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]

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