Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Kiwi world wide adventure & Druid's Glen

[Photo: Michael Goldstein & Jamie Patton at Druid's Glen. 18 holes finished and looking forward to a good night's sleep]

How long does it take to get from Mount Juliet Golf Club, in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, to Druid’s Glen near Newtownmountkennedy in Co. Wicklow?

It was a question I wanted to put to Michael Goldstein and Jamie Patton as our 1.10pm tee time came and went. I know the guys at Druid’s Glen well enough that it wasn’t a problem, but it was a Friday and the time sheet was full. At this stage of the year/economy/recession (delete as appropriate) that’s good news for the club – or any club for that matter.

Michael and Jamie are the two Kiwis travelling around the world playing a different course every day, for a year. You’ve probably heard of them. They’ve played across New Zealand, Australia, the USA and Scotland and here they were, coming to the end of their three and half week trip to Ireland. Their website is and they’re raising funds for a charity called First Tee, as they go. Take a look at their excellent blog and you’ll get an idea of just what’s involved in their travels.

To most people, the idea of a year stuffed with golf at many of the world’s top golf courses is a slice of heaven. But you have to remember that this is hard work: travelling all the time, doing media interviews, arranging tee times and accommodation, taking photographs, blogging and playing golf… lots of golf. Boy, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

[Photo: Jamie hits his tee shot on the par four 7th]

We’d been in touch a few times over recent months, discussing their Irish tour and deciding where and when we could meet up. We finally settled on Druid’s Glen. My love of this club is well documented and alongside Adare it is my favourite parkland. They were coming from Mount Juliet, so it was going to be interesting to see how the guys compared the two. Along with Carton House (Monty), these were the only three parklands they were playing down south. The bulk of their golf was on links courses, and these read like a Who’s Who of Ireland’s (and therefore the world’s) top courses, from Royal County Down to Waterville.

When Michael finally arrived on the putting green he did not look 100%. This was to be his 259th consecutive round, so no surprise that he was tired but he had a stomach bug to add to his woes. And Jamie had enjoyed a late night in Kilkenny, so he wasn’t firing on all cylinders either. Gretta – Michael’s girlfriend who’d flown in for a week or two – was, however, full of bounce.

The answer to my opening question is three and a half hours. The lads got badly lost along the way. “Happen a lot?” I asked, assuming that travelling the world in a variety of borrowed vehicles and no GPS would lead to many directionally-challenged moments. “Not as badly as this,” was the reply.

Bert, the Course Ranger, was very accommodating and managed to slip us in at 2.20pm, and once we’d teed off all the drama and mayhem of getting lost was quickly forgotten. The tiredness wasn’t, and for two guys playing off 2 and 3 handicaps, there were some laboured swings and lengthy detours into the rough.

[Photo: Tee shot on the 13th. The hole drifts right, around the rock face]

[Photo: Michael goes searching on the approach to the 13th]

Druid’s 13th is famous and notorious. It is 461 yards off the white markers, and a driver isn’t always the best choice off the tee! The pictures don’t do it justice, but this is the hardest par four in Irish golf (the 12th at Druid’s Heath, next door, is a close second). Jamie and Michael found water and bushes, and then more water and bushes. It is a hole you need to play a few times to appreciate its difficulty fully, and the guys were suitably impressed.

Most top courses are judged by their signature holes. Druid’s Glen has a handful: the par threes 8, 11 and 17, the par four 18th and the 13th. A gentleman by the name of Craig Morrison agrees with me on the 13th, but more on that in the next blog.

I tried my best not to ask the questions that everyone else had undoubtedly been asking, day in, day out for the last 258 days, but sometimes it was unavoidable… best course? Where did the idea come from? Financing? Tiredness?

[Photo: side view of the beautiful par three 8th]

The ‘best welcome?’ question got an immediate response of ‘Ireland’. The guys had enjoyed themselves so much and been subjected to such great hospitality (Carne Golf Club received a special mention) that they were a week behind on their blog. We all know that Irish hospitality is legendary, but I was delighted to hear they were getting the full treatment. Irish golf clubs have been going out of their way to make their time here as enjoyable as possible, and that is coming through loud and clear in the tales they tell.

I decided I should be direct and asked them what they thought of Mount Juliet and how it compared with Druid’s Glen.

Debates about the best links course in Ireland typically centre on Royals County Down and Portrush, Portmarnock, Ballybunion, Carne, Lahinch, The European and Waterville. For parkland, the list is shorter, with Adare, K Club, Mount Juliet and Druid’s Glen being the most obvious contenders. (In truth, Ireland’s newest clubs of Lough Erne, Killeen Castle and Concra Wood should be added to that list.)

[Photo: the water enshrouded 17th. A par three to be played from the back tee]

Their answer was interesting and intuitive – it is not my place to list what they said (check their blog in the coming days), but, like so many things, it proved how conditioned we have become to marketing hyperbole. They are such different courses and they offer completely different experiences. If you’ve played both you’ll know what I mean.

Gretta, a non-golfer, lasted nine holes. When the 9th brought us back to the clubhouse she slipped away. She confessed that she’d not be on the golf course at all, but she couldn’t drive the 1989 Merc that the guys had been in since arriving in Scotland.

“Insurance?” I asked. No, it wasn’t that. How about right-hand drive? Stupid question as they drive on the same side of the road down under. No, it was a mechanical failing. The driver’s seat was stuck well back, and Gretta – somewhat shorter than Michael and Jamie – couldn’t reach the pedals. So she got stuck at the golf clubs, waiting in the bar for her man, and undoubtedly repelling the advances of many a keen Irish golfer.

[Photo: view from the clubhouse back down the par four 18th]

I had one last question for the boys: ‘how are you two getting on together, spending so much time in each other’s pockets?’ There was a brief pause: “It hasn’t come to blows,” Jamie replied wryly.

259 rounds down; 106 to go. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Island

[Photo: Jon putts up the 6th green]

As starts go, it wasn’t a good one. I have been driving for 25 years and it was the first time I’d done it.

The petrol station was packed with those morons who insist on parking in front of the pumps even when they’re only going in for a pack of fags. I had to manoeuvre around them to get to the only free pump. I was annoyed, to say the least, but not half as annoyed when, €60 later, I realised I’d put unleaded into my diesel tank.

“We get two call outs a week,” Morgan told me as he towed me away to the local garage. “All of them men.”

It didn’t make me feel any better. At least, I rationalised, if I don’t make the same mistake for another 25 years I can claim senility. For now, stupidity was the only appropriate word.

I’ve spent more time at O’Connor’s Garage in Ballycanew than I have at my local pub. The camper van had a couple of lengthy stays and now it looked like I was in for another long one. But Morgan gave me a loan of a big Citroen, and my trip to The Island was back on track.

As salacious as it sounds, I met Jack online. is an American golf forum, and he’d been asking for advice on playing in Ireland. I happily made some suggestions and we ended up agreeing to play at The Island.

[Photo: views from the elevated 6th tee - the 5th comes down from the left, the 6th drifts right]

Jack comes from Phoenix and his playing partner for the trip was Jon, from North Idaho via Kansas City. It was their first time in Ireland and from what they told me, they particularly liked the Guinness. They’d played seven rounds in eight days, only missing out one round (at Galgorm Castle in Ballymena) because the rain was so bad. They’d also had to abandon their day trip to Scotland because the ferries were cancelled due to wind. It sounded a bit unfortunate, but they’d enjoyed Ardglass, Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Castlerock, Cairndhu, Baltray, and now they were finishing at the Island. And it was a beautiful day. At least, it was at the start.

Jack and Jon were playing a match. After six rounds of golf, using the Stableford scoring system, they were level, so this was the crunch game. They were playing for money although I never discovered how much. Jon plays off 6, Jack off 11. I’ve played in matches when the intensity is worse than the British Open – this was not one of those days, and we had a great round.

“God… Bless America,” Jack spat at one point after a poor shot. By the round’s end, America was well and truly blessed.

[Photo: the approach to the brilliant par five 15th]

The Island is undoubtedly Dublin’s most enthralling links, yet it rarely gets the credit it deserves. [All Photos Here]. Big dunes, twisting fairways, great green complexes. It didn’t make my top ten must-play links courses, but that’s only because the views here aren’t as spectacular as elsewhere. Jack hadn't heard of it until my recommendation. The course is known for a number of things: eight par fours to start; Index 1 to finish; the narrowest fairway in Ireland (14); the fact that golfers rowed across from Malahide to play the course (the old clubhouse was by today’s 14th tee); and the enduringly difficult par three 13th which invariably hits into the wind.

The rain had stayed away but as we walked up to 13 it decided to show us what it was capable of. It came at us horizontally, in a stinging squall that bites your face and soaks your clothes before you’ve even had time to say ‘waterproofs’. This was Irish rain, and it was coming straight at us from the 13th green, 192 metres away. How strong was the wind? Jon, head bowed, cracked a Driver straight at the flag and came up 20 yards short.

[Jack, almost dry, on the 14th]

By the time we reached the 14, the rain had vanished and the sun was back. By the time we reached the green, we were dry.

I asked Jack on 15 how their match was balanced. Jack was three ahead on the front nine, but Jon was three up on the back. They halved 15 and Jon missed a two footer on 16 to take a point lead, but the match as good as ended on 17. Jack hit a drive and three wood onto the green and then sank a 40 foot putt for birdie and four points. He was, understandably, ecstatic, and Jon could do nothing on 18 to claw back the points.

In the bar afterwards I asked about their best and worst experiences. From a golfing point of view, Ardglass topped the list. They said the experience and value (best in Ireland they said) were superb, and from my perspective I found it invigorating that they lumped the two together. You can play a brilliant course, but if the value doesn’t match up, you can walk away with a sour taste in your mouth. And it was a sour taste in their mouths that was mentioned as their negative experience.

“What,” Jon asked, “do they cook Irish breakfasts in? They leave this aftertaste.” As they knocked back their pints of Guinness I’m guessing they’ll forget about that aftertaste fairly quickly.

Thanks lads for a great day out.

[Photo: view back down the 1st towards the clubhouse]

Mulranny - 9 holes of pure adventure in Co. Mayo

[Photo: at least the follow-through looks good]

“You know why the mattresses have International Orthopaedic Association printed on them, don’t you?” My brother-in-law, Perry, was standing on the 1st tee at Mulranny Golf Club in Co. Mayo.

He took a practice swing and groaned. “Because that’s who you need to go and see after you’ve slept on them.”

He wasn’t wrong. The beds were on the concrete side of firm and all of us had been walking a bit awkwardly after two nights in the hotel.

This was a family gathering (6 of us) for my mum’s birthday. Dad, Perry, Fiona and I had slipped away to play nine holes on a perfect golfing afternoon.

We were spending a long weekend in Newport, and my dad and I had been plotting how we could get out for some golf – as you do. Mulranny was close by, a nine hole course (so we wouldn’t be too long), and Perry had mentioned that he’d like to play. These made persuasive arguments and my mum gave us a day pass for Saturday afternoon.

[Photo: cows cross the 7th fairway]

Unfortunately we arrived at the busiest time, not just of the day, but of the year. The front man, John Rooney, told me later that they had two competitions, casual members, a society and green fees. Combine this with people who drive across the course (to the beach), walk their dogs aimlessly across fairways, sheep who wander around the clubhouse and cows that have taken up residence on the 17th tee box and you will appreciate why a round at Mulranny is such a chaotic adventure.

But it is an adventure for sure. The scenery is heavenly as you look out onto Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick beyond, and the golf is the kind of links golf that will have you tearing your hair out. But in a good way. There aren’t any severe climbs but it’s rarely level, and the greens have big slopes on them that turn great shots into knee-quivering putts (or chips).

This is the last course in Ireland where livestock still roam freely (the greens are fenced in by barbed wire, so don’t try climbing over them), and while a golf ball in a cow pat is a rare event, it can still happen. This is the sort of course that should be in my book. It’s good enough, and a great experience and, at only 20 quid, it’s value that warms the heart. But it’s a 9 hole course.

[Photo: playing catch after a ball finds the stream short of the 7th green]

Perry is new to golf. I didn’t realise quite how new until he confessed on the 1st tee that he’d never been further than a driving range. This could be interesting, I thought, handing over my rescue club. Perry took his stance, shrugged his shoulders a few times and then hit the ball straight down the middle.

“Beginner’s luck,” he quipped with a grin. Sadly, so it was to be as a few fresh airs followed on the fairway. He persevered until the 6th and then resigned from the threeball, taking photographs instead. As an introduction to golf, this is a fun course with no airs and graces, and the views are captivating. I think he had fun.

On the 6th tee box we encountered a woman and her dog, looking very confused (the woman, not the dog). She asked us which way we were playing. It was an interesting question: in one direction was the green; in the other was the sea. She reappeared on the 8th oblivious to the golfers driving over her head. It’s that kind of course, and the informal clubhouse, made up of portakabins (but a lot better than that sounds) adds to the atmosphere of relaxation and welcome.

[Photo: views over the third green from the fourth fairway]

I handed John a sand wedge after we’d finished. I apologised and told him that my neighbour had been up a few weeks before and had forgotten to return it with his rented clubs. That, of course, was a lie. It had been sitting in the back room of my house for ten years. I played here with a mate, rented clubs and was given a driver, a five iron and five wedges. I left one of them in the boot of the car and forgot all about it.

Finally, a brief question for geography and history experts: Why is Mulranny spelt in four different ways? I saw Mulranny, Mulrany, Malranny, Malrany. True, there’s not a lot of difference, but this is a small place – does it really need four variations?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who’s the fairest of them all?

[Photo: views over the 11th at Narin & Portnoo]

An interesting survey came out recently, ranking countries by their beauty. The catchy and memorably named Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index ranked Ireland well ahead of the UK. David Cameron wasn’t best pleased and queried how Ireland, ranked 12th, could come 12 places above the UK, ranked 24th.

As Cameron pointed out, one seventh of England (that’s England, not the UK) is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. In Ireland, we build motorways through our most cherished heritage. Hmm, no contest there. In England they have the Lake District, the New Forest, the Yorkshire Dales… in Ireland we have Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) that seem to have little effect on developers who see such areas as prime real estate.

[Photo: some of the 360 degree views at Waterville]

And let’s not forget that the UK includes Scotland with some of the greatest coastline in the world; Northern Ireland and her Glens of Antrim; and Wales with her Snowdonia National Park.

Ireland is beautiful for sure (The Burren, Connemara, west Cork, Kerry, Donegal among others), and I have been lucky enough to see a lot of it, but to be 12 places ahead of the UK is daft. The AGRNBI (even the acronym’s a mouthful) survey is spouting rubbish and has clearly been influenced by Ireland’s marketing efforts, which, it has to be said, is a great reflection on the work of Failte Ireland. The current advertising campaign is particularly evocative.

How is the rating conducted?

The study polled nearly 20,000 people in 20 countries, asking more than 40 questions about their perceptions of 50 countries. The survey covers several other aspects of ‘Nation Brands’, including investment, people and tourism. The ‘Most Beautiful Country’ is just one of these and I guess if you bombard people with enough targeted marketing messages and Ireland’s elegant landscapes you come 12th.

[Photo: some of the views from Dooks]

For golfers, many of Ireland’s beautiful landscapes and coastal views can be seen from our courses. Most prominent among these are Carne, Connemara, County Sligo, Dooks, Killarney, Narin & Portnoo, Old Head, Royal County Down, Scrabo, Tralee and Waterville.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Enniscorthy Classic

[Photo: Enniscorthy's short and delicious par four 16th]

“Put your hands like that.”

“Like that?”

“No, the other way around.”

“That’s mad, I can’t do that.”



“Go on, would you. There are people waiting.” The exasperation in the man’s voice was obvious.

The young lad tried it, complained some more and finally heaved that big shoulder-shrugging sigh so perfected by teenagers the world over.

“Now what?” the boy asked.

“Now hit the ball.”

“Jeese, this is a stupid game,” he muttered, stomping off the tee.

[Photo: Par four 7th - a tough downhill hole]

It had been a few years since I visited Enniscorthy Golf Club. It’s laid back, friendly and brimming with great country atmosphere - a natural (i.e. not over-designed) rolling parkland that flows with the landscape.

I had been invited to a Golf Classic (a four man team event) for the local GAA club and, after a miserably wet morning, the skies had cleared for our afternoon round. But the rain had delayed play and we were waiting for a man and three young boys. Now it’s not often that you see a kid hitting his first golf shot on the opening hole of a full-blooded 18 hole course, but that’s the no fuss, no pretensions of Enniscorthy. Wear jeans, wear whatever you like, come along and have some fun.

[Photo: Enniscorthy's best views on the approach to the par five 11th]

The hurling grip in golf is not to be sniffed at. True, there are no professionals on the tour who favour it, but there’s a golfer at Greystones, Shane O’Connor, who is one of the best in the club. This year Shane won the President’s Prize (matchplay) and he is a stalwart of the Barton Cup team. The grip may look cack-handed to traditionalists but if it works, it works.I’d love to tell you that the kid hit a screamer of a shot, but he duffed it about twenty yards. “Bollocks,” he said. He produced another ball, teed it up, reversed his hands into the traditional hurling grip and smashed the ball out of sight over the trees.

[Photo: The new par four 13th]

Since my Hooked review, Enniscorthy GC has introduced two new holes. Out went a very good par three and short par four, and in have come more fancily designed replacements in a big field alongside. They had to be replaced for safety reasons, I was told. The new holes are not as good and, because they’re brand new and stuck in a field, they interrupt the flow of the old part of the course. They’ll get better with age, but at the moment they feel a bit wrong.

I had been invited to the event by the three-brothers-Carter. Peadar, Noel and Seamus have handicaps in the high teens and twenties so, as the low man, I was put up first. The opening hole is a par three; I put an iron into the middle of the green and then four-putted from 20 feet. After that it all went downhill. The greens, drenched with the morning’s rain, were still lethally quick and their considerable undulations make it hard to gauge for the occasional visitor. That’s my excuse anyway.

[Photo: Peadar plays the par three 3rd]

After the wasp incident at Mount Wolseley, Enniscorthy offered up an alternative: small black flies by the thousand. My cream coloured shirt was covered for much of the round. After a few mouthfuls of the things, and the coughing and spluttering to remove them, the conversation was kept to a minimum.

Our combined score was shocking and we would have won the booby prize if there had been one on offer… which is a tad embarrassing when the group in front of us included someone who had never played the game before. On the plus side, I put some money in the raffle and walked away with a bottle of Jameson’s. And the clubhouse is still one of the friendliest I’ve ever been in.