Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Portsalon's Changes Part II

Here are three photos showing just one of the changes to Portsalon Golf Club. These are all of the par three 15th:

[Photo: view of the original hole from the tee, where the mound blocks a full view of the green, and hides the bunker on the right]

[Photo: still the original hole but now showing the old bunkers - there's also one barely visible at the back of the green]

[Photo: the NEW hole, from the tee. With the mound gone, there's far more to see, including the new bunkers]

Portsalon gets the McGinley Touch

[Photo: the magical par four 2nd, and one of the toughest holes in the country]

It all started so innocently… one of Portsalon’s former Captains is married to Paul McGinley’s sister… so Paul received an invitation to play at one of Donegal’s finest links courses.

After the round he was asked for his opinions on the course, so he made a few comments... and Portsalon set about implementing them. After a small portion of work was completed, Paul was invited to give some feedback. And once he had expressed his approval, he was formally invited to work on the revamping of Portsalon Golf Club. For those who don’t know, McGinley was the man behind Macreddin Golf Club in Co. Wicklow.

[Portsalon's beach - part of it]

Now, let me point out, Portsalon has a huge amount going for it already. Its location is breathtaking (the beach, the bay, Knockalla Mountain), the shape of the land and dunes is magical and the quality of some holes is exceptional – the par four 2nd is indisputably one of the best in the country (even Paul McGinley said so)… so the question is, what was McGinley going to do to make the course better still?

Johnny Shields is Portsalon’s Head Greenkeeper:

“We started in October 2010, and it’s the start of a five year plan. Over the last year we’ve been upgrading and introducing new bunkers to nine holes, and we’ll be doing the same next year with the other nine. In all we’ll have about 50. Paul’s idea was to make the course more player-friendly and to make traps and hazards more visible.”

Johnny explained that McGinley wanted to introduce traditional revetted links style bunkers, with steep faces. To make the course more player-friendly, you only need look at the Index 1 par four 6th, where the fairway has been widened to make the hole more accessible, and the green has been extended into the hollow on the left thereby making it less punishing. On the brilliant 2nd, the club closed the three bunkers that ran along the right hand side of the green, which were impossible to see from the fairway, and replaced them with one revetted stlye bunker at the front right.

"The reason for this was that Paul thought the hole was tough enough for the average golfer without them hitting good shots and getting penalised when they got up to the green, only to find there ball in a greenside bunker.

[Photo: new bunkers at the par three 15th]

"On the par three 15th," Johnny continues, "we closed the bunker at the back of the green, made two bunkers out of the original one on the right, and replaced the bunker on the left. To make these visible from the tee we lowered the mound that was halfway from tee to green, to give full visibility of the putting surface and its bunkers." (See photo)

As the course is reshaped, the length will stay approximately the same. Some holes will be lengthened and some shortened, while there will also be some green extensions. The current gravel paths will be turfed over to give it a more natural look and feel.

A five year plan may seem like a long time, but the work is taking place during the autumn and winter months so that the course stays open for play as much as possible. It also spreads the costs of the work.

And bear in mind that the work is all being carried out by the in-house greenkeeping team… which numbers just four.

“When we finish a job,” says Johnny, “we photograph the work and email it to Paul for his approval. So far he’s been happy.”

Let’s hope it stays that way and Portsalon gets the recognition it deserves.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ireland’s 18 best – a new book

[The Book]

It’s not as though golfers are short of books on Irish golf courses, but sometimes one will come along that offers something quite different. A new hardback book, ‘18 Greatest Irish Golf Holes’, is exactly that and it comes with a foreword from Padraig Harrington, so it's not to be sniffed at. 152 glorious colour photographs, 54 hand-painted illustrations, and eloquent and erudite text on almost all of its 272 pages. The production is exquisite… and let’s not forget that it’s a limited edition. Each of the 5,000 books is individually numbered and comes in a protective sleeve.

This is a book that doesn’t scrimp on quality and is one of those great finds when it comes to producing that extra special present. Of course, it’s not cheap… but ‘cheap’ is not a word you’d ever use to describe this particular publication. It costs €225, and is primarily aimed at the US market.

[Photo: view of Enniscrone's par five 16th from the 17th tee]

Now then… what about these 18 ‘greatest’ holes. How were they chosen and by whom? It should be noted that as well as playing numerous courses themselves, the authors sought the advice and recommendations of many, many people, including Open champion Darren Clarke, and US Open winners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Input also came from club professionals, course architects, greenkeepers, and regular low and high handicappers like you and me. And, of course, the venerable Pat Ruddy. In other words, a large number of people got to express their opinions, so picking the 18 holes that made the final cut must have been a nightmare.

When I picked my 18 best holes, I decided to put together a round of golf that started at the 1st (Scrabo) and finished at the 18th (Carne), with four par threes and four par fives to make a classic par 72. Here, the authors simply decided to take the best 18 holes, regardless of par or number.

[Photo: Druid Glen's par four 13th - one of the most spectacular and difficult holes on the island. A large pond awaits your 2nd and a narrow river runs across the front of the fairway.]

How do the holes break down?

There are only three holes from Northern Ireland, with a further two from Donegal. There are 13 links holes, which is not that surprising on an island fĂȘted for its coastal courses. And there are five par fives and five par threes.

Of course the list will spark debate. Why wouldn’t it? When you get so many people throwing in their penny’s worth, it is highly likely that even those singled out for their expertise will disagree with holes on the final list.

[Photo: Adare's par four 13th slides quietly right over the brow of the hill]

Me? There are only three holes on this list that make my 18 Best Holes (Tralee, Ballybunion and Royal County Down) so, theoretically, I'm going to disagree with most of the choices... but then I was unencumbered by others’ opinions and able to wallow in the delights of my subjectivity. And I am well aware that plenty of people disagree with my top 18 so you're never going to keep everybody happy.

The 18 holes in this book are all very strong, but Lough Erne and Ballyliffin wouldn’t even have made my runner-up 18, and on several of the other courses (Enniscrone, The European, Waterville, Doonbeg, Royal Portrush) I would have given a different hole the ‘best’ status. But there you go – we all look at things in different ways and, as authors Andrew Ross and Craig Morrison pointed out:

The end result was basically what we thought was a decent list and a pretty democratic choice."

However you look at, the final 18 holes will take you a merry and spectacular dance across this fair island. And the book will give you all the motivation you need to go and play them.

You’ll find more details on http://www.18greatestgolf.com

[Photo: Waterville's famous par five 16th 'Tranquility'. This shot hides the steep rise to the green]

The 18 featured holes are:

The European Club 7th Par 4

Lahinch Golf Club 6th Par 4

K Club, Palmer Course 16th Par 5

Tralee Golf Club 16th Par 3

Enniscrone Golf Club 16th Par 5

Lough Erne 10th Par 4

Druid's Glen 13th Par 4

Portmarnock Golf Club 15th Par 3

Royal County Down 9th Par 4

Adare Golf Club 13th Par 4

Old Head Golf Links 12th Par 5

Royal Portrush Golf Club 14th Par 3

Rosapenna, Sandy Hills 6th Par 4

Ballyliffin, Glashedy 13th Par 5

Doonbeg Golf Club 14th Par 3

Waterville Golf Links 11th Par 5

Ballybunion Golf Links 11th Par 4

Killarney, Mahony's Point 18th Par 3