Sunday, August 28, 2011

Macreddin on the Boards

[Valley/Mountain views from the 5th green]

The Boards golf society is up and running. A year or two ago, some people tried to set one up but nothing came of it. This year, thanks to increased interest and, I suspect, great value green fees, the number of golfers willing to play has soared. A certain ‘Keano A Legend’ deserves the credit for getting the group kick-started and the first outing was to Dundrum Golf Club in Co. Tipperary a few weeks back.

The second was yesterday, to Macreddin in Co. Wicklow. The numbers playing almost tipped 30, and I imagine we were all fairly hacked off when we arrived in Macreddin's car park… after leaving Dublin or, in my case, Wexford, the sunshine had given way to some nasty rain. Quite literally, as I turned off the engine the rain started. Inside the clubhouse (a set of portakabins) I had a word with David about that. He shrugged and said he’d see what he could do. David Lee is the young man now managing the place and he is an active Boards contributor, offering some exceptional green fee rates to get out on Macreddin on a Saturday… a €15 green fee is remarkable (even for a group rate) or, for an extra tenner, you can share a buggy.

Two lads – Sternpeak and DubTom – went out first in a buggy, and David and myself were due to follow. We were joined by Peter, and just as we prepared to tee off the rain stopped. Sure, it returned briefly on the 2nd, but thereafter we had a beautiful day, which matched the course. Macreddin endured the highest level of two-day rainfall all Summer on the previous two days, and you could feel it underfoot from time to time – but, under such circumstances, the course was in superb condition and the greens were true and smooth. Add to that the popularity of the course, which is packed every weekend (value and quality!), and the resulting wear and tear that fairways, putting surfaces and tee boxes endure, is practically invisible (a few tee boxes aside). You quickly appreciate the volume of effort that goes into the place.

In terms of upkeep, an honourable mention should be given to the crows who seem to enjoy nothing more than digging up the surfaces to depths of three inches – I’m sure we all saw the crow-hole on the 11th green.

[Photo: the par three 4th has to be one of the best par threes in the country]

“They’re called leatherjackets,” David informed us, although I suspect he wanted to call them something far less polite. “They’re after Daddy-Longlegs eggs. They walk around until they feel the heat beneath their feet and then they start digging.”

You learn something new every day!

David obviously knows the course, as do I, but Peter didn’t, so it was interesting watching his reaction to what I reckon are the best holes – like the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 12th, 13th, and then the run for home from the 15th. He enjoyed all of them, and I imagine the 3rd will live long in the memory after a perfect drive, a better second and a sweet three footer for birdie. He plays off 14.

[Photo: the short but exquisite par four 6th]

A few comments should be made about Macreddin: it is a long track, made all the longer by the walks between 9 and 10, and then from 18 back to the clubhouse/car park. Peter was pulling his clubs and I thought we’d lost him when he disappeared on the walk to the 10th. We drove around in the buggy, searching, and finally found him… suspiciously close to the pub. The back nine is hilly in places (the par five 15th really knocks the breath out of you) and it is widely accepted that you need a buggy to get around the course. Personally, I don’t think you get a true feel for a course unless you walk it – it gives you a far greater appreciation for the design, the flow and rhythm of the course, and the challenges you face.

David reckons that 90% of golfers take buggies, and on a busy weekend they are all the more important as rounds can be lengthy affairs – we came in just shy of five hours. That’s not only a reflection on the course length, it also reflects the challenges you face if you don’t play straight golf. This is no easy course, but it is most definitely a thrill to play.

For those who were paying attention, the mounds and shapes created during course construction mirror the mounds and shapes of the hills around you. And if you didn’t notice them, then that proves just how effective they are.

[The steeply downhill approach to the par four 16th - one of the toughest par fours on the course... David almost made it]

After the round, five of us decamped to the pub that is part of Macreddin village next door, where we enjoyed a post-round analysis, and a burger and a pint for a tenner… another deal that David arranged.

You see, this is something I banged on about recently: a lot of the guys and girls running our golf clubs are old-school in their thinking. They do a perfectly good job, marketing through the same old channels, but in this day and age there needs to be a bit more ‘pushing the envelope’… and David is doing that rather well – as the Boards outing demonstrates. Find your target market, treat them right and inspire repeat business.

[Photo: the attractive approach to the par four 18th]

More and more clubs are on Facebook and Twitter, but it still comes down to how well you use the social media we enjoy today. Macreddin is hitting the nail on the head. And long may it continue for a club that has come through receivership and is now truly back in business.

It was a great day out, on a fantastic course… and a quick mention must be made of the efforts of two of our group who travelled up from Cork for the day. Lads, we admire your dedication.

Roll on the next outing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rathsallagh Top Golfer

I hadn’t played Rathsallagh in five years, maybe more, yet it remains one of my favourite parklands. There is something about the trees, the elegant setting, the smooth rhythm that has to be savoured. Combine these with tough approaches, and greens that are fast with wicked slopes and it’s a thrilling but tough test of golf.

[Photo: the tricky par three 4th, with water front right]

It was a Junior Scratch Cup and the weather predicted heavy rains sweeping in from the west. Not a bit of it. The round was played in glorious sunshine.

Top Golfer ( describes itself as:

‘Ireland's community for golfers with a handicap of 9 or better. We exist to bring together the most dedicated, passionate and talented players from across Ireland.’

It’s a simple and brilliant idea and its size and reputation are growing fast. Why? Because it’s free to register, it lets you know what’s on and when, it has an order of merit and it promises excellent prizes. There’s also a grand final for the winners of the numerous events around the country. If you’re already playing in a scratch competition, why on earth would you not register for this!

[Photo: Willy hits his tee shot to the par three 13th]

Rob, one of TopGolfer’s top men, was by the first tee greeting the players and handing out a few freebies – he has a busy weekend with Mount Wolseley on Sunday – and he spotted the shirt I was wearing: One2One British Masters. Turns out that when we were working in the UK, we worked in similar circles and knew a person or two in common. Small world… as usual.

I was playing with Tom, Seamus and Willy – all from Killerig Castle – and the golf got a bit chaotic in places. There was some good golf for sure, but Seamus played my ball on the par five 6th and had a trek to go and bring it back, on the 10th we let the group behind play through as we searched for a ball – only for one of them to play Tom’s ball out of the rough, and, on the Index 18 par three 13th, we got a true understanding of the speed of the greens and the serious slopes when Willy walked back and forth past the hole four times before holing out (I should also add that on the par three 4th, he missed a hole in one by centimetres). You need hands like velvet here.

[Photo: the stunning par four 10th - and a brute at Index 1]

Whoever wins this event will have a sublime short game.

Perfect weather, excellent company and a superb course. True, it was a slow round, but who could ask for more for just €25.

And a quick word should be said about the country house hotel, which is the best place I have stayed in Ireland.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dublin East Coast Alliance - €499

[Photo: The 1st at Druid's Glen - a lot tougher than it looks from the tee]

It is interesting that in a time of recession, when most golf clubs are looking to put together attractively cheap packages, a pricey alternative always stands out.

When I first saw the figure of €499 I was surprised. Who, in this day and age, would pay that kind of money for golf? The Dublin East Coast Alliance decided that some of us would. Aimed at the home market, as well as international golfers, the Alliance brings together nine golf courses under its umbrella – which equates to an average of €55 per course. When you consider the courses, that looks like a good price:

  • The O'Meara Course at Carton House
  • The Montgomerie Course at Carton House
  • The Glen Course at Druid’s Glen
  • The Heath Course at Druid’s Glen
  • The East Course at Powerscourt
  • The West Course at Powerscourt
  • The Links Course at The Island
  • The Palmer Ryder Cup Course at The K Club
  • The Smurfit Course at The K Club

Comparing Prices

The K Club Palmer course still has a rack rate of over €200, while The Island hovers around the €100 mark (early bird rate), and Carton House just below that. Druid’s Glen Resort has brought its prices down significantly in recent times, and is now on the same sort of level as Powerscourt, which ranges from €50 to €80, with early bird specials also available. So, while you may not ‘save’ on some, you will certainly save on others… and as a 9-strong package that’s to be expected.

[Photo: The par three 3rd at the K Club (Palmer)]


Of the nine courses, four are, in a word, excellent: Druid’s Glen, The Island, K Club (Palmer) and Carton House (Montgomerie). They promise a great mix of designs and experiences, and the quality is exceptional. I’d play all of these in a heartbeat, while three of the others are also very enjoyable courses. As for the final two, well, anyone who has seen my book will know that these courses leave me underwhelmed… but, again, in a 9-strong package you’re not going to be enthralled by every single one – and I have been challenged frequently about my review for the K Club Smurfit track.


The biggest challenge I see for the Alliance is marketing the voucher. Who in Ireland, you might ask, is going to spend €499 on this? The nine courses have to be played within a calendar year; you need to play all nine to get the full value; and, more often than not, you’ll want to play with someone else who either has to pay the going rate or have their own voucher.

[Photo: The par 5 15th at The Island - a stunning hole]

That makes things tricky for the ordinary golfer. Yes, it would be a glamorous birthday/Christmas/Father’s/Mother’s Day present, but the challenges outlined above still apply.

As for golfers abroad, it’s a tough ask to expect them to play nine golf courses on one visit… which therefore implies two visits within a year… or golfers who would deem it good value to play four courses (my ‘excellent’ picks above) that include two Irish Open courses, The Ryder Cup course and Dublin’s best links.

I like the idea of the voucher, although it will appeal to a fairly small niche of golfers with a fair few quid to spend… or will it appeal to others as well?

[Photo: The par three 16th at Carton House (O'Meara)]

Direct Marketing

I worked in Direct Marketing for a long time. The mailpack that dropped through your letter box promising mobile phone upgrades, the online offer of cheaper hotel rates, the TV ad promising hearing aids at a 40% discount… yep, all me! The value of the incentive/gift varied hugely depending on the price of the core product or service that we wanted you to purchase. If you were paying €50 a night for a hotel for three nights, then you might get a FREE bottle of wine… note the clever use of capital letters – it’s a cunning direct marketing trick. If you’re buying a car, then a bottle of wine isn’t much of an incentive is it?

No, if you’re buying a car… an expensive car… then you’re expecting something sexier and more valuable. A FREE voucher from the Dublin East Coast Alliance is going to pique your interest. Or, if it’s a very expensive car then the company – BMW say – may contact customers and lure them in for a test drive with the promise of the voucher, absolutely FREE.

What about airlines? First Class customers pay a lot of money for their seats and if you were flying from the US and had the choice of American Airways or Aer Lingus, and Aer Lingus were offering this voucher, it might be enough to entice the traveller to forsake his/her airmiles. Not to mention the extra few quid to bring the golf clubs (or does that not apply to first class travellers).

[Photo: The excellent par three 16th at Powerscourt East]

Corporate gifts. If your stockholding is worth a couple of million (don’t laugh, there are plenty of them still out there), then a ‘thank you’ from your stockbroker/private bank/investment fund, will always be well received. The same applies to companies dealing with ARFs – that’s Annual Retirement Fund to you and me.

The very nature of the Dublin East Coast Alliance voucher is upmarket (even if my use of the word ‘voucher’ isn’t) so I see it appealing very strongly to premium, expensive brands and the corporate gift market. It’s a good package and good value, but most golfers like you and me will find it hard to justify spending that much money on ourselves. If you could buy two at once and pay, say, €850, would that make it more tempting? Think about it.

The golf pass can be purchased online at or from any of the member clubs. Throw in exceptional accommodation at Carton House, the K Club and Powerscourt, not to mention the Marriott at Druid's, and it all comes together rather nicely. Who knows, maybe they'll combine golf and accommodation in one package.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Forest/Moyvalley - 6 green fees for €126

[Photo: View across the Moyvalley golf course]

There are lots of offers doing the rounds at the moment, trying to tempt Irish golfers to play the multitude of venues that make up our 350-odd golfing playgrounds. The offer from New Forest & Moyvalley is one of the more interesting ones.

The two courses are related, being built by the same folk and opened for play in 2006. But other than being parkland in name, they are very different courses: Moyvalley is an open, rolling landscape that has a links-like flow; and New Forest fits into the more classic parkland vibe with streams, ponds and plenty of trees. They both present interesting tests of golf with quality greens... which one you prefer will depend on what you like about a course.

[Photo: The lush look of New Forest]

And now there's an easy way to find out, for €21 a head... The deal costs €126, which buys you six rounds of golf, split between the two courses in whichever way you choose. You'll also get a bacon roll and hot drink with each round which, based on our 'coldest summer' in years, should warm you up.

The offer is open until the 17th of August and rounds must be played by 31st October. The rounds can be used in whichever way you want.

Here's the link to the deal is

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tulfarris too good to go

[Photo: the par five 15th doglegs gently out to the lake.]

It’s funny what you remember about a golf club. The last time I played at Tulfarris – many years ago – I played in an open fourball competition where my original partner didn’t turn up. The stand-in was not up to much and insisted on talking non-stop… during putts and backswings, until I finally lost it and told him to shut up on the 4th tee box. It wasn’t much fun after that as he sulked and I smoldered.

My return visit was under completely different circumstances and I ended up playing early and alone with only the green keepers for company. I expected rain to push me round, but there was none… and I even had one dazzling burst of sunshine – something that always brings a golf course to life.

If you’ve played Tulfarris, probably the first thing you remember is the location. The Blessington Lakes are a beautiful backdrop and there are only a few holes where you can’t see the water. It’s peaceful and wonderfully mature.

It is also a challenging course and if you haven’t played it before then you can easily be fooled into going for shots that you shouldn’t. Take the Index 1, par four 10th: it is one of the toughest holes you will ever play, and unless you can draw a big drive this hole is almost a par five. It is, it has to be said, also one of the most thrilling tee boxes (see photo below) to play from.

[Photo: par four 10th. Aim at the bunker then draw it left.. but not too far. Simple]

‘Course management’ is what Mark at Tulfarris said to me, and that’s for sure… and that’s before you get to the excellent, tricky greens.

There’s a hotel here and a spa, so it’s a good destination for a family break and there are other superb courses roundabout (Rathsallagh, Macreddin, Carlow).

[Photo: views over the 13th green and 14th tee box.]

There is a ‘but’ here, and how you perceive Tulfarris will depend on your feelings towards the whole NAMA situation, as Tulfarris is now a part of this financial fiasco. I understand and appreciate the arguments for and against – and my biggest concern is how clubs in the vicinity are adversely affected by NAMA-supported clubs (e.g. Rathsallagh and South County, which would be competing for the same green fees) – but Tulfarris was established back in 1989, and it has matured into a beautiful parkland track. I don’t know the financial circumstances that saw it lumped into NAMA, but this is not a course that should be lost or ignored – the golf experience is simply too good. And that, after all, is what I am most driven by.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

K Club Festival of Golf

[Photo: views of the 15th from the 13th green on the Palmer course]

A golf course that is praised and dismissed in equal measure... there's one thing that few people disagree on, and that's the excessive green fees at the K Club.

So, when an opportunity comes along to play the Ryder Cup course for €75, there is likely to be a large number of golfers ready and willing to play one of Ireland's big, glamorous and most famous courses. Only problem is, you can only do so on Monday 15th and Monday 22nd of August, 2011.

The Smurfit course can also be played during the Festival of Golf, for €54, but I have never been enamored with it as there are too many uninteresting holes to start with... but for €54 I might be tempted back... especially for the cracking finishing stretch.

[Photo: views across the 17th and 16th greens on the Smurfit course]