Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hilton Templepatrick

[Photo: the excellent course map by the 1st tee- gives you a great idea of what's to come]

The first thing to say here is that, as part of a hotel, you’re likely to pay over the odds in the bar. Up North I have become accustomed to paying £2.50 for a pint, which is excellent value (and is rapidly turning me into an alcoholic). At the Hilton it is £3.30. Apparently members only pay £2.00, so if you’re playing here, find a member and stay close!

As I got my gear together for a morning round I was amused to see three joggers heading down the 1st. But as I progressed around the course, past the swan-filled ponds and beside a small river, I could see that it would make a gentle and pleasant morning run.

I was told that the 12th was five feet underwater when the floods came in mid August, and yet it was open for play two days later. The greens are superb (even if they look oddly dark at the moment), and they are so well raised that I doubt the rising waters touched them. I asked Frank Ainsworth (greenkeeper and a course architect in his own right – he created the excellent Gracehill, among others) about the greens and he said they were dressed with Sodium oxphate, or Nitrous oxide or Iron filings, or something. Chemistry was never my strong suit at school, and after failing yet another test I had to write out the Chemical table ten times. Didn’t do much good though. All I remember is that Fe is iron, K is Kryptonite and O2 is a mobile phone company.

[Photo: the par five 5th - showing how the course still needs to establish its maturity]

At Templepatrick the greens are remarkable creations. They’re so big and so curved and sloped that four putting is feasible. Interestingly they’re also very firm – to the point it’s difficult to stop the ball.

From one of the tees I looked across and saw a man walking three big dogs. Being a dog fan, I watched, and, later, I saw them lying at their master’s feet as he talked to one of the greenkeepers. I confess that I wandered over to introduce myself to the dogs, and ended up talking to Danny – the local landowner – and the aforementioned Frank, for quite some time. Hearing how courses have come about is always intriguing (even if not relevant to my book), but finding out that Frank was an architect was an interesting twist. He designed Edenmore and Foyle, but it is Gracehill that I liked most.

Later, back in the car park, Frank appeared with the pro, Marcus, alongside. Marcus asked if I’d had any problems with any of the courses along the way. I mentioned that of all the courses in Ireland, only Mount Ober had turned me down. According to the boys, they’d done me a favour! I of course have no comment.

A couple of things to note – the par four 18th will soon become a par five. At the moment it is Index 9 and it’s 444 yards. The marker boards on tee boxes are good, but the water is misrepresented on 2, 3 and 4, so don’t be surprised to find water where you’re not expecting it.

The Seniors Irish Ladies Open is going to be held here in a couple of weeks so it’s an up and coming course – but I would be interested to know what other people think of it.

[Photo: the par three 11th]

The bustle of Ballyclare

[Photo: par 4 7th - the 3rd fairway comes down from the right]

I waited on the 2nd tee while two ladies teed off the 18th. The first smacked a drive straight down the middle; the second scuttered it away into the trees.
“The thing you’re doing there, Mary, is you’re moving your hips and…” My dad taught me early on – neither a borrower or lender be. And never offer advice to other golfers on what’s wrong with their swing. Nowadays I only offer advice to my dad – because he loves me no matter how bad that advice might be – and to my best mate, Charlie – because I love messing with his head, and if he put his mind to it he could be a very good golfer.

There was a match I heard about a few years back, where one guy was being whooped. Unable to recover he took the easy route and pointed out how well his opponent was playing. “It’s amazing,” he said, “how you hit the ball so well with that odd little twirl you do at the top of your swing.”

His opponent promptly lost his rhythm, and the match. So, no advice is good advice. Imagine how Jim Furyk must have been bombarded when he was growing up.

[Photo: par 4 3rd - a tough drive that must stay left]

One quick comment I’ll make on this good country course: on 7, which is Index 3, the excellent marker board on the tee is wrong. It suggests that the green is straight up the hill, whereas it’s around to the left. You have been warned. On Index 3 you need all the help you can get.

If you play it anytime soon, check out the photographs on the wall, showing the damage the rains of August 16th did to the course.

Ballymena blues

Ballymena was a short visit. It sits a mile or two from the town and is a little par 68 course. It is stunningly flat and makes a big deal of two things: its heathland element and its views of Slemish Mountain – which has ties to Saint Patrick. As for the latter, mist covered it on my visit so I wasn’t even sure which direction to look – although the 3 rd hole is called Slemish, so that gave me a hint.

As for the ‘heathland’, well, yes, there is some heather and gorse about, but even when it appears it stands back from the course so you don’t reap the full benefit. I don’t pretend to be a designer, but I’d love to see gorse brought in and planted around/behind greens. Not only are they despairingly bare, but it would bring more authenticity to the heathland claim.

The course has two very small ponds, of which only one comes into play (on 12). Just as I was leaving, a man rushed back to his car, popped the boot and reached for his ball retriever, and then ran back towards the 1st tee. Now that’s pessimistic.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gorgeous Galgorm Castle

[The 3rd hole, from behind the tee, completely flooded. Photo courtesy of Desmond]

Road works. Damn it, I hate roadworks. Now is the summer of our discontent etc. Crappy weather and an abundance of roadworks. I actually got within a quarter of a mile of Galgorm Castle before roadworks stopped me dead. I had to go on a big detour around Ballymena before I could get back to the club. Result: I missed my tee time. Fortunately, Barbara, the General Manager, sorted me out and I got away before a society.

A fourball let me through on the 4th and that was it for traffic. Desmond and three young ones ushered me onto the tee and I then walked the hole with them. Desmond, a member, said he’d send me a photo he took a week and a half ago, of the course partially under water. The terrible floods drowned three of the holes, and yet the course was open only a few days later. And now, a week and a half after that the course looks perfect. There is some detritus around tree trunks, showing how high the water rose, but that bears testament to the course’s powers of recovery.

[Right Photo: the 10th under water. Photo courtesy of Desmond]
[Photo Blow: the 10th as it's supposed to be]

After my round, Barbara and Phil arranged for me to meet the owner. Christopher arrived and we had a chat in the bar, where he told me about the future plans for the course and Galgorm Castle alongside. When he said that he hated the term ‘golf resort’, I knew what he meant, but that is what this will become. Then again, it will be so much more. Christopher took me around the castle and it is stunning. And when it is refurbished it will be magnificent. I wait to see if the painting of Dr. Colville is removed from the front entrance. Apparently, when he owned the castle some centuries ago, he sold his soul to the devil for a cellar full of gold. Legend has it that doom will fall on anyone who removes the painting. And yes, his ghost still haunts the grounds. Well, it would, wouldn’t it! Will it become a major golfing attraction? Yes, and so much more.

I don’t think I’ve ever used this blog to brag about my golf. Imagine it: “On the 1st at Galgorm Castle I hit a driver off the tee. I used a Titleist 4 with two red dots. It was a perfect drive, sailing through the air with the greatest of ease, catching the wind and drifting…” you get the idea. It would be boring in the extreme. But on this occasion I shall make an exception. When I started this trip I had two specific golfing goals: to get a hole in one (I’m still holeless) and to go around in level par. The former is more luck than anything, but the latter is within my control. A couple of times I have arrived on the 18th on level par, only to cock it up and rue the missed opportunity. So today, at Galgorm Castle, I realised very quickly that one of my goals might be achieved. And it just got better and better. Forget level par. How does four under par sound? Five birdies rolled off my putter, including the 18th. I know I shall never repeat it, but for now I’m enjoying the fact that my face is hurting from all the smiling. True, I had my luck – I bladed a wedge into rough two feet deep, hacked out and then duffed the next into the hole. Par. But for once every part of my game worked and the course is generous enough for a few wayward shots.

So, does this mean that Galgorm Castle gets a fantastic review in my book? Of course, but it thoroughly deserves it. The points I’ve awarded it would be the same if I’d played badly. This is a beautiful course with tremendous ‘playability’ – a term I particularly like as it means everyone will enjoy it. There is space that gives every hole an opportunity to express itself, and trees, rivers and ponds give the landscape an idyllic structure.

And not one person on my travels had ever mentioned it. So I’m ‘mentioning’ it now.

[Photo: the 3rd green, with the 4th green between the trees in the distance]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Graced with Gracehill

Graced with Gracehill
During the winter, yes I expect to find clubhouses dead in the evening. But in August at 5.30pm on a weekday? That, I wasn’t expecting. The pleasant, almost ornamental, car park had two cars in it and the clubhouse was locked. So, a quiet evening’s entertainment in the camper van!

The following morning I walked around the old, attractive clubhouse on the way to the 1st. It’s in a pleasant setting and considering the poor changing facilities I discovered later, they could make so much more of it.

There are two practice greens. Oddly, each has only two holes in it. Not sure what that’s about. The 1st hole offers a tight drive between trees, and your first instinct is that there are going to be a lot of trees to avoid on your round. Not so. There are some very difficult driving holes, but it is the water that makes the big difference. And Gracehill has used the water brilliantly. It is rich and dark, teeming with wildlife, and it is used to brilliant effect. On a number of occasions you have to walk around beautiful ponds, with their deep reeds, wildlife, old trees sticking out of the water and a general air of tranquility.

One word of warning – when you play the 1st, show restraint off the tee: you need to be on the fairway to have any reasonable chance of finding the green, which sits over a big pond, up a steep slope and wedged between big trees. It is cruel to face such a difficult approach on only your second shot of the round.


A mate of mine, Ronan, is a friend of last year’s captain at Ballycastle. He was trying to arrange for me and the ex-captain to play together, and I emailed him recently with the date I was due to play there. I heard nothing.

Then I got a phone call from Ronan, who had been on holiday in Sardinia for two weeks with his family. He’d just got my email.

“Where are you?” he asked.

I had to laugh. Talk about perfect timing. “I’m on the 6th at Ballycastle,” I replied. I was on my own, and despite a frantic phone call from Ronan to his friend, we never managed to hook up. It was a wet and miserable afternoon, and once again I found myself grumbling about Irish weather – a sociable pint would have been the perfect tonic. I made do with dinner on the top level of the clubhouse which offers excellent views over the course and sea. To be blunt, I always find it rather odd when all this money is pumped into the clubhouse when it could be better used on the golf course.

There was a major annual fair going on in the town, with various carnival rides dotted around, and the screams of kids carrying all the way up to the hilltop holes. It looked like a blast of entertainment, but I cursed it before and afterwards, because it made this seaside town impassable. I still have no idea how I got to my next course, Gracehill Golf Club, as I followed one diversion sign after another and eventually found the road I was looking for.

Ballycastle is an interesting medley of holes, combining parkland, links and hilltop. Perhaps the 9th is the best hole, and it certainly starts the rise up the hill that offers stunning views of the coast, the glens and Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre.

It should also be noted that the Giant’s Causeway is not far away. Even closer is the Rope Bridge. Think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and you’ll get the general idea.

Royal Portrush – The Valley

How often on some of Ireland’s great courses, do you find a sibling that is often ignored? True, it’s not always so: Carton House has two equal and very different courses, Clandeboye also has different but popular courses and Ballybunion has the remarkable Cashen course. But what about Royal County Down, Portstewart, Lahinch, Powerscourt, Headfort and Royal Portrush? And, if you really want to scrape the barrel, Bodenstown.

The question, of course, is how highly would these ‘second’ courses be regarded if the illustrious ‘big’ course was not there at all?

Having just played Portstewart’s other two courses – Riverside and Old – I now found myself playing the Valley course (also known as Rathmore Golf Club). I imagine lots of people drive into the main clubhouse, only to find themselves redirected down the road to an entrance that seems to imply it is a par three course. But it is here you will find the Valley, and it’s a whole heap of fun. The 1 st is a warm-up act and then it’s guesswork to find the 2nd tee (immediately to the left of the green and up the incline). But after that, the Valley is riveting stuff. The dunes rise up all around you on the perimeter of the course (hence the name), and perhaps the most intimidating sight is seeing the flag flying high on the Dunluce course’s famous 14th – Calamity. You see it for many holes, and you also see the 13th green when you play the Valley’s stunning 5th and 6th (a massive par three of 230 yards).

A number of times before I visited Portrush, I was told that the Valley course was preferred by locals. I can see why. It’s not as tough as the Dunluce, it’s a fifth of the price, yet it has the same excellent quality. And it’s a lot of fun. Afterwards you can sneak back to the big clubhouse and enjoy all the impressive facilities.

In essence the Valley is a lesser sibling but you’d be daft to come here to play Dunluce and not play the Valley. And while Portstewart’s Riverside is a nice course, it’s not a must-play in the same way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Portstewart - reminiscing

In February 2007, three friends and I came up to Northern Ireland to play Royal County Down, Royal Portrush and Portstewart. We played in short sleeves and beautiful weather – Mike, our American friend, ws imploring us to take photographs because he knew that none of his pals back home would believe it. And here I was, back at Portstewart to sample the delights of the Riverside and Old courses in August. In the pouring rain. I chatted to the barman who said his favourite trick was to walk past the Americans outside the clubhouse, sheltering from the rain, and say, “You picked a bad time to come in the middle of our hurricane season.”

Considering just how bad the wind and rain have been recently, maybe that’s not as funny as it sounds.

I remember back in February, thinking that Portstewart could do with revamping the clubhouse. Well, they’ve gone one better and built a brand new one which will, coincidentally, be open in February next year. And it looks enormous. The old clubhouse, a little worn around the edges, will make way for a car park.

The three courses at Portstewart are utterly different. The opening 9 of the Strand course may well be the best in Ireland, and the 1st hole is a stunning opening gambit, with the beach and Mussenden Temple shown off in all their beauty. Last year we played it twice in one day and as you come around onto the 5th tee you get a good look at the Riverside course. It’s not nearly as impressive, but it has its merits and appeals to a different audience entirely.

My trip around the course was a wet one, and the sun only came out when I was in the clubhouse.

The Old course is the original track and is well removed from the other two courses. This is a par 64 holiday course with a brilliant opening salvo rocketing over small dunes right beside the rocky seashore. And if you look closely you might find a few flattened tourists/walkers who don’t realise that standing still beside a green, to eat sandwiches, is likely to result in a hard, round, white object hitting you at an impressively fast pace. Yes, there are paths to walk along, but pay attention people.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Castlerock Leg of Mutton

What’s the craic like? is a question fired at me time and again. And time and again I say that’s it’s impossible to tell, and impossible to include in a review because during the winter months clubhouses close at 5pm or are empty at 8pm on a weekday. In terms of having an absolute blast I can safely say that Castlerock was fantastic fun. Not only did I stagger out of the clubhouse at 11.30pm, I staggered out again at 2pm the following day.

I arrived on President’s Day – it was their second attempt – and the afternoon had turned miserable. In the face of such angst, several golfers returned to the clubhouse to drown their sorrows. When I arrived later and set up in the bar, my computer out, my review of Roe Park faltering across the laptop’s screen, there was that volume that only comes from the enjoyably inebriated.

“What you doing?” A bleary eyed man stared at me and then scooted unsteadily around behind my chair to investigate. He was so close I was inclined to ask whether we were on a date. I explained what I was up to. Bad idea.

“Mr. President,” he roared. “I have a book over here writing a man.”


The President pottered over, shook my hand and welcomed me. I discovered later that his 50th wedding anniversary was the Saturday before – the day before my parents’ 45th. “They’re just getting started,” he barked with a laugh.

And then Mervyn arrived. Big Merv. He settled down in the chair opposite and we began chatting. A mine of information was our Merv. Not, he happily admitted, a proper golfer, which was amusing since two of his brothers-in-law were the professionals at Bundoran and Donegal. And as if that wasn’t enough, another brother-in-law arrived at the bar. Paul McNicol. Paul, his dad, Merv and one other caddied some years ago for a bunch of Americans who flew in to play Castlerock. The four were Michael Douglas, Dan Marino, the guy who owns the Miami Dolphins (and made his millions collecting garbage) and his son. So the game commences and they’re standing on the tee when a 13 year old walks over and asks Dan Marino who he is and what he does.
‘I’m a footballer’, Marino says.
‘Yea?’ says the boy, ‘were you any good?’
‘I was OK,’ Marino replies. ‘Actually, I was the best there’s ever been.’
If you’re non-plussed by this, Dan Marino was the quarterback for the Miami Dolphins for many years in the 80s. In essence he was the Colin Montgomerie of American Football – regarded as the best but he never brought home the big prize.

Paul had another story – he was a young boy when he caddied for Fred Daly and he distinctly remembers Fred asking him for his advice on his second shot on the par five 11th. ‘A 4 wood’, Paul responded. Fred agreed and stitched it to a couple of feet for his eagle. Paul doesn’t remember anything else – before or after – which myself and Mervyn found terribly convenient in terms of story-telling.
“So, what was it like caddying for John Daly?” Mervyn needled.
“No,” I said, holding up my hand before Paul could respond. “Not John Daly. It was Frank Daly, wasn’t it Paul?”
“Who’s Frank Daly? Mervyn countered. “Never heard of him.”
“Oh he’s some golfer,” I replied. “Not very good, plays off 15 I think.”
And so it went on.
Paul just kept on smiling, in that way that tells you he’s about to throttle you. But instead he bought another round.

Mervyn’s son is currently in America (Florida, Las Vegas and New York), and is rather sweet on Nicola, who was the gorgeous young lass behind the bar. With a smile like hers I don’t think he should stay away too long.

I found out a fair bit about Castlerock Golf Club – in all honesty I don’t remember that much – and after the bar shutters were pulled down and I’d managed to sidestep the suggestion of going on somewhere else, I sat in the camper desperately trying to remember the previous few hours. Not very well evidently.

My tee time was 7.30am but I had been warned that even that early I would encounter the early morning golfers. At 7.15 there was a heaving throng and I waited my turn. They were all three balls so I assumed it was a competition. But as I walked up the 2nd, one of the guys in front came back in his buggy and asked if I wanted to join them.

Tommy has two plastic hips – hence the buggy – and was going to Puerto Rico the next day for two weeks, so it was no surprise he was taking it easy. He plays off 14, Cedric off 12 and Jimmy off 10. Once I hooked up with them on the 3rd tee, it came down to how much money and what pairings. I played with Tommy and it turned into an excellent day’s golf. We were one down after 8 – my birdie on the par five 5th being trumped by Jimmy’s eagle. Then two down after 11 when Cedric rolled in a 30 footer for birdie. I played the last eight holes in level par and we still lost a further hole. Three down overall and yet Tommy had 42 points on his card. Apart from two blow-outs my card was good too, but it showed once again how important it is on a links course to play with someone who knows the course. There aren’t many blind shots – plenty of flags are visible – but knowing which side of the fairway to hit or how best to approach some of the tricky greens made all the difference. And while driving is mostly straightforward, you can only watch in dismay as balls roll across fairways (7, 10) or fail to clear dunes that appear closer than they are.

With Royal Portrush and Portstewart so very close by, and always getting rave reviews, it’s great that Castlerock can be mentioned in the same breath. Especially as the wicked par three 4th (OB is left of the creek which I, um, didn’t know), which is called Leg of Mutton. The other leg has strayed and is currently residing on the 9th at Lisburn.

And since a fair amount of this blog seems to be about drink, I should point out that Tommy brought along some liquid refreshment. Bishop Daly’s special brew, apparently. It appeared magically on the 12th, and I was in no position to refuse the entertainingly reddish liquid that was offered to me – even if I’d wanted to. How did it go down? I suggest you take a three iron and hit yourself in the back of the head. How did it taste? Exquisite. What was in it? I haven’t a clue, but please sir, can I have some more. Actually, seeing as I’ve already had a blog comment from Gordon, one of the Sunday morning crew, I’m hoping he might offer up another one with the special ingredients so you can all go off and get trollied.

And then it was back to the bar. Again. And after a beautifully sunny morning, it promptly began to rain.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Make the most of Moyola Park

When you play nearby courses and talk to various people in the clubhouse, you’ll always hear various tidbits about the course you’re going to next. Perhaps I wasn’t listening closely enough, because Moyola Park took me completely by surprise. And it hides it all so well, especially as your drive in cuts the 5th in half – it doesn’t look particularly interesting and it is very dangerous to vehicles, as golfers can’t see the road from the tee box.

But Moyola Park is a serious estate parkland course. Huge trees are everywhere and the River Moyola has a beautiful, wide darkness to it as it fronts the 8th hole which is set in a beautiful arboretum. The river appears again on one of the prettiest par threes around – the 17th – a downhill hole that demands at least a couple of tee shots, purely for the thrill of it. You then have a long walk to the 18th – coincidentally, back past the 8th green and over the bridge – and there are few of these walks. I’m always amused at how golfers grab onto something this and milk it for all its worth. Ask someone to describe Rathsallagh and almost the first thing they say is that there are long walks from green to tee – yet there are only two, and compared with Moyola Park they’re a short stroll. If you’re walking the best part of five or six miles around a golf course surely an extra few yards isn’t going to hurt. And if it does hurt, don’t come here. All that will happen is that you will miss a beautiful parkland course.

The day after my visit was the Captain’s Prize – it was the second attempt after the terrible rains. Dunmurry, which I played a few weeks back, took four attempts, and it is a common complaint at the moment. It seems to be almost guaranteed that if you want to play golf in Ireland in August, you’re going to get wet. And with locker room towels at Moyola Park costing £4.50, you might want to make sure that you bring your own.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Killymoon – Everybody Loves Raymond

I wanted to title my book review, Moon River, and then say “Chevy Chase, anyone?” but I couldn’t find a rational link. So it’s here on the blog instead.

I’m rapidly beginning to realise that glitterballs are big business in Northern Ireland. I just can’t figure out if NI are a couple of decades behind, or whether courses down south are missing a trick.

I met a variety of people at Killymoon – Norman knew I was coming and dropped over to me in the bar the night before I played and, the following day, he introduced me to Jack, the club’s President. Conversations ensued with some other folk, but it was my encounter with Raymond that definitely made my day.

A 6am tee-off is a tad early, even for me, especially when it’s so gloomy that you can’t even take a photograph. The greenkeepers were out and working in earnest as this was the big day of the year, with an all-day outing starting at 7am. I met Raymond on the 2nd tee. He was moving the tee box markers around for the day’s event and putting up the sponsor signs. We chatted briefly. Over the next few holes we passed each other a few times, so when he headed over to me on the 10th, in his buggy, I waved. He stopped, opened the door and handed me a container. “Your breakfast” he said. Everybody loves Raymond, for there in the box was a heart attack waiting to happen. And it was delicious. Half seven heaven.

I mentioned it to Norman back in the clubhouse and he just laughed – ‘Raymond does that with me,” he said. But I didn’t get anything this morning.’ I almost felt guilty that I’d got Norman’s breakfast. Almost.

As for the course, it is well worth a visit. Killymoon was a founding member of the GUI and dates back to 1889, so you’ll find an easy maturity to the place, and it is nice and colourful as it flows over a gentle hilltop – almost ornamental in places. I’m not a fan of too many blind shots (9, 17 and 18 are very blind), but because everything works so well here, it makes little difference – it’s probably the anticipation of discovering what lies on the other side. And there are plenty of other exciting tee shots, as well as six good par threes.

Go back? Absolutely.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


“No,” he said, gruffly.
I had walked into the pro shop, introduced myself and been told only holes 1 to 8 and 18 were open. I then asked if I could walk the 9 holes that were not in play.
“I just want to walk them,” I repeated.
No explanation, no smile. Fair enough.
Holes 9 to 17 are closed at the moment as six new greens are being introduced, so I had to satisfy myself with the remaining 9. When I arrived on the 8th tee box – the only hole of any interest – I happened to bump into the very helpful Hon Sec. He explained that I couldn’t see the other holes for health and safety reasons.
Now, if the guy in the pro shop had said that I wouldn’t have felt so disgruntled.
The Hon Sec sent me back to the clubhouse (the 8th tee sits on the edge of the car park and could easily be mistaken for the 1st) to get the centenary book from the office, and to ask if Paddy, the head green keeper, was around. Paddy would take me around the other holes in a buggy. But Paddy wasn’t around.

[Photo: the Trolleys’ graveyard]

Losing it at Loughgall

I found it very entertaining to roll into a golf club and pull up next to three other camper vans. For a minute I was worried that someone else was writing a golf book too, but it turns out that Loughgall Country Park and Golf Club caters to far more than golfers. It includes a football pitch, tennis courts, walking/cycling tracks and a campsite. And as much as I hate football, I was extremely grateful to the football pitch on which the camper vans were parked. It was a 7.30am round and on the 10th hole I checked my mobile phone for messages. There weren’t any, for the simple reason that there was no mobile phone. There was no wallet either. Don’t panic, I told myself – they’re probably in the camper. Still, I backtracked a couple of holes to when I had put on my waterproof top. Nothing. So I was mightily surprised when I walked off 18, trekked back across the football pitch to the camper van and almost stepped on my phone. Yes, it had rained, but only lightly. It was about 30 yards from the camper. The hunt for my wallet then began and I walked all the way to the 1st tee with that sinking feeling. Yet there it was, lying in the grass right beside the tee. I have no idea how many golfers had walked right past it, but luck was clearly on my side. And I can only assume that I had been the only person in about three hours who had walked the path across the pitch to and from my camper.

Loughgall, for me, falls into that category of parkland courses that have tremendous potential if only a serious designer was to cast an eye over it. That’s not to say it’s not already good, but with some finesse it could become a serious attraction. And it’s a municipal course. Huge trees float around the place, there’s water, there are great undulations and three very short par fours are going to tempt everybody.

On the 10th (before I realised I was traveling lighter than I should have been), I ended up talking to Wayne Haffey – the head greenkeeper – for about 15 minutes. Golf, obviously. Next summer he’s trying to play six courses in six different counties in one day. He and a friend will take buggies at each of the courses, but even then I think the traveling times between courses are going to be a major problem. I wish him luck and I hope he raises lots of money for the cancer charity he’s supporting.

Loughgall doesn’t mess about with rough either – unlike the two nearby courses (County Armagh and Portadown) where it’s all about playability, Loughgall has left much of the rough to grow wild and deep. If you stray you can kiss your ball goodbye – on 15 you’re not even allowed to go and look for it. It really adds to the colour and the drama of the course.

Oh, and for £50 you can become a member. You’ll find that very hard to beat.

Friday, August 22, 2008

County Armagh

Pics to follow

It seems hard to believe that only a few days ago I was sitting at home watching the news, looking at pictures of Northern Ireland under water. I’m going there next week, I thought, wondering if my camper van could float. The reports said that a month’s rainfall had fallen in a day and the pictures of Belfast’s new motorway underwater emphasised just how bad things were.

I phoned the courses at the start of this trip and they all said that they were open. Even so, when I arrived in County Armagh I was expecting a bog. It wasn’t like that at all, and it just goes to show how good drainage can make all the difference. I imagine Portadown, which I played a few weeks ago, must have been in dire straits as the lower holes sit on a flood plain.

I hooked up with Stuart on the 1st tee. 24 years old, 2 handicap and hits his irons dead straight. The flags on the par threes must have been nervous as he pounded all of them into submission. He got a couple of birdies in a row, but it should have been four as he missed a couple of shortish putts. In fairness, the greens weren’t in the best of shape after the rain – that’s my excuse anyway.

The obelisk that sits behind the 10th and 13th greens is a stunning landmark that adds huge drama to these two holes, but it is often visible as you make your way around this tight, entertaining course. And if you have a good score going, you need to be very careful on the final three holes. 16 is Index 1, but the 18th is harder and can wreck a card – like mine (triple bogey).

And it helps that County Armagh sits right on the edge of town – although you’d never know it when you’re playing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Nice day at Naas

[Photo: Par four 2nd]
Naas is the kind of course that you rarely hear about – I don’t know why because it’s fantastic. The 18 holes are divided into two lots and I had heard that the newer, outside 9 wasn’t nearly as good as the original 9, recently redesigned by Jeff Howes. Even Denis Mahon, the Secretary/Manager, implied as much when we chatted beforehand. There’s clearly a difference but the outside holes are still good. They lack the heavy undulations of the inner 9, so they don’t look quite as imposing, and the presentation/playability of the holes isn’t the same – but I wasn’t complaining. When Mr. Howes finishes the job, Naas will be a perfect golfing destination.

My chat with Denis did raise one interesting issue: he was comfortable enough to say that one 9 was better than the other. I admire that and it is certainly preferable to being told how brilliant a course is – whether it is or isn’t. For instance, I had just finished my round at a course in the North West when the manager started telling me how fantastic the course was. He said that visitors found it so much better than the more highly regarded courses nearby. Personally, it was a load of rubbish. A course in Cork did the same, comparing itself with Fota Island and Cork golf clubs, when it isn’t in the same league. At least, not yet. You expect people to promote their home club, but you can go too far and raise expectations to silly levels. I’ve mentioned Castle Hume before - a golf course that sticks out more than any other in its claims of ‘championship’ quality.

[Photo: Par five 13th]

For the purposes of my book, satisfying expectations is nigh on impossible. If you go to a course, e.g. Castle Hume, and you play out of your skin to score 48 points, then you’ll love the course no matter what I say. And the opposite is true too. Play a true links course in a howling gale and you’re unlikely to return any time soon. My book attempts to highlight what the course is about and what kind of experience you can expect. How you play is entirely up to you.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lifted at Kilcock

[Photo: The Byrnes tee it up on the current par four 1st]

When I met Tom at Kilcock he asked me a question that made me stop in my tracks.
“Do you understand golf?” he asked me.
“How do you mean?” I replied.
“Well,” he continued, “if I say the hole’s a par three will you know what I mean by that?”

Yes, I was a bit confused too. It’s difficult to write a book on golf courses if you don’t know how golf works. Having said that, I remember a guy I met in London who had just written a book on back-packing in Australia. When I asked when he had been in Oz, he said he’d never been. “I just phoned the Australian Embassy and asked them to send me all the books on travelling around Australia,” he said. “Then I just put them all together.”

Kilcock is undergoing major changes. 9 holes have been upgraded, and the other 9 are, quite literally, going under the knife in the next few days. At the moment, only 9 holes are open and you start at the old 6th. I encountered Kevin Byrne and his nine year old son on the 1st hole. I suppose I should stop being surprised when I meet golfers who know the same people I do. Kevin has been trying to get Neville Galloway up to Kilcock for some time – Neville was Greystones’ Captain in 2007, and gave one of the most hilarious speeches I’ve ever heard at the Captain’s Day Dinner last August. Nice one, Neville.

Kevin pointed at the fantastic new greens and asked if I knew where they had come from. They’d come from the old Bray course. Quite literally, carved off the old course and dropped on the greens here at Kilcock. It’s certainly worked. But there’s only one problem: the old Bray course was a 9 hole course – so where are the next 9 greens going to come from?

[Photo: The current par five 9th]

As Kevin walked off the 1st with an easy par his son held up his putter and proudly proclaimed that his score was four over. I hope he’s keeping a close eye on the rise of Padraig Harrington into the echelons of golfing greats. And perhaps, if he needs some inspiration from someone closer to his age, he should watch the name of Greystones’ own Paul Dunne.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Craddockstown – attacked

OK, so maybe ‘attacked’ is an exaggeration, but I was certainly intimidated. I had just teed off over the big pond on the 5th when three ducks swam in my direction, climbed out and headed straight for me. I swear they had a look in their eyes, and my drive hadn’t gone anywhere near them. They came to about five feet, shook their heads, shook their tails, expressed their displeasure and then dismissed me. As I made a hasty getaway I passed the yellow society tee which sits in the water. About 40 ducks watched me pass. It was all far too quiet and I fled. Back in the clubhouse, I heard someone informing their group that they were playing off the yellow tees. I nearly voiced my concerns but realised they’d think I was mad.

After Padraig’s brilliance in America, it was enough to inspire some brilliant golf – ducks aside. Have you ever found that? When you watch the best it seems to affect you mentally. Maybe you slow down and keep your head still. Anyway, it worked for me at Craddockstown and I went around in good time, dunking just one ball in the water at the very difficult, but short 10th. If you get around this newish parkland track without dumpling a ball in the water (ponds and streams – some hidden) you’ve done very well indeed.

[Photo: Approach to Par 4 10th]

It was the day after some seriously heavy rain that flooded parts of Dublin and Kildare, but the drainage here had done a terrific job. Only the bunkers looked obliterated, with those tell-tale tracks drifting down through the sand. Water remained in many of them, but clearly it had gone down. When I reached the par three 15th, there were two very nice balls (one a ProVI) clearly in view under water in the bunker. After that I kept checking every bunker – quite a task as Craddockstown likes its bunkers.

[Photo: Par 4 13th]

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cairndhu Rocks

[The par three 2nd sits on top of the headland]

I always love it when a golf experience begins before you arrive. The drive along the Antrim coastline puts you right on top of the sea, and if you’re coming from Larne then the golf course appears on the headland in the distance. You’re reaction is: “no, it can’t be!” But it is. Those are golf holes up there. In fact that’s 1, 4 and 5 you can see. The best of all, the par three 2nd, is at the very top where you can’t see – but when you get up there you’ll want to have your camera with you.

For many, a buggy might be the order of the day. In the pro shop, the elderly gentleman in front of me asked for a buggy for 9. Brian, behind the counter, shook his head: ‘you won’t fit 9 in a buggy,’ he quipped.

Cairndhu boasts the best views in Ireland. Having played nearly all of its 350 golf courses I would dispute that, but that doesn’t mean you won’t love them and won’t be overwhelmed by them. Indeed, you’ll need to stop a couple of times on the way up 1 (and 3) just to appreciate them – and catch your breath. It's also worth noting that their driving range must offer the most awe-inspiring drives - see photo.

It is a spectacular start, and even when you get onto the ‘regular’ parkland holes on the back 9, the views just keep cropping up. For me, one of the highlights is Ailsa Craig, rising over 1,000 feet dome-like off the Scottish coast. It rose to ever greater heights of fame back in 1992, when the Scottish Women’s Curling Team won the curling gold medal at the Winter 2002 Olympics, using curling stones honed from Ailsa Craig rock. Sadly, on Cairndhu’s 18th, called Ailsa, the trees have grown up so high behind the hole that Ailsa Craig is barely visible. Then again, there’s more than enough to see, and the golf is excellent.

[The approach to the very difficult par four 15th. This approach is blind]

One final point: as I drove along the road a big brown sign appeared for Carnfunnock Country Park. On the sign was a golf flag, so up the road I went only to be stopped by a barrier. No, this was not the place, and the girl in the small booth said that a lot of visiting golfers get it wrong. So keep going for another few hundred yards until you find a sign that says ‘Cairndhu Golf Club’.

Holywood - beware the nuns

[Photo: the Rory McIlroy wall of fame]

In the Holywood bar I thought I had become very popular. I was sitting at a small table, typing up my review for Royal Belfast, when a group of people came towards me. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the attraction and they didn’t give me a second glance. I was sitting under the Rory McIlroy wall of fame. His scorecards from the 2007 British Open were on the wall with a signed flag from the 18th. Other pictures adorned the wall along with cards showing course records he had broken at Clandeboye in June 07 – a seven under par 64 – and at Royal Portrush in July 05 – an astounding 11 under par 61, including 5 consecutive birdies to finish.

I then encountered Susie, a Slovakian blonde (and yes, every bit as gorgeous as that sounds) who had been working in the Clandeboye bar the night before. The same catering company looks after both golf clubs. We chatted briefly and Rory McIlroy got mentioned. She laughed and told me that Rory’s dad was her boss and it was he who I had paid for my dinner the previous night. I discovered later that Rory had been in Holywood that afternoon and had been sitting next door in the members’ bar.

As I walked towards the 6th hole, a delicious drop shot of a par three that sits completely separately over the lane, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a sign just before the road. Have a look at the pic and see how gloriously ambiguous it is.

Nuns Walk is the name of the lane and the hole, but it all depends on how you read it. There’s even an identical sign on the way back, crossing over to 7.

Holywood is hilly, and while the start is slow (no climbs involved), it’s not until you start climbing from the 8th green that you sense something big is coming. When you get to the 10th green you will encounter a strong run of holes that have the best views and make Holywood worthwhile.
[Photo: the par 4 14th. The best hole and somewhat different to the rest]

Like Royal Belfast, some directions would really help. As Rory’s home course there are going to be many golfers in the years ahead who will want to come here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Royal Belfast – old and distinguished

[Approach to the par five 5th]

It was not easy to find Royal Belfast. Sometimes clubs seem to forget that signs are necessary to make things easier for visitors. After you pass the Ulster Folk Museum, heading from Belfast, take a left turn at the first set of traffic lights down Station Road.

[Photo: gloriously wild par three 11th – the rest of the course is far more manicured]

The clubhouse dates back to 1859, and it makes for an impressive arrival as you drive alongside the 18th. In the original part of the building (an extension has been added) you’ll find the bar with black and white photographs of ships adorning the walls. Overlooking Belfast Lough, as Royal Belfast does, it seems very fitting. Actually, the course gets right down to the water and three holes almost get wet.

If you’re wondering how old the course is, there’s a small white arrow pointing you to the 5th tee, at the back of the 4th green. It has been there so long that the tree that it is attached to has now started to grow over it. See pic below.

As I returned to the clubhouse the early morning starters were arriving. I watched one young man climb out of his car and I realised there are some things I don’t do. I don’t do pink jumpers, and I don’t do jumpers thrown over my shoulders like a cape. This fellow managed to combine the two, with some aplomb I might add. But the brown shoes were just screaming for help.

[Photo: par three 7th]

Monday, August 4, 2008

Clandeboye – George Bush has left the building

[Photo: Dufferin course par 4 7th]

Clandeboye was another of the courses (18 hole Duffering and 18 hole Ava) that I had eagerly waited to play. About 10 years ago I worked for Esat Digifone, and in my marketing role I dealt with Johnny Packham, a Northern Irish gentleman, who runs Open Fairways ( - check it out if you don’t know that it’s one of the great ways to play golf in this country. He was a member at Clandeboye and he had been very enthusiastic about the course. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it when I was due to play, but he sent a very able deputy – Shane Darby.

Now Shane is what you call one of the lucky Irish. He comes back from Oz and he decides he wants a career in golf – his passion. He saw his five years of promoting forklifts (in Ireland and Oz) as not being in anyway a problem, and he fired off an email to Open Fairways. And what do you know, one of the guys at Open Fairways had just handed in his notice and Shane fit the bill perfectly. Who says you can’t your dream job. He’s living proof. Mind you, so am I.

[Photo: Shane checks out the lie of the land of the short par 4 9th on the Ava course]

When I arrived in the evening it was tipping down. The visitors’ car park is a little bit away from the clubhouse and I ended up staying in the camper for over an hour, waiting for the rain to ease off. When I finally got up there the putting green was slowly sinking under water – see pic. It didn’t bode well. I half expected Shane to phone and say he was declining the opportunity.

The next morning was the complete opposite – as we’ve come to expect of Irish weather – and Shane appeared at 7.30 as agreed. He’d only played a handful of times this year and here he was, about to play 36 holes, and he was carrying his clubs. On top of that he’d strained his hamstring the night before during rugby training. I was trying to figure out how I was going to carry him from the furthest reaches of the course when the time came, but as the day progressed he loosened up and had no problem getting around.

[Dufferin course, Index 1, par 4 4th green]

We played the big course first – the Dufferin – in an open singles competition. It had been a while since I had played in one and it always focuses the mind. We both ooh-ed and aah-ed as we went around, loving what the course had to offer. We even got to see two huge buzzards that are nesting somewhere off the 5th fairway. This is a seriously beautiful golf course that combines heathland at the top with mature parkland at the bottom. And a combination of the two in between. You have got to come and play here before Clandeboye realises that the green fees they’re asking are outrageously good value. There are plenty of great value courses up here – Donaghadee and Down Royal spring to mind – but (and no offence to these two) the Dufferin course is in the top tier of parkland courses.

[Photo: Ava course par three 6th all well hidden]

And as for the clubhouse… huge and plush. Put it this way, how many golf club locker rooms have a sofa seating area, with TV, overlooking the course? There’s only one problem to all this: it is very easy to get lost. No really. At any one time you have about four doors to choose from. As we were leaving the bar after lunch, Shane did a classic George W Bush: he opened a door on the way outside and walked straight into a closet. Oh how we laughed. At the end of the second round on the Ava course, Shane went to walk into the pro shop and went into the buggy storeroom instead. Add to that my very circuitous (and torturous) routes to get to the bar – on several occasions – and my advice is to look for direction signs. Or just ask.

After a very slow start, Shane hit the shot of the round, almost claiming a hole in one on the 14th. The ball finished just a few inches behind the hole. Mind you, his approach to 18 on the Ava course was even better because he said he was going to hit it to a foot, and he did. I tried it and ended up in the bunker.

[Photo: Ava course par four 17th. Yes, exactly what you see from the tee]

Ava is what you call a quirky course. It is short, and with so much gorse running away off the tee some holes are madness. A driver would be foolish on most of the long holes. Even on the par five 8th a driver could be foolish. The course is simply too tight and often too blind. The 17th is crazy. Stand on the tee and you have no idea where to go. Seriously, no idea at all. And 13 is not dissimilar. At the same time, it’s a lot of fun and the appeal of the course is huge with that lovely rich heathland feel.

I was told before I arrived that I should play the Dufferin course first. Having played both, I suggest that you play Ava first – it will give you a taste of the greens, and it will sharpen your game for the main event – because the Dufferin course is most definitely the main event.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Carnalea and Blackwood

I laughed out loud when I arrived at Carnalea clubhouse. I walked into the bar and there, hanging from the ceiling, was a glitterball. Having been highly amused by the glitterball in Donaghadee, here was another one 24 hours later. Big disco folk up here, evidently.

Carnalea is another seaside course just outside Bangor. And it was another morning of heavy rain. The course is split in two by a busy railway line and it divides the course quite conveniently. The sea side has corrugated roof effect fairways and that spartan pine tree cover that gives it a dark feeling. The water is never far away and you get down and close to it after 6, one of those quirky holes that you’ll love or hate. Up above it’s a more regular parkland affair with greater variety to trees.

The course reminded me of Greystones because it’s the first club (out of 310) that I’ve been to that is a par 69, with two par 5s, five par 3s, and two quite different 9s. But that’s where the similarity ends.

The greens were in reasonable condition and it highlights something I don’t put in my course reviews if I can help it – the quality of a course. Carnalea’s greens were looking just a bit patchy, but it’s easy to see that their quality is good and I just happened to see them at a bad time. If I’d come a month ago I might be raving about them. And since the book is not out for another 6 to 9 months, how is it possible to accurately reflect the state of the greens? Or the fairways for that matter?

There is a very rich history here as the club is tied up with Royal Belfast (I’m due there in a couple of days), the oldest club in Ireland which dates back to 1881. In the early days the clubs seemed to pass Pat Sawey, the local pro, back and forth. Even after he retired he continued to coach at Carnalea. He died at the ripe old age of 89 and his ashes interred in the trees on the right of the green on hole 18 – which had long been named “Pat’s Way Home”, after the professional.

There is new blood at Carnalea now. Her name is Sarah Louise Winter, and she plays off 3. She’s 16 and has already represented Ireland Under 16s and Ulster Under 19s. There is so much talk about the remarkable Maguire twins that there’s no doubt Irish women will soon rise to the top of the game. Carnalea are rightly proud of Sarah Louise, and her photograph appears on several walls in the clubhouse. The photo alongside was taken by Ken Best.

One final comment – the clubhouse and changing rooms are separate – and as comfortable as the bar is, a bit of attention to the changing rooms wouldn’t go amiss.

Then it was off to Blackwood, a rather odd affair that has a stunningly wide area to lay a golf course, with great woods all around. You get to walk through a few of them to reach tees and it feels comfortably rustic. The emphasis seems to be more on the driving range and the 9 hole par three course (excellent condition by the way) and the clubhouse is certainly different. It would help for starters if there were signs pointing to the 1st tee – it’s quite a hike.

You start to notice things when you spend all your time playing golf courses – and one of the big ones is scorecards. Some have a map of the holes (not all of them legible), some don’t, some give you local rules, and most tell you whether the distance markers are to the middle or the front. Carnalea and Blackwood both miss out on that one – so be sure to ask. At Blackwood, several of the greens sit right under trees/woods, so not knowing your distances can be problematic.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Donaghadee, by the sea

Donaghadee was easy to find – after some of my recent ‘hidden’ courses it was a relief to drive straight in and park. As with most places I have a quick look around, and stretches of the course were on show in the evening sun. A good feeling, and the course was busy – always a good sign, even at 8 in the evening. Knowing that rain was coming the next day I was sorely tempted to go out, but another 54 would have done me in, and I would have had to fly around. So dinner and a pint seemed much more appealing. And they were. The food really is good here and the whole entertainment thing is taken seriously – bands and dinner dances are frequent events – you’ll find a programme of events around the clubhouse.

Two things made me laugh when I arrived in the bar. The first was a large glitterball hanging over the dance floor. I haven’t seen one of those since the days when ‘clubs’ were called ‘discos’, and the obligatory slow set sent spotty teenage boys into a frenzy of uncontrollable hormones – at least until Lady in Red made us all violently in. My brother-in-law went to a wedding ten years ago when the bride walked down the aisle to Lady in Red. One side of the aisle (the bride’s, presumably) were all sobbing because it was so beautiful; the other side were wetting themselves with laughter because, and let’s be honest here, it’s naff.

The second thing in the bar was the wooden marker for the 13th tee box. Not often you see one of those in the bar, and certainly one of the toughest driving holes I’ve ever seen. The club is looking for sponsors and the tee markers will add tremendously to the appearance of tee boxes. And what better place to promote the idea than in the bar.

Then the rain started at 3am and it was still going at 8am. So I decided to walk the course. Playing in those conditions doesn’t give you a feel for a course at all.

Donaghadee is a good seaside course. I liked it, even only walking. There’s definitely a lack of colour but it does combine links, parkland and heathland so there’s something for everyone. And this close to the sea it’s always hard work getting deciduous trees to grow. I had a long chat in the bar afterwards with Jim, the Manager. For once I actually felt like I had something to offer, but only because the comments I was making were already being addressed. The most notable of which was on 16, where a long tee box hides the beauty of the downhill drive when playing from the back tee. The new course layout shows it being ‘stepped’. There were other things too, but when I mentioned bunkering, Jim immediately said that this was all going to change. Which is a shame because I thought some of the bunkering was brilliant.

The course is worth a visit undoubtedly – the green fees alone are a steal – and you have, in holes 2 and 12, those magnificent high tees that drop down to a distant fairway before rising up high to the green. Great to look at and nerve-wracking to play.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Shandon Park Spitfire and the adventure of Knock

Four very elderly people were sitting at the table behind me in Shandon Park’s clubhouse. I never like listening in, but every now and again you can’t help but overhear. At the start they were talking about great grandchildren. One of them had six of them and photographs were passed around. But it was a conversation later on that made me realise something both amazing and sad. Very soon there will be no WWII veterans left, and the memories that these remarkable men and women carry around with them will become history.

The man with six great grand kids started talking about the time a spitfire was grounded and what he and his comrades had to do to get it ready for action again. I missed much of it, but I heard reference to approaching German tanks, scalding hot metal and Tobruk, in Libya.

Why read it in a book when you can hear it from people who were there.

Shandon Park was an early morning outing that started in the rain. Even on a damp, grey day the pleasure of Shandon Park shone through. Tucked away in the suburbs it is green and flat and cosy. No, wait, scratch that. It starts out as flat, and from the 1st tee and clubhouse that’s all you see, but once you head up 2 and then down and across 3 you realise it’s anything but. It’s clever deception but it’s all fun, and mostly straight. 14 is the hole you have to be wary of off the tee as it is the only blind shot. It’s index 4 and it curls right, around the trees, to a slightly raised green. I birdied it of course. It’s always easy when you can chip in from 30 yards.

Good facilities and good food too.

I had only just arrived at Knock that afternoon – having driven by Stormont, which was a moment in itself – when there was a knock on the window. Here’s trouble, I thought, but it was Robin, the Hon Sec, and we headed inside for a quick drink. The first thing he told me was that back in the early 1900s, Knock used to be a 9 hole course playing at Shandon Park. Small world.

After that we went in to the pro shop and Ricky (the pro) asked a few of the usual questions. Then he threw Waterford at me. What, I asked. I like Waterford, he said. You mean the golf club, I asked, thinking he must be mad. That’s exactly what he meant, and I’m in no position to question him when I like Scrabo and seem to be the only one who does – quite literally. When I said it to Ricky, he blanched.

Knock is another course that surprises after an unimpressive entrance – immediately off the busy A20. It is extremely tight in places, generous in others, always entertaining but with greens that don’t excite. They’re fine as putting surfaces but, as an example, take the 6th – a beautiful drive with huge trees down the right. The fairway bumps a bit, hops over a rocky stream and runs to the green in a tidy little corner of the course. But for your second (or third depending on your abilities – it’s a long hole) the green lies flat. It’s something that crops up at many courses and I know you can’t click your fingers and find thirty grand per green to make it sit up and look inspiring. And on some courses (Down Royal for instance) flat ‘on-the-land’ greens work best. So, for the purposes of my book, I want people to know that after good drives your approaches are a little less inspiring. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the course, because I do – I think Knock has plenty of energy to keep you thoroughly entertained.

And speaking of the 6th. I was standing on the 7th tee as a fourball came up 6. One of them hit his shot wide and it bounced up onto the tee box, not far from me. I had played off the proper yellow tee, as suggested by Robin, and not the yellow markers of the day which were further forward (and well out of range of errant shots). As the man approached he gave out to me, pointing out that there was a very good reason why the tees were forward. Hmm, evidently! When I told him that the Hon Sec had recommended that I play off those tees you could see the light going on. “Are you the guy writing the book?” And then he was as nice as pie. Now, as amusing as the switch in moods was, I congratulate him for making the comment. All too often we go about muttering under our breath because someone is too slow or someone is rude. I’ve been keeping it in for a number of years and it’s made me bitter and twisted. Scratch that. More bitter and twisted.