Saturday, June 7, 2008

Shannon & Dromoland Castle

I’m rapidly discovering that a lot happens between 6 and 6.30 in the morning. I was at Shannon Golf Club, and at 6.03am the camper van started to rattle and shake. In recent weeks I’ve had punctures, a burst water pump, a leaking roof and a dislocated bumper. This is it, I thought, the camper van is finally going to explode. The fact I’ve never had a hole-in-one in over 30 years of golf flashed before my eyes as the vibrations reached a crescendo.

The first Ryanair flight of the morning went roaring overhead and silence quickly returned. Shannon golf club nestles beside the airport (the 11th has a car park on two sides) so I shouldn’t have been surprised. And even out on the golf course you hear that deep roar before a plane appears over the trees – sometimes commercial, sometimes private. Apparently there are flights during the night – military mostly – but I was dead to the world after three courses the previous day.

Mike, the General Manager, told me the previous evening that Friday was a big day with a big Radisson outing in the afternoon. The greenkeepers and groundstaff were out early making the course look perfect. I was playing by 7am and they didn’t have much to do because the course looked great already. I liked Shannon. I liked it a lot. Nothing fancy or dynamic, just a sweet, cosy rhythm that makes you feel warm all over. Hard to believe that a simple tree-lined parkland course can feel so good and move so easily around the place. True, the 11th doesn’t work, but large car parks can do that to the best of holes. The course seemed to like me too: I found water on one hole, played a second (a ‘provisional’ of course) only to find that my first ball had bounced on the water and up onto the green. It all leads to a great finish with the long par three 17th hitting alongside and over the Shannon Estuary - see pic.

After my round I had a long chat with Mike, over breakfast, and he’s a man who has stories. Perhaps a future book should be on the stories that come with golf courses, because every course has one or several. I’ll think about it; so will my wife.

Next was Dromoland Castle, the big five star hotel that is all wrapped up in a magnificent castle. And now that the golf course has gone from 9 to 18 it has fulfilled its potential. Acres of achingly beautiful trees all around you, and a back 9 that moves lazily around a big lake. 11 and 18 are two par fives that dogleg around the water and give you something serious to think about off the tee. [Photo: big, big tree in the middle of the fairway as you approach the 18th green – flag just to the right. They wanted to cut it down, but the designers said absolutely not. Sensible men.]

Dromoland is big and spacious – the walk to the 2nd is long and uphill. It reminds me of the walk to Rathsallagh. Ask any Dublin golfer what they think of Rathsallagh and they’ll nearly always reply that there are long walks from greens to tees. Actually, there are only two. And if you keep complaining, come to Dromoland: the 2nd will sort you out!

Dromoland is a tough track, and there are no easy shots. There are three very short par fours, but get carried away and you will be in serious trouble. The 15th is 266 yards, downhill and down wind. How inviting, I thought, reaching for the driver. I stopped, returned to my bag and took a four iron instead. I knocked it onto the fairway, leaving a 50 yard pitch. Then I took an old ball, and wound up the driver. Straight over the back. You would need to be a magician to stop it on the green. When I got to the green I looked over the back at an ocean of deep rough. I took a few minutes to see how many balls I’d find. Six, including a couple of spanking new Titleist pro VIs. [Photo: par four 15th]

I do have one complaint – well two actually – the 2nd and 16th are unfair holes (index 4 and 1 respectively) as you can not possibly know what is expected of you off the tee, and there is no course map on the score card.

For me, Shannon and Dromoland Castle are perfect examples of what I’m trying to do with my book. They are completely different courses and both promise great golf experiences but for totally different reasons.

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