Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Royal Portrush

With the Irish Open about to kick off - here's a link to photographs of the course as the Pros will see it.

Royal Portrush photos

Take a good long look at Calamity (hole 14) - it will break a few hearts in the coming days.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Inside the Ropes - Dun Laoghaire

It had all started so well… everyone had arrived without any trouble and Colm and Kevin had spent some time on the range before we enjoyed some lunch, courtesy of Ian McDonald, the club’s marketing manager. Jason, our fourth, arrived and we all headed for the 1st tee (Lower nine). En route, we were informed by the Course Ranger that our tee time to be on the second nine (Middle) was 3.20pm. That gave us two hours. Manageable, surely.

[Photo: local colour on the Lower nine]

Enjoy the Drink
Yes, it was all going so well until we reached the 6th tee. Colm (16 handicap), Kevin (20) and Jason (26) had played the first five holes comfortably but then the rot set in. In fairness, I started it. My driving has been a weakness recently, but playing off the yellow tees (2,819 metres) gave me some freedom to play an iron off the tee. The 6th did not offer that freedom, demanding a carry of 200+ yards over water and my drive made it barely halfway across. Kevin, Colm and Jason took pity and followed suit. We all reloaded. By the time we left the teebox we’d deposited eight balls in the drink – three of them mine – so, a suggestion for anyone heading that way: use the fairway that runs along the left of the water. It’s a very short par four, so rein in your ego and take the sensible route.

After that disaster the front nine took us two and a half hours, so we missed our allotted slot for the second nine. It didn’t prove a problem and the Ranger got us off on the Middle nine without any delay.

My book reviews the Lower and Upper nines, but I was told subsequently that the Lower and Middle nines make for a better 18 – and I had not played the Middle course. After this visit, I agree wholeheartedly. It gives a completely different perspective to the course, and the Middle nine would be the most vibrant of all three, with changes in elevation, more mature trees (the course opened in 2007 after moving from Dun Laoghaire) and strong water features. The quality is excellent (as you’ll read below) and the clubhouse is a remarkable facility – it has to be one of the top clubhouses in the country.
My review in the next edition of Hooked (assuming there is one) will be revised based on these assessments, but there was something else that really stood out for me:

Curtis Cup (2016) Choice
I can see why the Curtis Cup venue selectors would be interested in Dun Laoghaire. It has the clubhouse, the quality and good viewing points around the course but, above all, it promises thrilling matchplay because competitors have choices from the tee and the fairway. You can go for broke or play it safe, but you nearly always have options and that adds a great dimension compared to the longer courses where you have to bomb it time and again.

A big congratulations to the course on the honour of hosting the event.

But enough waffle. Here’s what the guys had to say:

[Photo: Colm, Jason, Kevin on the 9th hole of the Middle nine, with the hole and clubhouse behind]

Q. What are your overall impressions of the course?
Kevin: Very high standards all round – just needs a little more time to mature but very enjoyable.
Jason: Superb layout and greens rolling very well.
Colm: Very enjoyable and a fair course! Greens in excellent condition. It’s very playable for society golfers, but strategic enough for a low handicapper.

Colm showed some delicate touches around the greens, using the slopes and fringes very creatively - he may be a 16 handicapper, but some of his strategic play would put a single handicapper to shame.

Q. What do you consider to be the course’s three best features? Why did they stand out for you?
Kevin: Clubhouse – just look at it!!
         Views are stunning
         The condition is manicured and greens and aprons are fantastic
Jason: The greens – excellent roll
The fairways were cut very tight and fairly generous from the tee box
Changes in elevation on a lot of holes
Colm: Condition of greens
         Fairness of hazards
         Signage on the course, and easy to navigate

[Photo: views from the 9th green on the Middle nine]

Q. As this is a relatively new course – what did you think of the design?
Kevin: A few more features needed to identify different holes – some blended together.
Jason: I liked the design, especially with bunker placement. It’s a course you have to plot your way around.
Colm: Good. Some holes on the Middle course were not as strong strategically as those on the lower course. Overall some nice features bringing countryside and landscape features into play. Course was also very walkable – no great exertion required.

The course was designed by Martin Hawtree, who has worked on over 20 golf projects in Ireland including Dooks and Royal Dublin.

[Photo: Kevin targets the green on the par three 2nd - Middle nine]

Q. Are there any negatives – either on or off the course? If so, what are they and how would you suggest they’re fixed?
Kevin: Some people might be put off by the perceived pretentiousness of the clubhouse.
Jason: Long uphill struggle on 18 (Middle 9).
Colm: Timing needed to play second nine, i.e. the requirement to be on the 1st tee of the second nine by a certain time. Signage in the golf academy is poor – it’s easy to get lost and not know where certain things are.

[Photo: Jason in full flow]

The 9th holes on both the Lower and Middle courses rise up to the clubhouse (they’re side-by-side). Both can drain you after a long round of golf, especially if the golf has not gone your way. Jason is working on a revised swing (as well as having some new clubs) and the Middle nine did for him somewhat – I feel his pain as we’re both working on the same area of the swing and I know how frustrating it can be when things don’t click.

Q. What did you find particularly tough about the course?
Kevin: Heavy rough!
Jason: Par threes were playing long. [three of the four were 176 metres, 156 metres, 195 metres]
Colm: Reading the greens.

[Photo: Kevin in the heavy rough, no doubt lamenting that he found the ball at all]

Q. Which was your favourite hole and why?
Kevin: 9th hole on the lower nine – great views up to the clubhouse.
Jason: Lower 9 – the 1st hole, par five. Daunting tee shot and a great start to the round.
Colm: Par threes were enjoyable. Par fives from yellow tees were too accessible.

Q. What did you think of the facilities?
Kevin: Superb
Jason: Excellent
Colm: Excellent

Q. How easy was it to find?
Kevin: Easy as I live nearby
Jason: Very easy – directions on website were spot on.
Colm: Fine – no problems

[Photo: Middle nine, 6th hole. A short par four with water appearing twice. Sensible golf required]

Q. Any final comments?
Kevin: A tough, but not overly so, test of golf off the Yellow tees, for mid to high handicappers.
Colm: Would be ideal for big society day and Captain’s Prize. Price might be a bit of an issue. Hospitality of Ian McDonald, the club’s marketing manager, was superb.

Q. Your rating out of 10
Kevin: 8/10
Jason: 8/10
Colm: 8/10
Total: 24/30

Q. Value for Money out of 10
This one proved a bit tricky as the green fee rack rate is €70, while a fourball costs €50 each. Everyone agreed that €70 was steep in the current market, especially when Druid’s Glen down the road costs €65.
Kevin: (€70) Probably on the high side in the current climate. At €50, good value for high standards. 7/10
Jason: Would not pay the rack rate of €70 to play the course. At €50, would play it as in line with other top courses… 6/10
Colm: (€70) Round is not, unfortunately, worth €70. At €50, with the excellent facilities... 8/10
Total: 21/30

[Photo: wrapping up on the final green]

A big thank you to Dun Laoghaire – it was a great round and a pleasure to play with the three lads. Ian, our host, mentioned that the bunkers on the Lower nine were out of play (if we chose) after the rains of the previous week, but we all found them to be fine.

Dun Laoghaire Details:
Located not far from Bray or Enniskerry, off the N11, Dun Laoghaire is not where you expect it after its move in 2007. Directions are here. Its views of the Big and Little Sugarloaf are with you all day and add to the appeal, and take a moment to stop at the photo board on the terrace outside the Pro shop - it shows you what you're looking at.

[Photo: the clubhouse]

Want to go to the Irish Open?

This is an easy follow up to my last blog, which recommended a few things to do if you're lucky enough to be going to Royal Portrush next week...

... if you're not lucky enough to be going, but you want to go, Just Treats are giving away TWO season tickets (worth €150) to the event. 

To enter simply 'Like' their Facebook page and 'Share' this post. 

Full details here: 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Going to the Irish Open?

For those of you lucky enough to be heading to the Irish Open at Royal Portrush, I hope you get 'soft days' and see some wonderful golf. I visited the course in April, and the place was shaping up beautifully. My recommendation on where to watch the action would be a spot between the dogleg on the 5th hole and the 7th tee. You get views of White Rocks, and golfers playing the brilliant 5th, the par three 6th, and tee shots on the 7th and 9th.

[Photo: the par four 5th. The green is away to the right]

So, if you're going, here are a few suggestions on ways to pass the time.

First of all, pick up the new (and only) guide book on Northern Ireland's 'Golf Coast' - which stretches from Roe Park to Ballycastle. You'll find it in some golf pro shops, local hotels and tourist offices. It reviews all 15 courses (including 9 hole courses) and suggests places to eat, socialise, visit and stay. And there's a cracking article about the joys of golf in NI, by me.

If you plan to play any golf, the obvious candidates are Castlerock and Portstewart. Exceptional links both, they are nearby and will give you a good idea of what the pros are up against. Castlerock has an 18 and 9 hole course, while Portstewart has three 18 hole courses. Slightly further away are the parkland tracks of Roe Park and Gracehill, and I consider Gracehill to be a real gem with lots of water. Roe Park has the advantage of having a hotel (and also has a daily bus service to the Open) so it's a tidy package. Then, of course, there's Ballyliffin on Inishowen, made ever more accessible by the ferry which crosses the Foyle from Magilligan in Northern Ireland to Greencastle (where there's also a golf club). 

Chances are, though, that you won't get to play much golf as you're here to watch it. But you'll probably have time for a few things:

1. Visit Morelli's Ice Cream shops/diners in Portrush, Portstewart or Coleraine. This year the company picked up the award for Best Vanilla Ice Cream in the UK and Ireland. The Portstewart shop I dropped into at 11pm on a Saturday night was packed and the 'parlour' is a real throw-back to the 1950s. I picked up a scoop rhubarb & custard ice cream... but you'll be spoilt for choice. Dine inside or step across the road onto the promenade.

2. Places to eat: the Portrush clubhouse bar (the far end) sits above the 1st tee and offers spectacular views. There's a terrace around the entire outside too, and the food is good. For something classier and packed with character, try the Bushmills Inn. You won't find any accommodation left, but the restaurant has some bookings left - it is not cheap, but you get what you pay for becaue the food is superb. Lunch is served from 12pm. And then there's the whiskey and the distillery...

[Photo: some of the views from Portstewart Golf Club's new clubhouse]

3. Places to drink: the Harbour Bar in Portrush may prove impossible to get into, thanks to its popularity, but it's worth the effort - believe me. Then again, all the bars will be packed during the Open week, so any place is as good as another.

4. The Titanic Exhibit: probably too far away, in Belfast, but this is a special year and so it deserves a mention. The building alone is worth the visit, on the Belfast Docks.

5. What's On?: Here's a list of the North Coast Open Fest events that will be going on during the Open week, from the North Coast NI website.

6. The obvious: The Giant's Causeway is the most famous and, who knows, you might be able to scope out the landscape where they'll be creating the new, and still controversial, Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort which is now subject to another legal challenge.

There's also the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge on the way to Ballycastle - but probably not after a few pints (see photo). The bridge links the mainland to the small island of Carrickarede. It is 20 metres across and 30 metres above the rocks.

And if you're this far over, carry on to Ballycastle Golf Club, climb the stairs to the top level, order a pint and take in the views across to Scotland and along the Antrim coastline. 

[Image courtesy of National Trust]

Monday, June 11, 2012

Inside the Ropes – Druid’s Glen

Druid’s Glen, in early summer, is a course lush and green. At this time of year there is colour and wildlife everywhere – it vibrates with the intensity of it and it is a glorious opportunity to experience one of Ireland’s best parklands, which was home to the Irish Open between 1996 and 1999 (won by Colin Montgomerie twice, David Carter and Sergio Garcia, who shot a 64 in the final round).

But what about an amateur’s perspective. Inside the ropes it’s a different ball game entirely. About to find out were three lads who had never played the course before: 

Chris off 15, Pete, playing off 24 and Pat off 12.

[The lads on the 12th tee box]

Here’s what they had to say about their day.

Q. What are your overall impressions of the course?
Pete: Beautiful course. If I was looking to impress a client I would take them for a round here.
Chris: Excellent, very well kept.
Pat: Loved it. Not just a driver all day. The scenery was beautiful for an inland course and I couldn’t wait to see around the next corner as it was my first visit – but will make a big effort to come back.

Q. What are the course’s best features?
Druid’s Glen boasts an ‘Augusta-like air’ with its rhododendrons and charming water features, but all three lads were taken by something else:

[Photo: Pat's tee shot on the lethal par three 17th]

Pete: The par threes were brilliant, and the 18th was a lovely finishing hole.
Chris: The views, the beautiful par threes and the emphasis on accuracy over length. Greens are perfect and consistent.
Pat: Definitely the par threes. The 12th is every bit as beautiful as people say, and Index 1, the 13th, is a brilliant par four.

Our encounter with the 13th did not go particularly well, with four balls finding the lake short of the green. It's a brute of a hole, and the best score was a double bogey 6.

[Photo: Chris putts up the 13th green - the lake behind proving a magnet]

Q. Any negatives – either on or off the course?
Pete: One or two of the bunkers were stoney. It’s a very tough course for a high handicap golfer like myself.
Chris: Practice facilities – the range is too far away.
Pat: Greens were just a bit off perfect.

Q. What did you find particularly tough?
Always a difficult question because it can be handicap, weather and performance dependent. The responses pretty much covered it all:
Pete: Some tight fairways, and greens were hard to read and stop the ball on.
Chris: It was hard off the tee.
Pat: Reading the breaks on some of the greens

Q. How did you find the condition of the course? Anything stand out?
Pete: The condition was excellent. The water features around the par threes really stand out.
Chris: The greens were perfect.
Pat: Tee boxes and fairways were perfect, with bunkers in perfect positions. Greens were slightly slow but very true.

The differing comments about the greens is an interesting one and clearly depends on personal preferences. When this was put to Druid's Glen, they explained that maintenance work (pole-forking) was carried out two weeks ago, and that the greens were just coming back into proper shape for the summer.

Q. What do you think of the facilities?
Pete: Excellent. Changing rooms had nice touches (hair gel and shaving blades available). Practice area was a bit far away.
Chris: Apart from the distance to the practice range, everything was spot on.
Pat: The clubhouse is lovely.

Druid’s Glen is renowned for its attractive 18th century clubhouse (Woodstock House) and the bar is as relaxing a place to wind down after a round as anywhere. The practice range is not close by and you’ll need to give yourself plenty of time if you want to head down and hit a few balls before your round. The range is down by the entrance, next to the 16th tee.

Q. How easy to find?
All three commented on the good signage and how easy it was to find.

[Photo: the par three 12th, green to tee - and where the million euro hole-in-one shot was to be held the following week]

Q. Final comments?
Pete: Really enjoyable round. Will play again, but at €65 it would have to be a special event.
Chris: A great course with some beautiful holes, particularly the par threes. Some courses would be lucky to have even one of the par threes.
Pat: Probably now my favourite course in Ireland

Rating out of 10
Pete: 8
Chris: 9
Pat: 9, but would have been 10 if greens had been perfect
TOTAL 26/30

Value for money out of 10
Pete: 6
Chris: 8
Pat: 8
TOTAL 24/30
(Pete's a tough man to please!)

[Photo: Handshakes on the 18th green]

Druid's Glen Details:
Located between Newtownmountkennedy and Kilcoole in County Wicklow, Druid's Glen is part of the Druid's Glen Resort. Pitched as five star, the hotel sits next to the second course - Druid's Heath - and comes with leisure centre/swimming pool, with various spa treatments also available. Special packages are nearly always available.

Green Fees at Druid's Glen range between €40 and €95 during the summer months. Druid's Heath green fees range from €35 to €55.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Clubstohire - The Usual Suspects

In the Usual Suspects, Verbal (Kevin Spacey) tells us:

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”

In much the same way, the R&A has tried to convince us that golf is a sport. It’s not… it’s torture. When you’re supposed to be having fun and relaxing, you’re usually beating yourself up over missed putts, fluffed chips and pulled drives.

Tell me it isn’t so.

And that’s just when you’re playing at your home course. What about going abroad to play golf in the sunshine of Portugal, Turkey, Spain? The goal is to enjoy yourself as much as possible, so why would you start it off on a negative note by trying to figure out how to bring your own clubs.

Seriously, think about it… the working out what stays in the bag and what is expendable, the packing it all up to avoid potential damage, the carrying, the waiting, the worrying… and the expense. You know it’s going to cause you grief. It’s not like the old days after all, when you could stuff as much as you liked into your bag and drop it off at excess baggage free of charge. No, those days are gone and now the cut-price airlines will charge you more for carrying your clubs than the cost of your seat. And you’ll always hear tales about a friend seeing a golf bag falling from the baggage truck halfway across the runway, only to realise that the bag is his.

The Easy Solution

Take a step back and be smart. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot simpler… lighter… quicker… and cheaper to rent your clubs when you arrive at your destination?

[Photo: A quick snap of the clubstohire collection at Faro Airport]

I recently flew to Faro in Portugal (to stay at an idyllic resort called Martinhal). I carried hand luggage and used my Aer Lingus reference code on one of the many check-in machines in Terminal 2. Out popped my ticket and through Security I went. At the other end, after entering Faro airport’s main hall, I walked 30 yards to the Clubstohire booth where I picked up a set of Taylormade R11 clubs with my name on the bag. It was that simple. I had a set of almost new clubs for the golf I was going to play, and I was getting to experiment with a model I hadn’t tried before.

Oh sure, a new putter in your hand doesn’t feel quite right, and a different pitching wedge can take a little getting used to, but give it a round or two and you’ll have no trouble. The R11 five wood was a thing of beauty and I may well be getting one for my bag (I’ve never hit a five wood before in my life).
We played Penina – the Algarve’s oldest course – and the O’Connor course at Amendoeira – one of the newest, and the contrast in design couldn’t have been more apparent. My four iron didn’t seem to mind – it mastered all the challenges I threw at it.

Getting to Grips with the Cost

How much does it cost to rent from clubstohire? Prices start at €35 for a week. Compare that to Air Berlin, which has gone to town and charges up to €120 (for other airline rates see my previous blog on the subject).

Go online and see what models are available at the firm’s 11 different European locations (with more to follow). You can book your clubs then and there.

It really is that easy. And when you’re done, and you’re back at the airport, you simply drop them off, wait for them to count the clubs (just in case!) and then off you go… with your hand luggage and plenty of time for some duty free shopping.

And one final bonus… when you arrive back in Dublin at close to midnight… what a blessing it is not to be standing at the carousel half an hour after everyone else has gone!

And have just picked up the Vodafone 'Online Start Up of the Year 2012'. That’s a company going places (and the more the merrier).

[Photo: Martinhal's Reception/Drop Off Point]

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Drive the Ball 360 Yards Every Time – Guaranteed

I’ve done it; so can you. All it takes is focus, timing and my new, patented technique that will make you the envy of your friends, impress your playing partners, make your club professional sit up and take notice, and have women clamouring at your feet. It could even be the secret to turning you into a Pro.
What’s this amazing technique? It’s so simple you won’t believe you haven’t tried it before.

Send me a cheque for €199.99 and, in return, I will send you a DVD showing you my secret. Also included in this bargain-priced pack will be a certificate declaring you are now ‘Kevin Markham Power Driving Technique’-verified. Hang it on the wall where all your family can see it. As part of this special, low-priced offer (usual RRP €2,299) I will send you a whole bag of free tees and a cap with MY name on it.

This offer is available for a short time only so send your cheque today…

A Dose of Reality

Alternatively, do what I did and hit your drive down the cart path all the way to the green. At Penina’s 12th hole I hooked my drive towards the trees, only for it to bounce on the path… and it just kept going until it came to a stop 360 yards down the ‘fairway’. We measured it and it’s official: I can now outdrive Bubba Watson.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Life as a Way of Golf, by Ivan Morris

After reading a few pages of this new book by Ivan Morris, two things become abundantly clear: the man knows a vast amount about golf; and he has never quite achieved what he was capable of. 

Any and every golfer will recognise his feelings of frustration, and empathise with him. We all have our hopes and dreams when we walk onto a golf course, and few of us ever realise those dreams. His book is about far more than his personal trials and tribulations, however, and his take on golf in general is sharp and acerbic. With 50 years of golfing experience, playing at the top levels of the amateur game, he has a lot of knowledge to impart.

I don’t necessarily agree with him – nor he with me – and his on-off-on-again love-hate relationship with golf clubs (drivers, putters, etc.) is something I do not understand at all, but I wholeheartedly endorse his sentiments on the professional game, the R&A, golf courses and, particularly, the Olympics. He gets under the skin of golf and picks away at it mercilessly. No subject is safe.

As a youngster, Morris had promise, that much is evident in the very opening chapter, and he talks the reader through the years when he fiddled constantly with the mechanics of his swing to improve his golf and to gain greater distance. He discusses how he found his swing, lost it and found it again – also something that most amateurs will understand after a miserable round of golf – before realising that it wasn’t the swing that was the problem. It was Bobby Jones who said:

Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”

It took Morris a long time to learn that - and in those learnings the reader will gain the greatest insights.

I have had the privilege of playing with Ivan, and I can tell you that he does not suffer fools gladly. He tells it how he sees it, which is remarkably refreshing when most of us prefer to ‘beat around the bush’. He is not a man you would want to hold up on a golf course – indeed, he blasts a few of the professionals for their slow play.

[Photo: Ivan ‘beats around the bush’ at The European]

Later in the book, his thoughts come through as a series of articles, which makes it easy to dip in and out. I read his chapter on the Olympics twice, to see if I could have been any more dismissive about golf re-entering the ‘Games’… I couldn’t.

It has to be said that with so much to say and a fairly short book to say it in, some of the chapters feel rushed – hence my comment about articles – certainly towards the end there’s a sense he has moved on to the next chapter without fully getting 'under the skin' of the previous one - like a thought unfinished.

Morris, I suspect, takes a lot of pleasure in his role as crotchety-old-golf-man (he describes himself as 'glum'), but scratch the surface and you’ll discover  his frustration. He has been golfing for 50 years – I am almost up to 40 – but I still learned a lot from the book. I see myself in many of his tales, especially when he revisits the ‘wudda, cudda, shudda’ mentality.

At the very end, he discusses Bob Rotella’s book ‘Golf is not a game of perfect’, and how it would have helped his game if it had been around in his early years. It is a book I’ve read and learned something from, but I never understood the title fully, and certainly not when that title could be used far more accurately for Morris’s book. Morris’s golfing life is far from perfect and that comes through loud and clear – so clearly, in fact, that every golfer should buy a copy and learn some of the hard-fought lessons that make up a golfing life.

Ivan has also written:
Only Golf Spoken Here
The Life of O'Reilly
Doonbeg Ghosts

For a hard copy, visit