Saturday, July 30, 2011

Irish Indo Article on Green Fees north and south

There was an article in Wednesday's Irish Independent by Aideen Sheehan:

Getting teed off by playing a round

It claimed that Northern Irish golf courses offered better value than their southern counterparts... hmmm, still?

[Ballybunion Cashen par 3 16th]

I would dispute this. Two years ago, yes, I would agree wholeheartedly, but last year, while ROI green fees fell (by up to 70% in some places), NI green fees rose and remain at or marginally above 2008 rates.

True, it doesn't help when you compare the North's most expensive club, Royal County Down (RCD), to the south's K Club, which is 40% dearer (€285 vs. €202).

The following extract regarding the K Club is taken from the article, and it still makes me laugh:

"It's totally unreasonable to expect people to pay nearly €300 for a round of golf if you want to get people into the country spending money - and to get Irish people out there playing as well you have to charge realistic rates," said Consumer Association of Ireland (CAI) chairman Michael Kilcoyne. However, The K Club claims their green fees are comparable with other top courses worldwide and reflect the fact the course was designed by Arnold Palmer.

"Because of his name and the fact that the Ryder Cup was held there also helped in establishing the prices," a K Club spokesman said.

It is time - in fact it is well overdue - that the K Club got its collective head out of its ass. Someone should point out that the K Club is not competing with 'other top courses worldwide'. We're in a recession, the number of golfers visiting Ireland has fallen by over 50% since the peak, and your corporate market in Ireland has also evaporated. Your audience now should be people like me - regular golfers who want to play a top quality course, revel in the experience and who will walk away at the end of the day without feeling robbed. I really enjoy the K Club Palmer course, but €285 is insane. Is the club worried about too many golfers playing the course, too many hackers churning up fairways (plenty of golfing tourists and corporate invitees are hackers, believe me), or is the club so determined to hold onto its 'premium' positioning that its happy to see large blank spaces on its timesheets?

Moving on, once you take the K Club out of the equation there's more parity. Comparing like with like: RCD's €202 exceeds Portmarnock's €175, and while Ballybunion's €180 may exceed Royal Portrush's €168, you have access to both of Ballybunion's magnificent links courses for that price.

[Royal Portrush - 5th hole]

No, today the green fees are more aligned and you can find good value on both sides of the border... you just have to know where to look and when to play.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Castle Dargan Hotel and Golf Resort - the Darren factor

[Photo: Streedagh Strand and Benbulbin]

Castle Dargan (see Special Offer below) is ten minutes from Sligo town, up in the beautiful north west of Ireland. It’s an impressive, elegant hotel with a golf course and Spa. It promises peace and quiet while still being close enough to the vibe of Sligo town and everything it has to offer. This is also one of the country’s beauty spots: Benbulbin rises in the distance, and there are beaches here with barely a soul on them… Streedagh Strand may prove a particular favourite with its endless stretch of sand. And let’s not forget that this is Yeats country: the Isle of Innisfree is in Lough Gill, a few miles from the hotel, and Ireland’s most famous poet was also a frequent visitor to Castle Dargan, waxing lyrical over the mystical setting and the estate’s crumbling castle poised on a rocky outcrop above Lough Dargan.

[Photo: the 18th with some of the hotel on show]

The golf course, in case you didn’t know, was designed by Darren Clarke. He has so far been involved with five different courses – two in Ireland – but this was his first venture. There will no doubt be many more, now that he’s a Major champion. They’re unlikely to be built in Ireland, the UK or US, but Russia and China are building hundreds.

I liked the golf course. Darren has emulated the magnificent rolling terrain and the old stone walls, to create something that fits easily into its surroundings. It opened in 2006 and it is rugged and peaceful. And yet the lay of the land also has an eerie feel to it… a bit of Wuthering Heights perhaps. The greens were superb when I played. True, it’s possibly on the short side for a par 72 (6,400 yards from the whites or 6,240 from the greens) but that makes it all the more accessible for golfers of all abilities. There’s also enough water to hold big hitters in check, with a lake in the centre of the course affecting several holes. And then there are the ruins of the castle which you encounter on holes 2, 3 and 16.

[Photo: approach to the 16th with the castle ruins behind]

The hotel is an excellent base from which to plan your golfing (or family) holiday. Golf on your doorstep is a rich reward at Castle Dargan, but you can also strike out to the acclaimed County Sligo Golf Club at nearby Rosses Point. It is a links to be reckoned with and one of the best in the country. On the other side of the bay is Strandhill Golf Club. It is another links with some of the most thrilling and quirkiest holes you could ever hope to encounter. (The popularity of surfing at Strandhill must also be mentioned, and you get a great view of the sea and the surfers from the 7th tee.)

Further away, but still worth your money, are Enniscrone to the west (50 km) and Murvagh to the north east (75 km). They are both links of considerable standing. Or, if you want to follow the ‘Major’ trail, drive east for 70 km and visit Lough Erne, where Rory McIlroy represents the resort as its travelling professional.

Back to Castle Dargan: the hotel is a new creation, with only 30 or so bedrooms, ranging from en suite guest hotel rooms to Wall Garden suites. It’s a four star hotel, intimately linked with the estate’s old house which also boasts four magnificent Castle Dargan House suites. In other words, there is lots of choice depending on your budget, But there’s more: the 170 acre estate also has a number of serviced self-catering apartments and private golf lodges.

Away from the course, there is the unique golfing academy, made up of four par 3 holes, each a recreation of a famous par 3: the 13th at Carnoustie; the 8th at Royal Troon; the 13th at Muirfield; and the 15th at Turnburry. It’s an interesting touch.

Castle Dargan was voted the No. 81-ranked golf course in Ireland, by "Golf Digest Ireland" in 2009. Bizarrely, it dropped out of the top 100 in 2010.

Special Offer:

You'll nearly always find some sort of special offers on accommodation and golf at Castle Dargan: simply call Castle Dargan hotel and ask what deals they have going. At the moment it's 2 nights Bed & Breakfast + 1 Evening Meal + 1 Round of golf for €159.00

Monday, July 25, 2011

US Golfers up 25%

I heard on Today FM’s Sunday Business Show that the number of American golfers visiting Ireland is up 25% this year. It sounds impressive, and it’s very good news for the 15,000 – 20,000 people directly employed in golf, but it doesn’t hide the fact that the numbers are still very low compared with the peak figures, which were up around 267,000 in the mid 2000s. Our current figure is 110,000, and it should also be pointed out that 66% of golfing tourists come from across the Irish Sea.

Even so, the value of golfing tourism to the Irish economy is valued at €140 million. Not something to be sniffed at.

[Photo: Tee shot on Adare's par four 14th]

Denis Kane, of the Irish Golf Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), and formerly of Druid’s Glen, said that two to three years ago, Ireland’s green fees were on a par with green fees in the United States. This resulted in a decline in US visitors. Now, however, this parity has shifted considerably, with Irish green fees a mere third of US green fees.

A third? Hmmm. I guess that if US green fees have gone up substantially that could be true. But the premier clubs that attract the American golfer have certainly not reduced green fees by two thirds. That would imply a course charging €180 has reduced its fees to €60. Any Irish golfer can tell you that’s simply not the case.

Yes, there have always been ways to get better rates - from early bird green fees to open competitions – but the ‘rack rate’ has not fallen by that much across the board, and the premier clubs in particular have kept their rates high as they want to be seen as offering a ‘premium’ product.

[Photo: Approach to the 7th at Lahinch]

A few ‘peak season’ examples:

Lahinch in 2008 was €165. In 2011 it is down to €125

Royal Dublin was €170. It is down to €125

Royal County Down was £155 - £175, and is now £150 - £180

The K Club (Palmer) was €380 and is now €285

Mount Juliet was €190, and is now €90

Adare was €150, and is now €120

So, while some of these courses are approaching half their 2008 price, others – namely RCD – are not! Implying that they’re a third of what they used to be – even comparatively – is a touch misleading… or maybe I misinterpreted Denis’s comments and he said that green fees were down by a third, which would be much closer to the truth.

Either way, it is most welcome to see US golfers returning to our shores. While they make up only 20-25% of our golfing tourists they are undoubtedly the most profitable.

With so many Major successes under our belt, there is an even greater reason for golfing tourists to come to our island golfing paradise. Long may it continue.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wexford Golf Pass

[Photo: views from Enniscorthy's 13th]

There are numerous Irish golf 'passports' available at the moment, and my home county of Wexford has now introduced another one. Enniscorthy, Rosslare and St. Helen's Bay have got together to offer three rounds of golf (1 per course) for €75 through the 'Co. Wexford Golf Pass'. If you want to play at the weekend, you'll have to pay an extra €5 supplement, but it's still great value for three very different courses.

[Photo: Enniscorthy's tempting par four 16th]

Enniscorthy is a gentle, country course. There's nothing fancy to the design, but the course has been going since 1906, so you're talking old school golf and you get that feeling early on. Plenty of mature trees and views to the Blackstairs Mountains provide attractive surroundings, and you can pretty much guarantee a fun round of golf... made all the more special by the friendly atmosphere in the clubhouse. I've played it a few times and always enjoyed it. More photos here

[Photo: St. Helen's Bay. The excellent and difficult par three 17th, right above the sea]

St. Helen's Bay (1993) is one of those entertaining courses that mixes in different elements: here there are palm trees on show from the 1st tee, streams and ponds, some old stone walls and a dramatic closing stretch on shallow cliffs above the sea. A winding, stone wall-lined lane leads to the club and you can also base yourself here with the resort's self-catering cottages. More photos of the course.

[Photo: Rosslare's par five 7th weaves through gentle dunes]

Rosslare (1905) is the premier club of the bunch. It is a sweet, low-lying links course in the bottom right hand corner of Ireland. It is what classic links golf is all about, with fairways that are often difficult to gauge from the tee box and greens that welcome bump and run. Apart from one hole (the 14th par three) all holes go out or back, so you will quickly get used to the wind (if that's possible) and appreciate the beauty and challenge that Rosslare offers. More photos here.

The Riverside Park Hotel in the centre of Enniscorthy is an integral player in this offer, so you can stay here and strike out for Rosslare and St. Helen's Bay which are about a 40 minute drive away.

There's accommodation on site at St. Helen's Bay - see above - which may offer better opportunities to visit the beaches roundabout as well as heading west for Hook Head and the possibility of spotting whales and dolphins.

A more upmarket option is Kelly's Hotel in Rosslare, which boasts a beautiful location and one of the best crazy golf tracks around. It's a fantastic family hotel, which might be a great way to balance golf with family responsibilities!

Golf Club Websites:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Royal Portrush vs. Royal & Ancient

[Photo: the stunning par four 5th hole - your first views of the sea]

When I worked in London, one of my colleagues once told me that you can negotiate with everyone… everyone, that is, except the Revenue, and Marks & Spencer.

I have a feeling that my colleague hadn’t fully considered the golfing world and, in particular, the R&A.

So, while Darren Clarke’s Major victory has prompted much excitement and many ‘demands’ for the Open to be returned to Royal Portrush, there are certain things to consider... in other words let's not get carried away just yet. Yes, it was held in Royal Portrush for the one and only time in 1951, and yes, since then it has only been held at one of nine courses which work on a rota basis...

1. Royal Birkdale

2. Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s

3. Royal St. George’s

4. Royal Liverpool (Hoylake)

5. Royal Troon

6. Carnoustie

7. St. Andrew’s (every five years)

8. Turnberry

9. Muirfield

... so it would be nice to say a change. But just because Darren, G-Mac and Rory have lifted Major trophies in recent times, and just because the Northern Irish Tourism Minister (and everyone else north and south of the border) is clamouring for the Open to return to this island, don’t expect the R&A to budge more than a millimetre. This is the R&A we’re talking about – an organisation that was founded in 1834 and whose first patron was King William IV. And whose Rule Book makes reading Ulysses or studying a PhD in Theoretical Physics look like reading the back of a cereal packet. Can I also point out that R&A stands for Royal and ANCIENT… these boys take their time over everything.

That they have agreed to conduct a new Feasibility Study is an enormous step forward... but it is only one step. I suspect, cynically, that this is a way of distracting all of us passionate Irishmen and Northern Irishmen (to be politically correct… not forgetting women either) until the clamour dies down a bit. I’m not doubting that they’ll do a study and continue to 'monitor the situation', but what has changed since the last time they did one, which was quite recently?

Their concerns are whether the infrastructure can accommodate the tens of thousands of people (30,000 a day at Royal St. George’s) who are going to descend on Portrush, a town with a population of six thousand plus. Not that the size matters, but the infrastructure has to be there (accommodation and roads) as well as the logistical ability to deal with such vast volumes of people and the commercial enterprise that goes with it. Perhaps, in their eagerness to attract the British Open to Portrush, the NI Assembly can start building roads and the necessary infrastructure to satisfy R&A concerns…

… but what can the NI Assembly do about the political situation which is fluctuating so chaotically at the moment? The answer to that may be the most troubling of all and one that no Feasibility Study can satisfy. In such circumstances, as much as I would like to be proved wrong, I imagine the R&A will stick to the simple philosophy of… if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The British Senior Amateur Championship is due to be held at Royal Portrush shortly, but the successful hosting of an Irish Open is much more likely to convince the R&A that Northern Ireland has the wherewithal to cope with the biggest championship in golf. Let's hope that we can put our best foot forward and show them what we can do.

Wonderful Wicklow - 3 rounds of golf & 2 nights B&B

[Photo: the intimidating 4th at Arklow. Bunkers and railway line make this a tough driving hole]

We are still basking in the glow of two Major winners this year and there has never been a better time to get out and explore Ireland's golf courses. And Ireland's golf courses are making it easier and easier with reduced green fees, golfing 'passports' and combined promotions with local hotels.

I'll start with something close to home in Co. Wicklow. It's an excellent offer based at the Woodenbridge Hotel on the River Aughrim - indeed, 20 of the new rooms added by the hotel in 2004 have balconies overlooking the river, and it's a mere one minute's walk to reach the golf club. The offer is for two nights' B&B with three rounds of golf for a mere €145 per person. And if you thought it couldn't get better than that, your golf is at three of Wicklow's best-kept-secret courses.

[Photo: a pretty par three crosses the river in Woodenbridge]

Woodenbridge Golf Club rests quietly in a beautifully wooded valley, with two rivers (Aughrim & Avoca) slipping between holes and converging at one end of the course. Here you'll find Woodenbridge's signature hole - the short par four 14th - where the green sits above the two rivers' meeting. The course is flat and gentle and so relaxing that you can forget the challenges of hitting over water or tackling big, swinging greens. It's a big clubhouse and you enter the club by walking across a railway line and a bridge... it's a good way to start.
[Photo: the par five 16th (Index 7) at Arklow calls for two great shots to open up the green]

Arklow Golf Club is a links course that rarely gets talked about. It's a low-running links that slowly slips into parkland mode for the late holes, but you have to get there first. Like Woodenbridge, it sits alongside a railway line. At Arklow, it separates course from sea, and it makes the par four 4th one of the toughest holes as the railway line waits on your right. The early holes are perfect links where keeping the ball low and out of the rough will reap rich rewards, and the twisting greens are things of beauty. It's a 'hidden links gem' and well worth a visit although it's not the easiest to find in the maze that is Arklow town.

[Photo: the approach to Coollattin's par four 15th]

Coollattin Golf Club complements Woodenbridge and Arklow perfectly. It is a parkland track with the most diverse range of trees imaginable. Big and colourful, they accompany you everywhere on a course that is as challenging as it is attractive. Believe me, the trees get in the way on plenty of occasions. Gentle doglegs abound and the course is known for its pretty par three in a walled garden. Like Arklow, it is not given the respect it deserves and it is one of the most enjoyable parkland courses you can play.

In terms of the money, €145 is an excellent price. The golf alone would cost you as little as €95 and as much as €135. So throw in two nights of B&B and you get a good idea of the value on offer. The hotel has an excellent restaurant and a popular bar with live music on Thursday nights. Avoca - home to Ballykissangel - is a few minutes' drive away and has friendly pubs of its own, or you could try Arklow town. There's also Aughrim, some 20 minutes away, where you'll find the excellent Strawberry Tree restaurant at the Brooklodge Hotel in Macreddin Village, where all the food is locally sourced and organic, and they have more awards than you can shake a 7 iron at. There's also an excellent golf course here, Macreddin, designed by Paul McGinley, so you could easily stay an extra day and play here.

Regular Green Fees:
Woodenbridge Green Fees: €30 to €50
Arklow Green Fees: €30 to €40
Coollattin Green Fees: €35 to €45

Woodenbridge is about an hour south of Dublin city, and most easily reached by driving down the N11/M11 to Arklow, before heading inland. The distance between Woodenbridge and Arklow is only 10 km, and from Woodenbridge to Coollattin is 30 km and about 40 minutes away.

There are lots of great offers around at the moment and this is just one of them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How many Holes in One!

[Photo: Donegal's 'Valley of Tears' Par 3]

It's called the Valley of Tears because it's so tough. But not for Emily McGuinness of Greenore Golf Club. She turned up to play a practice round at Donegal Golf Club (aka Murvagh) for the Lancome Irish Girls Close Championship and proceeded to stun members with an outrageous performance on the dreaded par three. First she took out an 8 iron and knocked it onto the green, watching it roll into the hole for her first Hole-In-One. The men on the 6th tee overlooking the 5th green were, obviously, flabbergasted... but Emily wasn't done. She decided to take another practice shot and pulled out her 9 iron. She smacked it on the green and proceeded to record her second Hole-In-One in as many shots.

Who does she think she is? Christy O'Connor Senior.

Congratulations Emily - hope you keep up the streak.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moyvalley Golf Club - €20

As part of the celebrations for Darren's win, Moyvalley (designed by Darren) are offering a special reduced green fee of €20 all day Monday to Friday for the next two weeks.

Book your tee times at

It's a course well worth a visit and I've heard it's in good nick too.

[Photo: Darren brings links-like shape to Moyvalley]

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rory & Darren... Lough Erne & Moyvalley... and a touch of irony

[Photo: views across the course at Moyvalley - designed by Darren Clarke]

First there was Rory winning the US Open (a year after G-Mac), now we have Darren Clarke winning The Open. That's some year for Northern Irish golf. Darren's victory was spectacular - I said to a few people at the start of the week that if the scoring was low and the weather poor then Darren had a real shot... if only I'd had the courage of my convictions and put a few quid on him (150/1 at the start).I suspect Gareth Maybin will be relishing his next competition. After Hoey's win a few weeks back, it seems that being Northern Irish is a guaranteed passport to winning.

I know that Rory grew up playing at Holywood GC and Darren at Dungannon GC, but their names are also inextricably linked to Lough Erne and Moyvalley, respectively... both of which are in administration.

[Photo: views across Lough Erne and the 7th hole]

The management at Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh, believes that Rory's win will give them (and Northern Irish tourism) a major boost and they have seen bookings increase nicely since Congressional. Most of this interest is domestic - for now - but, no doubt, Americans who were havering over coming to Ireland on a golfing holiday will have been convinced to come on the back of Rory's win, with Northern Ireland a prime target. (Rory is the travelling pro for Lough Erne)

Whether they'll come for the Royals, Portstewart, Castlerock and Ardglass or whether they'll traipse further west to Lough Erne remains to be seen - hopefully they'll do both. Jonathan Stapleton (Lough Erne's General Manager) believes that Rory's win sets "Fermanagh and the North apart as a golfing destination..." Hmmm, Fermanagh is a beautiful county for sure, but that's a bit of a stretch when you consider that the county has only three 18 hole golf courses - two of which are average parklands (Castle Hume and Enniskillen). Lough Erne on the other hand is a quality course and has all the pomp and ceremony to be a major attraction in years to come (5 star hotel, spa and all the trimmings). Its popularity will grow massively with Rory's affiliation, so I hope it will continue to thrive and benefit both north and south.

[Photo: approach to the 12th at Enniskillen]

(As a quick aside, it is also not that far away from Darren Clarke's first and impressive design attempt at Castle Dargan).

[Photo: the intimidating drive on the 17th at Castle Dargan]

Moyvalley was home to The Champion's Club, and the course was designed by Darren a few years back. It is a rollercoaster of a course and, in my opinion, hugely under-appreciated. It too is in trouble: when it first opened with its air of exclusivity, the joining fee was €75,000. No one took them up on that and, today, there is no joining fee at all - just an €800 annual sub. Since the course is still struggling it will be interesting to see,
a) how the public (local and international) respond to Darren's victory by heading to Moyvalley (and Castle Dargan too), and
b) how the club itself responds to what can only be described as one of the most glorious marketing opportunities open to it.

Time will tell, but it should undoubtedly see a bounce in bookings and interest and I hope it can take full advantage. I wonder if they can lure Darren back for some sort of event, maybe a head-to-head against Padraig Harrington.

Congratulations again to Darren Clarke and Rory and it looks like the Irish Open is going to be one amazing tournament this year.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Game must go on

Not a sight you see very often, passing through a supermarket car park... either he's one hell of a golfer or he left this club behind and had to go back and get it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Courtown Golf Club 75th Anniversary

[Photo: The par four 15th - a glorious downhill drive and dogleg right]

There is an ad in our local paper - The Gorey Guardian - advertising Courtown GC's 75th anniversary. They're 'celebrating' by offering free membership to the club, which is a pretty good offer if you ask me... although I don't know what the joining fee used to be. Anyway, the annual sub is €1,000 and for that you get to become a member of one of the best courses in Co Wexford.

It's a class course, so if you're looking for a club with a great atmosphere, a quality layout and no airs or graces... More photos here