Friday, September 4, 2015

Ivan Morris & Nine Hole Happiness

Let me ask the simplest of questions: when you’re playing golf, how often do you look at your watch… or ask a partner what time it is? And does it become more frequent the closer you get to the end of the round… or the longer you have to wait on the group in front?

It is sad but true that the pace of play is killing the game. The days of going around in under three hours are now limited to those first two groups who head out with nothing but the rabbits and deer ahead of them. And these golfers are prepared to be on the tee at 7am because the thought of 4.5 hours or more fills them (and many of us) with dread. In the US it is even worse… at some clubs you can play as a five ball which means six hour rounds have become almost acceptable.

There are ways around it and one of those ways is to play nine holes instead of eighteen. There are many 18 hole courses where you return to the clubhouse after nine… but what about Ireland’s dedicated nine hole courses?

According to Irish golf writer Ivan Morris, there are 85 nine holers on the island, from those that trip off the tongue (Mulranny, Carrickmines, Sutton) to those many of us have never heard of (Virginia, Templemore, Mahee Island).  Ivan has played them all and he published a book earlier this year - Ireland's Best 9-Hole Golf Courses - about the most significant courses he played. There are 30 in all, divided into three 'divisions', and each course receives a story, a nice slice of history or an encounter with the locals… or all three. It sets the scene and many of the stories are captivating, outlining how courses came about and who were the key figures in their creation. The one about Charles Valentine Browne (Castlerosse) is just one example of Ivan's sharp and witty writing style.
Mulranny's views over the 3rd hole
Then he describes the course and offers some tips on how it can best be played. It is a simple and effective formula and his language gives you a good feel for what you can expect from the course.

I turned to the three that I know: Carrickmines, Mulranny and Cruit Island. I imagine other golfers will look for those familiar to them. Then I looked up those that are so often discussed: Sutton, Lisselan, Borris, Spanish Point, Castlegregory, Connemara Isles, Blessington Lakes. Ireland boasts many 9-hole courses that should inspire and it makes you realise that there we are spoiled for choice.

He’s honest about each course’s strengths and weaknesses and he leaves you with plenty to think about and whether you’d enjoy playing it… which is the core purpose of this book. Yes, he is pushing hard for golfers to go back to the roots of playing golf in two hours, but he prefers to give you a reason for doing so… these 30 courses are as good a reason as any:
Mulranny's barbwire-enshrined 1st green.
Peter Alliss was so struck by the beauty of the place that he wrote about the golf course in the most complimentary terms in the Sunday Times…” Glengarriff Golf Club.

… there must be better than average golfing brains at Carrickmines because somebody has designed one of the best second nines on a 9-holes course that I have ever seen through the clever placement of alternate tees…” Carrickmines Golf Club.

… we cheated a little here by going up ‘upstairs’ onto the more elevated 17th tee in order to appreciate the full excitement and beauty of the hole.” Rush Golf Club

There’s also a very tasty few pages of ‘best of’ at the end… from Best Greens (Foxrock) and Best Restaurant (Killiney) to Most Fun (Conemara Isles) and Best Bunkering (Helen’s Bay).

If Ivan had his way, much about the modern game would change. Club and ball technology for starters, but one of golf’s biggest problems going forward is how to play golf in a short amount of time. Ivan has found the simplest of solutions: play 9 holes.
Views down the 7th at Cruit Island
I like the idea but I admit that playing 9 holes makes me feel like I’m being short-changed… and I imagine many others will feel the same. Playing 18 holes has been ingrained into us so it’s hard to break the habit. I’ll surely go and try some of Ivan’s favourites (Blessington Lakes sounds like a must-play course and Rush has long been on my radar) but it all comes down to how much time you have. I’m blessed to have the time and opportunity to play 18 holes on any day of the week, but if you work hard, have kids playing all manner of sports and musical instruments at weekends, and a partner who is a non-golfer (and therefore doesn’t understand your cravings), slipping away for 5 to 6 hours is probably not an option. Try 2 to 3 hours, whet your appetite with nine holes and go from there.

To order Ivan’s book, Ireland's Best 9-Hole Golf Coursesclick here.


  1. What is the best 9 hole course you've played? Cruit Island?

    1. I've only played a handful, Fran. Cruit Island is a remarkable place, but so too is Mulranny. I think I'd prefer Mulranny for its simplicity, but Cruit Island for its scale and adventure. The only other 2 courses I've played are Foxrock and Carrickmines - both lovely courses. So I'd say on the 9 hole front I can't lend much of an opinion.

  2. Denis Long - MelbourneSeptember 28, 2015 at 12:50 AM

    Try Castlegregory , Connemara Isles and (especially for their finishing holes) Spanish Point and Berehaven ) You will not be disappointed .