Thursday, June 25, 2009

Courtown disagreement

[Photo: the par three 14th. Index 16, 169m, but the hardest hole in my opinion]

If you have an opinion, someone will disagree with you. That’s the nature of things. To date, I’ve not had one person contact me and say they disagree with a review/ranking.
At least not until yesterday when I went to play Courtown. And who was this person who disagreed with me? Well, actually, that would be me.

I’m happy enough with the review but the scores are wrong – and, in fairness, I’ve known this for a while. A neighbour is a member there and I’ve played it a fair few times as a result. I’ve always enjoyed it, so I was fairly horrified when I looked at the scores in the finished book.

I know how it happened, but that will be of scant consolation to Courtown. When I sent my initial proposal to the publisher it contained reviews for 22 golf courses. Courtown was one of these, and these courses formed the template on which I would review/score all courses. But I never corrected Courtown’s scores before handing in the final manuscript.

[Photo: the brilliant tee-shot down the 4th]

Now, in some cases, if I was given the chance again, I might change the score one point up or down, but Courtown deserves a big shift.

My book score was 71. It should be 78, of which Golf Experience accounts for 16. That’s a big shift and I apologise to Courtown. I will do my best to make it up to you.

Yesterday the greens were wonderful and the whole place was in great condition (it’s the Captain’s prize this weekend) – see the photos. My playing partners, Peadar and Noel, said the high handicappers rarely win anymore, and there is certainly a real sense of achievement when you hit greens in regulation – they are well defended – so I know what they mean. There are several very testing tee shots and the shape of the course adds still more challenges. But like I say in my review. This is a fun course to play and you won’t regret coming here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Portarlington revisited

So, I got to play my beloved Portarlington again. It was the club’s Open Week so I convinced my Dad (it wasn’t too hard) to head up for a game. It was my Father’s Day treat, but as it turned out I didn’t pay for anything. Dad bought lunch and then our playing partners (it was a Classic – two scores to count one very hole) insisted on paying for our entry, and the club paid for our dinner. A man could get used to this.

[Pic: approach to the 15th]

Our playing partners were Tom Hainsworth and his son, Dave, who was last year’s Captain - I’d met him on my previous visit. Tom has already been Captain twice and is now a Trustee. It seems the Hainsworths play a significant part in the club’s history, so I heard some amusing stories. Tom is the longest member at the club – 67 years. As soon as he was born his father went to the club and took out family membership, and he’s been a member ever since. Dave is 41, and he’s been a member for 41 years. They don’t hang about when it comes to membership. Dave has three young daughters and I forgot to ask if they were all members as well. Dave, as Captain, got to plant a tree of his choosing, wherever he wanted (within reason one assumes). So there’s now a copper beech on the 9th fairway which, according to Dave, is the perfect line on a tricky dogleg.

The story that amused me most had to do with the club’s expansion from 9 to 18 holes. A field/wood came up for sale and the club bought it for £34,000 in the early 90s. Of the trees that were cut down to cater for the new holes, there was a lot of ash. The club harvested these and sold them to someone who made hurleys. The price the club sold the wood for? £34,000. A different but still very effective kind of course management.

One of these new holes is the 7th. It’s Index 1 and it is beautiful (see photo). The flag is visible and your right flank is all trees. The left is more open, but trees abound, and it is the big oak that squeezes you on the left that makes this hole so difficult. I nominated the 14th as my best 14th in Ireland, but the 7th could easily have been in there too (as could the 15th).

Red squirrels can still be found here (and we saw one on the 7th) and the club went to great lengths to get rid of the greys which are really no more than rats with bushy tails. The trouble is, the greys have now been replaced by mink which escaped from a farm over in Straffan.

Was I as enamoured with the course as I was on my previous visit? Yes, absolutely. But there are some extra comments to be made. I say that it is a level course; it is, but there is more shape than I remembered. I say that the greens are tame, but the greens on the new nine holes are certainly not, with some good tricky curves, and they were fast and in superb condition (and remember this is after 7 days of Open Week competitions) – it is a testament to how good the course looks/works, that I really didn’t know there were a new nine holes. And finally, I mention the River Barrow in my review, but water also appears elsewhere on a few occasions - as big ponds: believe me, it makes a huge difference on the short par five 13th.

Of course, the key test came down to whether my dad liked it. And he definitely did – even though our collective efforts in the competition were rather dismal. There are plenty of challenges at Portarlington, plenty of options of what to play, and it’s great fun. It’s a course I would happily play day in, day out, and the food in the clubhouse was very good. All in all, a perfect golfing package.

Thanks Dave and Tom. Dad and I will be back.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Rapture of Rathcore

[Pic: Rathcore Course Designer(s), Mel Flanagan on the left and Michael Austin, right]

The biggest fear I’ve always had is that when I return to a course I’ve only played once (300 or so courses), I will be disappointed that it is not as good (or bad) as I remembered. To date, I have played three such courses (Scrabo, Concra Wood and Rathcore), and each has been exactly how I remembered it. These are three of my favourite courses (I’m playing a 4th this Friday – Portarlington), and this time around, I played with the course’s designer: Mel Flanagan. It is pure coincidence that I like most of the courses he has been involved with, but Rathcore, for me, is simply thrilling.
We played alongside Austin and Mick Lyons, the cousins who own the place and first saw the potential for the course when it was all just fields. It amused me greatly that two Greystones members were in the Open Rumble fourball behind us, emphasising the popularity of the course and how far people come for a good round of golf. Actually, some English golfers played here the week before, and preferred it to two of the area’s bigger courses (Moyvalley and Knightsbrook). They even came back to play it on their last day – twice. It’s a more intimate affair than the big two, more dynamic and it requires more guile. And with the ‘family’ running the place, it’s friendly and fun and they’re passionate about what they do.
Yes, it’s on the shortish side, so big hitters will have to rein it in, but if you can’t display decent course management skills, Rathcore will hurt you. I lost three golf balls with my usual wayward driving, and even Mel, playing off 4, lost one drive.

[Pic: Michael drives off the 5th]

I read my review before leaving for the course and realised after two or three holes that I had made no reference to the greens. They have superb shapes and if you’re outside 10 feet you really have to work hard to read the greens.
Of the 18 holes, there is really only one that I consider out of sync. This is the 8th hole, which is Index 1. Sadly it had to be changed as the homeowner who lived on the corner made complaints so the hole had to be changed. It’s not as strong as the rest, but it’s still a brute.

Rathcore is a great course. I love it and will go back again soon. At the moment you can play it for €20 to €30 and that’s probably the best value in the country. They have open competitions on Wednesday so, if you haven’t played it, I suggest you head over and see why I like it so much.
Playing with Mel was an honour, and he’s a complete gentleman. On the back 9 we decided to play for €5. It was always close, and when Mick sank a 30 footer for birdie on the 17th, Austin and I were one down playing the last. First off, Austin hit his drive Out of Bounds. Mel gave him a mulligan – from the middle of the fairway. Austin then creamed a three wood to the edge of the green (18 is a par 5 with water in front of the green), chipped it to 3 feet and was given the putt – again, by Mel – giving Austin one of the dodgiest birdies in the history of golf. Mick was not best pleased as he was rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of wining a fiver from his cousin.

[Pic: Two gents hitting to the par three 16th. The courses other signature )par three) hole hits down from the gorse hillock to a green beside the two golfers]

Shot of the Day

I played in a fourball on Saturday at my home club of Greystones. I was playing with three guys I know well. Julian is a 12 handicapper and one of those guys who you always want on your team. He pulls birdies out of the hat at regular intervals and, in all the years I’ve played with him, I’ve never figured out why he isn’t in single figures.

So we reach the 18th and we’re playing for money (€1 €1 and €1). Julian hits a poor drive into the left hand rough. The rest of us are sitting pretty in the fairway, 40 to 80 yards ahead of him. He pulls out a wood, smacks it with a bit of draw and leaves it two feet from the hole. He sinks the putt and wins the hole.

Shot of the day? Not quite. Julian’s drive on the 2nd wins that award. He hits his drive straight into the tree on the front left of the tee box. It ricochets up high and heads back towards us in a lazy arc. None of us is sure what the etiquette is (should we shout Fore?), so we politely step to the side as the ball lands two paces behind Julian, where we were just standing. Julian goes to his bag, pulls out his 3 wood and carries on as if nothing has happened – and gets a bogey five on the Index 5.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Revisions, addition and apologies

[Par three 7th at Narin & Portnoo, where three golfers got a hole-in-one on the same day, on June 14th, 2009. John Quinn, Frankie Kennedy, Kevin Patton, take a bow]

It was unavoidable - I knew it would be. Once a book is in print, things will change. Some are forgivable: others aren't. So here are some 'updates' for the book and I imagine that these will not be the last.

Narin & Portnoo now have a new clubhouse. When I visited in October 2007 they were just plans on a board by the bar.

Coollattin's hole order has changed considerably, so references to holes are no longer accurate. I hear that the new holes are very good. I think Coollattin is an excellent track so my review remains the same.

Elm Park - this one isn't so good. I have played Elm Park several times in the last 10 years, but a friend pointed out that one of my descriptions - the approach to the 10th green - was inaccurate. I 'remembered' a pond being in front of the green and trees shrouding it. It wasn't the 10th green I was thinking of, it was the 11th tee box. As my friend, Tom, pointed out, to hit into the pond would be an extremely wayward shot. Elm Park aren't going to like my review, but I'd like it to make sense at least.

Adare - I say that Ross Fisher won the Irish Open in 2008 at the club. Not true. It was Richard Finch. Apologies to Mr. Finch and his escapades on the 18th (pictured).

If anyone has any more, please let me know. But please don't go hitting me with changes to green fees, because that one was always going to go one way or another.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Book Launch

[Photo: Helena Walsh, Dave Darragh, Lila and Dermot Clancy (Rosses Point winner)]

The launch of the book took place on Tuesday June 2nd, at Greystones Golf Club. It had been a long-running battle to find a date when everyone was available: the original date had been in mid-April. But no matter, everything fell into place at just the right time and it was a very enjoyable night – even if the renovations to the clubhouse had just begun. George Hamilton launched the book for me, after he had been introduced by the club Captain (Brian Farrell Snr). George did a great job, but then I knew he would – he’s got that kind of banter that keeps it all ticking over. I still find it mildly ironic that I got a football commentator to launch the book when I don’t even like the sport. Then I got my turn and thrilled the crowds with my snappy wit and amusing stories. Or perhaps that was just my imagination. Actually, my speech was very short and I managed to forget one very important person: my agent, Jonathan. At the end of my speech, my wife hollered out that I hadn’t thanked him. So I did. But I should have mentioned that at my wedding I also forgot to thank a very important person: my new wife. (At least she had the decency not to holler at me on the day.) So Jonathan was in excellent company.

[Photo: Ronan Nicholson (Ballybunion winner), Rod O’Shea and Robert Clarke]

Approximately 70 people turned up: golf club members, old friends, older college buddies and a whole bunch of people I hadn’t seen in ages. I even lured the General Manager from Scrabo in Co. Down. I’m sure it had something to do with the various awards I had bestowed upon the club, but it was a long journey however you look at it. Scrabo was one of 24 clubs to give me a free fourball (they threw in a dinner for 8 as well) for a raffle, and after several people had walked up with silly grins on their faces, and the catchy: “I’ve never won anything in my life”, I finally worked out the value of the green fees I gave away. €8,000 is a large figure, so an enormous thanks to all the clubs involved:

Ballybunion (I may even be making up one of Ronan's fourball)
Concra Wood
Co. Sligo
The Curragh
East Clare
The European
Mount Juliet
Moyola Park
Narin & Portnoo
Old Head

[Photo: George Hamilton and Kevin]

I did ask for fourballs from other clubs who scored well in the book, and while some said they would send me vouchers but never did, a couple of the really big boys just laughed at me. Well, I laughed a lot too on the night, so no complaints from me.

And many thanks to Greystones Golf Club for hosting the event and everyone who came along.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Father's Day Golf Book

A shameless marketing ploy on my part, since I think the book would be great as a Father's Day gift. I'm trying to figure out meta tags and Search Engine Optimisation techniques, to get the book high up the list on Search Engines.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

South County Washout

I hadn’t played South County in almost two years. In fact, I played it before I got my camper, which was August 2007, so I was looking forward to a return. I remembered the barren and rather romantic valley which rises up around the course; and I remembered liking the course a lot. What better way to revisit it than in the competitive environment of a Scratch Cup.

After a week of blistering sunshine I was thinking sun tan lotion and tee shirt, but my morning at the Shankill Old Folks centre was a rude wake up call. Rain. Lots of it, and it didn’t stop. I drove out to South County for a two o’clock tee-off and it rained all the way. I got soaked running from the car to the pro shop. It was a disaster. Eventually, with water sitting on greens and fairways, the competition was cancelled. I was fortunate enough not to have got my clubs out of the car (my two unknown playing partners never showed, or even phoned to cancel), but the five guys from the Boards ( had spent some time out in the misery. We ended up sitting in the bar, talking about the weather, golf, the Boards and the weather again. Graeme1982 had even chipped in on the 3rd for a birdie two. I hope he still gets a few quid for that effort. Quite frankly, anyone who ventured out into the weather deserves a prize.

Strangely enough, I never got my camera out of its case – hence no photographs. Next time, for sure.

Shankill Book Signing

I had my first official book signing yesterday. A big event. Huge. Actually, it was a very small affair and a lot of fun. My mum helps out at the Day Care centre in Shankill, and they have a monthly book sale – it’s a very well stocked affair, and if you’re in the locality you should drop in; it’s on the first Saturday of every month. I’ve been to it several times and picked up books from a heap of my favourite authors, so I was chuffed when Macel, the lady who runs the book sale, asked if I’d like to do a book-signing. And that was that. It was my first (and, to date, only such event) signing and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

[Photo: deer on the par four 16th at Portumna]

I reckoned I’d sell a handful of copies, 10 max, but I sold 15. Add to that another 6 that Macel had sold to people who couldn’t make it and I did extremely well out of the day. Apparently, the fact that it was lashing rain, worked in my favour. The more it rains, the more people are attracted to the book sale.

I had one friendly gent ask me what my favourite course was for a man of his age, who didn’t want to head up and down over hills. I told him Portarlington. Until that point he couldn’t remember where he was a member, but Portarlington prompted him; it turned out he was a member of one of my other favourite courses: Portumna.

I met my first ‘golf orphan’, who bought a book for his parents who, strangely enough, were off golfing. I chatted to a friend who, as a child, was left to play under the table in the clubhouse while her parents went out for a round at Narin & Portnoo.

[Photo: the uplifting par three 7th at Narin & Portnoo]

A very attractive blonde walked through the rain and up to the desk where I was sitting. “I was going to buy a book for my boyfriend, but we broke up,” she said. “So I’m going to take it up myself.” She bought a book and then had a long chat with a woman standing nearby who mentioned that there was a special ladies’ society that played every Thursday at Stackstown. For golfers of all abilities. They swapped numbers. I sold two books to a couple who were giving them as presents to friends. I signed one of the books to Aubrey and Angela and then realised I knew them: I have played golf with Aubrey several times. It’s a small world.

Loving Las Vegas

[Photo: 10th at Moyvalley]

Following on from my last post about Adare and their Sawgrass Challenge, here’s another one that was emailed to me. If you remember the O2 Masters series that O2 ran for a few years, this is a very suitable replacement. You can play one, or more, of the best courses, at a low green fee. And, if you happen to do well, and win, then you could be off to Las Vegas expenses paid.
Here are the details:

The World Golfers Club in association with Carton House is pleased to announce the launch of The Las Vegas Golf Challenge, Ireland's newest Amateur Competition. It's the aim of The World Golfers Club to allow golfers of all abilities to compete in tournaments on a worldwide stage, at some of the most impressive and exotic destinations, for as little as €45.

[Photo: Approach to the excellent par five 15th at Carton House, O'Meara course]

The events will be held at least once a week during the summer, on some of the most prestigious courses in Ireland, such as Fota Island, Mount Juliet, Carton House and The Heritage. Our first event commences on the 12th of June on The Montgomerie course in Carton House. Membership can be attained for €35. (the green fees shown are for member/non-member)

The competition format will be a 2-Person Team, 7/8 of hcap, with both stableford scores to count on each hole. The top 3 in each event will then qualify for one of three finals in Carton House with the top team in each of these winning a FREE trip to Las Vegas.


Carton House-The Montgomerie*
Friday 12th June

Headfort New
Wednesday 17th June

The Heritage*
Sunday 21st June

Friday 26th June

Mount Wolseley*
Wednesday 1st July

Sunday 5th July

Wednesday 8th July

Fota Island*
Wednesday 15th July

Dromoland Castle*
Friday 17th July

Mount Juliet
Wednesday 22nd July

Carton House-O’Meara
Friday 31st July €50

Friday 7th August

[Photo: the par three 5th at Knightsbrook]

*Entry into event automatically enters each pair into a draw for 2 nights B&B plus golf at the host hotel. One draw per event – MEMBERS ONLY

Visit our website for further details. Any other queries or to book a slot on our timesheets, contact Ciaran/Mark on 01-4404810/01-4404811. Please book early to avoid disappointment!

Kind Regards,
Ciaran Tighe / Mark Somers
086-0243135 / 086-6693403
WGC-World Golfers Club Ltd.
38 Dunboyne Business Park
Co. Meath

Adare Manor & Golf Resort – A Sawgrass Special

[Adare's infamous and beautiful 18th, where Richard Finch fell in the water on the way to winning the Irish Open]

There are many great ways to play the big courses in this country, and you can often do it for a fraction of the price. You just have to keep your eyes peeled for the offers, or have the nerve to phone up and dictate the terms. I favour the former approach!

Adare Manor & Golf Resort has a great offer on at the moment. And let’s be honest, as Parkland courses go, they don’t get grander or more glamorous than Adare. It was given the highest ranking of any parkland in Golf Digest Ireland’s Top 100 Course Ranking, If you can rustle up three mates and play as a fourball, they have a competition that could see you playing at Adare and then on to Sawgrass in the USA. And all for €75.

I’ve lifted these details from the site:

Adare Golf Club is proud to present The Summer Twilight Sawgrass Golf Challenge
Entry free for a team of four is €75.00 per person
11th May to 28th August 2009
Monday to Friday after 2.00pm

One team will qualify weekly to play in the regional final at Adare Golf Club on 30th August 2009. The qualifying team at the regional final will then go forward to take part in a Grand Final in Sawgrass Golf Resort & Spa on 24th September 2009. This trip includes return flights, accommodation, golf and car hire.

Approved by the R&A for payment of expenses. Rule 4-2g RA/25/2009

Terms & Conditions Apply

Download The Summer Twilight Sawgrass Golf Challenge pdf (go to:

For further information contact: 00 353 61 605274 or email:

And good luck.

There are plenty of great courses in this area and, if you happen to be heading for the links courses on the west coast, you’d be making a mistake to pass this beauty by.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Macreddin, Receivership & Green Fees

About this time last year, as I was preparing the introductory chapters to the book, I started fretting about green fees. As soon as you put something in print, it is out of date. Green fees, I thought, will have gone up by the time my book is published.

[Photo: 4th at Old Head]

And yet they have gone the other way. This time last year you were paying €290 at Old Head of Kinsale. Now you can get it for €60. (True, there have to be 16 of you, all paying €60 to enjoy the price, but you see the seismic shift). Quite frankly, if you can get 16 people together, €60 is an absolute steal for one of the most dramatic golf courses in the world.

Not all clubs have reduced their green fees, but you are most certainly in a stronger bargaining position than ever. There are few clubs that would turn you away midweek if you turned up as a three- or fourball and made a reasonable offer. With the current offers you’ll find on the back of newspapers, in golf magazines and posted on your club’s noticeboard, you’ll find you can play some ‘big’ courses for a lot less money.

Now then, onto a different but related matter: clubs going into receivership. I am thoroughly disappointed to see that Macreddin is the latest club to join a worrying list of golf clubs teetering on the brink of disaster. First Blarney, then Tulfarris and now Macreddin. Each is an excellent course, but running something as smart as this is a pricey business.

Tulfarris sits in a beautiful location on the lakes in County Wicklow, and it would be a crying shame to see it go. Blarney is an odd beast but is wonderful and challenging in its own way. Macreddin tops the list and has some breathtaking holes. I know little about the finances that control how a course operates, but I understand that because the banks need loans repaid, Macreddin may not be around next year.

[Photo: 12th at Macreddin]
I have only one thing to say on the matter: I truly hope it survives, but you better get down to Macreddin and play it – just in case. The 4th, the 12th, the 13th and 16th are brilliant holes. The whole course works wonderfully and Paul McGinley did a great design in a very pretty valley. If you do decide to go – and green fees are probably even less than the bargain €50 they were charging a few months back – be warned that the back 9 is hilly. Most people have said to me that you need a buggy, but, personally, I think that’s only because they got lost on the way to the 10th tee.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Golf Digest Ireland Top 100

[Pic: 1st hole at Scrabo]

A year or two ago I was asked by Eddie Condren – one of Greystones’ most prominent golfers and a former Irish Senior panellist – what ‘qualified me’ to write a book on Ireland’s golf courses. As someone who is still a far better golfer than I can ever hope to be, he had a valid point.

And it wasn’t until the new Golf Digest Ireland Top 100 Irish courses was published last week that I realised what he meant. The guys on the magazine’s panel are all golf experts in one field or another, with strong backgrounds in the sport. What they look for in a course is completely different to what I look for.

“Portmarnock’s promotion (to the top spot) was based on key, course improvements, especially to run-off areas on several greens,” said Dermot Gilleece, editor of Golf Digest Ireland, and one of the eight-person selection panel.

I would never, in a million years, notice such things. And even if I did, it wouldn’t affect the ratings in my book. I’m more interested in the golf experience, the thrills and excitement. Perhaps that’s why Portmarnock, as special as it is, does not make it into my top 20, while two of my favourites – Portumna and Scrabo – don’t even make the magazine’s list.

[Pic: Deer on the 17th fairway at Portumna]

Perhaps my answer to Eddie should have been that I am an amateur golfer who is viewing and reporting on Ireland’s golf courses from an amateur’s perspective. I don’t have the expertise of the magazine’s panellists (or panellists from any other magazine/book/programme for that matter), but then neither do the other 95% of amateur golfers who are playing Ireland’s courses.

As with any ranking – mine or Golf Digest Ireland’s – there are going to be people who agree and those who disagree, but as Oscar Wilde once wrote:

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

As long as people agree to disagree on which are Ireland’s best courses, people will continue to play them.