Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stone the crows!!

One of the stories I tell about my travels is how I played with two Hackers at Ballykisteen - you know the kind - the ones who don't replace divots, who think that they land on a green from long range so rarely that they don't need to repair the pitchmark, the ones who'll start talking in the middle of your swing...

So, there we were on the par five 18th, and Hacker 1 duffs his
drive into impenetrable rough a couple of yards off the tee. Gone. At this point in my story, I ask people how he took his second ball and still got a birdie. The rational answer would be that he hits his second drive and then holes the next shot (an albatross, but for the lost ball). Nope. This guy drives it down the middle and then bones his second shot so it stays 12 inches off the ground the entire way up the fairway. Up ahead, in the middle of the fairway, a crow is pecking away merrily, minding its own business. The ball is heading directly for it, the crow looks up and whack! right between the eyes. The crow does a fancy little pirouette and then falls over stone dead.

We walk up the fairway, stand around the corpse and mutter a quiet prayer before moving on.

So, as part of promoting this book, I sent an email to the editor of the main golf magazine in Denmark, with this little story attached. He wrote back and said he didn't believe me.


Because he misread the word 'crow' as... 'cow'. Now that would be some shot!

The book goes global

OK, 'global' is pushing it, but I'm in German golf mag, GOLF, this month.

All I need now is someone who can translate - just to be sure it's all good.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Irish Golf Societies - take note

[Photo: Kevin Morris, Director of Golf at Fota Island Resort, Tony Leen, Sports Editor at Irish Examiner, and Jonathon Woods, Fota Island Resort Manager]

A Press Release aimed at Irish golf societies. A great idea, a great format and great prizes. You can't ask for much more than that at one of Ireland's best parkland courses.

24th July 2009

Fota Island Resort Hosts Irish Examiner Inter Society Trophy

The Irish Examiner and Fota Island have joined forces to launch the Irish Examiner Inter Society Trophy, a team tournament to be held at Fota Island Resort this August and September. The competition celebrates the grass roots of golfing in Ireland and golf societies nationwide are invited to compete.
The Irish Examiner will publish the official entry form on its award winning golf pages from Tuesday, July 14th. Each golf society can enter a team of 12 players into one of 6 qualifying tournaments throughout the summer at Fota Island Resort. The 12 players will participate in a singles stableford format, with the 8 best scores for each team qualifying to give the team their cumulative total score. Each golf society team costs €600 per team (€50 per person) and additional players may play at a pro-rata cost of €50 per person. Entry into the final is free by virtue of qualification.

Kevin Morris, Director of Golf, Fota Island Resort commenting on the event said: “We look forward to welcoming golf societies from all over Ireland to sample Fota Island Resort, a unique combination of championship golf courses. Competitors will receive excellent value as they experience the three unique and exciting courses, with entry fees of just €50.”

Tony Leen, Sports Editor, Irish Examiner, who attended today’s launch said “"The idea of an inter-society tournament is one the Irish Examiner wholly supports because it combines the intensity and high drama of competition with the camaraderie and fun of a team event. Plus, it all gets played out on one of the country's true parkland gems. Also, check out the prizes - some incentive!".”
The winning team from each qualifying tournament will go forward to the grand final in October for free where they will compete for the Irish Examiner Society Trophy and some fabulous prizes. First prize is a golf trip to the Pine Cliffs Resort & Sheraton Algarve Hotel, which incorporates the very finest of service provided by the Sheraton Algarve Hotel, the best in specialised Portuguese and international dining, together with a golf course with its respective academy, several pools, a tennis academy and a beauty & hair salon. All 12 of the winning teams will receive six months free golf on Fota Island Golf Club’s renowned championship courses and runner-up prizes include golf outings for 12 at Mount Juliet, and at Fota Island Resort. Each qualifying tournament winner also receives a meal for 12 in Fota Island Resort’s Spike Bar.

Nestled at the heart of a peaceful island, Fota Island Resort is a unique combination of championship golf courses, a stylish hotel and spa, luxurious residential lodges and a world class golf academy. A marriage of style, fine design and workmanship set in an idyllic coastal landscape, Fota Island Resort is a special place – relaxed, indulgent and beautiful.
For further information, competition dates and to reserve team places, see the Irish Examiner for entry form and details.


For further information Fota Island Resort including Sheraton Fota Island Hotel & Spa please contact:
Gillian O'Loughlin, Host PR T: +353 1 8558500 E-mail:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tiger’s Tantrums

Tiger’s tantrums at the recent British Open, have become the subject of much debate in the media (American particularly), on blogs and even on Twitter.

His language and club throwing were heavily criticised as being bad for the game and giving the wrong example to his legion of fans, especially the youngsters. But then the backlash began.

Why, people asked, should Tiger not be allowed to show his emotions? He is the best in the world and he’s not playing well, so surely he can show his frustration? Would we prefer automotons who never show a flicker of emotion, even when they win!

Consider your own weekly game and how frustrated you get when you play utter rubbish. You know you can play better and sometimes the emotions boil over. But it comes down to one simple question: is bad behaviour acceptable? And the answer is always ‘no’. Always. We can accept that it happens, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. I have thrown a club or two in my time and I always feel like an idiot after I’ve done it. The first thing that goes through my mind is ‘what would my father think of me?’ Someone pointed out that Tiger rarely threw his clubs when his father, Earl, was alive. It had been drummed into Tiger at a young age that it was not acceptable behaviour.

Tiger is unfortunate in that the cameras are on him every moment of the tournament (sometimes to the point when action elsewhere is ignored so we can see Tiger contemplating his navel), so every emotion he displays can be seen on YouTube within a few minutes. It can’t be easy living under that kind of spotlight. And because of his fame and his position as the world’s best golfer, anything he does gets magnified. Other golfers throw tantrums and bend clubs, but they don’t get the same amount of coverage because Tiger is, quite simply, Tiger.

There is no excuse for him throwing his clubs. There is no excuse for anyone throwing clubs. But that’s not the problem: the problem is how we and the media react to it.

We need to find a balance.

An American journalist, Rick Reilly, wrote a piece saying that it was time for Tiger to clean up his act, and that his sponsors should be concerned at his behaviour. That’s probably going too far. It’s not as if he’s taking drugs or punching people in bars – the man is a saint by comparison – but when I read on a popular golf blog that “I didn't find Tiger Woods' behavior objectionable at all”, I start to worry. Are we becoming immune to bad behaviour in golf and, if so, what will the kids who idolise Tiger be doing in a few years time? Let’s say for a minute that it becomes acceptable to throw a club. In five years’ time, every new pro will casually fling his club as if it’s part of the follow-through. It will become normal. So, what’s the next step up when a pro gets frustrated and angry? Assault your caddie? Scream at the gallery? Bury your putter in the green?

Golf is a gentle game, played at a leisurely pace. It’s not like rugby or GAA where frustrations can be expelled through physical contact and burning energy. All a golfer has are his clubs and, just occasionally, they will be abused. We know it happens and as long as we continue to agree that it is the wrong sort of behaviour, it shouldn’t happen too often. I like Tiger, Phil, Ernie and Padraig just the way they are, and emotional outbursts display the pressure they’re under and give the audience an insight into their world. But consider this final quote from one of the greatest sportsmen of the 21st century:

"One or two years ago, I didn't know who I was on court and I used to swear a lot. But now I've learned how to cope and can therefore win 10 matches in a row. I want to be remembered as a good player rather than an idiot on court." Roger Federer.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

a damn good rant

Off topic, so apologies...

... but I am trying to sell me loyal camper van at the moment. I used Car Buyers Guide and didn't get one response, so I switched to Auto Trader and that's when I ran into one disaster after another.

First they used the wrong photograph. Next, they inserted the wrong price. Third time lucky? No chance - they didn't use the new ad I sent them. As for number four, which I've just seen, they finally used the new ad, and they got the image right as well, but once again the price is wrong. And that's pretty hard to do as it required someone to go into my ad and change the price (but nothing else).


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Ultimate Job in Golf

A while back, people joked that my travelling around Ireland, playing every 18 hole golf course, was the dream golfing job. That now appears not to be the case. Change 'Ireland' for 'World', add in a one year contract (meaning you get paid to do the job) and you get this, from Your Golf Travel:

The Ultimate Job in Golf

Apply soon...

[Photo: Ballybunion 2nd green]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A couple of recent articles

From the Drogheda Independent, Gerry Kelly is the radio presenter at LMFM who interviewed me a few weeks ago, and also writes a weekly column in the paper:

And from the Limerick Leader, a slightly more intriguing one... I say 'intriguing' because at one point Ivan Morris (the author) reports that I spend more time talking about clubhouse food than I do about shot values. To my recollection I say very little about clubhouse food (I mention the apple crumble at New Forest!), so I'm not sure where he got that from. I know he wasn't happy that Lahinch didn't make my top ten, and that Limerick (Ballyclough) ended up with the same score as a couple of 'lesser' courses, so it's interesting to read the first not-completely-positive review. But it's still good.

[Photo: 15th hole at Limerick (Ballyclough) ]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bitterly Disappointed at Open

You have to wonder if Tom Watson will spend the next few years pondering at the British Open that got away. The 59 year old made everyone else look pedestrian. Everyone was enthralled by his heroics and brilliant play, and we were willing him on to win with every stride he took. In his final round the putts started to come up short and he will relive his weak par putt on 18, time and again. True, he was unlucky with his approach that ended off the back but even so we hoped for a blazing finish. (I imagine Westwood will give himself a good talking to, too)

I was interested by the coverage of Stewart Cink. The BBC seemed to ignore him for long stretches, but once he was playing his way into contention on the third day, and with that putting stroke, he was always going to be a threat. He should have been given the coverage he deserved. Rarely can a man have gone into a play-off with 90% of the audience wanting the other golfer to win - but that's how it was today. No one wanted Tom to lose, and as his poor performance sank lower and lower, the crowd's enthusiasm sank with it. Cink is a deserved winner, but one feels that Turnberry will be remembered for Tom Watson, in the same way that Carnoustie in 1999 will be remembered for Jean van der Velde. It's not about who won it, but how the runner-up lost it.

And as a final note on four fantastic viewing days at the Open, could someone please give Gary Lineker the damn good thrashing he deserves. And if that female commentator, Maureen, happens to get in the way, please pay her the same compliment. They irritated the hell out of me, to the point that I muted them at every turn.

A brilliant Open, but a damp finish.

Ryder Cup venues

Celtic Manor hosts the 2012 Ryder Cup, Gleneagles hosts it in 2014 and Germany are favourites for 2018. Germany aside, how is it possible that no Ryder Cup has been held on a links course? Simple: money. The K Club pumped in ten years' worth of money hosting the European Open, in order to be top of the list to host the competition when it came to Ireland in 2006. The full page review in the Irish Times (20/6/06), by American golf writer Bruce Selcraig, was scathing and dismissive of the course. As a venue it's very impressive, but as a course the writer compared its Disney World charm with the Rembrandts and Cezannes we have elsewhere. It's a fair point.

But, at the end of the day, every competitor is playing the same venue, so it's going to be exciting whether it's played over a links or one giant field. It's one of the reasons I don't understand why the professionals complain about a course; the pin positions at this year's British Open at Turnberry have resulted in a number of compaints by the pros, claiming they are unfair. But they're unfair for everyone, so use your head and play course management. Maybe that's why Tom Watson is leading after three rounds.

Back to the Ryder Cup. Wales in 2012 is a concern for many in the world of golf as there seem to be all sorts of problems at Celtic Manor - from worrying if the course is going to be ready/playable on time, to worrying if players will fall asleep mid-round due to the course's dullness. The same may be true of Gleneagles in 2014. The Ryder Cup won't even be played over the 'first' and premier course (King's), but over the PGA Centenary Course, which is generally acknowledged as being the weakest of the club's three courses. I played King's in 2007, paying £130 for the privilege, and I was disappointed - as were my playing partners, and when it started to rain on the back 9, there was little hesitation in walking in.

Money is the big driver in the Ryder Cup. The same can be said of any sport - look at the Olympics in China, a country that is allowed to get away with human rights abuses at every turn because of its size and global influence - but surely when you have two sides competing against each other, the 'home' nation would choose a venue that would give it the best advantage. But money is money and it is used to influence everything. Smurfit has the financial clout to get his own way, while courses like Ballybunion and The European can only offer the brilliance that comes from an exceptional links course... and not the money to entice the sponsors, the golf unions, tourist bodies and all the other hangers-on.

This is a shame because watching a Ryder Cup played over a true links would be a fascinating spectacle. With Tiger Woods missing The Open cut, and Tom Watson trying his best to make today's professionals look like spoilt children, it would certainly throw up a few interesting Captain's Picks for the US captain.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rathcore - Gerry Kelly is a bandit

[Photo: Rathcore's par four 15th]

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited onto a lunchtime radio show to do an interview about my book. It was my first radio interview so I was nervous – a bit ‘deer in the headlights’ – but Gerry Kelly, LMFM’s afternoon DJ, was very friendly and calmed me down with half a dozen valium*.

So, the interview was great fun, and Gerry raised the subject of great courses in Louth and Meath (hence ‘LM’ FM) He threw Rathcore GC at me, and I went off on one as I love the place. He said he’d been invited down by the club’s owners (the Lyons cousins) when the club first opened in 2004. He didn’t make it and he was still itching to play. So I arranged a game with him, OK’d it all with the Lyons and we played on Wednesday, in an Open event.

First things first: Gerry is a member of Baltray, so even off 18 he’s going to be reasonably handy. Then there’s the matter of his 21 year old son, who plays off +2, so there must be some sporting pedigree in there somewhere. Third, in preparation for Rathcore, he ‘warmed up’ at Portmarnock Old.

[Photo: Mick drives off the par four 5th]

Our fourball was completed by my buddy Fin, and the great Mick Lyons himself (for those not in the know, Mick was captain with Meath when they won the football All-Ireland in 1987). It was a fourball and there was no money involved – and for that, I am still grateful. Myself and Fin took on the Louth/Meath boys. It wasn’t pretty. In fairness, none of us played well, but when you play a course this good it never seems to matter. It was Fin’s first visit too, so it was intriguing to hear his and Gerry’s reactions as we played each new hole. They were both impressed. Gerry starting plotting his next trip (with eircom’s golf society) before we’d finished the front 9, and Fin laid down the biggest plaudit of all when he said “I’ll have to bring Mike here.” Mike is a friend from New York who plays links courses, almost exclusively, but I think he’ll like Rathcore too. It’s just so different to typical parkland courses.

Neither pair rushed to hand in their scorecard, but it was my first round, in three attempts, when I haven’t lost a ball so I was happy enough. Although Fin who had no balls (!) lost several of mine which he’d ‘borrowed’. And he also struggled several times during the round as his brother-in-law had ‘borrowed’ his eight iron and ‘forgotten’ to put it back. It’s amazing how often you need the club that’s missing from your bag.

So, back to bandit Gerry: I’m not suggesting he ripped the course apart – Rathcore is too challenging if it’s your first visit – but he nailed some great drives, had a handful of birdie putts and generally showed that with a bit more dedication – he’d get far lower than 18. On the 187 yard par three 16th, I hit a three iron into the wind, pin high; Gerry hit a five iron. I’m still muttering under my breath about that one.

It was another great day, it cost €20 a man, and it is the best value you’re going to find anywhere. Fin has vowed to be back – quite a promise considering he lives in the US – and I left Mick and Gerry discussing the best days/times to bring the Eircom society.

And finally, Gerry, if you read this – I still have your 15th club in my bag. Apologies – we’ll have to play again sometime soon.

* I’m joking about the valium of course but, as a complete aside, when my sister was doing her Leaving Cert 20 years ago, she was fretting so much the day before her exams that the school nurse gave her valium. Interesting choice – but my sister did really well!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Carlow Scratch

Carlow GC is rightly regarded as one of the great inland courses of Ireland. It is old (established in 1899) and it is one of the untouched masterpieces – perhaps the last one. Nearby Mount Juliet is the complete opposite in terms of its evolution and I would recommend that you play both courses close together – it will tell you a lot about what kind of parkland golf you like. While Mount Juliet is a manufactured, relatively relaxed golfing adventure, Carlow is a natural beauty that can squash you in a heartbeat. Take the 2nd hole, for example: at just 270 metres (visitors tee) it should be a simple hole, but my two playing partners stepped onto the tees with irons. There are other short holes, but none is easy, and the long holes are brutish for most amateurs. The 7th is a dogleg of 400 metres over a serious rollercoaster fairway, with the green up high and no sign of the putting surface.

[Photo: The brutal par four 7th, Index 1. Rob made par on both visits]

On Sunday July 5th, the Junior Scratch Cup was
played off the back sticks. It made a difficult course that much harder. Mind you, at €25 for 36 holes of golf AND a meal voucher (a very nice lasagne and chips, thank you) no one was complaining – even when the rain started. On the same day, Woodbrook had their Scratch Cup and were charging €50. No contest for where I wanted to be.

I say in several reviews how a golf course ‘flows over the landscape’; nowhere is that more true than Carlow. It is a great experience and my playing partners would certai
nly have woken up on Monday morning with a smile on their face. Jamie Bolger, Carlow GC, is 16 and plays off 5 (he was 9 last year, so his coach must be doing something right. And that’s his dad, Jimmy Bolger, who’s the Pro at Kilkenny); Rob Fitzpatrick, Dunmurry Springs, is in his 30s and plays off 6. Jamie came 3rd and Rob came 6th. I can guarantee you that neither felt they were in with a shout walking off the 36th hole – even though Jamie had just sunk a birdie putt on the par 5 18th – it was the only birdie of the day, for all of us. Not that there weren’t opportunities – the putts just weren’t dropping.

[Photo: Rob contemplates the renowned par four 8th - all down hill and glorious]

Jamie’s performance was an interesting one. His score on the front 9 was identical on both rounds – with two bogeys on the same holes (7 and 9). It was the back 9 that made the difference. In round one, on the short 10th, he dunked his approach shot into the water and walked away with a double bogey. It rattled him and he finished nine over on the back 9 – for a total of 81 (11 over). It didn’t help that the three guys in front of us were very slow and held us up every hole. They finally let us through – on the 18th green!! It was a four hour 20 minute round.

In the afternoon, assuming we were all out of the running, and escaping the clubhouse before the slow threeball, we raced around and the golf was far more relaxed. As we headed up the 16th fairway we saw the three guys behind us walking to the 13th tee. And no, they didn’t let anybody through. So, Jamie played much better golf, and his birdie on 18 brought him back to his handicap. None of us thought he’d be in with a shout, and Rob blew his chances with a triple bogey seven on the 16th. It’s Index 2, 401 metres, and he got stuffed in trees. He then lost his 3rd shot (in the gorse - left of fairway in the photo) and hit a provisional 180 metres uphill, to three feet (so he was there in five). He decided to look for his first, found it, and made a hash of things to walk off with a seven. And he came 6th.

[Photo: The par four Index 2 16th]

I admired Rob greatly – no matter what went wrong he remained 100% calm. Not one tiny bit of annoyance. That triple bogey would have killed me, and after Jamie put his ball in the water early on he went into a funk for a few holes – it undoubtedly cost him 2nd place. It’s easier said than done, I know, but Tiger’s ‘ten pace’ rule is the only way to succeed in golf. Whatever goes wrong you have to brush it off quickly. Me? I’ll miss a putt from three feet and let it fester for the rest of the round. It’s a curse that many golfers carry, and if that includes you, I suggest Bob Rotella’s book: golf is not a game of perfect. At least it will keep you off the course for an extra couple of days.

Carlow is one of the great adventures of Irish golf – perhaps that’s why Johnny Vaughan, the English broadcaster/DJ/entertainer, calls it the best course in the world.