Saturday, February 27, 2010

[Photo: approach to The Island's par five 15th]

I noticed on the back of today's Irish Times, that The Island Golf Club is offering membership at their fine links course, which, in my opinion, is the most fun links on Dublin's shores. Portmarnock and Royal Dublin get the hype and the awards, but there's a dash of adventure and considerably more impressive dunes at The Island.

Vacancies for Full, Five Day and Overseas Membership are as follows:

Full Membership:

Option A Entrance Fee of €20k payable upfront or over 10 years plus annual subscription including levies which is approx €1465.00 for 2010 with this option.

Option B Entrance Fee of €7.5k payable over five years plus annual subscription including levies which is approx €2060.00 for 2010 with this option.

Five Day Membership:

Entrance Fee €10k upfront or payable over 5 years plus annual subscription including levies which is approx €1055.00 for 2010.

(Taken from their website:

I have to confess, I was disappointed. In the current climate when most courses are no longer asking for entrance fees, €20K is a steep price. I wonder what it was before.

I was also confused by Option A vs Option B. Surely option B is the obvious choice, or are they implying that your annual sub will be €595 higher, ad infinitum, if you choose B over A? Either way, it's a pricey affair, whether it's the best links in Dublin or not.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lough Erne gets Cool

It's great to know that Lough Erne Golf Resort is keeping up its high profile with some quality appointments. Rory McIlroy already represents Lough Erne on both the European and US PGA Tours, and now the resort has appointed 37 year old Lynn McCool as the head professional.

Born in Ireland, Lynn has considerable experience behind her. She is a former European, Asian and South African Tour pro, and she was head pro at the K Club when it hosted the Ryder Cup in 2006. She was also the director of golf at the Hilton Templepatrick Golf Club in Co. Antrim.

Lynn has done well for herself. After winning several amateur titles, including the Ulster Girls Championship, she won a golf scholarship to the University of Hawaii. I bet that was a hard decision for her to make: the climate of Ireland vs. the climate in Hawaii.

Her golf work has been broad: she has run golf schools and corporate golf days, as well as working on marketing and advertising campaigns. I imagine the latter will come in use as the downturn bites and the glamourous resorts struggle that much more.

And seeing as she's a rather attractive lady, she has also graced Sky Sports Ireland and BBC Northern Ireland.

Good luck Lynn.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ballybunion & Greencastle - Catering contracts

I'm working on the follow-up to Hooked and, during some background research, I came across two courses offering catering contracts. If that's your business, you can choose from one of the top five courses in the country - Ballybunion, or you can head a long way north to Greencastle in Donegal.

[photo: Ballybunion's 'Transformer' like clubhouse]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Keeping Dry in Ireland

Yea, right! Keeping dry in Ireland is a tall order, especially with summer coming. No matter how well sealed up you are in waterproofs, you know water's going to get in... either at the top where you'll get that cold, miserable dribble down your neck, or at the bottom, where water sneaks under your waterproofs and soaks your socks.

I can't help with the former, but I may have a solution for the latter. During my travels, I acquired a couple of pairs of Selina Scott Mohair socks. They're not guaranteed to keep you 100% dry but they do a great job, they keep you warm and they don't smell - seriously. Apparently it's to do with the mohair; it doesn't absorb smells. They cost £12.50 (+ p&p). Two of the best footwear purchases I've made, and they're still going strong.

But there's more:You can buy Sealskinz Waterproof mid-light socks for the 'bargain' price of €28 from a variety of places:

53 Degrees North (Carrickmines and Blanchardstown)
Wheelworx (Liffey Valley)
Chain Reaction Cycles (Ballyclare)
Cycle Surgery (Dundrum Town Centre)

as well as various online sites.

These are extremely waterproof and durable (hence a couple of the suppliers being bike stores) and are made from merino wool (also odourless).

Sealskinz also sell 100% waterproof socks, but I wouldn't recommend wading through streams to test them out.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tiger says 'sorry' - as am I

Enough is enough. Seriously. In a world gone mad on Pop Idol, X-Factor, Dancing on Ice, I’m a Celebrity Please Shoot Me, Tiger was ‘required’ by the media-mad morons and celebrity crazed public to come forward and show his remorse, express his regret, accept responsibility, look humble, say sorry, say sorry and then say sorry again. Don’t tell me someone didn’t go looking through a Thesaurus for a few choice words.

Yes, yesterday we got to enjoy Plank-gate. I mean it. How wooden was Tiger! There were those in the media who celebrated his performance and said it was heart-felt; there were others who said ‘bollocks’, it was completely choreographed. I would be in the latter camp. But it was an impossible mission for him to come out, say sorry and have everyone weeping in the aisles. It was a no-win situation for him and the media knew there was a world ready to devour every analysis, opinion and sound-byte. It was gobbled up, savoured and then swallowed or spat out… no-win for Tiger, win-win for the media.

And you know what? I don’t care. He should never have had to deal with that situation in the first place. All these expectations that have been heaped on his shoulders, these responsibilities, these standards - it’s all just crap. He’s a golfer. People gripe about the invincible wall that he and his entourage have created around him – is it any bloody wonder. Oh yes, I know that he’s brought a lot of it on himself, and I have never been a fan of the man, but what kind of media, blood-frenzied circus have we created. Why the hell should he have to apologise to us? And if he’s not apologising to us, why should he have to apologise in public at all. Thank God it wasn’t on Oprah!

Apparently his popularity ratings have fallen from 85% to 33%. This world is going mad. I’d have been far more impressed if he’d come out and told the media to ‘F Off’ and he’ll make his apologies in private.

I, for one, will not mention Tiger again until he’s back playing golf again. I’m sick to death of this tripe.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Golf ball in the throat

This appeared in the news on February 14th. If you were allowed to play jokes on people on Valentine's Day, in the same way as on April 1st, I wouldn't believe this.

Gardai have launched an investigation after a post mortem at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, didn't spot a golf ball stuck in a dead man’s throat. It was left to the folks at the funeral home to notice the odd lump. As part of a funeral home's normal procedures for burial - and this I never knew - an incision is made in the man’s chest and neck. And there they discovered a golf ball.

A pathologist and mortuary technician at the hospital performed the post mortem after the man died suddenly at his home. They could not establish a cause of death. Evidently neither pathologist nor mortuary technician were golfers, or very good medical practitioners for that matter, as the golf ball in the throat might have seemed a bit unusual.

Foul play is not suspected, although clearly someone didn't shout Fore.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Since Druid's Glen came up with the ingenious - not to mention generous - idea of offering free tee times (normal green fee = €90) for a month, they have been oversubscribed by a landslide. From what I've heard, they had 20,000 applications before they realised they had to shut off the offer.

In terms of numbers, let's assume 30 days of 'free golf', with 20 free fourballs a day => 2,400 golfers will stomp one of Ireland's finest.

At the start everyone was whoop-de-doo about the offer, but then up popped the naysayers:
  • Why are they doing this?
  • What will they gain?
  • People won't spend in the pro shop, it's too dear
  • The catering company will reap the rewards, not the club
  • The course can't take that kind of footfall, it'll be a mess by the end
  • Hackers will ruin the place
  • Do they think people will come back and pay €90 after they've played it for free?
  • Are they expecting people to join the club in these tough times?
Moan, moan, moan! Here's a club offering free golf, on a course that is not being used much at the moment. What's wrong with that! Presumably green staff have to be employed to look after the course whether or not there are golfers on it, so why not put the course, and green staff, to good use?

By the time the offer is over, in early March, golfers who have never played it before will have experienced its greatness. They may choose to go back and pay, they may not; they may join, they may not. And Druid's Glen has all the emails for future activity. In tough times, that's an important marketing advantage. The most powerful marketing weapon any company has ever had, is word of mouth and, combined with the emails, who knows what the course has planned. Personally, I'd recommend doing a similar thing at the end of the year or the same time next year, only this time charging €10 or €20 and running a competition.

And if the course does take a battering, then they have a few weeks before the busy season starts - plenty of time for the course to recover. And plenty of time for people who have played it to encourage their friends to go and visit.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Walker Cup

A great piece of news: Paul Dunne, a member at my home club of Greystones, has been selected to the Walker Cup panel for 2011, which takes place at Royal Aberdeen. He is 17, plays of +2 and has one of the best short games you'll see.

He is garnering himself an impressive reputation with victories in numerous tournaments, caps for the Senior Irish Panel, and last year he became the first person to defend his Irish Boys Amateur Close Championship title. Not even Rory McIlroy did that.

It's hard to believe that a few years ago I played against his dad, Collie, when a scrawny twelve year old Paul caddied for his old man. These days it's the other way around.

Paul is a name to watch in the years ahead. Let's hope he makes the team.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Druid's Glen offers FREE golf

[Photo: green to tee on the long uphill 18th]

Yes, hard to believe, but one of Ireland's greatest parkland courses is offering free golf. On any day for the next month you can play for free - timesheet permitting. That includes the weekends.

Druid's Glen remains my favourite parkland in Ireland so if you can get out on it, lap up the constantly changing thrills. All you have to do is fill in a form and they email you the voucher. How simple is that! Visit

[Photo: the tee shot on the immensely difficult par four 13th]

The European started the year with a bang, offering €40 green fees, and now Druid's Glen are giving out freebies. This could be a great year for Irish (and visiting) golfers, so keep your eyes peeled for some fantastic bargains.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

TW2: Tom Watson on Tiger Woods

Every golfer on the planet has an opinion on Tiger’s behaviour and his infidelities. But, as the most famous sports person on the planet, there are millions of non-golfers who will have strong opinions, too. My 17 year old niece for instance, who thinks Tiger is a disgrace. As a husband and father, he clearly has a lot to answer for, but as a golfer… what do sex and infidelity have to do with golf? If he’s the best in the world then what happens in his private life is exactly that: private. Then again, being who he is, he doesn’t have a private life.

The thing is, no matter what Tiger does next, he’s going to get hammered by people. If he apologises and says he’s really, really sorry, there will be many people (from the media to professional golfers to Tiger-haters to the man on the street) who claim he’s being insincere; if he doesn’t apologise, these same people will say he’s being arrogant. He’s in a no-win situation. Obviously, he has to apologise – the world demands nothing less – but make it a simple apology and then get out there and start winning again.

Plenty of professionals have made their thoughts known on this matter, but I particularly liked what Tom Watson had to say recently, ahead of the 2010 Dubai Desert Classic. As a bridge between old-school golf and the modern professional era – as he illustrated so brilliantly for almost 72 holes at Turnberry – his is an opinion that is both considered and balanced. And worth listening to. Take note, Mr Woods.

Tom Watson wants the world number one to "clean up his act" on the course, as well as coming clean about his extra-marital affairs. To be honest, as I‘ve said already, I’m not that bothered by the latter concern, but more interestingly, and more importantly for the long term, Watson claims that there is plenty Tiger could do to improve his behaviour while competing. We have all observed his explosive frustration and it would be good to see him rein it back.

Some day I’ll tell my grand kids I played in the same tournament with Tiger Woods. We are witnessing a phenomenon the game may never, ever see again.

This is a quote made by Tom Watson in Golf World magazine in 2000. How times have changed. According to Watson in 2010, Woods does not share the same standing as many of the game's other great names because of his sometimes surly on-course demeanour. "I feel that he has not carried the same stature as the other great players that have come along like Jack (Nicklaus), Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan in the sense that there was (bad) language and club-throwing on the golf course."

"You can grant that to somebody, a young person, that has not been out there for a while, but I think he needs to clean up his act there and show the respect for the game that the people before him have shown."

Coming from Watson, that’s got to sting.

On the infidelities, Watson believes Woods should attempt to explain publically his situation before returning to golf competition.

"When he comes back he has to show some humility to the public in the sense that if I were him, it wouldn't be at a golf tournament where I come out in public first.”

This will never be the end of it. This fiasco is too big, too tasty for the media frenzy that’s consuming it. But Watson’s is one of the more reasoned and seasoned contributions to the debacle. I hope Tiger's listening.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Too much hotel space

[Photo: The brilliant 17th at Lough Erne]

Some interesting tourism statistics have been appearing in the last week or so. One that caught my eye was this:

The total number of hotel rooms in Ireland has surpassed the 60,000 mark. Of these, 27,000 were added between 1999 and 2008, when, quite simply, Ireland went mad. This, according to the Irish Hotels Federation, is 25% too many. In other words, to make the hotel industry viable again, some 15,000 rooms need to be lopped off. And perhaps more – tourism numbers were down by one million last year

[Photo: Killerig Castle's 18th up to the hotel]

How does that look when you bring in golf? In the same period there were probably fifty new courses built and, of these, 18 resulted in new hotels:

Lough Erne
Killerig Castle
Roe Park
Hilton Templepatrick
The Heritage
Druid’s Heath
Farnham Estate
Castle Dargan
Carton House

The list is an impressive one but with the downturn it is easy to see why rooms will remain empty for some time to come. Some will survive; some will not. There are already rumours that Moyvalley has reached a point of no return. Remember when the club first opened? Membership was €75,000. This country really did get too big for its boots, didn’t it, and the golf courses did the same.

[Photo: Doonbeg's 18th with 'The Lodge' beyond]

If you look at that list there are six clubs/hotels that wouldn’t be missed. That said, there are some on there that are spectacular. 2010 is going to be an interesting and, I suspect, depressing year for Irish golf. The general feeling is that if we can get through to 2011 then there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, clubs will have to struggle on, offer great green fees and pray for a good Spring and Summer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Backspin Magazine Rankings

[Photo: Waterville's 13th hole. Waterville ranked 6th]

Backspin Magazine have introduced a novel way of ranking Ireland's courses. Two years ago they separated parkland and links courses, and rated them as different entities. That was smart, because links courses generate particular passions - of the love/hate variety. Separate the two and no one can claim bias.

It was also smart to get an impressive panel of 44 judges that included golf journalists, golf professionals and amateurs. Each judge is asked to rate their top 15 courses, with 1st place receiving 250 points and last place 50 points. It's difficult to argue with that sort of approach...

… although I do have one problem with such an approach as it assumes that the 44 judges have played all the courses. What if ten of them haven't played Concra Wood, or a dozen haven't travelled to the far reaches of Narin & Portnoo (which isn’t even ranked)? But that's my only query and no ranking system is ever perfect.

Here are the rankings

[Photo: Connemara ranked 19th. The 14th is one of the best holes in the country]

Top 25 Links/ Shoreline:

1st Portmarnock

2nd Royal County Down 

3rd Royal Portrush (Dunluce) 

4th The European Club 

5th County Louth (Baltray) 

6th Waterville 

7th Ballybunion (Old) 

8th Lahinch (Old) 

9th County Sligo (Rosses Point) 

10th The Island 

11th The Royal Dublin 

12th Doonbeg 

13th Tralee 

14th Ballyliffin (Glashedy) 

15th Enniscrone 

16th Ballyliffin (Old) 

17th Old Head Kinsale 

18th Portstewart (Strand) 

19th Connemara 

20th Donegal (Murvagh) 

21st Belmullet (Carne) 

22nd Portmarnock Hotel & Links 

23rd Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) 

24th Dooks 

25th Rosslare

Top 35 Parkland:

[Photo: Adare - ranked 3rd - the par five 18th]

1st Mount Juliet
2nd K Club (Palmer)
3rd Adare 

4th Druids Glen 

5th Killarney (Killeen) 

6th The Heritage 

7th Palmerstown Stud
8th Headfort (New)
9th Carton (Montgomerie) 
10th Carlow
11th Killeen Castle 

12th Fota Island 

13th Lough Erne 

14th Cork (Little Island) 

15th Malone 

16th Slieve Russell 

17th K Club (Smurfit) 

18th Carton (O'Meara) 

19th Hermitage 

20th Westport 

21st Belvoir Park 

22nd Killarney (Mahony's Point) 

23rd Concra Wood 

24th Mullingar 

25th Tullamore
26th Luttrellstown Castle 

27th Bunclody 

28th Mount Wolseley 

29th Rathsallagh 

30th Grange 

31st Tramore 
32nd Glasson 

33rd Knightsbrook 

34th Shannon 

35th Powerscourt (West)

And because I can’t resist disagreeing, I shall limit myself to two comments in each category:

Links: there’s no Narin & Portnoo, and what is Belmullet (Carne) doing at 21? It should be in the top 5

Parkland: Killarney (Mahony's Point) at 22. Um, no. Too many great courses haven’t even appeared on the list… Rathcore, New Forest and Portumna for starters. And I won’t even mention Scrabo.

[Photo: Scrabo's 17th and the endless views beyond]

He’s not welcome

When I started writing Hooked, I decided that I wasn’t going to pull my punches. There are some 350 golf courses on this island, so there are going to be world-beating greats and there are going to be bottom-of-the-barrel tanks. That’s the way it is and any course worth its salt is going to appeal to a certain – and sometimes niche – audience. There are enough of us out there that we look for different things from a golf course.

I won’t deny that I have insulted several clubs that are either too big for their boots, make claims that are ridiculous, have a superiority complex, or are of poor quality, but my reviews are my opinions. Mine and mine alone.

I have heard (first hand) that a member of Greystones, my home club, was berated by a lady at Elm Park Golf Club recently as if she was responsible for my comments. It got a bit heated, apparently, and the Elm Park member insisted that I receive the message that I wasn’t welcome at their course.

Somehow I’ll live with the pain, but I apologise to all Greystones GC members who visit Elm Park and receive such treatment. I did not mean to put you in the firing line.

In fairness, I did give Elm Park a hammering. They were unlucky because I have played the course a few times and whenever I visited I encountered the type of attitude that visiting golfers abhor – the ‘you’re not welcome’ attitude. It might only have been a few club members or a few members of staff having a bad day, but it happened every time. At the entrance gate, in the car park, in the clubhouse and on the golf course. That is too much of a coincidence – in my opinion - and that's why it's in the book.