Tuesday, March 30, 2010

All hail the Doonbeg snail

[Photo: a giant dune blocks the view to Doonbeg's 6th hole, one of the best on the course]

For one reason or another, there are a few courses in Ireland that have a chain of controversy hanging around their necks. Old Head is probably at the top of the list, Portmarnock gets its share of grief, RCD has some image problems and then there's Doonbeg. I remember when it was first mooted as a project and there were complaints from locals and environmental bodies. A dune system was going to be taken over and altered forever, a right of way (hotly disputed) to Doughmore beach was going to be cut-off and, worst of all, a minute snail (Vertigo Angustior) was going to be threatened in one of its last remaining habitats. There was a media outcry when a High Court Action in 2000 successfully sought the snail's conservation. Greg Norman, the course's designer, was required to revamp his designs and avoid the best run of dunes, forcing the course inland.

There were plenty who said that a 1.8mm snail stopping a new golf course was idiotic. I say they're ignorant, but that's another blog entirely. The course construction began and Doonbeg adapted to the new situation. At Dooks, in County Kerry, there were concerns about the Natterjack toad and how it would survive with the golf course running through its habitat. Rather than fight it, the club became the toad's biggest supporter and even adopted the creature as the club's logo. Somehow I don't think a snail was ever going to adorn Doonbeg's logo, but they have done an excellent job protecting the snail, and the extent of this success has now become apparent:

[Photo: the par three 9th green, at the far end of the course, looking back to the Lodge across Dough- more beach]

At the time of the course construction there were 10 million snails. There are now 60 million, making the conservation project one of the most successful anywhere and we salute Doonbeg Golf Club efforts...

... the problem is, our salutes may not be seen as we're standing on the other side of an eight foot wall that the club built without planning permission in 2004. It was built to block off the aforementioned and contentious right of way that cuts across the 4th and 14th holes - and is well used by surfer dudes. (Golfers and surfers are never going to see eye to eye, are they!)

Even though Clare County Council voted overwhelmingly to extinguish the right of way, by 22 votes to 3, in September 2009, and even though Doonbeg promised to create an alternative right of way and parking area for 70 cars (due in summer 2010), it doesn't get past the fact that the wall was built without planning permission and should be removed. The club is seeking retention of the wall, but this sort of thing gets my goat! Build it, wait for someone to notice that you don't have permission, then apply for retention and - more often than not - get that retention. It's plain wrong and it makes a mockery of the planning process.

[Photo: the toughest Index 18 par three you may ever play, at just 106 yards]

On my travels I'd pass a big, empty field with nothing in it but grass, and the only access to that field was a magnificent pair of gold and black gates, and pillars adorned with giant artichokes. What's the rationale? Well clearly a hopeful farmer/builder is going to apply for planning permission, and he reckons that someone from the local planning office will visit the site, see the gates, and say 'oh yes, obviously there's supposed to be a house behind those wonderful gates. I'll sign off on this immediately.' Whereas what he should be saying is 'you don't have planning permission for those gates, knock them down.'

I'd put money on Doonbeg getting their retention, but I doubt I'd get good odds.

Don't get me wrong, I think Doonbeg is a superb golf course with imagination and excitement on almost every hole. There are some great touches that you won't find elsewhere and, if you can justify the green fee, it is well worth a visit. But don't mention the wall. Until the retention comes through it might be a touchy subject, and the battle isn't over yet.

Now, don't get me started on the club's coastal erosion.

Monday, March 29, 2010

More of the Druid's

I promise that this will be the last time I harp on about Druid's Glen - it's been on my blog four times already in recent weeks.

Not only did I not get to play it during the FREE offer month, I have not made the Greystones GC panel for the Barton Cup team this year - and our first round opponents are Druid's Glen. True, I haven't been on the team for a few years (my travels took care of that) but when I was, I played away-from-home, so a practice round (or four) at Druid's would have suited me fine. Just me and my three caddies.

The Barton Cup gets people very excited - when I say 'people' I mean golfers - as it is one of the biggest inter-club events of the golfing year. Barton Cup is a team of five pairs playing straight foursomes, with a maximum combined handicap of 14. Greystones made the semis last year and were beaten by the eventual winners, Gowran Park. Sometimes you play courses that don't light your fire, and sometimes you get drawn against somewhere like Druid's Glen.

Consider then that the first year I played on the team, our opponents were Dublin Mountain. The GUI made them play all their matches at Greystones, my home course, because Dublin Mountain didn't have a clubhouse - or at least that was the official reason! Then we played Carrickmines, a nice little 9 hole hillside course just off the M50, followed by Vartry Lakes, another 9 hole course on the edge of Roundwood. Three not-exactly-spectacular courses (Vartry Lakes is no more). I'd give it all for one round at Druid's, even if we got beaten on the 13th.

Is that your ball?

If you had 125,000 golf balls what would you do with them? You’d give them away wouldn’t you! Perhaps you’d give six balls to all of your friends, family and business customers and colleagues… all 20,833 of them. Or, if you’re feeling generous, you’d give 12 balls, which means you only have to find 10,400 people. Think about it for a minute and work out how many people you know – I doubt it adds up to 10,400.

So the discovery at Anglo Irish Bank that €208,000 was spent on golf balls over a three year period, raises a number of interesting questions: ‘who got all of these balls?’ and ‘who gave all the gear away?’ being the obvious ones. And judging by the amount of money spent on umbrellas, jumpers, sports bags, iPods and all the rest… (adding up to €700K) there are a few folks out there with a lot of Anglo paraphernalia… although many of them may be too embarrassed to wear it now.

[Photo: Greystones' 4th hole, beyond 3rd green]

You see, Sean Fitzpatrick is a member at my home club. Not that he’s been seen on its fairways you understand – either he’s too afraid to show his face or else he’s got lost in the gorse looking for some of those 125,000 golf balls. I imagine he’s running a bit short now (no pun intended).

Since Sean fell from grace, the stories have been doing the rounds at Greystones GC. I cannot verify these so I shall not spill them here, but I imagine if you go foraging in the rough and trees and waters of Druid’s Glen you might find a ball or two with Anglo Irish Bank on it. Or an umbrella or golf shoes or…

There is a different perspective to be taken on this: big companies want to ‘thank’ their best clients (Fianna Fail and developers at the Galway Races come to mind), so money is spent to entertain them. Golf is always at the top of the entertainment list and golf balls and umbrellas are the most obvious ‘freebies’. Anglo has been given a roasting over their expenditure, but I have more than a few of these freebies in my bag, from AIB, An Post, Deloitte… I used to work at Esat Digifone (now O2) and An Post did a big day at Mount Juliet that included a waterproof outfit, golf shoe bag, umbrella and balls and tees. And I shouldn’t forget the Mars bar. It all adds up, although not to €700K. Then again, An Post weren’t handing out Pro V1s.

[Photo: Druid's Glen par three 8th]

To be honest, it’s all very unfair to be pointing fingers at Anglo and Fitzpatrick. After all, there are still 1,000 golf balls left, and by playing at Druid’s Glen at least Sean is showing he appreciates quality.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Top Golfer

[Photo: Rosslare's par three 8th]

Junior and Senior Scratch Cups are an important part of a single handicapper's year. Between March and October, numerous clubs around the country hold these events, giving you the chance to play some great courses for heavily reduced green fees. For example, play 36 holes at Carlow Golf Club, including lunch, for €25. You get to play in a really competitive environment for good prizes, but until now every event stood on its own. If you won, well done, but that was it.

TopGolfer.ie is changing all that with a league table format that makes things far more interesting. It's a great idea, and I hope it does really well for the guys behind it. There are 30 events (at the moment) ranging from brilliant courses to the more pedestrian variety, but it's generating a buzz, and I signed up for it today. Rosslare, Rathsallagh, Enniscorthy, Dunmurry Springs are definitely on the radar, and Rosslare for €20 is criminally cheap.

[Photo: Dunmurry Spring's par three 11th]

Either join up at topgolfer.ie (it's free to register) or visit Shrieking Sheet's blog to find out his thoughts. There's no point me repeating what he says, and he says it so well!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Golf Thieves take £750,000 of gear

It takes balls to walk into a golf club, steal sets of golf clubs and clothing, and then stroll out again like you own the place. But these two Golf Thieves in the UK have been doing exactly that, and they've been hitting up to five golf clubs a day, and 60 clubs in total.

Most clubs in Ireland have experienced break-ins, the occasional missing bag, and the forlorn "has anyone accidentally taken my shoes?" (one of which is up in the clubhouse at the moment), but this is taking things to a whole new level. I leave my bag in plain sight in the changing rooms, as do most other golfers, and you just assume that it will be safe because there are CCTV cameras and a lock on the door, and a lot of golfers walking around. Even so, all you'd have to do is blend in - as these two did - and you can imagine how easy it would be. I for one will be a lot more cautious from now on.

And to all the media who are covering this so joyously... thanks for giving people ideas.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


[Photo: the par three 5th, down into the trees at Portumna]

I was asked last week to write a short piece for the UK’s Golf Monthly magazine. What they wanted, they said, was a review of a course that I rated highly but that few people in the UK would have heard of.

Decisions, decisions. There are so many courses to choose from: I have written pieces on Rathcore and Shannon; I have raved about Portarlington and Scrabo; and I have decided that Rosslare is one of the best links never to be mentioned. And I haven’t even started on Northern Ireland yet.
In the end, the course I picked was Portumna in Co. Galway. It wasn’t difficult to write about. In fact, the greatest difficulty was keeping the piece to the required length. The course is located in an old estate, with sweeping movements to a landscape that sits so elegantly in a forest. There are deer that constantly appear and big trees make emphatic statements at every turn. And then there’s the 17th, a par five that everyone seems to remember with fondness.

[Photo: approach to the 17th]

What I don’t understand is why this course is not talked about in the same breath as many of the other big parklands. It’s not in the top echelon perhaps (Mount Juliet, K Club…), although I’ll happily sit down and argue the finer points, but it knocks the stuffing out of many of the big new resorts, like Mount Wolseley or Knightsbrook. Oh, and let’s not forget that you can play Portumna for €30 to €35.