Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Inside The Ropes - County Louth Golf Club

Talk about catching the rough!
Co Louth is often referred to as one of the great, unsung Irish golf links. It hosted the Irish Open in 2004 and 2009, with Shane Lowry winning the latter, so it is hardly unsung… and yet it remains off the main highway of Ireland’s links’ destinations. Geographically, it should be ideal: it’s 50 minutes north of Dublin City Centre and situated between the might of Royal County Down and the links of Dublin. The course runs close to the sea, beyond Baltray, separated from the water by the course’s tallest dunes. The sea is visible only occasionally but, in the distance, the Mourne Mountains ripple across the horizon. On the 14th tee, where golfers get the best views, you can also take a couple of steps and look down the 16th at Seapoint GC, and over almost the entire course.

On the tee for the ‘Inside The Ropes’ visit were Daniel (18 handicap), Tony (17) and John (10). 

John, Tony and Daniel on the 14th tee. The flag is over
John's right shoulder.
After a quick visit to the practice range, courtesy of complementary range tokens, and after watching an American couple head off with their caddies, we teed off on an idyllic morning. We never saw the couple again and the three Americans behind us never caught up. It made for a relaxing round of golf, giving us plenty of time to wander the deep swathes of rough in far too many futile attempts to find our golf balls.

It is safe to say that by the end of the 1st hole we knew that straying into the rough meant certain trouble. One of my concerns was that this might affect how the guys viewed the course – visits to the rough and taking two or three shots to escape can sap the energy and the enthusiasm. I needn’t have worried.

John drives on the par five 3rd hole
Q. In a couple of sentences, describe the course
Daniel: Very peaceful and quiet. There was a nice flow to it, in the sense that the holes were nicely spread out.
John: A difficult links, with some testing holes and many strategically placed bunkers. A pleasure today, but not so on a windy day I’d imagine.
Tony: This is a mature, confident and tough links experience.

Q. What three features really stood out?
Daniel: There weren’t as many bunkers as I was expecting for a links. Some of the dunes on the back nine are lovely, and really shape the course. The fairways were all quite wide.
John: Excellent greens – although a bit slow today, they were true and very firm. Bunkers – many of them, well placed and well kept. They provide challenges without being impossible. The 16th hole has a super slim entrance to the green from a winding right-hand dogleg… with strategically placed bunkers to boot.
Tony: Clever bunkering – almost magnetic but designed to punish poor shots rather than punish good shots. The best drives (12, 16) were very memorable. It’s a long start with three early par fives.

An intriguing take on the bunkering by the three guys with Daniel and John seeing it very differently, and Tony looking at the strategic element. They threatened on many tee shots and if the sand was found the escape options were limited. Bite off too much and you have the humbling experience of splashing out sideways at the second attempt. They are not for show.

Here's a link to a video of John playing out of one of the more generous bunkers on the 2nd hole.
John shows how to get out of trouble on the 8th.
Q. What was the most rewarding/fun part of your round, and why?
Daniel: Really enjoyed the par threes. Not too long but really challenging. Here's a video of Daniel teeing off on the par three 7th - made the green and made par.
John: The company of course! Good craic, not too serious and plenty of chat. Course-wise, the 16th, a beauty.
Tony: All links golf is rewarding and this is quality links golf.

Q. How do the two nines compare?
Daniel: Definitely more variety to the second nine, nice dunes and more interesting.
John: Equally as difficult and equally as enjoyable. Front 9 was tough, but the start of the back 9 is very challenging with 8 to 14 all very long par fours.
Tony: First nine starts slow; back nine ends slow. In the middle it’s excellent.

Tony tees off on the dogleg 12th. Index 3
It’s no secret that Co Louth eases itself in at the start and finishes the same way. Sandwiched in between are some brilliant holes, most of which come on the back nine when you get close to the sea and thrown into the bigger dunes. But as John points out, they’re all tough holes. I’d say there were possibly only two easy holes (the par five 2nd and the short par four 4th).

Q. How did you find the shot-making? Did you find your shots interesting, did you have to think about them? Were shots highly varied, or were only a few clubs used all of the time?
Daniel: Definitely variety around the greens. Lots of holes suitable for driving.
John: Yes, varied. Links golf is very different from my usual play. Approaches to greens must be thought about every time.
Tony: Good around the greens, nice use of bunkers and contours. A bit samey off the tee: 400 yard par fours; 165 yard par threes.

Daniel finds more rough among the dunes.
Tony’s point addresses an interesting issue: we were playing in almost no wind. Co Louth is set out so that holes face in different directions – there’s no ‘out-and-back’ here – so on a typically windy day the similar length of holes can seem redundant as you have to approach each hole and each shot based on the factors in play.

The 3rd green from the side. It may not look it, but from the bottom
to the putting surface is 6 to 7 feet
I discovered a version of golf I hadn’t played in a while and one often found on links courses. It’s called ‘boomerang golf’ and it arrived on the 3rd green. Yes, this is the bump-it-up-the-hill-and-then-wait-for-the-ball-to-return-to-your-feet shot. It was a steep slope – probably 6 to 7 feet up to the green from where I was standing - so I bumped the first shot up the bank and made it three quarters of the way up. My second effort made it to the putting surface but came back anyway. Was it third time lucky? The only luck was avoiding a 10 on my card… but it demonstrated the variety and range of shots needed on a links course like Co Louth. Tony couldn’t help but laugh at my efforts... but I had the last laugh: On three occasions he smashed a drive miles left, into deep rough, and then hit his provisional miles right, into more deep rough… except once, when he almost reached the car park on the dogleg 10th (see pic below).

Tony takes a detour. The ball is visible on the path between the railings
Q. You’re selling this course to a friend – sum it up in one sentence.
Daniel: Definitely a challenge, lots of variety and at least six holes that would bring you back.
John: A beautiful, old-school links, you’ll need every shot in the repertoire to score well.
Tony: Well worth playing, but perhaps not worth building a holiday around

Q. What was your favourite hole and why?
Daniel: 12-15 are all stunning, classic links holes. Lots of imagination and challenging, without being too long.
John: 16th – as above.
Tony: 10 to 16, in among the dunes. It’s more exciting

Approach to the 16th.
Q. If you are coming back in a month’s time, what’s the one thing you’ll need to remember in order to score/play well?
Daniel: Stay on the fairway and make it a priority over distance!
John: Stay straight!! Not so many drivers!
Tony: Keep it in play off the tee… don’t be a hero in the rough.

Enough said! The rough will ruin your card quicker than you can say ‘snowman’.

Views from the 5th green over the dunes of the back nine.
Rating out of 10
Daniel: 7
John: 7.5
Tony: 7.5
Total: 22/30

Value for money, out of 10 (Green fees €100-€120)
Daniel: 6
John: 6. However, judging by the number of tourists it’s priced correctly for that market.
Tony: 4. €120 is premium golf. This is not exciting enough nor pristine enough for that money. At €60 it would be 10/10.
Total: 16/30

John’s comment seems highly apt given the number of American accents we heard on the course in late August. And given the number of caddies also on the fairways, money is less of a factor than the opportunity to play such a prestigious course.

The par three 5th from the 6th tee box. Great views and
my favourite hole
My thanks to the guys for coming along – John was heading off for a 4pm tee time in his club’s monthly Medal. I imagine the shots he played at Co Louth will not help on a short, tight track like Forrest Little. My thanks also to Liam and the staff at Co Louth for giving us the opportunity to experience the course’s charms on such a gentle day.

For my full set of Flickr photos, click here.
For the County Louth website, click here.

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