Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Parknasilla Hotel, Skellig Bay & Waterville

[Photo: shadows and sun play across the fairway on the approach to the 1st hole, with the sea and mountains as an idyllic back drop]

Memories are wonderful things… when you can remember them. Things get a bit rusty with age, as you know… or as you’ll soon find out. In 1998, I spent my honeymoon in Parknasilla in Co. Kerry. It’s the kind of place where it always feels like family. 13 years after our first visit and there are familiar faces to greet you and look after you. Sometimes that’s a wonderful reassurance, a bit like an eight iron from 150 yards. No fuss, no hesitation, you’re relaxed and content. We tried to get the same room as our honeymoon, but it was already taken.

I was down for a few days and planning visits to Skellig Bay and the mighty Waterville. Two very different courses that both capture the imagination but in very different ways. Skellig Bay came first and a late evening visit took me down the Ring of Kerry into a ball of sun that made seeing the potholes in the road nigh on impossible. This is one of the most bizarre routes on the planet: stretches of smooth blacktop interrupted with furious regularity by potholed chaos, narrow roadway and cliff-clinging barriers that look far too precarious for your health.

[Photo: stunning views over the 2nd green from the 3rd tee box]

Especially when buses come hurtling around corners towards you with a startling degree of indifference. It is just crazy and I feel sorry for tourists who are driving on a different side of the road for the first time – we encountered an American couple who had burst a tyre and buckled the wheel because they had driven too close to the edge. As we chatted to them and made calls to the hire car company, the wife threw in the classic “I told you you were driving too close to the edge.” A lesser man might have taken the jack to her, but the husband seemed remarkably unfazed.

[Photo: Skellig Bay's 11th - previously a brilliant closing 18th]

Because Waterville is almost as far west as you can go on this island the sun sets that much later, so at 9pm the sun was still high and Skellig Bay had a scattering of players across the headland. It looked glorious in all its hues and shadows as I walked up to the first tee. And this was where my reassurance took a knock. Skellig Bay has re-ordered its holes because there is a new clubhouse. The re-ordering is not the problem, nor the new location for the clubhouse which is far away from the old first tee. No, the problem is that the excellent old 18th is now merely the 11th. It was a great hole (par five, index 3), from high point to high point, and made for a brilliant finish. But the course is just as good as before, with beautiful flowing fairways neatly tucked between traditional and (mostly) authentic old stone walls, cairn and magnificent views of mountains that could only be Irish.

The holes above the ocean are the holes that are probably most memorable, but the best holes are further inland – holes 14, 15 and 16 – where a river runs and trees add to the atmosphere of startlingly rural Irish golf.

[Photo: The par three 14th - a magnificent hole]

It costs €500 to join here and while it is a long way for many golfers, it is worth a visit, especially if you’re playing Waterville five minutes away. The lady in the clubhouse was keen for me to revise my review of the course (which she hadn't even seen), on the basis that 84 out of 100 (I think) was not up to her high expectations. I think my review is a good one and Skellig Bay is something that you won’t be able to experience anywhere else. Of that you can be sure.

1 comment:

  1. played there 4 or 5 years ago when it opened first and was impressed by beautiful setting overlooking the bay and the mountains. definately worth a visit for that alone. the course also had some nice holes. i do remember that long 18th.