘important’ courses. Well, it’s simple: I’ve always felt that too much attention is paid to the great courses, and that the smaller courses are shoved rather unceremoniously into the night.
My goal is to give every course a full page, describing what’s good about it, why it is (or isn’t) worth your time and how it scores against every other course. There are great courses like Moyvalley and Rathcore, and then there are basic courses like Moor Park. Comparing them is pointless, but appreciating what each course offers can be very helpful for visitors, tourist golfers and local societies. And that’s what I hope my book will deliver.
[Photo: Moyvalley Par 4 10th]
My current tour of 22 courses in 16 days has taken me from The Curragh, through Kildare and Meath, over to Laytown & Bettystown and then down in to North Dublin. I have played five very new courses: Dunmurry Springs, Moyvalley, Rathcore, Knightsbrook and Bellewstown. There are so many new courses out there it’s a wonder how they all keep going. The two that jumped out at me were Moyvalley and Rathcore because they are close to each other, about the same age and completely different. Moyvalley is a spectacular rollercoaster of a course, created by Darren Clarke, that was deathly quiet on a gloriously sunny, Saturday afternoon. It has all the trimmings with the hotel and plush clubhouse (certainly some of the best locker rooms I’ve seen), but there were no more than six cars in the car park. When the club opened in 2006, they were asking €75,000 for membership. That didn’t cut any ice with the locals and, today, it has slumped to €10,000. Yet it is a course that deserves more – more visitors and more respect. A local said to me that the Irish and English see the same situation differently: if you excel, an Irishman wants to bring you down a peg or two; an Englishman, on the other hand, will enjoy your success and brag about how he knew you when you were nothing. That seems to be what’s happening at Moyvalley: because they started off so high and mighty and ignored the local market, the locals now want to bring them down that peg or two. Move on. Get over it. It’s a fantastic course and should be played.
I played Rathcore the next day and it is firmly among my top parkland courses. It is short for a new course and demands brains over brawn. I like to hit the ball – the harder the better – but using your head is far more satisfying when it delivers a smart birdie or a sensible par. The course is beautifully coated in gorse and hillocks and water. It oozes charm and has, in 11 and 16, two spectacular side-by-side par threes. If you have a spare €8,000 then the membership is a bargain.
Knighstbrook goes in the opposite direction to Rathcore: it is long, unsubtle and not very pretty. Christy O’Connor Junior’s signature is heavy fairway mounding and I find it off-putting. Doglegs also abound and you don’t get to see enough of interest off the tee. Now obviously this is a subjective opinion, and the course is extremely testing and excellent quality, but you come in exhausted and trying hard to remember all the holes. And for those who think that if I play badly I give the course a poor review, I beat my handicap. [Photo: Knightsbrook Par 3 5th]
Finally, Bellewstown. What a riot. True to all farmland, parkland courses, the design is quirky and unexpected. There can’t be many modern designers who would look at this hillside and say, ‘yes, that’s perfect’. But Bellewstown delivers excitement in abundance as well as a serious workout.
I played plenty of older courses too, with Royal Tara being one of the highlights. I’d like to say it was a highlight because of the golf (which was very entertaining – all 27 holes), but it was crossing over the brutalised earth that will soon become the M3 that snapped me to attention. Having heard so much about it, it sent a shiver down my spine to actually see it. I’m sorry to the people of Meath who want to get to work faster, but ripping up our heritage is an abomination and it is not the solution. Shame on the government muppets who decided to push this through, and that includes John Gormley, Dick Roche and our friend Bertie.
And then came Laytown & Bettystown. Travelling in a camper van is fairly lonely and dull, but I am lucky enough that most clubs allow me to spend the night in the car park. Of course, not everyone gets told of my stay, so I have been confronted and informed that the car park is private property. The most aggressive of these came at Bettystown, and I don’t blame the man a bit. The clubhouse alarm went off at 5am, screeching out at a pitch that scrapes the back of your eyes. I had no choice but to get up and I then did a quick walkabout. I could see nothing odd and I was returning to the van when a car came roaring straight at me, headlights blazing. Disturbed from his sleep by the security company, the man clearly thought I was responsible and gave me an earful before I could explain who I was. As I said, I don’t blame him for his reaction but I ended up sighing with exasperation when I was confronted again that night in Balbriggan. Perhaps a ‘Golfer on board’ sticker will help.
You might remember me from your days at O2/Digiphone (maybe you are still there?)
Came across your blog and thought your book project might be worth a piece for one of the nationals.
Have already pitched the idea. What do you think?
You can contact me through http://www.irishgolfdesk.com/