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.

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:

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]

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