Saturday, December 26, 2015

Top Ten Irish Golf Photos of 2015

Views over the 17th tee at Shannon Golf Club.
My Flickr page of Irish golf courses recently passed 12,000 images. They're not all of Ireland, I hasten to add - there are photos from Portugal, Poland, Turkey and Great Britain, too - but the bulk are of the many beautiful parkland and links courses on this island.

I've added another couple of thousand images this year. Here's a 'ten of the best' selection, from the

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Links Golf This Winter - Irish Golfer Magazine

It may not feel like winter quite yet but Irish golf courses know it's not far away. Temporary greens are coming in to play, forward tees and/or matted tees are being prepared, areas are already roped off... every club golfer knows what it's like. And let's not discuss plugged and unfindable balls in the middle of the fairway, mud up to your ankles and half an hour spent cleaning off your trolley when you're done. OK, so I'm taking it to extremes but it has happened!

Links golf courses do not suffer these same winter blues. Fairways and greens all stay in great shape

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Golf Stock Photo Fails (Hooked on Golf Blog)

If you fancy a laugh, check out a bunch of recent blogs over on the Hooked on Golf Blog. They come under the title of  "Golf Stock Photo Fail" and some of them are beauties.

If you're wondering what a 'photo fail' refers to, it's simple. Take your camera to a golf course, hire a model (or ask the locals) and then take snazzy photographs of them on the course swinging a club, posing, celebrating... then take your majestically brilliant

Friday, December 18, 2015

Golf Calendar Winners

Many thanks to all for the massive response to this little 'prize draw'. Biggest entry to any of the freebies on my blog.

The winners are Ronan Coleman and Mick Mehigan.

Here are a few of the photos:

The 1st hole at Durness in the north west Scottish Highlands
The tricky par three 8th at Tain in the Scottish Highlands 
Sunrise over the 3rd green at Galgorm Castle, in Northern Ireland.
Approach to the 13th at Enniscrone Golf Club.





Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Golf Calendars for 2016

I made up two golf calendars for next year: one for Ireland, and one for Scotland. The Scottish one focuses exclusively on the North Coast 500 golf courses, scattered around the Northern Scottish Highlands. The Irish one has a much wider spread of the island.

I didn't get them to sell - they're for 'promotional' purposes - but I'm giving away one of

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trump, Tramp, Tromp

Oh boy, here I am writing about Donald Trump again. Really, does this guy need to be talked about more than he already is? If your answer is ‘No’ you probably won’t want to read on.

How does a man this bigoted, ignorant and despicable get to be in the running to be the next ‘Leader of the Free World’? Seriously, the man is a super-rich, super egotistical buffoon who makes things up on the spot… pretty much every time he opens his mouth. If he was Pinocchio, he’d be able to use his nose to rake the bunkers in Doonbeg.

When he bought, fought, bullied, grand-standed and manipulated the truth to develop his

Monday, December 7, 2015

Big Whales and Little Fish - Ireland's Golf Rankings

The 6th green at Rathcore Golf Club.
Following the publication of Golf Digest Ireland's Top 100 Irish golf courses last week, there has been a considerable and negative reaction.

That is hardly surprising as the process this year was seriously undermined.

Panelists did not visit all the courses and, as someone who has been

Friday, December 4, 2015

Ireland's Top 100 Golf Courses 2016 - Golf Digest Ireland

Galway Golf Club's 14th
[For the 2017 Top 100 Irish Golf Course Ranking, click HERE.]

[December 2015]
The new Top 100 rankings from Golf Digest Ireland (GDI) are out today. There's a new 'judging panel' which has undoubtedly resulted in some of the changes, but there are still some surprises.

Consider that last year's ranking was a screw up. The independent panel's ranking was altered by the magazine's

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ten Irish Golf Courses to Play in 2016

No, this is not a 'top ten' Irish courses...  this is about interesting, fun and relevant courses for 2016. You should, at the very least, be sure to experience at least one of these next year.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Golf News... Episode 1

2nd green at Enniscrone
Sorry, I don't mean to excite you with thoughts of a global round up of golf news - it's just a small round up of things that caught my eye.

And yes, Donald Trump looms large.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Them’s The Oaks… at Moyvalley

The 2nd hole at Moyvalley
All in all, it has been a positive year for Irish golf. The professional and amateur ranks have delivered impressive performances, golf tourism is up, course maintenance is returning to its best and struggling golf courses have found light at the end of the tunnel. Beaufort Golf Club is back from the brink, St Margaret’s is thriving under new management, Rathfarnham opened its three new holes (to make it 18) and Castlemartyr was acquired by a British businessman… something that will benefit the entire Cork

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Scotland’s North Coast 500… The Top Ten

The opening hole at Durness Golf Club
Nineteen days, 920 miles, 26 golf courses… this day last week I rolled home with  Scotland’s North Coast 500 under my belt… done and dusted… finished… never to be forgotten. What started out as a golfing odyssey to play these courses (Royal Dornoch and Brora in particular) turned into something so much bigger. The landscape is majestic, the history haunting (the Highland Clearances have refrains not dissimilar to

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Scotland as a Bucket List Destination - An Infographic

The nice people at Links Golf Ireland sent me this infographic a couple of weeks ago, while I was travelling... and seeing as it's all about Scotland - and what makes the country a must-visit destination - take a look.

I hope it shows up OK and is readable on your screen/device.

The only thing I'd disagree with is the number of courses. My 'research' indicates that there are 660 courses in Scotland. Tom Coyne played golf with a man who is playing every single one of them... expect a book, soon!


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Irish Golfer Magazine and the K Club

Approach to 17 at K Club Palmer
It feels as if normal service has resumed after my three week golfing stint in Scotland, and the arrival of the new issue of the Irish Golfer Magazine brought that home loud and clear.

This is the 7th issue of the magazine and it continues to go from strength to strength. Its focus on Irish golf - at all levels - makes it unique in the market and John Shortt and Peter Finnan have

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 19 The Final Blows

Monday (yesterday) was the last day of this amazing journey. The North Coast 500 and the Scottish Highlands in their entirety are an enchanting and – at times – mystical place. It’s not hard to see why the NC500 route is already so highly rated. The scenery is stunning. As I said a couple of days ago, it’s a great driving route… especially if you’re a passenger. But the driver gets plenty to experience, too… you’ll just need to be prepared to pull over time and again.

It is fitting, I feel, that it rained on my final day. I stayed at a converted croft house (some 150

Sunday, November 8, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 18 Lochcarron and Strathpeffer Golf Clubs

I played three holes of golf today. Well, two and a half. When you hit your wedge and you get a faceful of water, mud and moss in your eyes and nostrils you tend to declare a course unplayable. That was Lochcarron Golf Club. I was still spitting out the moss and dirt on the 7th.

It rained during the night. Big, big rain. I didn’t realise until I walked out of the hotel and the road was flooded. It was so wet it looked like the road was part of the loch alongside. I drove the half mile to Lochcarron GC and after assessing the

Saturday, November 7, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 17 Gairloch to Applecross

Just a slice of the beauty of Loch Maree.
Travelling around the Scottish Highlands at the beginning of November has its upsides and its downsides… the downsides are that the weather will probably bring rain and that a lot of places are going to be closed for the season: hotels, restaurants, museums, tourist offices and tourist attractions – they’re hardly going to stay open for the one or two people who might trickle through. Many of my stops have proved

Friday, November 6, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 16 The West Coast

Sunrise at Durness Golf Club (and no photoshopping!)
My tee time at Ullapool was 12pm. At 11.57am the heavens opened, dropping all of the rain that I have managed to avoid for the last 10 days.

Fortunately, I was nowhere near Ullapool when the rain arrived. I was driving from Lochinver, 30 miles away, the birthplace of Alister MacKenzie’s father, and a place

Thursday, November 5, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 15 Durness GC and the Cocoa Mountain

The par three 7th.
Straplines are a wonderful thing, aren’t they! Just Do It, Coke Is It, Vorsprung Durch Technik… it’s something I do for a living – among other things. So when I play a round of golf somewhere very special, I tend to work on a strapline for the course as I go around.

I was standing on the 7th tee at Durness Golf Club, greatly enjoying the course and

Moyvalley GC Upgrade by O'Connor Junior

A quick non-Scottish golf blog as this appeared in my inbox a few minutes ago:

“CHRISTY O’CONNOR JNR APPOINTED TO UNDERTAKE THE UPGRADE AND REDEVELOPMENT OF THE GOLF COURSE AT MOYVALLEY HOTEL & GOLF RESORT”

The recent news that Irish golfing legend, Ryder Cup player and prolific international golf course

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 14 Reay to Durness

There is something very strange indeed about driving these single lane roads and coming across one house every few miles… and one red telephone box opposite. 

It puts population density into perspective, that’s for sure.

I played Reay Golf Club this morning, an

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 13 Thurso... and back to Wick

The 'double' bunker on Thurso's 8th hole
Somebody pinch the meteorology service. Another day in the Scottish Highlands and another 15 degrees and non-stop sunshine along the North Coast 500. You wouldn't believe it is you weren't here.

When I started this North Coast 500 adventure I set myself three non-golfing

Monday, November 2, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 12 Wick to John O Groats

The par three 9th at Wick.
Someone once told me that you can tell what kind of man you are by your reaction to walking through a cobweb. Real men, apparently, carry on as if nothing has happened; the rest of us lurch backwards and claw at our faces as if a tarantula has leapt on board.

I fall firmly into that second category.


Wick Golf Club, on November 2nd, was

Sunday, November 1, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 11 Stanes

Views back down the 4th, showing off the fairway shapes.
An early morning start, back out on the beautiful Brora Links. The morning was due to be glorious and I had failed to get the necessary photographs yesterday… so, come sunrise, I found myself walking the course with an elderly lady and her very enthusiastic King Charles spaniel. The lady was striding along… the dog either running alongside or flying through the air if it failed to keep up.

Watching the light and shadow form over the fairways and through the hollows is always one of the joys of photography, and being on one of the best courses in the country just adds to the occasion.

Here are a couple of shots (above and below).

Side view of Brora's par three 6th green (named 'Witch')

Helmsdale Golf Club 

The road north led to Helmsdale, the site of the next golf course on the North Coast 500 route. The sun was out so how bad could it be … hmmm … after being spoiled in recent days, Helmsdale was a definite drop in momentum. There was no one at the clubhouse – I was told in the village that the course was probably closed on Sunday – and the nine-hole course was deserted. Can you imagine a course at home being empty on a sunny Sunday morning?

A panorama of the course from the 9th tee at Helmsdale
I made my way around the course and admired the views. There’s not much more to be said than that. Helmsdale Golf Club is not designed for golfers from abroad.

 Lybster Golf Club

Lybster Golf Club was next, along the coast road that rose and fell like a heartbeat. It was mountains to the left, ocean to the right, the two seemingly joined by the white ribbon of waves. In Lybster, another small town,  the Waterlines Museum introduces you to the history of this fishing community and the harbour over which the museum sits.
The Lybster Waterlines Museum. The sea comes up those steps.
Pier and Lighthouse at the end of the harbour.
 The golf course at Lybster is nothing to write home about. I walked into the clubhouse and chatted with three of the members. They waved me on my way and I discovered a course that had been described to me as sitting in an area 600 yards long and 200 yards wide... which is exactly what it was. There are nine holes here, squeezed in on a gentle hillside overlooking the sea. As at Helmsdale, it will not attract touring golfers, but is sufficient for the local population.

It does have one interesting quirk, however... the par three 4th may be the only par three in existence that deceives you... by placing a green directly in your line. Stand on the tee and you will see a flag over some heather. But that's not your green (it's the 6th). The green you want is 40 yards directly behind.
Look closely and you will see a red flag. You are now on the 4th tee.
Look more closely and you will see a red flag beyond (just to the right)...
that's the green you're playing to.

The Hill O Many Stanes

Having had my fill of the golf courses I headed on towards Wick, a larger town on the east coast. How large? you ask. It has a Tesco and a Lidl, and two curry houses. But before I got there, I had one stop I had been looking forward to making. The Hill O' Many Stanes sits off the road, a quarter mile up a track. It is exactly what it says it is... a hill of many stones. Planted in 22 rows, 196 flagstones rise out of the earth. They are not tall, or huge, but their reason for being is still unknown. They may have been buried to commemorate loved ones, some 3,000-4,000 years ago, or to signify burial plots of slain Picts... either way, the place has a serene calm to it and the setting is beautiful.

The Hill O Many Stanes
The Hill O Many Stanes gave me a stain all of my own. Walking the paths I trod in dog shit but didn't notice until I got back to the car. I proceeded to smear it on the car floor before I got that oh-so-familiar smell. Oh well, at least it covers up the smell of sheep shit that I have all over my golf trolley wheels from yesterday. I'm a glass-half-full kinda guy.

Next up, is Wick Golf Club... but I have to be honest and say that there are bigger things in the near future: there is a faint hint of some Northern Lights tomorrow night, and I'll be as far north on the UK mainland as it is possible to get.





Saturday, October 31, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 10 Brora

A few years ago I spent a few days in the Golf Hotel in Nairn. It’s a town in the Scottish Highlands, an hour to the east of Inverness. The hotel sits right beside the highly rated Nairn Golf Club. Not surprisingly, given its name and location, tasteful photographs of golf holes adorned the hotel walls. I counted maybe a dozen or so clubs from the region.
The 17th is a long 440 yard par four, with a split fairway.
Now, sitting in the bar of the Royal Marine Hotel in Brora, I am surrounded by paintings of three-masted ships dashing through the waves. And in much the same way that my non-golfing friends look at a photo of a golf course and say ‘yea, it’s another golf hole’, all these ships look the same to me.

Different strokes for different folks.

The hotel has that old school feel to it. It was once a private residence so it avoids those sharp cut lines and ubiquitous hotel lobbies. What it does have is a lot of what I like in a hotel. It’s dark, but not gloomy; it’s peaceful but not quiet; and it’s friendly but not intrusive. And the food is very good. Far better than you’d expect. There's also the 'James Braid' room, full of memorabilia, and a wood-panelled room next door with a snooker table. I’ll be sorry to leave, but today was my last day in Brora, and that meant playing at Brora Golf Club, which is less than a minute’s walk from the hotel. (The hotel does special golf packages and even has dedicated golf apartments.)
Views back down the 10th... the par three 9th green in the distance.
Brora will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year. The full 18 holes were designed by James Braid in 1923… and very little has changed since he took a train trip north in the morning, 124 years ago, walked the land, and then took the return train home that evening. Two weeks later a set of plans arrived in Brora, detailing the course layout… see photo below.
A copy of the original James Braid plan.
And that is pretty much how it has remained for well over a century. It is often discussed as one of the top UK golf courses and a foil to the mighty Royal Dornoch down the road. What it is, is natural, flowing, enigmatic at times, always fun and constantly entertaining. And then there are the greens. Everywhere I have been so far, golfers whisper about the quality of the greens at Brora. They did not lie. These are as perfect a putting surface as I have ever played on. They may have made a fool of me today, but that doesn’t detract from their brilliance.

My partners for the day were Tony Gill (the club Secretary) and Andy Simpson, from up the way in Wick. Andy is a member of the Golf Club Atlas forum, which is how we ended up chatting. He has provided a lot of advice on where to go on this trip, and the Royal Marine was one of his suggestions.
The par three 9th.
Brora rolls over medium sized dunes, with the opening 9 holes mostly hugging the coastline. The sea is visible from everywhere and even when you drop down into the countless dips and hollows, the sounds of the waves are always there. Blindish shots appear frequently, with market posts pointing the way… and if you don’t pay attention to those posts, you may well end up with another blind shot to the green.

As Tony pointed out, with sheep and cattle grazing the land (low electric fences protect greens) the rough is kept low.

“You’re very unlikely to lose a golf ball,” he assured me. I didn’t, although I did try.

The par three 13th... see how it's played, below.
Balls will slide off greens if you don’t appreciate the types of shots to play, the best side of the fairway to be on, and the pin position. On the par three 6th, named ‘Witch’, I was off the green to the right. I chipped up to the flag, in the middle of the green, only to see it catch the slope and take a sharp turn left. I ended up 15 yards off the front of the green.

It was only after my double bogey was written on the card that I remembered Alec’s words from Golspie yesterday. ‘It’s called Witch, but that's not what I call it… although it does rhyme with witch.’

video
Tony puts it inside 10 feet at the par three 13th, called Snake.

There is constant movement to the fairways. Perhaps only the 15th has a flat fairway, because elsewhere you may find the ball on any angle of slope. And if you don’t use GPS/Laser thingies then you’re in for a treat as there are no fairway markers or posts whatsoever. You have to do it all by eye.

I did manage one feat that Tony had never seen before: I drove the green on the 500 yard par five 8th. The wind was coming down the hole which was quite a help but even so it was some shot. Especially since I was teeing off on the 10th at the time.
The dogleg 16th, with the green up on the ridge.
Would I go back to Brora? In a heartbeat. There is something about the very spirit of the game running through this course, through the dunes and fairways, and through the magnificent greens. You may hit far longer than the golfers of yesteryear but, even so, you suspect that some of the shots you will play are very much of the style and purpose of those who played here for decades before you.

My thanks to Tony and Andy for the company. And to Simon who made up the imaginary fourth. A huge thanks also to the four greenkeepers who can produce this kind of quality in late October.


Weather Report
Dull start, but the sun came out after nine, which meant we had the sun in our eyes almost all the way back. Wind picked up a head of steam, too. Had to hit my driver on the 200 yard closing hole
Golf Report

Mostly rubbish and would have been so much worse without two willing guides... if only I could have done as directed. Definitely a course to be played a second time... and maybe by the fifth time you'll begin to understand its intricacies. 

The Scottish Highlands and the North Coast 500 take me on a wilder adventure from tomorrow, as I head farther north to Helmsdale and Lybster.

Friday, October 30, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 9 Golspie

The road to Dunrobin Castle
I drove down the lane to Dunrobin Castle, a half mile to the north of Golspie. It was closed for the season – something I had been told in fairly bald terms when I’d phoned up a week ago – but the gates were open and that’s as good as an invitation, right!

The drive descends through tall trees, the sunlight slicing the road into shreds

Thursday, October 29, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 8 Skibo Castle

Swans in residence behind the 11th green
What is it about rain? You walk out of the house (B&B in this case), you start packing the car and when you close the boot it starts to rain. It’s like the Gary Larson cartoon of the bird on the telegraph wire, hovering over the car being washed so meticulously. ‘You are mine, all mine.’

Rain seems to wait in that same way, and by the time I had arrived at The Carnegie

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 7 (hic)

Your own personal bottle.
Today was a non-golfing day to catch up with a bit of culture and history in this part of the world. And when I say ‘culture’ I actually mean ‘whisky’.

The Balblair Distillery came highly recommended by someone who knows the area… and whisky, evidently. This is the oldest distillery in the country. True, there are four distilleries that all claim to be the oldest, but Balblair is the one that has proof of distilling in 1790. They also have paperwork from 1715 for an order of copper used in the distilling

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 6

Views of the Royal Dornoch from the 3rd tee.
How often have you been told something is ‘amazing’, only to experience it for yourself and be left disappointed? Happens all the time, right, whether it’s a restaurant, a movie or a golf course.

Not today. Royal Dornoch, my friends, is the experience of a

Monday, October 26, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 5

Tain's 12th hole is sponsored by the local (and highly acclaimed)
Glenmorangie Distillery
Today, things ramped up a gear on the Scottish golfing front. Two gears, actually. Tain Golf Club is in a different class to what has come before. Before today, the emphasis of the courses was on fun, without any pretensions.

Tain is a Top 100 contender and it takes no time at all to see why… on the drive in

Sunday, October 25, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 4

OK, so somebody’s having a laugh. On Friday I took a few photographs over the Moray Firth towards the northern mountains of the Scottish Highlands. Stark and brown, the mountainsides looked burned and bruised with the heather that splashes its colour over the slopes. Today, as I left Inverness, those same mountains had been painted with a dusting of white.

Twice today I have seen warnings for ‘icy

Saturday, October 24, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. (wet) Day 3

Scotland Day 3 is a wash-out. Not entirely unpredictable, but very disappointing nonetheless. The rain was pounding down long before breakfast and, despite being indoors, I got a sample of it when Hector, the owner’s brown lab, came in for a morning ‘hello’. It mattered little, I’d be soaked soon enough.

Or not, as the case may be. Torvean Golf Club, on the south west suburbs of

Friday, October 23, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 2

Inverness Castle
And so the golf begins. After, that is, a 70 mile drive through the stunningly scenic Cairngorms National Park. Call it the gateway to the Scottish Highlands if you like, for this is some introduction, with wave after wave of mountains disappearing into the distance.

Mountains are ever present, too, from the first golf course on the list of 26. Loch

Thursday, October 22, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 1

Shortly after this photo, the banana moved to the front seat.
Day one is hardly a thrilling adventure to make it worthy of a blog. Not a golf ball struck. In fact, not even a golf course seen. I passed Turnberry on the route north from Cairnryan but, even with the size of Donald Trump’s ego floating about, I couldn’t see the course in the dark.

The day came down to the banana and

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Scotland Calling - Touring the North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 is a coastline route wrapped around the Scottish Highlands. Stretching from Inverness, on the Moray Firth, up to John O’ Groats, then west to Durness and finally south to Applecross, this is Scotland’s equivalent of Route 66… and, quite probably, the Wild Atlantic Way. It is called the North Coast 500 route and, surprise, surprise, it is 500 miles long.

Wildly scenic and forever battered by the Atlantic Ocean, this is as far north as the mainland goes. Sea stacks rise from the ocean, beaches slice into the coastline and history is built on the inhospitable environment that leads to a hard way of