Friday, December 30, 2011

Macreddin Misunderstanding

[Photo: approach to the par five 8th with the Wicklow Mountains beyond]

It was announced just before Christmas that Macreddin Club plc had been put into liquidation. This caused a flurry of concern over the future of Macreddin Golf Club, one of Ireland's most under-rated golf courses... however, there is a distinct difference between the two entities. Macreddin Club plc ceased to be involved with the club back in 2010, and the golf club itself has been thriving ever since.

A phone call to David Lee, who manages the course, resulted in him making the following statement on

The company that operated the golf course up to and including receivership (Until Nov 2010), Macreddin Club Public Limited Company has been liquidated. We have been operated by a new entity since. This liquidation does not affect the Golf Course, the status of current members or our plans for growth going forward in any way.

We would like to thank everybody who supported the club in 2011 and look forward to seeing you back on the fairways in 2012.

[Photo: approach to the par four 18th]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Who Wants to Buy The Belfry?

It's not just Ireland that's struggling with golf course closures and golf course sales: England is enduring some pain too! The Belfry, in the west Midlands, has gone up for sale. This famous resort has three courses and it has hosted the Ryder Cup four times. Back in 2009, it hoped to host it again... in 2022.

All four Ryder Cups (Europe won two and halved one) were held on the Brabazon course, with perhaps the most notable win occurring in 2002, when Paul McGinley sank the winning putt... or was it 1989, when Christy O'Connor Junior beat Fred Couples with his famous two iron shot into the green on 18, sealing Europe's victory? Whichever, Irish golfers clearly like this course.

[McGinley's leap for joy on the 18th. Copyright PInglis]

25 major tournaments have been held here over the years and millions have been invested in upgrading the course and facilities. Now, in the face of being put up for sale, is it all for nought? Time will tell, but Irish golf courses, resorts and developers can at least relax, knowing that Ireland isn't the only country struggling...

... but wait a minute... that looks like a very familiar name at the top of the 'leader board'. Sean Quinn, once Ireland's richest man, bought The Belfry in 2005 for the best part of Stg £190 million. Perhaps Paul McGinley's winning putt had gone to his head, but he bought the resort with great ambitions - including knocking down the existing hotel and building a new 500 bedroom, 5 star one in its place. Sean Quinn Jnr is in charge of the resort.

With the property crash and the recession, building that hotel is as likely as a hole in one. Today (according to the Irish Times), The Belfry is valued at £88 million, and the banks which funded Quinn's 2005 purchase - Bank of Ireland and Bank of Scotland (Ireland) among them - have decided that this is the time to sell.

Only time will tell if the Ryder Cup is ever held here again, but at least the Irish Midas Touch continues!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What's in the Bag?

A question (and poll alongside):

Do people care that much about what's in a Professional golfer's bag? Which Driver do they use? What length of putter do they favour?...

I just read a blog where the author asked: What self-respecting golf blog doesn't have a What's in the Bag piece?

Mine doesn't. I can't believe that anyone gives a damn. The professionals... OK, I understand the attraction, but it makes not a jot of difference to me. If Rory uses a bazooka it's not going to influence my next choice of club... although it might influence the choice of weapon that I take to to the next AIB AGM. Eggs are for wimps.

No, I go to my Pro shop and we discuss the type of game I play, whether I draw or fade, what kind of swing I inflict on the ground (which he'll watch - outside the Pro shop, obviously)... and he then suggests a couple of club models and we go from there.

Personally, I have zero interest in what's in anybody's golf bag. Do you?

[Photo: No, not me. I wish I had a swing like that... but at least I hit the ball]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Druid's Glen on the Money

[Photo: View from the Druid's Glen clubhouse down the 18th]

With all the doom and gloom that weighs around the necks of punters discussing Irish golf courses (including myself), it's great to read that there is positive activity out there... especially when it's my favourite parkland in the country (or second favourite - I can never decide between Druid's and Adare).

According to the Accounts just filed by Druids Glen Golf Club Ltd for 2010:

"in 2011... the golf course has returned to sustained profitability."

You'll find the full article here, from the Irish Examiner, with all the financial details (yawn).

Two things stuck out for me:

1. The 'Marriot' hotel that fronts the Druid's Heath golf course will be no more as Druid's will be taking it on themselves on a 26 year lease.

2. This is the venue where, in July 2008, Sean Fitzpatrick played the now infamous round of golf with An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. Seriously? Brian Cowen can play golf?

[Photo: Brian Cowen discovers a metaphor waiting for him - and the entire Fianna Fail party - on the golf course]

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Greatest Irish Golf Challenges

This post originally started as 'The Great Irish Links Challenge', a three day event over three of Ireland's best links courses, but there are so many events like this that I expanded... and expanded.

Ireland has been hosting amateur golf tournaments for a long time… 25 years in some cases. Spread over three or four days, and using different formats (singles/fourball/team) they have proved to be a highly entertaining and very sociable way to introduce golfers from all around the world to some exceptional Irish golf courses. Naturally, some are more international than others but there’s always a competitive element. How many people play to win a prize is a matter of opinion as, really, it’s about the opportunity to play courses you might not otherwise think to play… not to mention the chance to knock back a few jars in the bar as the stories come tumbling forth.

And if you win something then it’s an added bonus.

[Photo: Doonbeg's exquisite par five opening hole ]

Atlantic Coast Challenge

The number of events in Ireland is growing as clubs appreciate how attractive such tournaments can be. In 2011, I competed in the inaugural Atlantic Coast Challenge (Enniscrone, Carne, Co. Sligo)… terrible golf, but what a blast. Three of my absolute favourite courses and it cost a mere €120 to enter the event. Played in July, we got rained on for a combined total of maybe 15 minutes over the three days. That’s the Irish weather being very kind indeed!

For details of the 2012 event, July 2 to July 4, click here.

[Photo: Enniscrone's par four 12th may be one of the toughest holes around. It's a sheer drop in front of the green, and straight up the dune behind]

Great Irish Links Challenge

Meanwhile, the first Great Irish Links Challenge (Ballybunion, Doonbeg, Lahinch) was held the year before, in 2010 (and included the NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino among the competitors).

Personally I think these events are brilliant. After the joys of the Atlantic Coast Challenge, I was sorely tempted to have a go at the Great Irish Links Challenge, but forking out €595 for the privilege is too steep for my wallet. There are added incentives, above and beyond other tournaments, but when you compare €200 for a round, on average, to €40 for the Atlantic Coast Challenge, it’s hard for me to justify that extra expense.

So, what does your €595 buy you for an event which will be held between May 7 and May 10, 2012?

Welcome reception, tournament gift, golf and greens fees, transportation from Shannon Airport to The Lodge at Doonbeg, daily transportation to and from host venue to participating courses, daily prizes at each course, awards and dinner ceremony.

You are talking about three exceptional and world-ranked courses, but you’ll have to pay for accommodation on top of this… and based on the website’s focus on flights, this is clearly aimed at our American golfing friends… not that surprising when you consider the focus and ownership of Doonbeg.

[Photo: Ballybunion Old's 2nd green with views over what's to come]

[Photo: Lahinch - the approach to the par four 7th, beside the sea]

I met plenty of Americans on my travels and, contrary to popular opinion, they are not all loaded with cash. Like you and me, they have been saving hard over the years to justify the expense of taking a golfing holiday – in their case flying to Ireland for a week’s glorious links golf. Sure, we’ve all seen the helicopters and heard the stories of crazy extravagance, but then we have our own developers and bankers who show-off in much the same way… although not anymore! No, a trip to Ireland is a sacred journey that is relished for months beforehand and cherished for years after.

If this Challenge is the way they wish to enjoy Ireland’s great links, then fire ahead lads and ladies, and get stuck in to a tournament you’re unlikely to forget. But there are plenty of such tournaments to choose from, which cost a lot less, and the spread of dates means there's no excuse not to enter.

[Photo: The view from Doonbeg's par three 9th, back to the Lodge... where you could be staying]

Causeway Coast Amateur Golf Tournament

Plays over Castlerock, Portstewart (Strand), Ballycastle and Royal Portrush (Valley). It’s worth noting that this doesn’t play the acclaimed and highly ranked Royal Portrush (Dunluce) course, but the Valley is a beauty (and the course GMac calls home). One of the EXTRA bonuses of this particular competition is that all entrants who are not resident in Northern Ireland, get a free practice round at each club thrown in.

Date: June 4 to June 8, 2012


Entry fee: £200 (Sterling)

Heart of Down Tournament

Plays over Spa, Downpatrick, Ardglass and then Royal County Down (RCD) for the top qualifiers. Two parklands (Spa is very tasty) and a links… with the top 70 or so qualifying for RCD, while the rest go back and play one of the other courses on the final day.

Date: August 13 to August 17, 2012


Entry fee: £131.25 (Sterling) – yes, an odd price for sure!

[Photo: Spa's 11th hole, a downhill par four]

Coasts of Down Links Challenge

Plays over Ardglass, Kirkistown Castle and Royal County Down.

You play all three courses, and considering you can pay well over £100 to play RCD in the summer, you’re looking at another seriously good value deal. Ardglass is badly under-appreciated and has one of the best starts of any course on the island – holes 1 to 4 are breath-taking.

Date: April 25 to April 27, 2012


Entry fee: £105 (Sterling)

[Photo: View from the par three 3rd green at Ardglass, back to the tee]

Donegal Links Classic

Plays over three superb links courses in the very north of the country: Ballyliffin (Old), Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris) and Portsalon. The Rosapenna course was recently revamped by Pat Ruddy and Tom Doak while there will always be a debate about which of the Ballyliffin courses is better: Old vs. Glashedy. My preference is the Old, but you’d have to play both to make a fair comparison (i.e. book for a longer stay and play more golf, including Rosapenna’s mighty Sandy Hills).

It’s fair to say that of all these types of tournaments, you simply can’t beat €100 per person in terms of value.

Date: June 4 to June 6, 2012

Website: Try this Facebook page, or visit the Ballyliffin website

Entry fee: €100

[Photo: Ballyliffin Old's par four 15th, a hole that doglegs right]

West Coast Challenge
Plays over four of the north west's great links courses: Donegal (Murvagh), Strandhill, Enniscrone, Bundoran. 2012 will see its 26th year, and remains one of the most popular events around. Hardly surprising given the location and the people up that way.

Date: (TBC) September, 2012

Entry fee: TBC, but €125 in 2011

Laois International Golf Challenge

A slightly more complicated event as there are seven courses involved for a four day event. You’ll play three courses from Abbeyleix, The Heath, Mountrath, Portarlington, Rathdowney and Portlaoise over the first three days, and then the top qualifiers go on to a final at The Heritage (designed by Seve Ballesteros). It’s a good idea, involving so many courses, but they differ in quality quite a bit. Portlaoise is the poor relation, while Portarlington is the classiest. If you could pick your three, I’d want Portarlington, Mountrath and The Heath. Still, for €100 you shouldn’t be complaining and there are lots of places to stay.

Date: May 14 to May 17, 2012


Entry fee: €100

[Photo: Portarlington's par four 7th. And Index 1]

Dunmore East Classic

One of the oldest and most established events, and often booked up close to a year in advance. Four of Waterford’s finest parkland courses include Waterford, Tramore, Waterford Castle and Faithlegg. They’re all very close together, which helps, and the latter two also have hotels.

Date: May 30 April to May 3, 2012


(The main website,, is down currently)

Entry fee: €299, includes four dinner vouchers (packages also available including accommodation)

The Great North Links Challenge

Another rather special collection of links golf courses: Ballyliffin (Glashedy), Royal Portrush (Dunluce) – i.e. the ‘big’ course - and Portstewart (Strand).

Date: October 3 to October 5 2012

Website: Again, try the Facebook page or contact

Entry fee: €175

[Photo: Royal Portrush (Dunluce) - the par four 5th]

Erne Waterways Golf Challenge

Played over Slieve Russell, Co. Cavan and Castle Hume golf courses.

Date: June 8 to June 10 2012

Website: (currently last year’s details)

Entry fee: €100

[Photo: Slieve Russell golf course - a fine parkland in Co. Cavan]

Pat Mulcare Am-Am

Played over two days across Tralee and Ballybunion Old, this amateur tournament celebrates Pat Mulcare – a well know Irish amateur golfer who featured on the 1975 Walker Cup team. Proceeds are used to promote junior golf.

Cost is not known at the moment (Dec 11) but it will take place on the weekend of August 11 and 12, 2012. It does not have much of an international presence, but that’s because it gets booked up so fast.

In Limbo

There are other tournaments which appear to be in limbo. These include the Tramore Golf Classic, which is pretty much identical to the Dunmore-East event, but taking place in September. The 2011 event was cancelled when a sponsor couldn’t be found. That may change in 2012.


P&O Irish Sea "Kingdoms of Down" played over Tandragee Golf Club, County Armagh Golf Club and Royal County Down

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's a mood thing: from 1st tee to 18th green

I don't think there will be that many surprises in today's Irish Independent golf article on Discovering the Secrets of Perfect Happiness (click on the link). As Liam Kelly points out, it's not hard to see that golfers stepping onto the 1st tee are full of optimism at what their round might hold, and yet the majority walk off 18 downhearted, thoroughly fed up, or swearing they'll never play the game again.

It is only the lucky few who walk off 18 with a big smile on their face, knowing they've got a chance at a prize, or just happy to know their handicap will be cut.

And yet even then there's that feeling that you probably 'left a few shots out there.' Take Rory's win at the weekend. He won by 2 shots and was as happy as could be, yet I'm sure he carried a weight thinking about those short birdie putts he missed early in the round... and if he'd lost by a shot, how he would have cursed them. Fortunately he didn't need to worry, but you and I have both been there when we've missed a two or three footer early on, or failed to get out of a bunker, and then played great golf only to miss the prize by a single shot/point...

... do we focus on the great bunker shots, the drained 20 footers, the fade around the trees? No! We fret over that missed putt because of what might have been. That's golfers all over. What might have been. And what should be relaxation and fun turns into personal torment as we sit in our cars and head home in a grumpy mood, dwelling on one bad shot instead of the dozen or so good shots... or, if you're damn lucky, the brilliant shot that should stay in your head for years but doesn't because negative always overcomes positive.

At least that's my experience.

Psychology is not my strong point, but I know that I am a negative golfer, and I empathise strongly with what the article is about. I always arrive optimistic - 'today's the day' sort of thing - and nearly always walk off feeling down-hearted or even depressed. I guess because it's such a solitary game (i.e. it's all about you and not those around you) it's too easy to have expectations that are too high.

Why not try arriving on the 1st in a thoroughly depressed mood, anticipating a round of 8 points? Surely then things can only improve. The only problem is, you probably wouldn't bother getting out of bed.

It's a good article. Go. Read. Be positive.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Dead of Portsalon Golf Club

[Photo: Portsalon's 6th hole alongside the beach]

At the end of a hard round, striding over dunes and lapping up exceptional views, you don't really want to be told that there are dead bodies lying underneath your feet on the 18th fairway.

When Donegal's Murvagh course revamped its 1st green a few years back, the skeleton of a woman was discovered in the ground. It was too old to be of interest to the Gardai, and too young to attract the archaeologists, so it was removed and disposed of. A bit of a damp squib really.

What is going on at Portsalon is an entirely different matter. Here we're talking about the remains of 250 sailors, or some of them at least.

[Photo: Portsalon's par four 2nd, over the beach/Ballymastocker Strand]

200 years ago, on December 4th 1811, the HMS Saldanha sank in a violent storm near Ballymastocker Strand in Donegal. More than 250 lives were lost and it was one of the greatest sea tragedies on those shores. It is thought the ship was trying to return to harbour in Lough Swilly, on the Inishowen peninsula, when she struck rocks near Fanad Head.

She finally ran aground but was so battered by the sea that all lives were lost... bar the captain and his parrot who both survived briefly: the captain, William Pakenham, died on the shore after being given a drink of poitin. The parrot died, a few days later in a local garden. The account says that upon finding a strange bird in his garden the farmer shot it. The parrot was reported to be wearing a collar inscribed with the words ‘Captain Pakenham of His Majesty’s Ship Saldanha’. It was the last member of the Saldanha to perish.

The captain received his own burial plot in Rathmullen Priory burial ground, but many of the sailors were placed in a mass grave, thought to be under Portsalon's 18th fairway, with a massive stone used to cover the bodies. Just how many remains to be seen.

There is no record of the parrot's burial - perhaps it was buried with the captain, or perhaps it became an exotic dinner.

[Photo: Views of Portsalon's beach, aka Ballymastocker Strand]

Fanad Head lighthouse was built in response to the disaster and its beacon first lit up Lough Swilly's dark waters on St. Patrick's Day, 1816, five years after the tragedy.

Portsalon Golf Club have been very accommodating: they welcomed a 200th anniversary commemoration ceremony on the 18th fairway and the club has also allowed historians to walk the course, using scanners to locate the bodies.

Over the years bones have been found and, not surprisingly for a county which resorts to poitin in difficult situations, there have been numerous tales of ghostly sailors walking the roads or trying to enjoy a free round on the links.

Donegal County Council plans to erect granite memorials at Portsalon beach and on the golf course... as if a links course didn't have enough hazards already.

One final thought: Captain William Pakenham came from famous Irish stock, but it was his brother-in-law who will be remembered most: he was Sir Arthur Wellesley, who became the Duke of Wellington, victor of one of the greatest battles in history in 1815: Waterloo.

When you play Portsalon Golf Club, you will have your own battles, but spare a thought for all those sailors as you head up the last. And raise a glass of poitin from the warmth of the clubhouse bar.

Other photos of Portsalon Golf Club

Friday, December 2, 2011

€99 for 3 of Kerry's under-appreciated courses

[Photo: Dooks par three 4th. It doesn't get more stunning than this]

If you're after a rather delicious golfing Christmas present, or you're simply planning your golfing adventures for next year, you'll do well to beat the Peninsula Pass, in Co. Kerry.

Let's start with the location... Co. Kerry is magnificent, beautiful, friendly and fun. It also has - by county - the best golf courses in the country.

[Photo: Ring of Kerry's par three 18th]

What about value for money... €99 for three courses which fall neatly into links (Dooks), seaside/parkland (Skellig Bay) and parkland (Ring of Kerry). €33 is a steal when you consider you can play them during peak season.

[Photo: Skellig Bay views, from green to tee on the par three 2nd]

Are the views worthwhile... Dooks has the best views of any golf course on the island (and it's up against stiff competition). Stand on the second green and take a nice and slow 360 degree spin. Mountains, sea, valleys. It's breathtaking. Ring of Kerry is on a hillside and overlooks the Greenane Islands in Kenmare Bay, while Skellig Bay is tucked under mountains and drifts above Skellig Bay itself (with Waterville in the distance)... alongside traditional dry-stone walls.

[Photo: Dooks - the 2nd green]

Quality Golf... Dooks, for me, remains one of the under-appreciated links in Ireland (hence the value). It's not big-dune country but it has great links tradition and challenges, a fabulous mix of holes and flora and fauna that makes it almost worthwhile to hit shots into the rough.

Skellig Bay has plenty of glorious holes (designed by Ron Kirby) and while the ones overlooking the ocean may be the most dramatic, the ones up against the mountain and along Fionnglassa River are the most stunning.

[Photo: Ring of Kerry's par three 14th and the views]

Ring of Kerry is a good course, but it wouldn't be up to the thrills of the other two - not in my book anyway. It has great flourishes, several dramatic holes (especially the par threes), good water features and some great challenges - it will certainly keep you entertained... as well as tiring you out that bit more.

Where to stay... if you have the cash, stay at Parknasilla, my favourite hotel on the planet! Otherwise you can choose between various hotels in Kenmare or Killarney... or find something in between. There are also hotels in Skellig Bay (try the Butler Arms), but wherever you stay you need to be aware of two things: you're on the Ring of Kerry, and the roads are not good. Drive too fast and you'll be rattled from your teeth to your testicles; and, if you plan your trip for summer, the traffic will get crazy busy, so remember that coaches travel around the Ring in an anti-clockwise direction.

Anything else to do... this is Co. Kerry - there's tons to do, from walking in the MacGillycuddy's Reeks, strolling around lakes, driving up Moll's Gap, visiting Muckross House, checking out Kenmare (a very pretty town) and Killarney or just driving around to soak up the scenery. If you're into landscape photography, I highly recommend the Skyline Gallery in Kenmare.

[Photo: Skellig Bay's par three 14th]

Other golf courses... perhaps you fancy playing more golf. If so, you are spoiled for choice. Here's a brief list of three of the world's best courses you'll find nearby: Ballybunion, Tralee and Waterville. There are also the three courses at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, where the Irish Open has been held for the last two years. Other courses include Castleisland, Kenmare, Killorglin and Ceann Sibeal out on the Dingle Peninsula.

How to get it... Passes must be purchased in advance and can be prepaid in full by contacting the central reservations office on Tel: 00353 (0)64 6642000 or Email: Passes may also be purchased in person at the participating Golf Clubs.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ryder Cup Weather 2014

They're talking about the weather for the 2014 Ryder Cup already. How utterly daft is that. No sooner were the dates announced yesterday - 26 to 28 September 2014 - than the naysayers started discussing the weather. How very British... and Irish.

It's Scotland, in case people had forgotten. And since when does the month make a blind bit of difference? Our summers hardly stick to the script.

Now, I'm not looking at Scottish stats, but for comparative purposes let's look at Ireland:
  • In 2008, Ireland had its wettest August in 170 years... and I should know since I was travelling the countryside in a leaking camper van;
  • In 2010, we endured the wettest July in 60 years;
  • In 2007, Northern Ireland had its wettest June since 1958...

... so, considering how wet our so called summers have become, when would these naysayers prefer to see the event held?

I don't deny that September is a wet month (the 5th wettest month statistically, after October to January), but it's also a warm month (the 4th warmest month statistically, after June to August), so it's in the lap of the gods.

What will happen if Scotland experiences a September like 1986, when there was no rain at all in several parts of the UK and Ireland? Will these same people complain it's too dry?

How can you possibly predict weather 3 years in the future? That said, there is one person who can predict such things...

Evelyn Cusack is RTE 1's main weather forecaster. She says she is constantly asked by mothers of brides-to-be what the weather is going to be like on such-and-such a date, 18 months in the future. Tongue firmly in cheek, Evelyn replies that she'll need to know whether it's a morning or afternoon wedding before she can make a prediction.