Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Inside The Ropes - The Island

It used to be that golfers would row across from Malahide to reach The Island Golf Club, landing next to the 14th tee. Now there’s a small road that slips off the R126 to Donabate, squeezing you under the railway line and then up against the sea waters as you wind around the shoreline towards the large dunes of The Island. If you have the nerve you can glance across the water and see the clubhouse, but this is no place to be distracted with the water directly below you.

The Island had willingly offered me a complimentary fourball for Inside The Ropes – it helped that the golf club knows how much I adore the place – but another Boards contributor, GolfGraffix, took the opportunity and asked if he could bring some Boardsies along as well to test out the company’s ‘Island’ App. That made 8 of us, arriving on a sunny, chilly morning. Our tee times had been consecutive but we got separated by a lone American who, we discovered as we overheard his mutterings, was rushing off somewhere else as he raced around the country playing all the links courses on his own. He was pretty miffed when his caddie did a no-show and had to tackle the course alone… not something you want to do at The Island. Then again, you also don’t want to come unprepared, which is what the French fourball behind us did – arriving in tee-shirts and being forced to buy sweaters and wind-cheaters.

[Photo: green to tee on the par four 2nd]

One of the lads had kindly brought along a bottle of wine as a prize for the best score. Always nice to add a bit of flavour to the occasion, and we decided in the spirit of things we’d play from the green tees – measuring 5,972 metres (par 71). A set of 36 Island photos can be found on my Flickr page.

John (19 handicap) and Tony (22) were out in the first group, while Thomas (7), Michael (10) and Tom (7) teed off with me, into a glorious if blinding rising sun. 

[Photo: John, Connor, John (Golfgraffix) and Tony. Too cold for Frenchmen]

[Photo: Tom, Thomas and Mike on the 18th tee]

Q. What are your overall impressions of the course?
John: Superb course. Beautiful greens and the fairways were in great condition. I only found one bunker – fortunately – but the sand was excellent and ‘fluffy’.
Tony: A challenging course with a great variety of holes.
Thomas: In a word: excellent.
Michael: Excellent.
Tom: Classic links in great condition

Q. What are The Island’s best features? What really stood out for you?
John: The sand dunes which are massive. Views and scenery are also very impressive.
Tony: The greens were excellent.
Thomas: I just enjoyed the whole experience of playing a links course for the first time.
Michael: I love the big dunes.
Tom: Each hole distinctive and separate yet great sense of space around you - short walks from greens to tees – views from the course

I am biased when it comes to The Island. For me it is the most exciting links in the area, helped by the big dunes, the sheer thrill of what awaits over crests or watching your ball duck and dive across the bumpy fairways towards intriguing greens. The course starts with eight par fours – some people might think that dull, but the direction, length and shape of the holes makes each one completely different.

[Photo: View of the short par four 5th from the 6th tee - a hole that sums up the front nine perfectly.]

Q. Are there any negatives – either on or off the course? If so, what are they and how would you suggest they’re fixed?
John: None, other than the fact that there was an error on the course guide.
Thomas: None.
Michael: Can’t think of any.
Tom: Minor grumble - having to go look for sprinkler heads for yardage. Keep sprinkler heads but add a 150 marker stake.

Q. What did you find particularly tough about the course (excluding the weather)?
John: The rough was very tough, even though it wasn’t particularly long. It really grabbed hold of the club and turned it over.
Tony: The rough was tough.
Thomas: The rough was very tough.
Michael: Rough is tough but fair enough.

Maybe there was something in the water that turned this lot into budding poets. Talk about singing from the same hymn sheet. Only Tom gave a different answer – saying that the opening hole was difficult – it didn’t help hitting straight into the early morning sun. Personally, I found approaches very challenging. Sometimes bump and run will work, other times the banks into greens are too steep. You need to be smart to figure out the best way to get your ball onto the green. And the two par threes on the back 9 (13 and 16) have putting surfaces that are difficult to find/hold.

[Photo: Thomas in some of that tough rough by the 6th green]

[Video: Thomas hits a perfect drive on 6. How do you know? Look how quickly he reaches for the tee.]

Q. Which are your favourite holes and why?
John: The par three 13th hole. It requires a great shot to get anywhere near the green. And the 14th hole – with out of bounds down the right and bunkers left – asks serious questions all the way. Even with two great shots you’ve still got work to do.
Tony: Par three 13th. And the par five 15th has a good inviting tee shot and a great approach.
Thomas: Really enjoyed playing the 13th par three. Probably the toughest par three I’ve ever played.
Michael: 7th – because I made par.
Tom: The 6th needs good accuracy off the tee with bunkers on the right side and another on left side to catch longer drives. Green not visible until arrive for 2nd shot when vista opens. Green does not have or need bunkers to protect it. Par five 15th invites driver but risky if leak it right for blind next shot. Your drive is rewarded if you can place drive in jaws of narrowed fairway as you can go for green in two.

[Photo: the par three 13th. As tough a par three as you'll find]

The par three is 195 metres and Index 7. It is often discussed as being one of the ‘great holes’. Playing into a stiff breeze we all had drivers or woods in our hands and a par here is undoubtedly a hard fought victory whatever the wind direction. In fact, with a steep drop in front of the green, playing into the wind is preferable to having it behind you. 

[Photo: Tom drives on the short par four 8th. Spot the ball... (above the clubhouse)]

Q. How did you find the shot-making – did you find the shots you were playing interesting – did you have to think about them? Highly varied, or were only a few clubs used all the time?
John: The choice of shots that you faced was huge. You could play approach shots in so many different ways (high, low, bump and run, etc.)
Tony: Used and needed every club in the bag. Course requires imagination for shots.
Thomas: Shot-making was very interesting. As the first time playing a links I found it hard to adjust. Trying to keep it low, putting from 30 yards short of the green – it was very hard to get the ball to stop.
Michael: You need to play a lot of different shots and it is very interesting all the way around. No need to hit a driver on a lot of holes.
Tom: Yes and yes: I didn’t use a few clubs but on a different weather day could see need to use all.

Michael is being disingenuous… here’s a guy who hits his drive huge distances (well over 300m on the last two holes), with one clear aim – get the ball as close to the green as possible so that he can putt it. He was most successful with his attempts from 30-40 yards out: unfortunately the 14th wasn’t one of them… see video below.

[Mike putting his 'approach' on 14]

Q. If you were coming back in a month’s time, what’s the one thing you’ll need to remember in order to score/play well?
John: Keep the ball low.
Tony: Keep it on the fairway.
Thomas: Keep it in play and keep it low.
Michael: Stay out of the rough.
Tom: Improve bump and run shots.

[Photo: Thomas sinking a putt on the par four 12th]

Q. Your rating out of 10
John: 9
Tony: 9
Thomas: 9
Michael: 9.5
Tom: 9
Total: 45.5/50 (for comparison purposes with other courses: 27.5/30)

Q. Value for Money (€100 per person) out of 10
John: 8. Fantastic course but in today’s economy €100 is a lot of money. It equates to playing two rounds on some other very good courses. Having said that, it is a course I would pay to play again.
Tony: 6.
Thomas: 4. Wouldn’t pay a €100.
Michael: 6
Tom: 9
Total: 33/50 (for comparison purposes with other courses: 20/30)

Perhaps it would have been fairer to have included the green fees for Royal Dublin (€120), Portmarnock (€150-€175) and The Links at Portmarnock (€45) for comparison. This is not the first time that green fee prices have been raised, and it surely won’t be the last, but for the quality and experience you get at The Island…

Q. Any final comments about the course or the facilities?
Tony: As far as I am concerned, a good course should be a good test of golf and require every club in the bag. A great course will leave you thinking you can do better next time and The Island certainly did that.
Thomas: A super course.
Michael: Loved everything about the course.
Tom: Don’t be tempted to change it too much.

[Photo: The Island 2nd hole. The approach shot towards Malahide]

Photo Set of The Island

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