Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ryder Cup Weather 2014

They're talking about the weather for the 2014 Ryder Cup already. How utterly daft is that. No sooner were the dates announced yesterday - 26 to 28 September 2014 - than the naysayers started discussing the weather. How very British... and Irish.

It's Scotland, in case people had forgotten. And since when does the month make a blind bit of difference? Our summers hardly stick to the script.

Now, I'm not looking at Scottish stats, but for comparative purposes let's look at Ireland:
  • In 2008, Ireland had its wettest August in 170 years... and I should know since I was travelling the countryside in a leaking camper van;
  • In 2010, we endured the wettest July in 60 years;
  • In 2007, Northern Ireland had its wettest June since 1958...

... so, considering how wet our so called summers have become, when would these naysayers prefer to see the event held?

I don't deny that September is a wet month (the 5th wettest month statistically, after October to January), but it's also a warm month (the 4th warmest month statistically, after June to August), so it's in the lap of the gods.

What will happen if Scotland experiences a September like 1986, when there was no rain at all in several parts of the UK and Ireland? Will these same people complain it's too dry?

How can you possibly predict weather 3 years in the future? That said, there is one person who can predict such things...

Evelyn Cusack is RTE 1's main weather forecaster. She says she is constantly asked by mothers of brides-to-be what the weather is going to be like on such-and-such a date, 18 months in the future. Tongue firmly in cheek, Evelyn replies that she'll need to know whether it's a morning or afternoon wedding before she can make a prediction.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

RTE Radio 1 Saturday Sport Interview: 26/11/11

[Photo: Adare's par five 18th. The course is ranked 10th in Ireland]

I was invited onto the Saturday Sport show to discuss the merits & shortcomings of the recent Golf Digest Ireland Top 100 course rankings. Des Cahill, Greg Allen, myself and Linton Walsh, the magazine's editor, were gathered around the desk. It was fascinating to hear, direct from the horse's mouth, how the ranking process worked.

There are problems implicit in any ranking process: ask one person and it is too subjective; ask 50 people and the result is diluted. As an example, if you asked 20 people to rank Mount Juliet, and ten said it was No. 1, and ten said it was No. 100, what do you do? If you divide the result, and put it at 50 then no one is happy. Rankings are merely a list, not a bible! They are something to be used as a reference point and to spark debate... nothing more.Linton described how the process has evolved over the years: there were only 5 people on the panel in the first year (hence a 20% weighting per person), versus 11 this year (a 9% weighting per person), which includes 'one' vote from a panel of 25 'ordinary' golfers. There have also been changes to how points are awarded.

But the difficulty with changing the process is that the rankings are going to change too. It's a balancing act and the magazine needs to establish a happy medium that delivers a consistent approach, year after year... of course, the danger there is that you end up with exactly the same ranking year after year, and who wants that!

[Photo: Rathcore's par three gem, the 16th]

Greg certainly was taking issue with aspects of the ranking, namely the huge shift in the position of Old Head of Kinsale over the last three years (down 5 to No. 29 in 2009, down another 18 to No. 47 in 2010, yet up 23 to No. 24 in 2011). There are also 20 courses that have moved by 10 places or more, which is a significant shift no matter how you look at it.
When these two had finished, it was my turn. Des asked me about Hooked, which I wasn't really expecting.

It was a great plug - the audience is 100,000 strong - and I ended up reminiscing about freezing nights in a camper van and playing beautiful Portumna surrounded by deer. I got to say a good bit about Scrabo - a course that has never been near the top 100, but is one of my favourite experiences of all time - and also Rathcore - a course that was No. 65 a few years back and is now, oddly, nowhere to be seen.

The truth is, I don't agree with the GDI rankings, but that is MY opinion. Greg and I would argue all day long over Portmarnock's position at No. 2, and I didn't much fancy the way he was reaching for his 7 iron when I suggested it wouldn't even make my top ten... but that's what rankings are about: opinions.

[Photo: Scrabo's brilliant opening par 4 hole]

It was a 20 minute discussion, and if you’re interested in listening to it, get yourself onto and click on ‘Radio’ in the top menu bar. That should bring up a new page, where you click the RTE Radio 1 circle, and then type in Saturday Sport in the ‘Search’ bar, which brings up all the recent shows. Still with me? Click play for the 26/11/11 entry and then go all the way forward to the 02:55:30 time mark. Hard work, I know, but who said life was easy.

If for nothing else it is interesting to hear Linton describe the process… and you should have seen the size of the folder he had with him, containing all the course assessments. The man came prepared.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Caste Dargan... and a packet of Condoms!

When you get involved in these Mega-deal site offers, like Groupon, I guess you have to take your chances. This morning I received an email from Groupon offering a great deal at the 4 Star Castle Dargan Hotel & Golf Resort.

For more details, click on the link - the offer is available until midnight tonight (Saturday 26th) and the voucher runs until 31 March 2012.

And right under the Castle Dargan offer is another deal - this one for 70% off packets of condoms (50 and 100 'bumper' packs). I'm not linking to that offer - if you're interested, go find it yourself...

In the meantime here's a picture of the 18th at Castle Dargan - designed by Darren Clarke (and no balls in sight):

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tralee - murder of the cliche

[Photo: Tralee's stunning 13th, a par three that perches on a dune]

First things first: congratulations to Tralee Golf Club in its rise from 10th to 7th in the Golf Digest Ireland 2011 Top 100 Courses Rankings. It's a spectacular course with some remarkable views. And with some benign weather around at the moment, the green fee's a snip at €50.

Anthony Byrne is the General Manager, and I'm going to have a gentle dig at something he said which appeared in the Irish Times the other day... he knows how much I like the course (a photo of Tralee's 16th was the front cover of Hooked - 1st edition) and he was kind enough to comp me and a friend when I was on my travels, so, if he ever reads this, he knows it's all in good fun:

[Photo: the approach to Tralee's 10th hole, a dogleg left par four]

Tralee's 10th hole is going to be remodelled and the Practice Academy is to be updated. In describing the changes, Anthony decided to take a worn-out golfing cliche, bring it back to life briefly and then murder it again.

“We know that we have a priceless jewel here in Barrow and you must never, ever, allow a priceless jewel to lose any of its lustre,” he said.

I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly, but sometimes a cliche this bad deserves to stay dead and buried.

I look forward to seeing the new 10th... if I'm ever allowed on the course again!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Glasson - 2011 Irish Golf Resort of the Year

[View down the par five 14th, a downhill, dogleg right]

We're going back a month (Oct 24), but a belated congratulations to Athlone's Glasson Country House & Golf Club, which won the 2011 Irish Golf Resort of the Year, as awarded by the Irish Golf Tour Operator Association (IGTOA).

There was a fancy knees-up in Thomond Park, pitched as the Gala Irish Golf Awards, and it is a great award for one of the midlands' best golf clubs. Golfers are forever talking about the par three 15th, which requires a walk out along a bridge to a tee in Lough Ree... but the closing
stretch of holes is an excellent finish.

[Photo: the par three 15th, across the edge of the lake]

The Minister for Arts, Heritage & Gaeltacht Affairs, Jimmy Deenihan TD, said: "These awards recognise the best in the Irish golf tourism industry, with awards for our national hotels, golf courses, golf resorts and golf secretary managers. Receiving an award from the Irish Golf Tour Operators Association is deserved recognition of the effort put in throughout the year to make the visitor experience as memorable and special as it can be.”

Jimmy nailed it on the head and, from, a personal point of view, I got a very impressive room upgrade when I visited the course. True, a broom cupboard would be an upgrade compared to the camper van, but I was put in an amazingly spacious room, with sofas, armchairs, an enormous bed and views of the surrounding countryside.

I thanked Gareth, the Manager, for such an impressive room, to which he replied that all rooms are identical. I can't think of a hotel that takes better care of golfers - who doesn't want to sprawl out at the end of a long day's golfing!

There are a bunch of offers on at the moment: 1 night's B&B with dinner and a round of golf is €135, or €170 if you stay two nights. You'll find the offers here:

Apologies for the photo quality - it was a dull, dull day.

[Photo: the 18th, back to the hotel]

Friday, November 18, 2011

How much is your eye worth?

It's a question you probably don't ask yourself very often... but for a golfer it is a serious consideration.

The answer to the question, according to Mr Anthony Phee, is £750,000 (Sterling). That's how much he was suing another golfer for (and the golf club where the incident took place), after losing his eye from a bad drive 150 yards away.

He claimed he ducked (James Gordon, the striker of the ball, denied this) but either way his eye 'exploded' (Phee's words) on impact and was later removed. It was his fourth round of golf ever!

The judgement was made in Phee's favour, but for a lesser amount of £400,000. 70% of the blame was apportioned to Gordon, and 30% to Niddry Castle golf club in West Lothian, Scotland.

Losing an eye is a terrible thing - I am blessed with good eyesight, and the thought of damaging an eye fills me with dread - but I have some sympathy for Gordon. Yes, his drive was very poor, but he shouted 'fore' - as did a playing companion - and after that it's in the lap of the gods. Mr. Phee has lost an eye and someone has to take responsibility, but when you step onto a golf course you, as a golfer, have to accept certain risks... and being struck by a ball is one of them. It doesn't happen often but it does happen, and unless you play courses like Killeen Castle, where holes are miles apart, you always have to be prepared.

Which means you should be insured against such things. At my home club there are a couple of dangerous spots - no doubt you have some of your own at your home club - and perhaps a recommendation for clubs, if only to cover themselves, would be to include a warning of dangerous holes on the scorecard, or when accepting green fees from visitors. Or ask if everyone is insured. Most clubs include insurance as part of their annual sub, but if yours doesn't, then I suggest you get some if only for peace of mind.

We can all hit bad shots... let's just hope they don't cost us £400,000.

Check out the GUI website details (Golfsure), or look at Golf Safe, on my links

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Royal Portrush... Irish Open... 2013?

[Photo: the magnificent 5th. A par four that doglegs right, and out to the sea]

The flurry of expectation that Northern Ireland's Royal Portrush Golf Club must hold the British Open, rose to fever pitch after Darren Clarke's July win.

Everyone went a bit mad on the idea, as if it was a done deal, but it's about baby steps. The R&A aren't about to rush in without checking the infrastructure required to accommodate crowds upwards of 40,000 a day. Portrush is a town of less than 7,000, after all, and there are only three chippers.

The British Open is held exclusively at 9 golf courses, and I'm sure there will be some pressure to keep it that way as the income for each golf club and its local economy must be enormous. But a change would be good, and the presence of so many golfers from this island at the top of leaderboards around the world, should be enough to entice a mood change in the stuffy world of the R&A. That and the fact that GMac and Darren have agreed to act in an ambassadorial role for Royal Portrush, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2013.

And baby steps are exactly what are being taken... the publication of the Stormont Executive's programme for Government, pledges - among other things - to host a major golf tournament in Northern Ireland.

For the official Executive document (a PDF), click here and do a keyword search on 'golf'

This would seem to imply that the Irish Open may be held in Royal Portrush as early as 2013. It would be a showcase event to demonstrate the capacity of the town and the country to host something as big as the British Open. And if things don't go quite according to plan (that one way system on the edge of town drives me nuts), there will be the perfect excuse to change things, build new roads, or whatever is seen to be lacking.

Build it and they will come, etc. etc.

1951 is a long time ago, but let's hope the Open comes back to Northern Ireland soon.

Head for the moon

It's not often you walk onto the first tee at your home club (Greystones) and hit your tee shot straight at a full moon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

K Club Smurfit at it again

A few months back, the K Club decided to jump on the 'Deals' bandwagon by offering a special rate for a round of golf on the Smurfit course, for two people, with a slap up meal afterwards...

... it must have worked well because they're doing it again - the only difference this time being the food, which is a two course meal in a different restaurant.

[Photo: the drive on the 18th hole, a long dogleg par five]

Here's the deal: €110 instead of €260 for a Tee Time for 2 at the 18 Hole Championship Smurfit Course, followed by a sumptuous 2 Course Meal in the Kwam Suk, Thai and Oriental Restaurant at the K Club.

It's a saving of €150 - normal price €260.

You can get the deal here, on Pigsback, up until Monday 21 November. There are a couple of conditions, although they're not too restrictive:
- This voucher is valid until Mar 31 2012
- This voucher is valid Tues - Sun only
- Meal is from a set menu

[Photo: views over the 17th green, to the 16th green]

The Smurfit is not my favourite course, but much of that was to do with the cost of green fees, which was €250 at the time. If they're now offering a round and a meal for €55 per person, then my attitude towards them has softened... although the original price of €130 per person would still be too high to get me along. The closing stretch is superb, and one of my favourite photographs (out of 3,500), taken on my travels, is of the 17th hole.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Golf Digest Ireland Top 100 Irish Golf Courses 2012

Golf Digest Ireland Top 100 Irish Golf Courses 2012

The new rankings are out... Golf Digest Ireland has got it in the neck over recent years, with a ranking system that caused more upset than approval and generated endless rumours of advertising-leads-to-improved-rankings skullduggery. As with all rankings, unless there's a completely transparent and traceable system (think Supermarket meat packing), someone is going to cry 'foul'. Hardly surprising when everyone has such diverse opinions on what makes a course great.

[Photo: Waterville's 'Mass' Hole (par three 12th). The most significant move in the top ten, rising from 6 to 8]

In general, the top 10 are regarded as being correct, although some people would shift things around a bit - Portmarnock, at No. 2, has never been a favourite of mine, and moving The European from 4 to 8 seems a mighty big leap, which, like its owner, only improves with age.

The arguments typically focus on what comes between 11 and 100, and what has been left out.

Golf World magazine did a 'Ireland's Top 100' a couple of months back, and I was invited to make a contribution. I had a lot of fun looking at the magazine's existing list and moving things about. Naturally, not all my suggestions made it through - hardly surprising when you consider that Padraig, Paul McGinely and Pat Ruddy were also contributing - but it made me appreciate how difficult it is to create a list that I was happy with.

[Photo: Adare drops two to tenth but remains the highest ranked parkland. This is the par three 16th]

New Approach

Perhaps GDI got tired of all the grief and decided to shake things up. This year sees an 'X Factor' contribution from Ireland's golfing public. A number were selected earlier this year and taken to the K Club to be prepped by Ally McKintosh (course designer), on how to rate/view a golf course. A couple of these raters have been in touch and told me about their experiences - all good I might add, as they got to play some of our best courses - but there is no indication how significant their contribution was to the overall result. 25%? 10%? Less? There is quite a group of unofficial 'official' experts and I imagine their opinions carry the greatest weight.

[Photo: the par four 6th at Bunclody. A non-mover at 59]

There were also two changes to the criteria which the raters used (see below): the 'shot making/variety' criterion was increased from 10 points to 20; and a new category of 'WOW factor' was introduced.

The seven criteria are:

Degree of difficulty/fairness 10 points

Shot making/variety 20 points

Design variety 10 points

Wow factor 10 points

Memorability 10 points

Condition 10 points

Playability 10 points

No doubt these changes have helped the rankings look more real, but there will always be naysayers who will spot anomalies that make the blood boil. I count myself among them... Killarney Lackabane at 68 still mystifies me, even if it has dropped 4 places, and there's no place for Macreddin, Rathcore or Portarlington. Druid's Glen drops 10 places, while Ballybunion Cashen is rising at a snail's pace at 91... but these are some of my personal gripes and I bow to the democratic process of the broader community!!

[Photo: Rathcore's exceptional par three 16th, but the course doesn't
make the Top 100]

NAMA Courses

For many, the contentious issue of NAMA courses being included (after being excluded in 2010), will cause a certain level of fury and/or concern. These courses, as good as they are (Tulfarris and New Forest are favourites of mine), cause considerable problems for their golfing neighbours. They already receive far too much assistance from the banks and NAMA, and they should not be given a promotional platform here. They may have the right to be recognised as excellent courses, but not at the expense of hard-working and struggling clubs... which describes many of our clubs today.

Here's the list. If you have any opinions on a particular course's position, let me know.

(Info in brackets shows movement from 2011)

1. Royal County Down (=)
2. Portmarnock (=)
3. Royal Portrush (=)
4. Waterville (Up 2)
5. Ballybunion (Old) (=)
6. Lahinch (Up 1)
7. Tralee (Up 3)
8. The European Club (Down 4)
9. County Louth (Baltray) (=)
10. Adare (Down 2)

11. County Sligo (Rosses Point) (=)
12. The Island (=)
13. Ballyliffin, Glashedy (Up 3)
14. Enniscrone (Up 3)
15. Mount Juliet (Down 2)
16. Donegal (Up 3)
17. Portstewart, Strand (Up 3)
18. Killeen Castle (Down 4)
19. Royal Dublin (Down 1)
20. The K-Club, Palmer (Down 5)

21. Belmullet, Carne (Up 4)
22. Ballyliffin, Old Links (Up 10)
23. Doonbeg (Up 13)
24. The Old Head of Kinsale (Up 23)
25. Rosapenna, Sandy Hills (Down 4)
26. Killarney, Killeen (Down 3)
27. Portsalon (Up 8)
28. Carton House, Montgomerie (Up 2)
29. Carlow (Down 5)
30. Cork (Down 1)
31. Portmarnock Links (=)
32. Lough Erne (Down 10)
33. Dooks (Up 4)
34. Rosapenna, Old Tom Morris (Down 1)
35. Castlerock (Down 7)
36. Headfort, New (Up 4)
37. Druids Glen (Down 10)
38. Concra Wood (Up 1)
39. Luttrellstown Castle (Up 10)
40. Fota Island, Deerpark (New entry)
41. The K-Club, Smurfit Course (Down 7)
42. Seapoint (Down 16)
43. Narin And Portnoo (Up 8)
44. Heritage (New entry)
45. Slieve Russell (Down 3)
46. Palmerstown House Estate (Up 8)
47. Tramore (Up 11)
48. Connemara (Up 8)
49. Carton House, O’Meara (Up 3)
50. Powerscourt, West Course (Down 12)
51. Belvoir Park (Down 8)
52. Malone (Down 11)
53. Portumna (Up 8)
54. Farnham Estate (Down 6)
55. Dun Laoghaire (Down 9)
56. Westport (Down 11)
57. Hermitage (=)
58. Portrush, Valley (Down 14)
59. Bunclody (=)
60. Dundalk (Down 10)
61. Tullamore (Down 8)
62. Glasson (Down 2)
63. Castletroy (Up 22)
64. Mount Wolseley (Up 12)
65. Arklow (Down 3)
66. Clandeboye (Up 3)
67. Rathsallagh (=)
68. Killarney, Lackabane (Down 4)
69. Dromoland Castle (Down 4)
70. Druids Heath (Down 15)
71. Ardglass (Down 3)
72. Royal Belfast (Up 1)
73. Shannon (Down 1)
74. Grange (Up 10)
75. Powerscourt, East Course (Down 12)
76. Castlemartyr (Down 2)
77. Laytown and Bettystown (Up 9)
78. Strandhill (Up 5)
79. Castle (Up 1)
80. Mullingar (Down 2)
81. Rosslare (Up 17)
82. St. Annes (Down 11)
83. Kilkenny (Down 17)
84. Skellig Bay (Up 3)
85. Knightsbrook (Down 6)
86. Bantry Bay (Down 16)
87. Galway (Down 6)
88. Galgorm Castle (Down 6)
89. Courtown (Down 14)
90. Ballinrobe (Up 1)
91. Ballybunion, Cashen (Up 2)
92. Balbriggan (Down 15)
93. Kirkistown Castle (New entry)
94. Tulfarris (New entry)
95. New Forest (New entry)
96. Galway Bay (Down 7)
97. Moyvalley (New entry)
98. Dingle, Ceann Sibeal (New entry)
99. Castleknock (New entry)
100. Woodenbridge (New entry)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fota Island up for sale

[The par three 7th]

The trouble has been brewing for long enough, and the recent NAMA 'list' included 8 golf courses under their control, of which Fota Island Golf and Spa Resort. It now appears that the most glamorous parkland course in the south is going to put up for sale. It opened in 1993 and has held the Irish Open twice (2001 and 2002), but if NAMA can make money out of it, then it 'makes sense' to try and sell what is a very viable asset... because the resort is trading well, which improves its chances of being snapped up.

[The drive on the par five 18th]

Who'd buy it? With a price estimated around 20 million euro, there should be plenty of buyers, from hungry funds, global hotel chains (it was a Sheraton hotel until September 2009) and the cash rich Chinese - who seem all set to buy Europe.

There's a full piece in the Irish Examiner today: Fota Resort Up For Sale