Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tiger Woods and his worst drive - ever

Every media channel in the world seems to be getting its knickers in a twist over the Tiger Woods car crash. Only a handful of details that led up to the incident have been confirmed or clarified, but that doesn’t stop the speculation that litters the golf pages (and plenty of front pages too) and blogosphere. Let’s take a moment and remember that the breaking story of an alleged extra-marital affair appeared in the National Enquirer – that pinnacle of quality and truthful “my baby’s an alien” media.

This whole thing is pathetic. The speculation is mindless, pointless, ridiculous. Here is a married couple who, like every other married couple on the planet, has its difficulties… and this is assuming the speculation is correct. Their fame and wealth sticks them firmly in the public eye and every episode of Tiger’s life is played out in the media – remember the farting fiasco that ended up on YouTube? I for one had forgotten that rich and famous people fart, so hearing that they do was a real shock. This is obviously a more high profile incident, but it has nothing to do with golf.

I am not Tiger’s biggest fan, but why the hell can’t we respect his desire to keep his private life, private. That’s why it’s called ‘private’. Whether he’s having an extra-marital affair, or whether he’s given birth to an alien, it’s none of our business. The man is a sportsman, and his off-field antics should be none of our concern.

I read ESPN’s article by Jason Sobels with interest and no small hint of dismay. This guy insists that the only way for Tiger to clear the whole thing up is to come clean – to him, presumably. Ah, why exactly? Tiger is intensely private individual so why is he going to open up his heart over such an intensely private incident. Dream on, Jason, dream on.

When the truth comes out – if the truth comes out – then we can shake our heads and express disappointment/surprise/joy/frustration… at what has occurred. And then we can move on and get back to watching one of the finest golfers of all time do what he does best.

No pun intended - but this is just car-crash TV.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Doonbeg - European Golf Resort of the Year

There are some clubs that generate a lot of heated debate: anyone care to say ‘K Club’! The Old Head of Kinsale is another and, further afield, there are the Celtic Manor and Gleneagles courses that will host the Ryder Cup. By all accounts they are bland.

They have one thing in common: they’re parkland.

[Photo: The par three 9th green, with clubhouse in the distance]

The only links I can think of that generates such a similar amount of consternation is Doonbeg. Yes, yes, I know Royal County Down gets its fair share of criticism for its blindshots, but the roots of Doonbeg’s problems are its age and its “resort-ness”. And Greg Norman may get some stick for his design - why, I don't know.

So this month’s award of European Golf Resort of the Year for its “exceptional contribution to the world of golf travel” will not necessarily pacify its critics. The award is made by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), which represents 49 countries, so it’s not something to be sniffed at. And the facilities, clubhouse and Lodges (available to rent) are superb. It has proved to be a major attraction for non-golfers, so they're doing something right.

Previous winners include Druid’s Glen, Carton House, Turnberry, Praia D’El Rey (Portugal), Dona Filipa and San Lorenzo (Portugal).

A couple of fanatical Canadian golfers were over recently and they played at Doonbeg, Tralee and Lahinch. I asked them where they ranked Doonbeg because I had recommended it to them.

“OK,” was their answer, but not, apparently, in the same class as the other two. I agree with the latter statement, because Doonbeg is in a different class, because it's different.

[Photo: The outstanding 6th hole]

Doonbeg is something new, it’s full of surprises and it has big, sharp greens. Lahinch on the other hand has the history and the classic links quality that make it a must-visit course.


Many people worship at the altar of Lahinch, but if I had to choose between these two courses, to play one round, I’d choose Doonbeg. History and reputation are important, especially if you haven't played a course before, but Doonbeg offers more excitement.

Click for Irish Independent article on Doonbeg's €6m losses

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Luttrellstown, Luttrellstown, wherefore art thou Luttrellstown

So, it looks as if Luttrellstown is really going to go. One of Dublin's best parklands (many argue that it IS the best - especially members of the golf forum on www.boards.ie) will close its doors on December 31st. It will be missed by many, and the few remaining members will have to find a new home. They will probably follow their member friends to Killeen Castle.

A brief conversation with the club's CEO this afternoon confirmed that they are 'getting out of the golf business'. Whether that means it will be sold as a going concern is therefore open to interpretation, but the club is trying to sell off the family jewels - namely the greens. That would imply, would it not, that Luttrellstown will soon cease to exist.

There is little point going back over history and the amount of money that was spent on a new clubhouse, when the existing one was spectacular. What is worth pointing out is that for the next eight weeks you can play a big, expansive and glamourous parkland for about €30. It is still in excellent condition, according to Boards.ie members, so give it a spin while you still can.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The long way to Bunclody

[Photo: approach to the par four 2nd]

It’s funny how things catch your eye. There are certain colours and certain crests that scream ‘golfer’, and I spotted one when I was walking around our local supermarket, in early 2008. As the man passed by I saw the words ‘Bunclody Golf & Fishing Club’ on his dark blue jumper. I stopped and thought about this as I had heard rumours of a new club being built somewhere around Bunclody.

I turned around and struck up a conversation. The man’s name is Michael Cowman and he is one of thirteen directors who took on the project of building this new course. I explained what I was doing and he suggested we meet up when I started my next trip, and he would take me on a tour of the club.

A couple of weeks later I met Michael at the Millrace Hotel, immediately opposite the gates for the golf course. My camper van wouldn’t make it as far as the clubhouse, he explained. And sure enough, we bounced over dirt road for about a mile in Michael’s jeep before the half built clubhouse appeared. From there he took me on the guided tour through fields of mud, the occasional flash of green and a couple of holes that were practically finished. Elsewhere, greens were still just mounds of sand and bunkers were empty pits. It was, as you’d expect, a total mess. Michael took me down to the bottom of the course, by the River Slaney, so he could show me the lift that all the fuss is made about. It was one of the few things that seemed to be finished.

It took me all of five seconds to realise I wouldn’t be able to review Bunclody for the book. It’s a shame, but I would never have been able to do it justice – and as I played it only recently (see review below) it was a sensible decision.

The next time I came across the course was during their intensive Sky TV advertising campaign during the Ryder Cup. Every ad break almost. That must have cost a pretty penny, and after the first two times I couldn’t watch it any more. The course looked beautiful, as did the clubhouse, but the golfer they were using in the ad was a disaster. They showed him driving, hitting out of a bunker, chipping… and he was a hacker. Everything about his swing sucked. For me, that reflected poorly on the club. There must be hundreds of golfers who would love the opportunity to be in an ad (like me, for example), but I surmised that the hacker was one of the directors, or a son, a nephew, a cousin, a 2nd cousin…

[Photo: the par three 17th]

It took me until October 2009 to finally make it to the course, and even then that was a fluke. I was in a coffee shop and bumped into a friend of ours who was with some English visitors. She introduced them and told me she’d sent them a copy of the book. One thing led to another, and a couple of phone calls later we were booked to play Bunclody.

My playing partners were Paul Novak and his father, Vladik. I know Vladik doesn’t sound very English, but he’s been living in the UK, and Birmingham specifically, for decades. He is from Poland originally. In his home club – a prize 95 acres of real estate in the centre of Birmingham – people who don’t know him refer to him as Billy. Between you and me, I don’t see that the name ‘Vladik’ is that difficult to pronounce, and calling him Billy is lazy. And rude. He changed his surname to Novak, by Deed Poll, for similar reasons. When I asked him to pronounce his original name, it came out beautifully. But it was difficult to grasp. When I asked him to spell it, I think I got the first four or five letters: W O J Z Y S, and then I got lost.

[Photo: Vladik tees off on the par four 16th, which curves around the River Slaney]

Paul has been playing for almost two years and loves the game. His goal is to get to single figures in two years. He was gobsmacked when I told him about John Richardson playing a level par round of golf within one year, from a starting point of 33 over. I suggested he buy the book, ‘Dream On’ to appreciate how much work John put into it. Paul plays a lot (Bunclody was his third round of golf in three days, with another round the next day) and he has the swing, but he’ll need lessons if he really wants to achieve the single handicap so quickly – I hope you’re reading this Paul.

We had an extremely enjoyable game. There was no one in front and no one behind, so it was leisurely, and the guys were lapping it up. They both play off 18 and Paul has a competitive spirit. He reckons he’s played with his father about 50 times and has only won twice: once when Vladik had a dodgy leg, and once when Vladik had played five days in a row and was exhausted. At Bunclody, things were looking promising for Paul. He was ahead for most of the round but then lost the 15th (where he tried to hit a ball off rocks and took a chunk out of his 5 iron) and the par three 17th (lost his tee shot, while Vladik parred), meaning they went to the par five 18th all square. Two good drives, and two good seconds, but then experience kicked in. Vladik, who is not a long hitter, played a five wood out of the rough from 160 yards. It flew straight, sailed over the water, hit the green and stopped 12 feet from the flag. It was the shot of the day. Not bad for an 83 year old. Paul crumbled and took four horrible shots, before ending up in the water. So close, and yet so far.

We managed the whole round without rain, but when we returned to a packed car park the heavens opened. Don’t you always feel a bit smug when that happens!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bearna Golf Club Complaint

There are always going to be complaints - either from golfers who disagree or, more likely, from golf clubs who aren't happy with their review.

So when I got a call from Pat at Bearna Golf Club, I was intrigued to discover that he was complaining about the review. The thing is, Bearna is different. It's built on a bog and it has features and colours and plant and animal life that you won't find elsewhere. And great views too. That's why it's different and that's why it is a joy to play.

Pat's complaint? I rated the course too highly! I guess that means he's going to have to work harder to keep it in shape. If you're over in Galway, it's an experience you shouldn't miss


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bunclody Golf Club Review

[Photo: 17th green and the famous lift]

You know what annoys me about the Bunclody Golf & Fishing Club? That damn lift. People talk about the ‘golf course with the lift’, or ‘what’s that course with the lift?’ They don’t say: ‘hey, have you played Bunclody with its brilliant finishing stretch down through the woods and along the river.’ No, the lift gets top billing and on a course this thrilling that’s a shame.

Despite being brand spanking new, the only evidence is the drainage lines on holes. Everything else has settled in perfectly. Take the mile long driveway through a perfect avenue of dark trees (some in the middle of the drive): you get tempting glimpses of the river and the course. Then there’s the magnificent clubhouse with its thatched roof and luxurious interior. It’s a thrilling introduction and you can rely on Jeff Howes’ design to throw a great golfing experience in your path as well. [All 19 photos can be viewed on my Flickr page]

[Photo: the approach to the par four 12th, with the thatched clubhouse on the right]

Essentially, there are two lots of holes: nine of them play within an open, undulating landscape, bordered by dense trees. They are populated with water features and hundreds of surprisingly mature plantings. This space will age well but it feels a bit barren for now. The other nine are the holes that look and feel like they’ve been there for years, and are far more dramatic. And tougher. They run alongside the River Slaney, and the mature trees of the old Hall-Dare Estate form an impressive defence against errant shots. There are places where it’s pointless to look for a ball, and the thick grass around the edges of the waste bunkers (on 6 and 7) may prove just as pointless. These waste bunkers help to drain the plateau by the river, which is on a separate section of the course, and one of the most beautiful (think Woodenbridge, only better). They have ‘islands’ in them and you’re allowed to ground your club. It’s a good splash of something different.

[Photo: the par four 15th. A stream snakes in front of the green]

Holes 10 to 13 bring you back to the open section where there’s lots of room to play, until you approach the green on 13. Now you head back into the woodland that gives Bunclody its brilliant, tight and dangerous finish. 14 and 15 are the holes of the course, and the walk down to the 15th tee gets the heart racing as a steep hillside comes down from your left, and a lone tree stands in the fairway. 16 and 17 play alongside the river before the lift takes you up to 18, a short but tight par five.

The quality is excellent, as you’d expect, and the greens are both receptive and true. They are also surprisingly uncomplicated. Bunkers are a bit over the top, in places, but they do an excellent job of defending greens, some of which are angled behind them.

Bunclody sits in a pleasant setting, with hillside, woodland and some mountain views. It is well spread out and it changes pace often enough that it promises a thrilling round of golf. There are three tees and the best challenge is from the middle whites (6,728 yards) as the green tees, which I played off, felt a touch too short at 6,291 yards.

Favourite hole: Par three 14th. 180 yards. It’s a downhill hole, in deep woodland, and it just looks delicious. There’s no room to the right. 15 is a brilliant follow-up.

[Photo: the par three 14th]


Toughest hole: Par three 5th. 208 yards. Also downhill but with big water, tight and right, and woods to the left. There is room to bail out (short and left), but a threatening hole and tough in any kind of wind.

[Photo: the par three 5th]


Scores:

Course Design 17

Appeal 8

Greens/Fairways 9

Water/Bunkers 8

Location 7

Facilities 10

Value for Money 9

Golf Experience 18

Total 86

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Connemara, Ballinrobe & Westport

[Photo: Connemara's par five 7th hitting down onto the plain]

Finally, after two and a half years, I finally took my wife and our dogs on an actual holiday. One that didn't involve me going off and playing golf. We found a cottage in Roundstone, tucked away on a beach, with no phone line, internet connection or mobile phone coverage. Bliss. We set off in mid October for a whole week, heading to the wildness of Connemara on a Saturday morning.

I won't bore you with the details - the cottage was not like the pictures on the website (it was small and rather grotty) and a bout of food poisoning ended the holiday after only three days - but in the time I did have, I managed to get to Westport, Ballinrobe and Connemara Golf Clubs.

Yes, I know, I said no golf, but I wasn't playing. I was taking photographs and two of these were done when my wife was otherwise occupied. I didn't feel too guilty.

I played Connemara in the summer of 2007 and found it a strange beast: a front nine that feels prairie-like with large bumps scattered about; a back nine that contains three exceptional holes (12 to 14); and two reverse par fives to finish. After a long drive in from Ballyconneely (keep an eye out for the castle on the left - it's amazing to think that someone would come this far out and think, 'that's a perfect spot for my castle'), one of the things I like most about this club is walking around the clubhouse, seeing all the flags fluttering (or being bent in half) at different points around the place. It sets you off on the right note, and Eddie Hackett got the pace just right.

[Photo: the brilliant par five 14th]

I arrived at the crack of dawn and got some great photographs (Connemara Photos) before reaching the 14th and catching up with a buggy-driving golfer who had started on the 10th.

The 14th tee box is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring places to stand on this, or any, golf course. The Twelve Pins are away to your left, and Slyne Head is directly over the green. Creg Curran is an American and he was in a rush (never the best way to enjoy links golf), as he was heading up to Carne later that day. Then it was on to Donegal. He had forgotten the memory card for his camera so I gave him my blog address and told him to take anything he wanted off Flickr. He asked if I knew of Tom Coyne's book, ' A course called Ireland'.

[Photo: Creg tees off on 14]

Tom is the guy from Philadelphia who walked around Ireland playing all the links courses in 2007. I knew the book and told Creg that it had stirred up a bit of resentment because of an incident that happened at one of the B&Bs during his travels. Tom had found great glee in writing about it, and perhaps that was a mistake on his part, although having read some golfing blogs I know people found this incident hilarious. I won't go into detail, but suffice to say that his brother-in-law was unable to control himself one night.

That aside, Creg thought it was a great book. He also asked where he should play if he decided to head over to Donegal from Carne. I took him through Enniscrone, Strandhill, Rosses Point and then Donegal GC itself. Then I mentioned Narin & Portnoo and his eyes lit up. Tom Coyne ranks it 6th in his top ten, apparently. I think, after my endorsement, that Creg will be heading there. I should have asked him to send me some feedback on the new clubhouse.

Ballinrobe
Five years ago I promised my wife a day at the Delphi Mountain Resort health spa. It's taken a while to get there. I dropped her off and headed off to Ballinrobe, which was a lot further than I thought. I was due to photograph the course and meet Donal Hughes, aka The Spin Doctor for the Irish Examiner newspaper. I rushed around the course taking the photographs on a dull, overcast day (Ballinrobe photos), and encountered two ladies on the 14th, hitting in to the green. One of them was on the phone and just stood beside her ball while she babbled away. I was 80 yards away and could hear her conversation. I left the hole, walked over to 15, took some shots and then worked my way back around to head for the clubhouse. It took me behind the ladies, and yer woman was still yapping away while her poor companion stood a few yards away looking decidedly hacked off. I think I've made my point.

I played Ballinrobe around the same time as Connemara and played with two lads in an open competition. Neither was a member but they knew the course well, and when they found out about my book they gave each other a knowing grin. 'See what you think of the 15th green,' Billy said. 'And the 18th', said Shane. It turned out that 15 has this enormous lump on the putting surface, that will divert your putt in any number of directions. It's definitely an odd one if you end up on the wrong side of it. 18 is a short par five dogleg and a perfect drive will leave you with a shot at the green. Or so you'd think. Trouble is, there's a large tree immediately in front of the putting surface and you have to play away from the green in order to access it on your third. Again, a bit daft, but Ballinrobe is a quality parkland and the best in the area by some margin.

[Photo: The 'interesting' approach to the 18th]

I legged it to Donal's house and, by the time I arrived, I had only half an hour before I had to leave. I wasn't sure which house was his as there were four or five in a row, but the golf ball lying in the driveway gave him away. Our meeting was a typical rush job, which was a shame because once we sat down and started talking, we could have been there all day and night. Like myself, he's ex-DCU and he won the DCU Alumni Golf outing a few years ago, so he was a bit miffed when he discovered he'd missed this year's at the K Club. He has his own blog if you're interested: http://www.golfcentraldaily.com/

The last course was Westport and I'd forgotten how good some of their holes are. (Westport photos)

[Photo: the par three 14th hits straight at Croagh Patrick]


Friday, October 16, 2009

K Club II and the Washington Ireland Program

Having not played the K Club for a few years, it was a bit of a luxury playing there twice in three weeks. This time I was a guest of the Washington Ireland Program (wiprogram.org), an organisation celebrating its 15th anniversary and choosing the Ryder Cup course to attract as many of its supporters (from Ireland and USA) as possible.

[Photo: Reflections over the lake from the 13th green up the 15th fairway]

The WIP is a charitable organisation that brings together Irish businesses and universities, to send the brightest students from north and south of the border to Washington DC. Students become interns in US government, media, business and non-profit organisations for eight weeks. Over a six-month period they also gain valuable leadership training to encourage them to continue and nurture the strong ties between Ireland and the US. Many of the programme’s 380 graduates are now emerging in important careers in politics, law, business and the community.

It was another shotgun start so there was a whole crowd of people milling about the clubhouse. I’d spent an hour on the Smurfit course, taking photographs for my Flickr page, in the early morning mist, so I was a bit late. The first person I bumped into was Jim Carroll, a senior director from Accenture’s Washington office. I had never met him, so I was a bit surprised when he picked me out and introduced himself. I was then introduced to Liz Arky, his colleague, and the Managing Director of Global Government Relations at Accenture. I’ll see your job title, Liz, and raise you with one of my own: Direct Marketing Supervisor of Acquisition and Retention.

[Photo: the par four 17th, green to tee, Liz, Jim and Mark in attendance]

That was over 10 years ago when I was at One2One. Now I feel diminished just saying ‘freelance copywriter’. It turned out that we were playing together. I learned later that they had asked to play with me (after my book was given out at the WIP’s American golf event at Lake Presidential). Naturally, I was honoured, but later on I smelled a set up. The fourth member of our group, Mark Ryan, was from the Dublin Accenture office, and when I saw the golf club logo on his jumper, my blood went cold. Elm Park Golf Club. Not one of my favourite courses and, I’ve heard, one that is writing to my publisher to complain about my book review. I thought I was going to get it in the neck for the whole round, especially when I discovered we were sharing a buggy. I had visions of being driven into the deep rough and being set upon with a 7 iron, but it turned out that Mark didn’t know about the book so I was in the clear – at least until we got back to the clubhouse and he read the review in one of the copies that the WIP guys had accumulated. So I had 18 holes to breathe easily.

To say that our golf performance was distinctly unimpressive would be an understatement: Mark and I had similar rounds – bouts of great golf infected with total horrors; Jim and Liz were renting clubs and it took Jim – a mid teens handicapper – a good few holes to get the hang of his Callaways (he was hooking his irons on almost every shot); Liz is fairly new to the game and extremely enthusiastic. She’s caught the bug and has a swing that will take her far. She may also take Mark along as her caddie, such was the partnership they established. First of all, there’s an element of trust when you ask someone for help with a shot; second, you have to correctly interpret what you’re being told; thirdly, and most difficult of all, is being able to execute what you have been told. I suspect that these are challenges that Liz faces every day in her job, but being able to do the same thing on the golf course is a different matter entirely. Yet she did just that: on our first hole (the 6th) Mark gave her a line on the green and she sank it from 30 feet (welcome to the K Club); when she was stuffed under the trees on the 2nd, Mark pointed through a gap, recommended a club and told her to go for it – she did as instructed and put it about 12 feet from the hole (any pro would have been delighted with that outcome); on the famous par five 16th she hit three solid shots down the fairway, leaving herself 140 yards to the green, on the other side of a wide swathe of the River Liffey. “What do I do?” she asked. I replied with a question: when are you ever likely to be back? If you go for it and make it, I said, you’ll be dining out on the shot for a month. She decided to go for it, and Mark got to work telling her what and where to hit. Needless to say, she nailed it. Not only did it fly the river, it landed on the green. [I had a 120 yard shot and dumped it in the water – just to put things in perspective]. Perhaps the most remarkable display of her ability came on the par three 3rd. Liz ended up behind the green, on a down-slope, with the green above her. Her first instinct was a wedge, but Mark directed her to the 8 iron and a punch shot into the up-slope. This was not a shot Liz had ever played, but Mark pointed to a spot on the bank, gave her encouragement, told her to hit it with conviction and then watched as she executed the shot perfectly, the ball bouncing up the slope, onto the green and rolling to about six feet. Liz was ecstatic, Jim was celebrating, Mark was modest and I remained impressed at this golfer’s ability to follow instructions to the letter. She topped it off by getting a line from Mark and then sinking the putt. Magnificent stuff. My golf may have been rubbish, but I enjoyed the day and the company immensely.

[Photo: the par three 3rd]

Before the golf started we were told by the K Club that they had set the course up the way it had been on the final day of the Ryder Cup – not the tees, obviously, but the pin positions. If you know the Palmer Course, here are three pin positions to make you nervous: on the Index 1 15th, the flag was in the very right hand corner, with the large pond in front, a pond behind, and maybe 7 yards in between. On the par three 16th, the flag was two paces from the Liffey’s edge. On 7, it was at the very back right of a 50 yard green that had only trouble behind and the Liffey on the right.

So, I was mightily impressed when the winners came in with a score of 95 points – the competition was stableford, full handicap, with three of the four cards to count – an unusual and testing format.

[Photo: tee shot on the par four 11th]

It was a beautiful sunny, warm day and everyone enjoyed the event. For my part, it was thrilling to play the course in such great condition and it was a lot of fun meeting many of the people I met last year at the same event in Scrabo. Many of them are WIP Alumni (Nick, Jonathan, Robert and Shane), or WIP people (Bob), but I also met others so it was a very friendly affair. It does go to show how important a ‘good laugh’ is when it comes to golf. When I was at the buffet lunch (not the best, it has to be said) one of the guys on the table asked me what I thought of Ballyliffin. It’s a great course but he stopped me and started talking about the service – he and his pals had been treated brilliantly and that’s what he remembered. It says a lot and any clubs out there who have their heads too far up their arses should take note: real customer service makes people remember you, adore you and spread your name.

At the end of the prize giving (we didn’t figure!) there was a raffle that had numerous small prizes, including several copies of my book. Each winner was allowed to pick a prize of their choice. Near the end, there were four prizes left: one Belleek candle holder and three copies of my book. I like to think that everybody already had a copy, so that’s what I keep telling myself.

There was also an auction of a couple of fourballs: Druid’s Glen and Lahinch. Liz and Jim won the latter… I’m waiting for my invitation!

I wasn’t able to make the evening meal, which was a substantial reception at Dublin Castle hosted by President Mary McAleese, but there were over 300 people attending, including TDs and a number of Ambassadors. 15 years on and the WIP is still gaining pace.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Druid's Heath

[Photo: from the 18th green back to the tee, behind the trees]

Like Druid's Glen, I never got to photograph the Heath course, so, after a few phone calls and false starts I finally got to the club/hotel on a perfect sunny evening. During previous conversations with people at the club there had been no issue with my going onto the course to take photographs. Unfortunately I met a young man who refused my request for 'insurance purposes'. That's fair enough - he's protecting himself, the club and the hotel. But he followed it up with 'the course is very busy'.

He let me go up to the 1st tee, which meant walking behind the 18th and 9th greens. From the 9th green you can see across to the 17th. I then walked back towards the car park and across onto 10, 11 and 12. How many golfers did I see (or hear)? None.

[Photo: the par four 10th, moon and all]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An evening at Druid's Glen

[Photo: the magnificent 18th rises to a well-protected green]

I have played at Druid's numerous times over the years, but I never thought to photograph the place. Yesterday evening I corrected that and I spent a very pleasant hour strolling around one of Ireland's best parkland courses, in glorious sunshine and with (sadly) barely a soul on the course. With its 'Druid's Altar' down beside the 12th green, there is a quiet eeriness to some of the holes, but there is also a beauty that comes from the water features, the swans and ducks, the shadows and a golf course design that tests you every step of the way.

[Photo: the par three 17th. On the green, in the bunker or in the water... your choice]

After two weeks of great weather the course looked perfect and I will argue with anyone who says that Druid's Glen is not in the top two parkland courses in terms of excitement and drama - the other being Adare. How Lough Erne will compare with these has yet to be decided...

Druid's Glen is a thinking golfer's course. Every shot requires thought and decision-making, and while a lot of parkland courses can be played comfortably on a first visit, Druid's Glen is not one of them. As a simple example: there are four par threes and when you step onto the tee you will always look at the club in your hand and wonder if you're holding the right one. The same is true of several par fours, and holes like 13 and 18 have 'do or die' approach shots. It's thrilling stuff.

[Photo: For any druids that get lost]


If you don't believe me, take a look here, or give the club a call (01 287 3600) and play it for yourself.

[Photo: the par three 12th, green to tee]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

K Club Killer

[Tomas Bjorn came to grief here on the 17th hole a number of times. The forward tees aren't quite so dramatic]

Under the cover of darkness, with my bag of equipment, I crept into the enemy’s lair. Despite the blackness I could see the building in the distance. I approached slowly, as silent as a fox, slipping between the Bentleys, Jaguars and Porsches. Oh yes, this was the right place.

My feet were silent on the tarmac, each step slow and graceful. I had purchased the exact footwear for my needs only the week before. I’d asked the girl for something comfortable and practical; she’d sold me a pair of brown Ecco loafers. I reached the edge of the car parking area and was about to step onto the grass when I stopped. It wasn’t the infra-red beams that worried me… it was the dew on the grass. So eager had I been to ‘wear-in’ my shoes that I had not yet polished them, and I was reluctant to get the leather wet in case the water left permanent spots. I shook my head – it was no time to worry about that now. I moved on.

I had advanced only a few yards when I heard voices. Without thought for my safety I dived into the bushes. As I rolled into a crouch, something as sharp as a needle pierced my calf, sending a jolt of pain through my body. I bit my lip to stifle the cry of pain. It was white hot but I could not move, for the two men were now only feet away.

After they’d gone, I looked down to see what had caused me such agony. I winced and held back the tears as I spied the nettle piercing my khakis. I’d have to get some Anthisan ointment on that soon or it was really going to sting. I freed myself and limped through the undergrowth, brushing aside the roses, pampas grasses and rhododendrons. Ahead of me were more men – four in all. I reached for my gun but it wasn’t there. Then I remembered I’d left it in the car. Then I remembered I didn’t have a gun. This wasn’t America, a country where the Constitution says every man has the right to arm bears.

Finally, the men moved on. I looked across at the steps only a few paces away. I could make it. Bolt-like I sprinted across the grass, bounding up the twelve steps one at a time until I reached the top. It was exhausting and I bent over to catch my breath. But as I did I noticed movement behind the double glass doors. I quickly slid behind a potted bay tree on the veranda, hiding my bulk by facing sideways. I tried to breath in but that last tub of Haagen-Dazs had been a tub too far.

The doors were opening. Frantically I looked left and right. To the left was a sheer drop of five feet – far too dangerous at my age – but to my right was a golf cart with golf clubs in the back. It was four paces away and down the steps. Even with my injured leg and wet shoes I could make it. I gritted my teeth and prepared to launch myself but I was too late.

“Sir? Hello, sir?” The man standing in the doorway was talking to me. He stepped outside and held the door. “Are you coming in, sir? It’s a beautiful morning for golf.”

“Um, yes,” I muttered, trying to act casually as I slipped off my shades. “Thank you.” I walked inside.

The man looked down at my wet feet. “Nice shoes. Are those the new Eccos?”

I was inside, not as I planned, but here I was all the same.

“Are you here for the DCU Alumni outing?” the man asked.

When I nodded he pointed downstairs. “You can check in down there.”

Downstairs was another man, standing behind a table. He smiled and shook my hand as he introduced himself. I told him my name in a low voice.

“Ah,” he replied in understanding, and we both looked up and down the corridor.

“I have them here,” I said, passing over the bag.

“Good, good. I’ll make sure they get to where they need to be.” He took the bag and slid it under the table, checking that he had not been observed. He gave me a nod, indicating it would all be taken care of, before I skulked away.

And that was how four copies of my book made it onto the prize-winners table at the K Club.

I left DCU (Dublin City University) 19 years ago in 1990, and, as a graduate, I was invited to the DCU Alumni golf day at the K Club. I’ve played the Palmer course several times over the years but it was a chance to look at it again after a lengthy absence. Of all the clubs in Ireland, the K Club inspires the most debate. Just how good is the 2006 Ryder Cup venue?

[Leo heads for the par five 18th green. An excellent finish]

I am not the club’s most ardent supporter (the headline in my book asks if the K Club is ‘the most pretentious club in Ireland’), but that has less to do with the quality of the course than the whole air that exists around the clubhouse and the ridiculous green fees. In the current climate, I’m happy to say that the green fee has been slashed. It is now, in fact, very good value.

The DCU Alumni day was the whole nine yards: BBQ lunch, shotgun start at 1.30pm, followed by drinks and dinner in the evening.

After I handed over the books to Gerard Kiely, the man in charge, I bumped into an old classmate, James, who appears to spend half of his life flying around Europe as a financial consultant. I can only assume that the other half of his life is spent waiting in airports – Dublin specifically. We had lunch and talked about the 20 year reunion which is planned for September 2009, and who we are still in touch with.

And then everyone playing golf (James wasn’t one) piled into buggies and headed off to their nominated tees. I was playing with Joe and Leo de Courcy, and Ciaran O’Reilly, none of whom I’d met before. I understand the need for buggies when it comes to a shotgun start, but I never use them. For me, golf is a sociable game that requires communication with other golfers. Obviously, while I was writing the book, I played a lot of golf on my own, but when you’re playing in a fourball it’s good to talk. Buggies make that difficult as you tend to see the other pair only on tees and greens and it’s too noisy in the buggy to talk to the guy beside you.

Considering what I wrote in my book review, it was ironic that we started on the 17th, where Tomas Bjorn came to grief during the European Open. We did not emulate Bjorn’s mishaps, but three points was far from a promising start.

Six points on the 18th, however, raised our spirits. From there, we headed to the 1st tee and as we passed the clubhouse I noticed a large but partially-obscured sign leaning against the wall (see photo). Now, you can call me paranoid, but the first thing that went through my head was that the K Club knew I was playing that day and had made signs especially for the occasion.

It didn’t take long to realise that we weren’t going to be challenging for prizes. Joe and Leo were off 24 and 23, and while some days that can deliver some huge scores, this was not their day. Leo had a particularly difficult time: he is a member of Connemara, a rugged links on the west coast where there is not a single tree or any water on the course. The K Club offers plenty of both, and it was a rare hole when Leo did not find one or the other. Or both. At dinner that night he made it quite clear that he would not be venturing onto parkland courses again anytime soon. That said, he did manage one remarkable feat, playing the 11th and 12th holes in one shot. A tee shot from 11 sailed wide and left and landed perfectly on the 12th green. When we came to play it a few minutes later he made par!

On the 1st hole, Ciaran hit his ball in the rough and while we were looking for it, Joey found five balls. Good balls too (you’d expect no less at the K Club). I congratulated him, as you do, but he was quick to point out that he would lose them all before the day was out. And sure enough, he did. Our total lost ball count was at least 18.


[Photo: Ciaran is shocked at the fate of my drive on the par four 9th]

Ciaran, off 17, had a varied day. Some cracking shots (a perfect birdie on the par three 3rd made his day) were mixed with drives that generated divots of Lee Westwood proportions. After one particularly deep one he explained that he was practising for the National Ploughing Championships that weekend. He practised a few more times, too.

[Photo: Par four 7th, Index 1]

It was a lot of fun, and that’s what it’s all about. Perhaps my only complaint was that we played off the forward (society) tees. These are 500 yards shorter than the middle, visitor tees and that makes a difference in terms of the challenge. I’m not bragging, but when you play the Index 1 hole with a drive and a wedge, it defeats the sense of achievement. I know my playing partners weren’t complaining, but when I play there next month (yes, I’m going back) I’ll play off the white tees, regardless.

Because it was a shotgun start, it meant there were 60 guys vying for 5 showers. It’s not often you see such a lengthy queue. The K Club staff were in and out bringing new towels and taking away the wet ones. The lad beside me turned around to put on his shirt and by the time he turned back his towel was gone. Then again, that may have been because we had just been blinded by the cloud of talcum powder he was applying.

The food was good, the entertainment and chat was good and I doubt anybody had any complaints – although the team that came third might disagree as their prize was a copy of my book. (The winners had 89 points; we had 68.) It was great to be able to play the course in such good condition and the boys were excellent company. Regardless of how you look at it, that’s what golf should be about.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review in Irish Times - 15/9/09

[Photo: Scrabo's par four 1st]

They say that any publicity is good publicity... as a marketing person I'm not sure I agree with that. I doubt Pepsi felt that way after Michael Jackson's hair went on fire. Anyway, I've been trying to get the Irish Times to do a piece on my book and they have duly obliged: Philip Reid has been running a 'book club' where he reviews a book every week. This week it was my turn. It's positive for the most part, although the scoring system serves to confuse once again. I've added my own comments at the bottom.

GOLF BOOK CLUB: PHILIP REID reviews Hooked By Kevin Markham

Useful guide to Ireland's courses, but where's the craic in that?

YOU MIGHT wonder if there was a need for yet another golfing guide to Ireland: the book shelves are choc-a-bloc with them. In fairness to Kevin Markham, the author of Hooked: An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland, he has done things differently by playing every 18-hole course in the country – with a couple of exceptions – and, as well as summarising each course, getting to the nitty-gritty of grading them.

A bit like the Eurovision, the grades awarded to each course are a little addictive and (in some cases) also more than a little perplexing. Athlone and Ballinrobe, for instance, ranked ahead of Portmarnock, Royal Dublin and The K Club? In devising his grading system, Markham awarded points to courses in different categories. He gave marks out of 20 for Course Design and for Golf Experience and out of 10 for Course Appeal, Greens/Fairways, Bunkers/Water, Location, Facilities and Value for Money.

So it was that Co Sligo (Rosses Point) came out on top with the following rankings with 97 points out of a possible 100: CD- 19/20; A- 10/10; G/F 10/10; B/W- 10/10; L- 10/10; F- 8/10; V- 10/10; G Ex- 20/20 . . . . while the poor folk of Dublin Mountain Golf Club will hardly be rushing out to find what mark their course was awarded. Let’s just say that the author didn’t find the experience appealing in any way.

Markham’s idea was a bloody good one. Travel around Ireland in a camper van (distance travelled: 6,800 miles), play every 18-hole course (with the exceptions of Killeen Castle, where he wasn’t allowed play at the time, and Bunclody, which was still under construction, and he only walked around Galway Bay) and wear out three pairs of golf shoes in the process of walking an estimated 2,100 miles while playing the courses.

Next to winning the Lotto, it is any golfer’s dream of utopia.

Unfortunately, I believe this was also a missed opportunity in another way. He can clearly write. But rather than relate the stories of his travels and the incidents encountered and people met along the way, which you’d imagine would have made for a great page turner, Markham has gone for the more direct route of detailing every course (which he does well) and, while it is certainly a useful addition to the line of golf reference books, it is also a bit clinical.

What of the punctures along the way? The breakdowns? Living in a camper van with no heat in minus degree temperatures? The lost golf balls? The great shots? The terrible shots? The craic? Still, his feat in playing all 349 courses in an 18-month period is admirable and the guide is definitely comprehensive . . . and honest. In admitting that Portmarnock is “one of the must play courses for links fanatics,” Markham passes on the advice that golfers should, “for a bigger thrill, at smaller green fees, go to The Island” (up the coast in Donabate).

[Photo: approach to Portmarnock's 14th. The best hole on the course]

Also, having played his golf at Greystones since the age of five, he declined to give any ranking to his home course in the belief that no matter what score he gave would not go down well.

Markham doesn’t hand out the top marks for “Golf Experience” lightly, but does award a 20/20 to Co Sligo, Ballybunion, Enniscrone, The European, Royal Co Down, Adare Manor resort and Mount Juliet.

Five of the magnificent seven are links courses . . . which only makes you wonder all the more why he was so harsh on Portmarnock and Royal Dublin, who trail well behind.

Questions for Readers

1 Do you believe that Markham displays a social conscience in his rankings of the likes of Portmarnock, Royal Dublin and The K Club?

2 Markham attempts to convey his golf course observations from an amateur’s perspective. Does he succeed?

3 As a guide, does this book encourage you to be more adventurous in your golfing travels around Ireland?

4 Do you think that the author would have been better to write this book as a travelogue?

5 How would you rate this book out of a top mark of 10?


[Photo: Portarlington's par three 3rd]

Obviously I was delighted to be reviewed at all, but my overall impression from the review was that Philip didn't quite appreciate the purpose of the book. It was never going to be a travelogue (although that might be my next book), because the purpose of the book was to assess EVERY course against one set of criteria, and give EVERY course a full review. Yes, I've played golf at Greystones all my life but you won't find more than a passing comment (if at all) in any golf course review book out there. If I hadn't written this book I wouldn't have been able to tell you about the great but little-known courses at Rathcore, Portarlington, Portumna, Scrabo - courses that are unlikely to be discussed by the golfing fraternity - but I could easily tell you about Portmarnock and Royal Dublin, because 90% of golfers already know about them and have read about them elsewhere. This was about finding courses that I, as an amateur, would love to play.

And now I'll be off to get started on that 2nd book.




Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Aer Lingus Deal

Aer Lingus are offering a special deal this week (for flights booked between 16th September and 22nd September) to UK passengers flying to Ireland. Fly between Oct and March and your clubs go free (usual Sports Equipment charge of £50 has been waived).

As part of this Aer Lingus promotion, Aer Lingus have teamed up with some of the best courses in the country – as recommended in ‘Hooked: An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland’ – all of which are offering exclusive deals to Aer Lingus passengers. Simply quote ‘Aer Lingus promotion’ at the time of booking your chosen courses, and remember to show your Boarding Pass when you arrive at the golf club. Offers are subject to availability and prices are per person.

Belfast Golf Clubs

Clandeboye (2 courses)
Tel: 028 91271767
£27 (Dufferin), £21 (Ava) Monday – Friday
£31 (Dufferin), £25 (Ava) Sunday

Lisburn
Tel: 028 92677216
£25

Scrabo
Tel. 028 9181 2355
£16 weekdays, £21 at weekends

Shandon Park
Tel: 028 90805030
£15 Sunday - Friday. Neat dress essential

Cork Golf Clubs

Charleville
Tel: 00353 6381257
€20 weekdays, €25 weekend, complimentary tea/coffee

Cork (Little Island)
Tel: 00353 2143 53451
€50

Fota Island (Irish Open venue)
Tel: 00353 2148 83700
€30 to €75

Lee Valley
Tel: 00353 2173 31721
€25 Monday
€30 Tuesday – Friday
€35 Saturday and Sunday
Transfers to and from Cork Airport

Dublin Golf Clubs

Beech Park
Tel: 00353 14580522
€20 Monday – Friday, includes snack

Carton House (Montgomerie and O’Meara courses) (Irish Open venue)
Tel: 00 353 1 651 7708
€55

Concra Wood
Tel: 00353 429749485
€45. Early bird before 10am, Monday – Friday, €35

Druid’s Glen (Irish Open venue)
Tel: 00353 12873600
€70
Druid’s Heath
Tel: 00353 12873600
€55

The European
Tel: 00353 40447415
€100

Headfort (Old and New courses)
Tel: 00353 469282001
€25 (New), €20 (Old) Sunday – Friday
€45 (New), €35 (Old) Saturday

The Island
Tel: 00353843 6205
25% off normal green fee rates

Naas
Tel: 00 353 45 897509
€30 for golf, soup and sandwiches: Monday, Wednesday Friday competitions

PGA Palmerstown
Tel: 00353 45906901
€50

Portmarnock Links
Tel: 00353 846 1800
€40 golf and free trolley, €59 golf and early bird dinner: Monday – Thursday

Shannon Golf Clubs

Adare (Irish Open venue)
Tel: 00353 61395044
€60

Ballybunion (2 courses) (Irish Open venue)
Tel: 00353 6827146
€160 for a round of golf on each course (Old and Cashen), driving range token, course guide and gift pack. October Only

Dromoland Castle
Tel: 00 353 61 368444
€40

Killarney (3 courses)
Tel: 00353 6431034
€60 Killeen
€40 Lackabane
€50 Mahony's Point
Offer valid until 17/03/2010

Shannon
Tel: 00353 61 471 849
€30 Monday - Friday , €40 Weekends
€5 extra for 10oz Sirloin Steak

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On the head

'On the head' is a soccer term of course, but sometimes we like to mix and match our sports. Clearly, a golfer at Co. Meath, in Trim, decided to make things interesting when he drove off the 1st a few years ago. He hit a massive hook that swung over the trees and straight into the forehead of a young man on the practice range.

I was in the bar at Portarlington, on Sunday, and Stephen was pointing to the circular scar that sits almost dead centre in his forehead. It's about three inches above his eye and a couple more inches from his temple. What could have been is not something you dwell on! As a result, the club erected netting (which is how we'd got onto the subject, since netting is a rich topic of conversation at my home club of Greystones).

[The beautiful par three 3rd]

Myself and Stephen, who I encountered through the golf forum on www.boards.ie, were playing in the Junior Scratch Cup. In the bar, we decided that we would not be bragging about our day's golfing exploits. Indeed, it was only when I got home that I found my scorecard in the boot - best place for it. Yes, there was some fine golf - Stephen even birdied the 1st - but most of it was played by the third member of our group, Ken, from Athy Golf Club. Two years ago he was off 17, now he's off 7.
[Photo: the River Barrow runs along the right on the 16th]

He has taken a lot of lessons and not only have they produced results, but they've also created a very elegant swing. After he four-putted the 1st he ran off a string of eight pars, only to later collapse on the 16th when he put a ball in the River Barrow and triple-bogeyed. It was a disappointing end - but one I can relate to as I did exactly the same thing a couple of months ago.

There are always stories of near misses, and most golfers will have some hair-raising story to tell - I'm sure you have your own - but I'll leave you with this more light-hearted thought: While playing on Sunday, I hit two good balls. I stepped on a rake!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Roll out the carpet at Killeen Castle

This is my review of Killeen Castle, to go alongside the reviews in my book.

It’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by the Killeen Castle experience. It is a magnificent venue with first class service, and there’s that air of perfection everywhere. What else would you expect from a Jack Nicklaus course! Trees form a dense perimeter around this handsome and vast estate. They make the golf course feel very open, but that is only because of the huge area covered by the course itself. It’s a mesmerising place and on the opening holes you have long walks to tees that show it all off to its best advantage.

It’s so large, in fact, that you rarely see other golfers.

Not surprisingly, the castle is the centrepiece (see my Flickr photos or read my previous blog) and you come back to it on a number of occasions, notably 18 where it forms a stunning backdrop. But on this gently undulating landscape everything works, and I loved the way lush, green fairways streaked through the fields of silver and gold. The water features are so pretty they could have been painted.

What about the golf? You will learn a lot about the course from the 1st tee (where you will be accompanied by a member of the Golf Services team for your pep talk). Look down the carpet-like fairway and you will notice the bunkers. Lots and lots of them. They are big, deep and treacherous. With so much water around, I am reluctant to say they are the course’s main defence, but approaching most greens your eye will always be searching for the bunkers and they will prove magnetic. And yet it is the bunkers that push up the pristine greens to give them their beautiful shapes.

Despite the heavy bunkering there is something almost soporific about Killeen Castle. Perhaps it is the lazy flow around the state, or simply that every golf hole is easy on the eye, as fairways drift into the distance. There are few doglegs (17 and 18, along with the wet par three 16th, make for a stunning finish) so you can see what you have to do from the tee box.

Is it tough? Yes, but this is more about elegant, relaxing golf – like Mount Juliet, but more so. There’s plenty of room to err on your drives, as fairways are generous, but the approaches are far trickier because of the bunkering and water. I guess you might say that Killeen Castle gives you plenty of opportunities to revel in a beautiful golf course, while lulling you into big mistakes.

The words I would use to describe this course are ‘idyllic’ and ‘corporate’. There is a certain element of style over substance, i.e. it is not dramatic, dynamic golf, like Druid’s Glen, but it is accessible to everyone and it is an experience to be savoured. There are four tees to choose from, so choose wisely.

There’s also the impressive Dave Pelz Scoring Game School.

Favourite hole: Par five 12th 505 yards (blue tees). The dense trees run down the left and give you a great target as they then curl right, showing you the way. It is the risk v. reward on the second shot that makes the hole, as Rock River tumbles in front of the green. An enchanting setting (fairy tree and all).

Toughest hole: Par for 17th 428 yards. The lake that gives this hole its shape is as dangerous as it is beautiful. The dogleg curves around it and you get to choose how much to bite off. The green is not easy to attack either, with a small rise to the surface that may pull your ball into the water.

Points:

Course Design 18

Appeal 9

Greens/Fairways 10

Bunkers/Water 10

Location 7

Facilities 10

Value for Money 10 (€100)

Golf Experience 20

Total: 94

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Killeen Castle - at last

For anyone who hasn’t read my blog, Killeen Castle and I have been having a bit of a head-to-head for the last twelve months or so. I wanted to play and review it for my book; they didn’t want to know. I won’t go into the whole saga again, but when my dad’s birthday came up I thought I’d take him somewhere he’s never been. And, at the same time, I’d get to play one of the two courses I haven’t played in Ireland, as well as doing it under the radar. OK, so I had to pay (having not paid anywhere else), but let’s not quibble.

If you want to cut past the tale of the trip, you’ll find my course REVIEW on a separate blog.

Along with Chris, a friend of ours, we headed off on August 24th. We made good time and ended up pulling into the club well over an hour ahead of our tee time. The first thing we encountered was a security barrier. They must get lots of trouble out here, I thought, seeing as they’re miles away from anywhere. I wound down the window as a man, ably assisted by a clipboard, walked towards us. It looked serious. “Names.” I obliged, for all of us. He peered in and found Chris in the back seat, under golf clubs, bags and trolleys. He wrote some notes on the clipboard, and then introduced himself as Sean.

“We have one rule here at Killeen Castle,” he said, poker-faced. “No slicing, no hooking and no losing balls.” Stop it, Sean, you’re killing me.

It turns out the barrier is one of those 1970s movie barriers, made out of plywood. He walks over and pushes it at one end, and up it swings.

[Photo: the dogleg 17th whips around the water]

We’re met by John from ‘Golf Services’ at the clubhouse, and he takes our clubs, directing us into the pro shop to pay our dues. From there we head to the restaurant for a quick bite. Soup and sandwiches was the extent of the menu on what looked like a quiet day. John had said there could be 240 golfers on the course and you’d think you had the place to yourself. Hmm, sure, I thought.

The food arrived and it was seriously large. Tina said she’d wrap anything we didn’t eat so we could take it onto the course. It was evident that this happened a lot, but not this time. Chris and Dad finished their club sandwiches with ease. Just as well at the prices we were charged. €56 for three soup and sandwiches, a coke and a glass of beer goes into my ‘over the top’ category. But it was good at least.

From the clubhouse window we could see flashes of three or four different holes (1, 2, 17 and 18 as it turned out) and it began to build that big occasion expectation. I love the experience at Mount Juliet, Jack Nicklaus’ other Irish course, and it was all going the same way here.

[Photo: the par three 16th]

Outside the clubhouse, John was waiting with our bags. We were offered tees/pencils/pitch repairers, so we filled our pockets, bags and baseball caps – as you do. Then he said ‘follow me’, and off he zipped in his buggy, down the path and to the first tee. He gave us a quick pep talk about the dos and don’ts, and where facilities were located around the course. Loos were at 7, 10 and 14. There were also phones in case we needed anything. That made me laugh. ‘Hi, can I get a cream cheese bagel to go.’ The irony of it would hit me only later.

And off we went. The course is beautiful. It is sheer elegance and everything has been done to make you think these thoughts time and again. At times it’s like you’re flowing along on carpet. The castle is also on view on several occasions, which just adds to the whole thing.

[Photo: back up the 1st to the castle]

There’s a story that when Jack came back to do his ‘snag list’ on the course, every time he waved his arms at something, it cost €20,000. And he waved his arms a lot. Some say to the tune of €20 million. Well, you can easily believe it when you see what’s been done here. The place had been ‘chosen’ to host the Solheim Cup in 2011, even before it had opened and there’s a distinct feel that hole design has incorporated spectator viewing needs. Not that there’d be a problem with that. The estate is vast, and John’s earlier comment about not seeing other golfers was bang on the money. Oceans of space.

There are four lots of tees. The Black tees measure in at 7677 yards, Blues at 7142, Whites at 6535 and Greens at 6118. What completely different experiences, especially on the par threes and fives. On 7 and 12, two par fives, I reached the green in two. From the whites they were just 460 yards. But the bunkers are the same wherever you go. Deep and treacherous. Dad found himself in one on the par three 6th and it had no intention of letting him out. He hit half a dozen good shots that kept hitting the lip eight feet above him. Take this as my warning to stay well clear of them.

Our golf varied considerably, from good to bad to ugly. Several balls ended up in water and there was always a sense of dread when a shot started heading for a bunker. On more than one occasion we played out of one only to land in another.

[Photo: Gone fishing]

I’ve been having a bad run recently. My memory isn’t what it used to be. In my last three rounds of golf I have left four golf clubs behind me on greens. Fortunately my playing partners know I’m a ditz and keep an eye out. Brian came to my rescue three times on Saturday, but unfortunately he wasn’t with us on Monday. So, when I reached the 13th green I noticed that my waterproof jacket had decided to find an alternative route back to the clubhouse. At least the rain had long gone and we were going to finish in glorious sunshine.

So, when we left the 14th green, I walked to the ‘facilities’ building, picked up the phone and called the clubhouse. And when we walked off 18, John was there to ask where I thought I’d lost it. I told him and off he went in his buggy. He found it and brought it back – a big thank you to John. Sometimes I think the pampering service you get at big courses is overdone, but there are definitely upsides.

[Photo: approach to the 7th green]

Another of the upsides is the changing facilities. All plush and every need catered for. Sweets in a bowl too (didn’t last long, mind you). But I did get frustrated by the showers: three dials, all different shapes and no indicators as to what they were, and different shower heads to choose from. Clearly I needed a degree in plumbing, or at least a ‘Showers for Dummies’. Turn one and the rose shower head gushed water. Keep turning it and the jets at the side squirted out water as well. Turn another knob and the side jets stopped but the regular shower head burst into life. Now then, which one is the temperature control? Dear friends, I was going to take my camera and take a photo of this masterpiece of engineering, for your delectation, but I feared a naked man in the shower with a camera might raise suspicions in this day and age.

It will cost you in the region of €100 to play here. I would suggest you find out what all the fuss is about.