Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ireland's Best 18 Holes: Hole 7

Hole 7 Lahinch Par 4 366 yards

After the brilliance of the 6th at Lahinch, you stand on the 7th tee box with the sea running alongside you on your left. The dogleg 7th is a tricky proposition, even without the wind that whips in from the sea. You stand on the ocean’s edge and drive slightly inland and uphill between the dunes. The hole then curves left and heads back to the sea with bunkers and heavy undulations short of the green making it a tough approach. The hole’s easy rhythm can be found throughout the course, making Lahinch one of the west coast’s big attractions.

[Photo: The approach]

For my book I wrote up the K Club Palmer course in the old order. For and since the Ryder Cup, the two nines were reversed. So, when I listed the K Club’s par five over the black River Liffey as one of the best 7th holes in the country, the hole was actually the 16th.

[Photo: The K Club]

However, change the par five to a par four, and today’s 7th hole is still one of the best in the country. This was where Steve Williams dropped Tiger’s club in the water during the Ryder Cup. It is a mere 395 yards from the white tees, but the difficulty of approach over the large pond, with no room left, right or behind, makes it Index 1.

Elsewhere, the drop dead gorgeous par three at Dromoland Castle is where the course really comes to life. You hit out of deep trees towards the castle, and then watch your ball sail all the way down.

[Photo: Dromoland Castle]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mount Wolseley Scratch Cup

“It was very civilised,” said Donal. “It wasn’t really a stag party. Just a few pints in Woodenbridge.”

There were four of us standing on the 1st tee at Mount Wolseley, for the Top Golfer Junior Scratch Cup, and as we introduced ourselves it was evident that Donal was looking a bit rough.

“Then the sambuca and tequila started arriving.” The memories were clearly painful ones as the groom-to-be snap-hooked his opening drive towards the bunker.

[Photo: view back down the par five 7th]

My memories of Mount Wolseley were not positive. It is over-shaped and long, with elaborate green complexes and a multitude of bunkers around and under each one. Four years ago, many of the young trees had yet to make an impact so it felt open and somewhat undefined. My playing partners, part of a society, struggled with the length, even from the front yellow tees.

I was looking forward to this return visit – a chance for a re-evaluation and the enjoyment of a competitive environment.

The fourball (it seemed odd to be sending out fourballs in strokeplay) was completed by Martin and Pat, who had travelled down from Roscrea Golf Club (an hour and ten minutes, not exceeding the speed limit, according to Pat).

[Photo: the approach, over a big pond, to the par five 10th]

To say that the day was blistering is an understatement. The sun was out and burning. The course looked superb and it was the kind of weather golfers dream about. If ever I was going to love Mount Wolseley then today was the day.

To help us on our way, the fourball in front of us walked off the 1st green and were never seen again, and the fourball behind were rarely seen either.

The golf blew hot and cold for all of us, but it was Donal I felt most sorry for. All the alcohol seeping from his pores attracted the ardent attention of two wasps who took eight holes to leave Donal in peace. He wasn’t stung, but the constant buzzing around his head distracted his putting. Even so, for a 5 handicapper with a hangover and an insect entourage, walking off the 9th at four over was not bad going.

Pat and I had a debate about Ryder Cup picks, as all golfers seem inclined to do at this time of (every second) year. I, for one, do not see Harrington getting into the side ahead of Rose or Casey. Rose established a strong partnership with Poulter two years ago, and Casey would go well with Westwood, especially as Garcia is not in the frame.

Does Harrington get that third captain’s pick? Ahead of Molinari? And what about Bernard Langer to partner fellow German, Martin Kaymer? The one thing you can be sure of is that Monty will go his own way and will pick the team he wants, not what he thinks people want.

Pat thought Harrington was a definite, but Harrington’s record is not the best – played 21, won 7, lost 11, halved 3 – and his form this year has been erratic.

[Photo: The par four 14th - a short par four with the green just visible behind the middle trees]

Back to Mount Wolseley [Full set of photographs here]. Donal on several occasions commented on how good looking the holes were and how there wasn’t one weak hole on the course. But my thoughts on it being over-elaborate remain: too much mounding and not enough natural flow; a few too many doglegs and bunkers. But the course has definitely grown on me. The trees make a much bigger impact and add colour, the greens invite aggressive shot making, and their big slopes are intimidating. It is a tough track.

Mount Wolseley has matured well and I can only assume that it will continue to improve. It is part of a large hotel in Tullow, Co. Carlow, and the car park was packed – a good sign in the current climate. I look forward to going back next year.

[Photo: The par four 18th, a sharp dogleg right, around water. The hotel is behind]

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ireland's Best 18 Holes: Hole 6

[Photo: Portstewart's 6th, copyright Bernard Findlay]

Hole 6 Portstewart (Strand) Par 3 135 yards. ‘Five Penny Piece’

The front nine at Portstewart runs through Thistly Hollow, a dune-infested landscape that is home to possibly the best opening nine holes in Ireland. After what comes before it, the short par three 6th seems like a welcome reprieve, but ‘Five Penny Piece’ is as lethal as it is beautiful. The dunes are tucked around you and the green sits on top of a large mound. Pot bunkers lurk at the front, and sharp slopes will ensure that any shot even slightly off target will be heavily punished, leaving you with an almost possible shot from far below the putting surface – it is quite possible for a second shot to roll all the way back to your feet. It is Ireland’s answer to Royal Troon’s acclaimed 8th hole, Postage Stamp.

Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) and Donegal are two other excellent links holes, with Rosapenna’s par four one of the toughest you’ll play, firing up to a ridge before dropping the other side to a well protected green. The views will prove very distracting.

[Photo: Doonbeg's par four]

Doonbeg’s 6th should be played from the back tee as it brings a giant dune into play and shows off the hole spectacularly. It is a straight par four that runs beside the beach and it is hard as hell with deep pot bunkers and not a vast landing area.

Lahinch’s 6th can’t be ignored either, a brilliant dogleg that hits up to a plateau and then drops to the sea. One danger here is a big, hidden hole in the middle of the fairway that will catch long hitters.

[Photos: the tee shot and approach at Lahinch - the second shot shows the 'hole']

Thursday, August 12, 2010


[Photo: from green to tee on the reachable par four 13th - you can't see the bunkers in front of the green]

As any early bird will tell you (and I'm one of them) a beautiful sunny morning is the best time to play golf. Long shadows, crisp air, and few souls to be seen. At Delgany yesterday the early sunlight showed the course off to its best advantage.

Delgany is one of my favourite clubs in the region. While some people don't like courses with lots of hills, I have always found them to be far more entertaining than the flat variety. There is so much more character to the holes and you get to see much more of your shot. Downhill driving is the biggest thrill of all and Delgany gives you five par fours to practice on. The 13th is a par four of 290 metres, all downhill, and there won't be many golfers who won't fancy giving the ball a real dig. The same is true on 9 and 15. Holes 4 and 6 are sharp left hand doglegs that require more restraint.

[Photo: the downhill 15th, crossing the 12th fairway. The par three 14th green is on the right]

You are left with a few uphill holes which can sap you (holes 3, 7, 10 and parts of 17 and 18) but it adds to the golfing experience, and you get big sea views when you reach the top, not to mention the prospect of a big drive off the next tee.

Delgany is a rich and well-wooded, mature course that dates back to 1908. It is not long (par 68 with one par five - although the 10th can be turned into a par five as listed on the scorecard) and its challenges come from the slopes and what they can do yo your ball. There are bunkers (in front of the 13th most notably) but their use is limited.

[Photo: the par three 16th]

Delgany is well-known for its par three 16th hole, that drops to a green far below. Not long (not one of the five par threes qualifies as long) it is still an intimidating site with woodland behind. It is the only course in Ireland that requires you to play holes in the wrong order: at Delgany, you walk off 15 and then drive off 17 before playing the 16th. The tee boxes are side by side and it means you don't have an enormous climb back up to the 17th teebox.

Delgany is not the steepest course in Ireland (that honour goes to Stackstown) but it's not far behind. Bear that in mind if you want to play here, but it comes highly recommended if you want some genuine excitement. And a new clubhouse gives you ample opportunity to recover after your round.

[Photo: green to tee on the par three 5th]

Standard green fees range from €45 to €55 but if you visit their website you'll find a link to some great deals (including 18 holes with full Irish breakfast for €26) and you'll find 40 photographs here

Monday, August 9, 2010

Best 18 Holes in Ireland: Hole 5

[Photo: Royal Portrush comes to life in dazzling fashion]

Hole 5 Royal Portrush (Dunluce) Par 4, 379 yards. ‘White Rocks’

Most golfers will tell you that Royal Portrush’s ‘Calamity’ (par three 14th) is the signature hole of the Dunluce course (more on that later), but the 5th holds a special place in my heart. After a tame start (holes 1 to 3), the 5th delivers the full beauty of the course in one splash of brilliance. It is your first introduction to the sea, the dunes and views of other holes.

You walk up to the tee to be faced with a tumbling, darting dogleg that breaks sharply right as it heads for the sea and Skerries Reef. It’s a beautiful shape and it offers two choices: the short, safe drive to the corner of the dogleg, leaving a long second; or the chance to cut the corner and reduce the hole to a short iron. The wind will dictate your choice, but remember this: do not go over the green as it drops sharply to the beach below.

[Photo: the drive on Bangor's 5th. A big hit needed]

Elsewhere, Bangor has an extremely difficult par four. It’s 455 yards and Index 1. You drives out of trees, across a dip, into a right-hand dogleg. If you’re lucky enough to hit it into a position where you can see the green (a drive of close to 300 yards), the small hedge that runs in front of the green makes it hard to gauge your distance.

[Photo: The superb 5th at Cork]

Cork’s par five 5th is the start of ‘Little Island’s’ famous run of holes that takes you into a disused quarry. I don’t often advise going to the back tee, but here (and on the 4th as well) it’s an absolute must as the tee box sits on the waters of Cork Harbour, and shows off the hole in all its glory. The green is visible to your right, out on the tip of the water. “How do I get there?” you ask. By driving blindly over blazing gorse and a disused kiln.

As at Portrush, the 5th at Strandhill holds a special place in my heart. This was where I took a photograph, looking back down the fairway, of perfectly shaped bumps and hollows that no artist could ever have imagined. The image still adorns my ‘business’ card. It is a par five, from a high tee box, that again gives you an option of how much of the dogleg to cut off. The hole drifts uphill and the green is found in a small hollow that makes any approach a lottery.

[Photo: Strandhill's 5th, from the tee box, with the clubhouse and Benbulbin dead ahead]

Friday, August 6, 2010

Best 18 Holes in Ireland: Hole 4

Hole 4 Old Head of Kinsale Par 4 415 yards. ‘The Razor’s Edge’

In terms of its location, there is no better golf club to drive to than the Old Head of Kinsale. It feels like you’re driving out to the tip of the world. I’ve already mentioned Hole 2, but the 4th is probably the most mesmerising (12 comes a close 2nd) because of its aspect, the dogleg that curls across the clifftop and the lighthouse behind the green. The tee box sits on the cliff top, 300 feet up, and a golfing buddy of mine who has vertigo had an unsettling time when he played there. If you have a caddie, chances are he’ll be telling you about the wreckage of the Lusitania as you leave the tee.

[Photo: green to tee at Mitchelstown]

There are three other holes that stand out, and Mitchelstown’s par four particularly caught my eye. There are two things about it: the three or four pine trees on the left of the fairway, by the old wall, that mark the kink in the fairway – it waggles like a shake of the hips – and, secondly, the green location, under tall trees and over a deceptively broad river.

[Photo: Clandeboye's tee shot]

Clandeboye’s (Dufferin) 4th is Index 1. It is a tight and tricky dogleg that requires guile (aka a three iron) off the tee, and a brave approach to another attractively located green (old wall behind, trees all around).

[Photo: Clandeboye approach]

Macreddin’s 4th is a par three. It is unrivalled in Ireland for distance, and by that I mean in terms of the drop from the tee to the green. It is far, far below you and watching the ball fly high and then drop, endlessly, past fields and farms and sheep to the green below is a thrilling sight.