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

Tel: 028 92677216

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

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

Cork Golf Clubs

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

Cork (Little Island)
Tel: 00353 2143 53451

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

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

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

The European
Tel: 00353 40447415

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

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

PGA Palmerstown
Tel: 00353 45906901

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

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

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

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!