Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Return Visit to the K Club (Smurfit) - A New Review?

Views over the 17th green to the 16th green
(from a previous visit and after the mist had started to lift)
“So, out of 10, how would you rank the course?” I asked my dad as we drove home from our round on the K Club Smurfit course.

He thought about it, scratched his chin and composed his answer. “Given the beautiful weather conditions, which always adds to the occasion,” he said, “I’d give it five.”

Five out of ten for one of the country’s premier courses… not the greatest endorsement in the world! The current green fee (rack rate) is €95. It rises to €135 peak season, so it's not exactly cheap either. (Be sure to phone up and negotiate if you want to play here.)

For me this was an opportunity to revisit one of the venues that had vexed me so much in the writing of Hooked.

The par three 2nd

Quiet on the Course, Please

It was a perfect day for golf. That March crispness, a midday sun and the warmth that came with it, and swans so plentiful we had a readymade audience on several holes. And the K Club was empty. Four cars in the Smurfit clubhouse car park and a total of six people seen during our round. At least it meant a smooth and quick game was in the offing.

We went around in three and a half hours. It would have been shorter but for two factors: one, I was taking photographs constantly – the last time I’d been here taking photographs, the ground was covered in a thick mist (very atmospheric, but doesn’t show off a lot of the hole); and two, the ground was sodden and we were making detours to avoid the worst of it.

Can someone tell me why the drainage here is so bad? Is it the Kildare soil? The K Club Palmer course is similarly affected... remember the Ryder Cup!

Dad hits from a fairway bunker on the 4th.
The K Club is highly rated (and the hotel superb). Of the two courses, the Palmer is consistently ranked above the Smurfit, but word is that the Americans prefer the Smurfit course. Fair enough. Bruce Selcraig (the American golf writer) was brutal about the Palmer because such courses are so common in the US… maybe the Smurfit is substantially different.

There has been a bit of back-and-forth on Twitter following some Tweets I put up during and after our round (with photos). The quality of the course was debated... and I hold my hand up and accept that mine appears to be a minority opinion... but for me the Smurfit is too manufactured, too false, and the design uninteresting. It’s all enormous curves and shamrock bunkers. I gave it a bashing in Hooked and I hoped that a return visit after six years might make me see things differently… it didn't.

Views back over the 10th green (from 11th tee), towards Straffan
House (the hotel) and the clubhouse.

The K Club's Excellent Finish

The final run of six holes remains excellent - finally the holes have interest off the tee and thrilling approaches - but the preceding 12 holes have just two holes of note: the 4th and the 7th. The par three 8th is also a good hole, but it’s made by the green being perched high on a mound with a gigantic bunker tucked beneath. To me that’s just ‘tricked-up’. The course in general is just over-cooked.

Honestly, I think what the Smurfit lacks is subtlety and genuine intrigue. The most impressive part of the course – apart from that final stretch of holes – is the greens. They didn’t look in the best condition – the recent weather has hardly been helpful – but they played smoothly and there is lots of shape to them.
The 16th green from the bridge. Index 1
Post-round… hats off to a great burger and chips in the Palmer clubhouse, although the €7.50 price tag on a pint bottle of Bulmer’s Mid-Strength seemed just a touch exorbitant.

Dad’s five out of ten is actually lower than my rating (66 out of 100), but his reasons for his lack of enthusiasm very much mirrored my own. I'm sure that the Smurfit course will remain attractive to the ‘bigger’ societies, corporate days-out and the golfing tourist, but most hard-working golfers looking for a great round of golf and value for money will look elsewhere.

If you want to add your comments to this, please do. As I said, I appear to be in the minority on this one, so perhaps you can explain why it is seen as being such a good course.


  1. Your post is up nearly 2 weeks now Kevin and no remarks defending the course. Says it all really. I haven't played it and most probably won't. I value your opinions on golf courses/design and it sure isn't on my bucket list.

  2. I played the course on Saturday last. The underground conditions, everywhere bar the superb greens, were atrocious. "Casual water" was so plentiful that it was scarcely possible to find a usable lie; how could this be so on what is obviously a very expensively built course? Storm drains there may be, but they do not work at the speed necessary. How could the greens have been so dry and playable but the fairways the complete opposite? Bunkers were all out of play because of the amount of water in them; their construction is clearly dated as they do not appear to have subsoil drainage systems. Admittedly the rainfall was heavy in the preceding days and on Saturday also, but it was by no means "biblical". Yet, the fairways were waterlogged to the extent that trolleys were setting up a "bow wave" and one's steps had to be picked carefully. Slopes were treacherous. All in all, an unpleasant experience, which is sad to say because the beauty of the place is exceptional, the staff are very helpful and nice, but it is clearly a course that it is only playable in dry conditions.