Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Perfect Reading Material

A friend of my father's recently gave me an interesting compliment. He said that he was really enjoying my book, which was kept in the loo, and that every visit saw him reading a different review. Hmm! Well, it's better than a certain joke from Bob Monkhouse:

"Last time I went to Portugal I got through six Jeffrey Archer novels. Next time I must remember to take enough toilet paper."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tournaments: Mygolfsociety.ie & Topgolfer.ie

[Photo: Enniscrone's 4th hole takes you back towards the seriously big, beautiful dunes]

Hands up if you’re a competitive golfer? That’s most of us, right! Hands up if you like playing different golf courses for green fees lower than normal with the added chance of winning prizes or a place in a ‘grand’ final?

There are (at least) two such events going on at the moment. If there are any more, please let me know.


The first is Topgolfer.ie which kicked off back in March and runs until September. You can play an individual event, in the hope of qualifying for the grand final at Druid’s Glen on 1st and 2nd October, or you can play as many events as you want. There are 45 in total (a bunch have already been played) and they cross the country from Westport to Arklow and from Fota Island to Enniscrone. Add in the spice of the K Club and Dromoland and the choice is, in a word, excellent

[Photo: Arklow's par four 4th]

There’s an Order of Merit, too, so if you play multiple events – as many do – you can see how you’re doing against the rest of the field (and it’s another way of getting to the grand final).


  • A great range of national courses to choose from across a wide range of dates.Reduced green fees.
  • Player pack stuffed with goodies.Event Prizes.
  • A grand final at Druid’s Glen over 2 days.


  • Only that the competition is restricted to handicaps of 9 or better (and by ‘better’ I mean lower!).
  • It’s strokes, but to single handicap golfers that shouldn’t be a bother.

For More Information Click Here

[Photo: Bunclody's brilliant 6th hole - a dogleg left]


Pitched as the ‘Three Majors’, there are three events that take place over the weekends of this year’s remaining majors. You can play in each one or pick the one/s you prefer. They are:

Knighstbrook on Friday 17th June (US Open)
Cost: €25

Bunclody on Friday 15 July (British Open)
Cost: €40 Euro

Old Head of Kinsale on Thursday 18 August (US PGA)
Cost: €75 Euro

If you’re in the top three, as well as winning prizes on the day, you qualify for the final which is held at The Heritage on Friday 9 September… win that and you’re in for a serious treat:

A two night stay for four people in the La Manga Club Hotel (two twin/double rooms), including breakfast with two rounds of golf per person and two shared buggies along with VIP access to the Spa.

[Photo: par four 2nd at Old Head - it's all water left]


  • Three very good courses, with Old Head being the spectacular pick of the bunch.
  • You were probably planning to take the time off to watch the majors anyway.
  • Reduced green fees.
  • Event Prizes.
  • A grand final at The Heritage in Co. Laois.
  • The grand prize of Spain for three days, for four people with two rounds of golf.
  • Stableford, so it’s good/open for everyone (as long as you’re GUI/ILGU/CONGU).


  • €75 might sound like a lot for Old Head, but compare that with the regular €200 green fee and it's worth it for one of Ireland's most remarkable golfing experiences.
  • It's getting booked up fast!

For More Information Click Here

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Staycation... the best golf in the world.

Biffo was at it a couple of years ago, and now Enda and Failte Ireland are at it too.

"Don't go on holiday abroad and spend your money," they cry - "stay at home and give our flagging, hopeless, doomed economy a boost."
So I'm doing my bit and suggesting to all you lovely Irish golfers out there, that you don't go to Spain, Portugal, Turkey or other high-fallutin' places - stay at home and get yourselves to some of the world's best courses that are, quite literally (thanks to the NRA's road network) just down the road.
[Photo: Now that's a smile. Who needs scantily clad air hostesses when
you could be looking at a smile like that]

Why risk the threat of volcanic ash clouds, the hell of Ryanair flights (and no Rosanna Davison to occupy your time, not even on the Ryanair calendar) and the ungodly fear that your golf clubs might be busted and broken while they're in the plane's hold, or being used for kicking practice by the ground staff. Or gone missing. Yes, that precious Odyssey putter, that brand new Taylormade R1 driver or those special, very comfortable shoes might never be seen again. What would you do? You'd shed a tear and spend a week moping about with golf clubs that don't love you back, with feet so blistered that you're screaming in agony from the top of your backswing to the 18th green. And are you really going to get a decent pint of Guinness away from these shores? Add to that the fact that you have to drive on the other side of the road and the drive back to the hotel after 15 pints of non-Guinness alcohol becomes a seriously tricky proposition.

What a waste of a holiday. And to think it could all be so different if you simply stayed at home...

Irish hotels are cheap (or cheaper at least), offering deals left, right and centre, or you can rent a house for the week if there's a gang of you. Here are two websites to get you started, but I'm sure someone, somewhere will know of a holiday cottage/second home they can borrow. You probably own one yourself!

And who knows, in no time at all you could be playing across the lush fairways of Adare, Lough Erne, Druid's Glen or Concra Wood, or through the dunes at Waterville, Doonbeg, Enniscrone, The European or Narin & Portnoo.
[Photo: views from the 11th green at Narin & Portnoo]

Oh, I know you're sitting there just waiting to play the 'weather' card. You reckon that trumps everything, don't you! But I think you've probably gathered that our weather patterns these days are, in a word, unpredictable. Look at April... not a drop of rain, and sunshine almost every day. June is shaping up to be a belter and I've arranged for perfect skies in July when I'm up in Sligo/Mayo. So forget that foreign stuff and take a golfing odyssey to some of our great, great courses, experience our glorious landscapes and enjoy Irish friendliness and a few pints of plain when you settle down at the bar. Trust me, Ireland might be a small island in a great big ocean, but even here 'what goes on tour stays on tour'... unless, of course, the girl sitting next to you at the bar is your best friend's sister's boss's neighbour's hairdresser. And we all know how easily that can happen!

So, as my contribution to Ireland's Staycation campaign, if you want some recommendations on where to go and what courses to play, I will give you my suggestions absolutely free. Yes, that's free, gratis, not one red cent. No wonder I was never a banker.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Best 1st Hole in Ireland

Hole 1 ‘Giant’s Chair’

Scrabo Golf Club

Par 4 404 yards.

[Photo: Scrabo's 1st. Beautiful views to your right and a beautiful hole straight ahead]

Wherever you go there’s a certain expectation when you walk up to the 1st tee. You want to be amazed and thrilled. For many, Portstewart ranks as the best opening hole in Ireland, with its stunning views out to sea, Mussenden Temple in the distance and the amazing dunes into which you're about to head. Portstewart promises the most delicious opening drive in Irish golf, from a high tee down to a flat fairway that whips right (Sorry, no photo!).

But it is not, in my opinion, the best 1st hole.

Scrabo's 1st is awe-inspiring and terrifying. You get to see the entire hole rising above you and to fully appreciate the hole play from (or at least walk back to) the back tee. There are glorious views (better than Portstewart's) and your drive rifles up a hill flanked by razor-sharp gorse. At the top sits Scrabo Tower and the green. It’s Index 1 and it’s a brutal start that introduces you to one of the toughest inland challenges Ireland has to offer. Two mighty shots required... beware golfers firing over you from your right as you approach the green (they're playing the 3rd)

[Photo: Doonbeg's 1st on a wet day]

Other excellent opening holes:

Doonbeg's straight par five, from right in front of the bar/clubhouse, with the ocean to your left, has a green sitting dwarfed beneath a giant dune. You'll receive some very friendly (and very useful) advice from one of the Doonbeg boys as you're standing on the tee.

Ardglass's par four tees off in front of a line of canons and heads up into a pulpit of rocks beside the sea. You almost drive over the sea (to your left), so if the wind's coming in you need to have some serious guts to aim out over the water.

Links to:

Scrabo Golf Club

Scrabo photographs

Doonbeg photographs

Ardglass photographs

Best 18 holes in Ireland

Liam Kelly in today's Irish Independent did a small piece on the best 18 holes in Ireland - as taken from Hooked.

[Photo: Druid's Glen and the famous 13th. Finding the fairway is a beautiful thing... cutting the corner and finding the fairway is even better]

I won't deny that it's an interesting combination of holes that has no room for Royal Portrush's famous par three 14th (Calamity) or Druid's Glen magnificent and terrifying par four 13th, but I was creating a par of 72, in the correct order, with four par threes and fives, and a good mix of parkland and landscape. Oh, and only one hole from any course, otherwise some courses would have two or three holes on the list - like Tralee, Adare, Druid's, Ballybunion, Narin & Portnoo.

[Photo: Waterville's par five 11th - one of the only places on the course where you're protected from the wind]

It proved a remarkably difficult task. I had to add and then swap holes around to get what I wanted. As a result there are a few 'weak' holes - the par five 13th at Naas most obviously. That's not to say it's a weak hole, but there are several par fives out there that would be better: the 4th at Concra Wood, the 18th at Adare, the 16th at the K Club, the 11th (Tranquility) at Waterville, the 16th at Lough Erne... but it was all about getting the right fit, and that's what I did.

[Photo: Narin & Portnoo's 9th hole. You don't get closer to the ocean anywhere in Ireland]

Over the next weeks I'll be blogging about each 'best hole', why I picked it and what other holes were in the running.

The best 1st hole is in Northern Ireland, and it's not the famous opener at Portstewart.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Links debates: Waterville v. Ballybunion

[Photo: the thrilling par three 12th at Waterville: 'Mass Hole']

It makes no difference where you are or who you are, you will always have opinions about why one course is better than another. The most common debates I have encountered are:

Ballybunion v. Lahinch
Royal County Down v. Royal Portrush
Portmarnock v. The Island
K Club v. Mount Juliet

But realistically, once you've played some of the greats you will find reasons to compare and contrast.

A recent thread on the golf forum of www.boards.ie pitched Waterville against Ballybunion. To my mind that is an interesting pairing because they are very different links experiences. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that there are few similarities between the two, other than the links trademarks of dunes, wind, views and sheer class.

[Photo: the dogleg par four 17th at Ballybunion. Pick your club wisely]

In fairness to the OP (that's 'Original Poster' if you're wondering... which I did for many months) he was asking which course people preferred. That's a far easier task than comparing them. The results, if you want to call them that, firmly went in Waterville's favour. Words like 'magical', 'pure' and 'true but fair' were splashed about, indicating the course's popularity. Add in some of the most beautiful views from a golf course and it is an experience anyone who calls themselves a golfer should be enthralled by. It is picture-perfect golf, utterly elegant and the course in its entirety is beautifully balanced.

I was lucky enough to play Waterville on a perfect sunny day, with great marshmallow clouds sprinkled overhead and a soft wind that did just enough. The dunes and grasses looked golden, the fairways mowed in rich green streaks and the greens offering enticing approaches. It really was a slice of heaven if links is your thing.

[Photo: the 12th at Waterville shows off the course's elegance]

If you want to check it our for yourself, then there are Open Weekends coming up in mid-June when you can play it for €50. If not, you're looking at €75 and upwards. Tel: 00353 669474102.

Ballybunion? Well, I have written plenty about Ballybunion and I love the place. The ups and downs of the dunes, the patience you need, the surprises thrown at you, the mental agility you need on every part of the course... it is a more challenging golf experience and, for me, a touch more exciting, so if I only had one round left to play, I would pick Ballybunion. Just.

Asking me to pick between the two would be like putting bowls of my mother-in-law's apple crumble and sticky toffee pudding in front of me and asking me to choose. Somehow, some way, I'd have both. So, truth be told, even if I was on my death bed, I'd make damn sure I got to play both courses... the elegance and perfection of Waterville, and the dynamism and elusiveness of Ballybunion would demand it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Golf deals - using the new 'bargain' sites

[Photo: the par three 15th at Dunmurry Springs, with views for miles]

Golf is getting it in the neck at the moment. People simply aren't prepare to fork out green fees, especially when they're paying an annual sub at their home club/s. But there are ways to get good deals that don't involve phoning the club and haggling... sign up to the 'deal' websites. These offer special discounts, often on a daily basis, and if you're fast enough you can grab one and feel rather smug.

[Photo: Par three 4th hole at Hollywood Lakes]

The websites that I've come across recently include:

Recent deals offered on golf included:
Dunmurry Springs
Mount Wolseley
Hollywood Lakes

The deals varied from straight green fees, to green fees with lunch, to green fees and bed & breakfast... but the discounts ranged from 50% - 70%. I booked the Tulfarris deal which was one night's B&B at the hotel, for two people, with free golf. How much? €79 TOTAL, to be taken between May and August. Even if the other person (i.e. my wife) doesn't play golf, it's a bargain... even if it goes against the grain as it's a 'zombie' hotel/course.

[Photo: 18th hole at Nuremore]

And the offers aren't exclusively golf... they cover everything from restaurants to beauty treatments to flying lessons. You never know what might tweak your interest.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Farewell to a Legend: Seve Ballesteros

Seve was a legend. It's as simple as that. He will be sorely missed, even though he was no longer playing and was rarely seen in public. The mention of his name was enough to inspire many... indeed, many of the current crop of Spanish players were probably inspired to play golf on the back of his great victories and his devil-may-care approach that made him such a joy to watch.

I was lucky enough to meet him twice: once as a youngster at the Irish Open and then again when I interviewed him during the Special Olympics when it was held in Ireland. On both occasions it was an honour, although the first time I just stood there with my mouth open in awe.

In today's Sunday Independent there is an article that quotes his brother. It brought tears to my eyes...

"He knew he was dying and he did so with total integrity," said his older brother, Baldomero. "Seve said goodbye to each of us, one by one. We clenched hands and he whispered to us. I moved very close and told him 'I love you' and Seve replied 'I love you too'." His voice cracking with emotion, Baldomero added: "He's much more than a brother, a son or a father. He's a glory."

Severiano Ballesteros
April 1957 - May 2011.
He was far too young to be playing the fairways of the sky.