Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 - Catch Up

2008 has turned out to be the year of the Irish in terms of golf victories and establishing names on the world stage.

After Padraig’s victory at Carnoustie in 2007, there was a general feeling that he enjoyed good fortune after his balls-up of the 18th in his final round. 2008 put that feeling to rest with two great Major victories.

Darren Clarke returned to winning ways, twice, and yet he was screwed by Faldo when he wasn’t picked for the Ryder Cup. Not so Graeme McDowell, who also recorded two wins and became one of Europe’s best performers in the Ryder Cup.

[Photo: Deer on Portumna's par five 17th]

But perhaps even more promising was to see two new Irish winners – Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie – and the rise and rise of Rory McIlroy. After a superb closing to the year he has guaranteed himself an appearance at all four majors next year. The beauty of young Rory is that there is a firm belief that anything is possible. And following December’s South African Open, 28 year old Gareth Maybin from Northern Ireland may also make a big splash in 2009.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year was Padraig’s very poor performance in the Ryder Cup. Mind you, Faldo did as much damage with his mouth as his selection process, and bringing ‘potatoes’ into Padraig’s training regime may have been one vegetable too far for Ireland’s greatest golfer.

There was more good news as it was confirmed that The Irish Open will continue into 2009, thanks to mobile phone company, 3. There is still no decision where it will be held. After Mount Juliet and Royal Dublin were both touted as the venue, it seems that Baltray may get the nod. And with John Daly indicating he would like to play in the event again, there will a great buzz about the place come May 2009.

[Photo: Baltray's par three 15th]

Luttrellstown Castle Golf Club it the dust – or it will do at the end of 2009 when it closes its doors for the last time. Luttrellstown is regarded as one of the big parkland venues that spent too much money. Truth be told, it’s a nice course, but nothing that special. And why the new owners felt the need to spend huge sums replacing one impressive timber clubhouse with another impressive timber clubhouse I’ll never know. Seemed like a good idea at the time, perhaps.

Other courses have struggled – and will continue to struggle in 2009 no doubt – with courses closed on weekdays, green staff and even managers laid off. Druid’s Heath hit an interesting jackpot: they offered 200 memberships for sale, for 2009, at €1,500 a head. Huge numbers replied (from 500 to 800 depending on where you heard it) and they took 360 of these. €540,000 in one swoop is not a bad day’s work.

In the Sunday Tribune’s December 14th edition, the owner of Hollystown, Oliver Barry, had a pop at Ireland’s tourist bodies for focusing too exclusively on Ireland’s premier resorts when they promoted Irish golf overseas. He backed this up by saying that at over 90 per cent of Ireland’s 420 golf courses you could play for €40 or less. That’s a bit disingenuous as he’s including some 100 nine hole courses – but he still has a valid point. However, these tourist bodies are changing their focus to promote the smaller clubs and while the quality of these is not as exquisite as Mr. Barry would have you believe, their value for money is beyond question. Portumna has to be the biggest example of this. For €30 you play a course that is big, natural and thrilling, and one of the best parkland courses in the country. Seriously. Play in the morning and watch the deer run around you.
[Photo: Portumna's 13th]

My final note is to say that there’s a decent spread on my travels in December’s Today’s Golfer Magazine – Issue 251 – if you’re remotely interested! The only downside is that I have already been tagged with the title of the article – White Camper Van Man. Still, it’s better than my previous name which I acquired after a year in Australia, delivering ‘health’ food ice-cream to stores in Sydney. Made of Tofu it was utterly revolting, but I still ended up being called Mr. Whippy.

Hope you have a great golfing 2009.

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