- Nairn is a highly rated links, with a flat landscape, perfect greens and a long history. [Photos]
- Nairn Dunbar is a parkland close to the sea, with a very easy rhythm and intriguing greens. [Photos]
- Fortrose & Rosemarkie is a links that juts into the sea, running out to a lighthouse with deep ocean on each side, and what must be a terrifying test of golf in a strong wind. [Photos]
- Forres is a more obvious parkland, but it's hard to tell how good when you spend the entire round under an umbrella.
- Castle Stuart is a links that runs across two tiers and has such amazing shapes to fairways and greens that it's almost fairytale links. And then there's the clubhouse. [Photos]
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Headfort recently offered the opportunity to play either of their courses for €20, on any day during February. Considering how good the New course is (the Old course is none too shabby either), and how benign our weather has been, that's a great deal. It has been very well received, according to the club and there are still a few days to go, if you're interested. www.headfortgolfclub.ie
Groupon & All the Rest
The popularity of Groupon-type offers seems like an easy fall-back and is being widely used... I have my doubts about this route and will address what I see as the pros and cons in a later blog... especially as a Canadian golf blogger (golfgal) has written an article on why they are such a positive option for golf clubs: her article is here.
Something Different, Something Free
I'm not saying that this brand new Castlerock offer is stunningly different – certainly not along the lines of Druid Glen’s month of free golf (March 2010) – but it demonstrates how golf club’s have started thinking outside the box to reach new audiences and encourage repeat business.
The old reliables (€30 green fee with free breakfast/steak lunch; the four for the price of three, the twilight rate) will always be popular, but making an impact by doing something different will grab your audience's attention.
The offer from Castlerock does just that.
The Castlerock 8
"There aren't many links courses where you can play during the summer for £25 a round," says Mark Steen, Castlerock's Secretary/Manager... diplomatically leaving out the words 'this good' after links courses. Castlerock promises perfect links golf and the night I spent in the bar was one of the most hospitable I spent during my travels.
"Lots of golfers have asked us about a summer golf pass, but we decided to cover the whole year and see how well the offer is received," Mark continues.
This offer will be attractive to any golfer who decides to descend on this stretch of heavenly links coastline.
The deal is this: you pay £200. In return you will be sent a booklet with 8 green fees, valid for one year. These can be used between Monday and Friday at ANY TIME OF THE YEAR (subject to availability, obviously). That's it. You phone the Pro shop, you book your tee time, you play your golf.
And why is this such a good deal? As if you have to ask:
- It's £25 per round.
- Castlerock is a Northern Ireland links gem with all the quality, views and links bedevilment you could hope for.
- The club sits on the western edge of one of the most stunning stretches of links courses in the world (Portstewart and Royal Portrush are practically next door).
- The Irish Open is coming this way so you could head up over the summer and play the brilliant Castlerock and then enjoy Royal Portrush's Irish Open course in probably the best condition of its life.
- Who knows, ask nicely and you might be able to bring a friend and use two tickets at once.
- Great clubhouse atmosphere.
- Yes, it's £25 per round.
A Winter Fry
And, considering the benign weather, here’s one final thought: Castlerock has an excellent (winter) offer on the go at the moment - £100 for a fourball, with a fry-up. The offer has generated £3,000 in green fees so far and it runs until the end of March.
When the club added in the fry-up there was a huge increase in interest, showing quite clearly how health conscious we are and what we like to think about after a blustery day on a wonderful links. Check out their website and give them a call.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Dark grey skies were pressing down as we left Dublin. Two hours and 15 minutes later we were at Royal County Down, breathing in the atmosphere and basking under sunshine and velvet clouds. February 23, 2012 and it was 14 degrees C. Add in a two-club wind and could you ask for better links conditions than that?
There are several clubs around Ireland, where the reputation and history seep into your bones from the moment you step out of the car. Lahinch, Royal Portrush, Ballybunion, Portmarnock and Royal County Down are the most obvious. It heightens the moment, and I doubt there are many golfers who could tell you otherwise. Everything about this place oozes class. There’s a sense of quiet decorum, too. It urges you on towards the 1st tee.
Lenny, the Starter, was getting me and my father out ahead of a fourball – good thing too: by the time we were on the 8th, the fourball were on the 3rd. No one behind us, no one in front of us; no pressure. It gave us time to enjoy the course, and me time to take a lot of photographs.
[Photo: the beautiful par three 4th with the Mourne Mountains behind]
The last time I played here was with my father and a couple of friends in 2007. Five years ago… it seems utterly ludicrous when a course this good is just a two hour drive from Dublin, and costs a mere Stg £50. (That rises to £75 in March.) Then again, I had a few other courses to play in between.
A Perfect Eloquence
It is almost impossible to describe Royal County Down in simple terms. I could write a few hundred words talking about the wild rough alone, an essay on the bearded-faced, treacherous bunkers, a thesis on the silken greens that flow so easily out of the land, and a trilogy on the course design that is so subtle and perfect you can’t imagine the dunes could have ever have been created for anything else. I’d pen a sonnet on the surroundings, too, but my poetic abilities stop at the Limerick… so I’ll use someone better suited to the task:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever. So said John Keats, and that sums up RCD in a nutshell.
[Photo: bunkers are never a good place to be!]
But RCD is also tough. We played from the white tees - a mere 6,700 yards and par 71.
Length aside, what most people remember and what causes pulses to race are the blind shots. They are not to everyone’s taste (Jack Nicklaus, for example), but what a joy it is to crest the dune and see that little white ball on the fairway with, more often than not, the Mourne Mountains looming behind.
Missing the green also leads to plenty of trouble. Balls simply slide off the edges and trickle away down slopes and into trouble. In February, the slick surfaces were mercifully forgiving and long irons settled quickly. In summer, it’s a case of goodbye and good luck.
[Photo: the view of the 9th from the dune crest, after the most difficult drive of the day]
Picking a Favourite
Most golfers will walk away from RCD with holes 4 (a par three) and 9 (a tough par four) firmly in their minds as their favourite hole. Personally, I consider the 9th to be the best 9th hole in the country, and one of the best holes full stop. But I also love 3, 5, 11, 13 and 16.
The intrigue and challenges are relentless, which mean every hole is exceptional. There is no such thing as an ‘obvious’ hole (only the 18th comes close) and – blind holes aside – you do get to see what’s expected of you. If you believe in your swing 100%, then you feel like you’ve got a fighting chance.
[Photo: the short par four 16th. The usual tees are well to the right, giving this hole more of a curve]
Learning a Lesson
[Video of Dad smacking one down the 12th]
My dad, 80 years old, playing off a 20 handicap, was kicking my butt. He missed two fairways all day and eased around the back nine with 20 points that could so easily have been more. That liquid swing of his was working a charm and I realised that if we’d been playing off scratch (I was giving him 14 shots) he’d still have taught me a lesson. He had four pars, which is more than I managed. I lost two balls, he didn’t lose one. I was a hang-dog walking up 18, he was strutting his stuff, laughing that we'd played almost every hole in sunshine.
And he treated me to lunch, suggesting that we make this an annual excursion. You’ll get no argument from me, although I'll need to practise a lot more between now and then.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
On Sunday afternoon, Peter Whiteford stepped towards the 4th tee at the Avantha Masters, in India, and was told he was disqualified. The man must have been shattered. Here he was, within a couple of shots of the lead on the final day of a European Tour event, and he had to endure the indignity of being carted off in a buggy for something that happened the previous day.
I’m not going to go into the whys and hows of what he did: he made a mistake and after querying it with his playing partner, caddie and a cameraman, he erroneously played on. He even had a Get Out of Jail Free card (thanks to the new rule 33-7/4.5) which he no doubt will be kicking himself for not using at the end of his 3rd round. No, what I want to discuss is the role of the small-minded, smug TV armchair vigilantes who are turning tournament golf into a circus.
Rude on the Rules
A while back I made rude comments about the R&A and how slowly they got things done. Changing rules in golf is like asking an oil tanker to do a quick U-turn: it can’t be done quickly. But following a couple of fiascos (Padraig’s was one of the high profile ones) they made changes which allow a committee, in certain circumstances, to modify the disqualification penalty and apply the appropriate penalty stroke(s) if a player could not have reasonably known he had incurred a penalty. Padraig’s ball moved a fraction on the green; Peter Whiteford ball moved a fraction on the fairway. Both were disqualified.
Bravo! A leap forward.
But the problem of the armchair vigilante was not tackled. Following Whiteford’s ‘mistake’ several viewers contacted the European Tour website to report that Peter Whiteford’s ball had in fact moved.
My issues are this:
· If these reports came in overnight, why was Whiteford subjected to the shame of reaching the 4th tee before he was DQ’d? He was in the final groups, so surely something could have been done before he stepped onto the 1st tee, and he could have slipped quietly away. To be told before tee-off that the incident was being ‘reviewed’ is the equivalent of kicking him in the ankle and wishing him good luck.
· If a new rule was introduced to change the severity of a golfer’s punishment, why wasn’t a rule introduced to deal with armchair tittle-tattle? Clearly this is going to be a long term problem as HD TV takes over and TV screens grow to the size of a house. Millions of people watch, and every spit, every curse, every blade of grass, every ball can be seen, reviewed, enlarged and looped in high definition. There is no escape.
Perhaps most worryingly for the professional is that the better he/she is performing in a tournament, the higher the chances that the TVs will be glued to him. If he was down the bottom of the field, he could practically pick up the ball and toss it in the hole without anyone knowing. No, the better you’re doing, the more likely some muppet will decide you’ve committed a cardinal sin and you must be punished.
· Who are these sad individuals who feel it is their right – nay, their duty – to be interfering with a tournament thousands of miles away? I don’t care if you know the rules back to front (I certainly don’t), who the hell are you to affect the outcome of a tournament that has got nothing to do with you?
The options are obvious:
1. The European Tour (and others) need to have a referee glued to a TV for the entire tournament so that they see exactly what the viewer sees. As a referee, he/she then gets to decide if an infraction has been committed.
2. If the armchair bandits wish to prove that they are all-powerful and contact the different tours to inform them of a transgression (I notice no-one has made an official complaint about Poulter’s dress sense), then feel free… but this information must only be taken into account AFTER the tournament (assuming it hasn’t already been noted by the tournament body). I don’t care if Rory is spotted kicking his ball out of the rough; if he’s not called on it at the time or before he signs his card, then it has to be accepted… at least until after the tournament is finished. In the technology age we live in, most popular sports have a review system that allows a player to be banned/fined/cited after the event… why not golf?
Take the Rory example – yes, he picks up a cheque for thousands, but he has to bear the shame of being cited, he could be fined or he could be banned for a tournament. If you doubt me, consider how Vijay Singh still carries the mark of ‘cheat’ from an incident in 1985. In fact, do a google search and you’ll find that it’s one of the top search results for Vijay.
Oh sure, I know there are holes in this argument… what if Whiteford had gone on to win in a play-off that he shouldn’t have even been in, you ask. Well, my answer is simple: I don’t make the rules… but then neither do the people sitting at home watching TV.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
[Photo: one of the best opening holes in Irish golf]
But the Clare Golf Challenge is something completely different and very, very special.
Now in its third year, it presents the opportunity for a team of four players to play ten golf courses in County Clare for a paltry €100 each, between April 1st and September 30th. That’s a tenner each and your team can play those ten courses at ANY time during those months (subject to availability obviously). And you don't have to play all ten courses.
But wait, it gets better! Among these ten courses are:
- The dramatic Dromoland Castle crammed with huge trees, a Special Area of Conservation, perfectly shaped holes and water features, and the castle constantly appearing as a back drop.
- The rhythmic Shannon streaking between dark trees, drifting around gentle doglegs and promising sweet shots at every turn.
- The entertaining East Clare, with its chocolate filled ponds, its wildness and its peacefulness.
There’s also Lahinch’s second course (Castle), which, while not in the same league as its sibling, retains the same quality condition and is still a quaint links that’ll put manners on you if you try to be smart. And yet it's even better again, because one of those ten courses is the exceptional Doonbeg links on Doughmore Bay, which has one of the best opening holes in Irish golf and popped out of the imagination of Greg Norman.
[Photo: the short par four 15th at Dromoland Castle]
I could write about Doonbeg till the snails come home, but you’re thinking there’s a trick, aren’t you! €100 for ten courses seems just too whacky for words when a single round at Doonbeg can cost you over €150. It’s completely genuine and if you don’t believe me, click on this link for the Clare website... but there are conditions.
To play one of Ireland’s newest and finest links, tee times are ‘only’ available between Monday and Thursday, and after 2pm… which is not exactly onerous is it!
Think about it: regardless of whether you win or lose, or whether you play all ten courses, you can spend three days in gorgeous Clare and play a world renowned course, and a couple of other beauties for a mere €100.
The Challenge has a fairly lengthy list of terms and conditions but when you read them they actually make the whole thing look even better - assuming you're a GUI/ILGU member. For starters, there’s a gala final at Doonbeg, and your team of four can actually have a ringer or two if a couple of the group can’t make one of your rounds.
[Photo: the 6th hole at Lahinch (Castle)]
The Full List
Spanish Point (9 hole)
Entry is limited to the first 100 teams prepared to pay up. Accommodation suggestions are also made on the clare.ie website (including Doonbeg and Dromoland Castle), so it couldn’t be much easier to get involved.
And don’t forget the other non-golfing adventures in County Clare: Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Loop Head and Lisdoonvarna, and that's just for starters.
The Bad News
There is some bad news, which is how the competition is regulated. It relies on golfers’ honesty when it comes to scoring/marking and submitting cards. In other words it is open to cheating, and the winners from last year had rumours swimming around them about dubious handicaps. In other words, you’re probably not going to win as there will always be some people prepared to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable.
And to qualify for the final your team has to submit a minimum of five cards (i.e. five rounds of golf).
[Photo: Doonbeg's 18th hole, with the Lodge behind]
But just keep telling yourself that you’re playing Doonbeg, Dromoland Castle etc., for €10 and you’ll realise that this is one of the greatest deals you're ever likely to encounter.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Monday, February 13, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Friday, February 10, 2012
Irish Professional Golfers
Will we win a Major or two? How many of our boys will make the Ryder Cup team? Will Rory or G-Mac win the Irish Open, or do the likes of Shane Lowry and Gareth Maybin have a shot? Can Padraig stop his spiralling decline down the work rankings? Can everyone’s favourite, loveable rogue put down the pint glass and get back to golf?
There’s not an Irishman around the world who doesn’t want to see Rory slipping on the Green Jacket after the disaster of last year. The question is – will he wrap up more than one Major?
[Photo taken from www.golftrainingaids.com]
As much as golf punditry focuses on Tiger’s return and his prospects for the year (don’t tell me he’s not going to start winning again), the Irish concern has to be on Padraig. In a couple of weeks’ time our greatest ever golfer is going to slip out of the top 100, and yet he keeps telling us that everything’s fine, that all he needs is a tweak here or there and he’ll be back. It pains me to see the man struggle, but I see a Tin Cup moment approaching when he’ll have golfing paraphernalia dangling from his head and an expression that says: ‘hey, this one’s gonna work.’ Personally, I think he’s trying too hard. Some time spent away from the game would do him the world of good... as if that's going to happen.
As for Shane Lowry, he’ll win something this year and keep the stream of Irish winners ticking over nicely.
Check out the poll on the top right of the blog and add your thoughts.
Irish Golf Courses
We lost three courses in 2011 (Kilkea Castle, Limerick County and Turvey), along with one of the Citywest courses (Lakes) which is set to become an interesting par 69 car park.
What 2012 holds is anybody’s guess but it is a serious concern for Irish golf. Most worryingly of all, it is not the weakest clubs that will fail necessarily. Take a bow, NAMA.
NAMA props up several courses whose owners have gone kaput thanks to the banking/property fiasco and their own greed/stupidity (delete as appropriate). The courses themselves are good (Tulfarris, Fota Island, New Forest…) and were simply luckless in who owned them , but with so much pressure being put on Irish golf in general, something’s got to give… and if it’s not the NAMA courses, then there will probably be casualties nearby.
[Photo: Views over the lakes and 13th green at Tulfarris]
That in itself is not fair, but the Government and their friends at the Bad Bank are trying – allegedly – to get the best value for money for the Irish taxpayer by funding these clubs, and if other just-about-financially-viable clubs suffer as a result of these actions, that's not the Government's concern.
Elsewhere, several golf clubs are in receivership/administration and not under the protective NAMA umbrella. And they are fighting for their lives. Deals have been made late in the day with banks who have provided assistance, extended overdrafts and get-out-of-jail free cards. Two clubs that have fought their way back from the brink are Knockanally and Beaufort, with the latter now run entirely by the members in an attempt to survive. Their efforts should be applauded and, as a fine and elegant course, I hope it does survive.
Without meaning to sound harsh, there is a desperate need for some clubs to fail so that others can prosper. But who would you wish that on? (Actually, I have a few in mind but I’m trying to be objective here.) If golf courses can get through this year and next, they have a good chance of making it the whole way. But there's a lot going on between now and then...
[Photo: approach to Moyvalley's 12th hole]
Another worrying trend is the continuing fall in the number of GUI full membership golfers. The figures read as follows:
Between 2007 (the peak of GUI membership numbers) and 2011 the number of golfers fell by 17%. Over 25,200 golfers have dropped out. A few have become 5 or 6 day members, others country members, but most have simply decided to save their annual sub and use their money for more important things. When they want to play golf – at any of Ireland’s courses – they have the opportunity and the means to do it.
The paradox is that many clubs have waved their joining fees in an attempt to attract golfers. Moyvalley is the one oft cited (from €75,000 to €800), but there were many others where joining fees could have bought you a very classy car and a three week holiday in Oz.
The positive news is that tourist numbers are up (7% overall in 2011), with the American golfing market particularly buoyant, with a boost of 25%; the bad news is that we’re still way down on the highs of 2006/7. But as long as the numbers are moving in the right direction there’s cause for optimism.
And with our green fees so severely slashed (and far more realistic), it makes Ireland a more attractive golf destination still. Then again, you’d have to sell your house or give up your three week holiday to Oz just so you can afford to take your golf clubs on a Ryanair flight.
The names of Rory, Darren, G-Mac and Padraig must also be a big draw and Failte Ireland are certainly doing their best to push these guys in their marketing campaigns.
Perhaps they should be building on the ‘Gathering’ planned for next year, and start a ‘Golf Gathering’ as well.
[The par three 3rd at the K Club Palmer course]
Playing Ireland’s Best
During the boom years there were some golf clubs that were, simply put, unaffordable for the average, hard-working golfer. The K Club led the way with monstrous green fees approaching €400. Never has a golfer wanted to play 400 shots in a single round of golf just so they get their money’s worth.
But smaller clubs weren’t blameless, with clubs around Leinster pushing green fees up towards the €100 mark. Many of these are down to the €30-€40 bracket again, and that can only be a good thing. Elasticity of demand and all that economics stuff, which I sat through in college, makes my blood run cold but I get the gist… and I hope golf clubs do too.
[Photo: Approach to Lahinch's 6th hole - all the more enjoyable when you play it for €50]
Today, if you want to play the big courses as a special treat, you can do so. At this time of year you’ll find some cracking deals (Royal County Down is £50, Lahinch is €50 and Druid’s Glen is €40), but even during peak season, prices are down by 25% to 60%. You just have to look a little bit. Last year the K Club had open ‘Festival’ days when you could play the Palmer course for €75.
Without murdering a cliché or two, Ireland is in the rough but there is plenty of light at the end of the tunnel. Irish professionals are winning, golfing tourists are coming back and green fees have come down. It sounds so easy when you put it that way. Now, as long as you support your golf club, we’ll be grand.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Yep, Smurfit is lining up to buy the K Club in its entirety. It's like an on-again, off-again relationship. I can't keep up with who owns what down there in Straffan.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Wine etc. Household items (lamp, cutlery)
Green Fee Vouchers