Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ryder Cup Shocker

No, I'm not talking about Faldo's pairings, Boo's antics, the big boys of Europe failing to deliver or Ian Poulter's brilliance (do you have any idea how hard it is for me to type that!)... I'm talking about Sky News.

On Sunday morning I switched on Sky and waited for Sports to give the lowdown on the Ryder Cup. On came yer man who enthusiastically declared that it was game on. "Only one point separates the teams," he gasped. "The Americans lead by 9 points to 7." Evidently arithmetic is not a big requirement for Sky sports presenters. As if Sky hasn't dumbed-down the news enough already.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

PGA National – head in the sand

[Photo: par three 3rd which sums up the brilliant front 9 perfectly]

Call me crazy, but there can’t be many golf courses in the world that boast an ostrich when you drive in. I nearly crashed as this odd looking head poked over a fence at me. Inside the clubhouse I asked Maria, the girl who I’d arranged my round with, if it had caused any accidents. Apparently not.

I’ve been buzzing about the PGA course for a couple of years now, so it was brilliant to turn up after a miserable, wet morning, and find the sun out. True, there was a serious wind, but in the grand scheme of things that was a minor complaint.

I was also supposed to be meeting the Course Editor from Today’s Golfer magazine, but he had to cancel. Hopefully I’ll be hooking up with him in October. I’m already writing articles for Ireland’s Golfing Magazine, but being featured in a UK magazine will be a big thrill.

A Christy O’Connor designed course always generates some interesting comments, but Palmerstown must be one of his best (Headfort New being another beauty). It has a wide expanse of room to work with and the whole thing has been put together immaculately. As I played the par three 3rd, there were four men gardening the enormous bed that banks the right hand side. Flowers and shrubs of all descriptions give it a flash of colour, and this is repeated several times – the par five 9th (a huge bunker is stuffed with shrubs) and the enclosed par three 12th most noticeably. The effort that goes into maintaining a course like this must be huge, but as the Irish home of the PGA I suppose it has to look the part. And it does. Right down to the changing rooms which are luxurious – quite like Fota Island and The Heritage. When you pay big green fees you expect that whole pampering thing.

[Photo: par five 9th - the fairway swings right, behind the water and then left, back up to the green above the bunkers]

When you walk up onto the 1st tee you’ll find a choice of four tees. Gold, silver, bronze and black. I played from the bronze, which measures 6,468 yards. If you fancy the big tees, you’re looking at 7,419 yards. With beaches of sand, and vast and beautiful swathes of water on 13 holes, you might as well pick the sensible tees – or at least the ones that suit your game. I found water twice and considered myself lucky.

It is an experience, that’s for sure, but my guess is that Americans would make the same claim about it that they make about the K Club, which is that courses like this are a dime a dozen in the US. Fair enough, but not that many of us go to the US to find these things out.

One point to note is that it is a long course, even off the black tees, because there are several walks from green to tee which skirt the water and add on several hundred yards. And on 12 you walk the whole length of the hole to reach the tee - it is worth it. At least the course is mostly level. Or take a buggy if you’re a lightweight.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Farnham Estate Formation

[The drive up the par four 1st]

Farnham Estate is a spanking new course on the outskirts of Cavan town. It is a mere mile or two from County Cavan Golf Club, and on the same road out of the town. And because it’s part of the Radisson SAS Hotel, of the same name, you can be sure there are excellent direction posts to get to the club. After some of the more difficult locations of recent weeks, this was a blessing and it meant I didn’t miss my tee time.

The course is designed by Jeff Howes (easy to spot by the perfectly round tee boxes), and two larger loops of holes you will not find. It’s a huge figure of 8 across the estate, and the two 9s are completely different. The first 9 rolls over farmland countryside – it’s as if a carpet has been laid on the landscape. There are some big trees and ponds, but it still feels open. The second 9 heads up into the forest and holes are completely enclosed by trees. This 9 is not yet open, and greens and tees are still sand, and fairways mud, but you can see what it will become. It was quite an education walking holes that are in their early evolution. Hopefully the photo alongside will get that across.

[Photo: the tracks that will become the par four 13th. The sand in the distance will be the green]

Seamus, the starter, was extremely helpful and showed me the maps of the course, and where to go to begin my muddy adventure on the back 9. And because there are no facilities as yet, he kindly arranged a hotel room so I could shower after my round. And an impressive hotel it is too – even if it looks a little odd (blend of old and new) from the 18th fairway.

[Photo: the left to right dogleg par five 18th]

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Massereene – You Can Not Be Serious

[Photo: Par 4 17th]

My trip to Massereene was an interesting one. Gary, the General Manager, had asked that I park my camper up in the Lady Captain’s parking space as the following morning was the start of the President’s Prize. It was one of the club’s big events and meant that I had to be on the tee by 6am. That was all fine with me, and Gary passed the word around to the relevant people that I would be parked overnight.

Only, the word didn’t reach a few members. A few very drunk members, who decided, at midnight, that my camper van was a problem. After the door was almost banged off its hinges, I was confronted by two men – one so drunk that standing upright was a challenge. “Are you serious?” he asked.

Serious about what, I replied. He meant me parking outside the clubhouse, so I explained that it had all been cleared with Gary. That seemed to do the trick and they headed off.

Then I heard another member of the group giving out that just because I knew the name Gary, didn’t mean a thing. I felt inclined to point out that if I was trying to park on the sly, I wouldn’t park within five feet of the clubhouse, under the security lights, in the Lady Captain’s parking space. Especially when there were plenty of places that were out of sight. But then logic and alcohol are not exactly bosom buddies. Eventually they headed off in their cars and I went back to sleep.

At 2am there was another knock on the door, and I admit to being a little nervous. But it was the police, who had been informed that something suspicious might be going on. A bit of bad parking I admit, and some dodgy shorts, but nothing to worry about.

Not surprisingly I slept through my alarm and arrived on the tee late. One of the greenkeepers was bringing out the buggies and he said that the flags would be put out on the greens very shortly. The first flag I encountered was on the 7th, and what was my score at that point? Five pars. Clearly, taking the flag away makes hitting the green a far easier proposition. On the Index 1 6th, I hit my second shot to two feet with no idea where the hole was. Forget about Power Golf – try Flagless Golf instead.

[Photo: Par 4 9th - sharp dogleg left between the trees]

Massereene has a great pace to start off. As someone who doesn’t like too many doglegs – it can get monotonous and frustrating – I was surprised I liked Massereene as much as I did. Take away the par threes and you see only three flags (4 and 17 are the two best holes on the course, while 12 is the tamest), yet there is so much going on around you that the shots are still rewarding. And that says something for the course.

If you read any of the club’s literature it will tell you that it is part links – but while this may be true (the holes were reclaimed when the Lough’s water levels fell) it is slightly disingenuous as there are no ‘links’ features. Just so you don’t turn up expecting dunes and tossing fairways.

After my round, Gary appeared and I told him about the events of my night. He was a bit embarrassed as he’d told a lot of people and it had been raised at a Council Meeting that week. But, at the end of the day, I was impressed that the members felt the obligation (and alcohol-induced bravado) to challenge me. When I worked in London, a guy walked in off the street, said hello to the Receptionists, walked down to the basement and picked up a case of 12 whiskey bottles (one of our clients). Then he walked out saying hello and goodbye to people as he went. It never occurred to anyone that he was a thief because he acted so normally.

Allen Park Municipal

“Are you going to give us a good write up?”
The lady behind the reception desk was asking a question I couldn’t answer. I hadn’t even seen the course yet.

[Photo: Interesting signs on the par five 13th]

I have no doubt that some of the clubs I‘ve been to automatically assume I’m going to give them a positive write-up. But that’s not the objective of my book. I simply want to inform visitors what they can expect when they play a course. Are they being ripped off? Is it a pile of muck? Are they going to be blown away? This book is not for the golf clubs – it is for the golfer.

Allen Park will be fine though. As a municipal course it ticks every box very comfortably indeed. You might even have to delay your round on the Index 1 6th as swans waddle from their pond, across the fairway, for an afternoon snooze between 5 and 6.

[Photo: Par 4 18th, clubhouse behind, emphasises the opne nature of the course]