Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Island in Glorious April

Hunter lets rip on the 5th
Playing golf at The Island is a rare treat. Playing it in perfect April sunshine, in t-shirt conditions, is a joy that goes beyond words.

“I met an American here in conditions like this,” Trapper told me outside the Pro shop. “He’d never been to Ireland before and was wearing waterproofs and Under Armour because his father, who had been here four times, had said it only ever rained. He had to buy new gear in the Pro shop.”

It’s that whole Ireland and never-ending-rain debacle. It wasn’t something Trapper, Pat, Hunter and I had to worry about last week - sun screen was the only issue – but I did wonder how frustrated that American’s father must have been when his son returned home to report that he’d played golf in sunshine.

“Sunshine? In Ireland? There’s no such thing!”

What will be the new 4th hole - a par three
I had played with Hunter at Portmarnock a few weeks before and I was intrigued to see how he compared the two courses. It must have been hard for him to remember as he’d been playing in Scotland in the meantime. North Berwick was just one of the courses on his rota. He’s supposed to be a student, studying Landscape Architecture in UCD (specialising in Golf Course Architecture), but with the amount of golf he ‘has’ to play… in the interests of research, of course… I think it’s a con. He’s just here to play the best courses in the world.

Clearly it’s working for him – he started with a string of pars that had the rest of us hiding our wallets. He even managed an audacious Phil Mickleson flop shot on 8 (see photo).

Hunter's flop shot on 8. The ball is 20 feet directly above him
We all had moments of excellent golf. Pars flowed and birdie opportunities occurred regularly, although none was taken. The Island is such a great experience and such a thrilling course that it demanded no less of our golf, and perhaps that is one of the reasons it was such an enjoyable day. That and the company.

The Island Golf Club - Changing Times

The Island has a rich history and Trapper pointed out the foundations for the old clubhouse, which line the 14th tee. This was where golfers came by boat to play the course. It was the only access for decades (1890 – 1973) and it gives the 14th a certain mystique… aided by possessing the narrowest fairway in Ireland.

The former clubhouse foundations... and the 14th hole
The club is reluctant to sit still. There has been criticism – completely misguided in my opinion – that the start of eight par fours is a hiccup in the course design. Tosh! The holes are all unique and offer different lengths, thrills and challenges. But heed has been taken and the holes are being changed. The long par four 3rd will become a par five, the 4th will be a brand new par three and the par four 5th (one of my favourites) will be switched from a right-to-left dogleg to a left-to-right dogleg. There was talk that the 8th and 9th holes (a short par four followed by a par three ending under the clubhouse) would then be combined.

To remove/change the 8th would be a sin. Ireland and golf in general need quirky, unique holes… holes that put manners on a golfer, makes him stop and think, and then still surprises him. Trapper told me that visitors love the hole but members are not too keen. It is a hole that demands an iron off the tee and then a carry over ‘fairway’ that isn’t fairway at all (hence the need for an iron for your tee shot), to a green down in a pocket of dunes. It’s one of those holes that when you walk up the gentle rise to reveal the green you can’t help but smile.

Trapper drives off the 17th
The back nine is remaining relatively untouched. Yes, there are changes, but that is to tee boxes where extra length is being added (mostly for the Pros). The 18th most notably. The course will measure 7,222 yards when the club hosts the Open Championship qualifying and the Irish Interpros later in 2014.

The four of us looked at these tee boxes and were thankful to walk forward a few dozen yards especially on 18, which is Index 1. We finished with three pars and a bogey… and walked off with heads held high. It was that kind of day. 18 holes in sunshine is bliss.

The long straight par four 18th
Shot of the day goes to Pat. Not content with hitting a 7 iron 200 yards, and surpassing Hunter’s flop shot out of thick rough, Pat put backspin on a putt from 40 feet and holed out for the unlikeliest of pars. The ball rattled the stick, ran 360 degrees around the hole and then, reluctantly, slipped back into the cup.

Pat out of the bunker on 16
Thanks to Trapper for the invitation, the team at The Island for their hospitality and the Island Golf Course for being in such beautiful condition... but don't touch that 8th!

Afterwards, we sat in the bar and talked long and hard about Padraig Harrington and his troubling times. These days it is an uncomfortable conversation… and not one to take place on this blog.

Click the link for a full set of photographs of The Island Golf Club.

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