Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas: A Golfer's Pilgrimage to the Courses of Ireland

Overview

Every golfer dreams of making a pilgrimage to the British Isles, to play the exhilarating game to be found on the ground that links land and sea. Increasingly, golfers on this side of the Atlantic have discovered that some of the most magnificent courses in the world-and some of the most beautiful countrysides-are to be found in Scotland's near neighbor, Ireland. For the tourist or the dreamer, there can be no better guide than James W. Finegan. A passionate advocate and a charming storyteller, Finegan combines a...
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Overview

Every golfer dreams of making a pilgrimage to the British Isles, to play the exhilarating game to be found on the ground that links land and sea. Increasingly, golfers on this side of the Atlantic have discovered that some of the most magnificent courses in the world-and some of the most beautiful countrysides-are to be found in Scotland's near neighbor, Ireland. For the tourist or the dreamer, there can be no better guide than James W. Finegan. A passionate advocate and a charming storyteller, Finegan combines a writer's eye, a historian's knowledge, and a golfer's sense of wonder to provide an impossibly ambitious grand tour of this beautiful land. In a loop that begins in the west at Lahinch and continues clockwise through both the Republic and Northern Ireland, Finegan covers nearly seventy courses, visiting those that have become true shrines of the game, the courses that are well known and respected, and the little-known gems you might otherwise pass right by. Now updated with new courses and changes to old favorites. Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas is a book to be read, savored, and tucked away in your suit-case when you finally undertake the journey of your dreams.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Tom Doak Author of The Confidential Guide To Golf Courses Ireland is one of the world's great golfing destinations, and Jim Finegan has covered all its worthwhile courses, from world-renowned Ballybunion to hidden gems like Rosapenna. Whether you're a scratch golfer or just out to enjoy the scenery, Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas is the most thorough guide to Irish golf available on either side of the Atlantic.

George Peper Editor-in-chief, Golf Magazine Few men know the golf courses of Scotland and Ireland better than Jim Finegan, and no man writes of them more movingly. On one level this is an indispensable guidebook; on another — in the tradition of Bernard Darwin — it is simply a great read.

Michael Bamberger Author of To the Linksland and The Green Road Home In all of golfdom, Jim Finegan is unique in his passion, his insight, and his ability to bring the game to life in words. In Emerald Fairways and Foam-Flecked Seas, Finegan returns to his ancestral homeland and tells us everything we need to know about golf in Ireland. By the time you're halfway through, you'll be looking up the number for Aer Lingus — and wondering if Finegan can join you.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416532989
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 1/9/2007
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 815,292
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

James W. Finegan has made more than forty trips to the United Kingdom and Ireland since 1971, always with his golf clubs in tow. He has written extensively about the pleasures of links golf for Golf Magazine, Golf Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a variety of other publications. He lives in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Orbiting Shannon

The first stroke I ever played in Ireland was my drive on the opening hole at Lahinch more than 20 years ago. I urge you to follow in my footsteps, for as the ball leaves the clubface to wing over this restless and hummocky and tumbling terrain and land on the upslope of a great sandhill, the flag straining on its stick higher yet on a perfect plateau of green, you will know without being told that here is links golf — the reason you have crossed an ocean — in its purest and most joyous form.

Lahinch seems to me the ideal introduction to the game in Ireland, and not just because of irs wonderful golf holes.

There is the plain little town itself, which has been called the St. Andrews of Ireland. In truth, Lahinch is even more single-minded in its pursuit of the game than is the ancient royal burgh, for Lahinch has no university, no historical monuments, no handsome blocks of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century houses. It has the two eighteens, a handful of small hotels and B&Bs, some tweed and souvenir shops, several convivial pubs (where the Irish folk music for which County Clare is noted can be enjoyed), and a passion for golf. Even lovely Liscannor Bay, on which the town is set, seems of little moment other than as a backdrop for some of the golf holes. Golf, more often than not, is the opening subject in any conversation here, and though other topics may well be touched upon along the way, the talk will inevitably come full circle back to what really matters, like the blind second shot on Klondyke, or the best line for the drive on 12 (perhaps a little left of the castle is more prudent), or the impact of World War II on the career of the illustrious John Burke. If you play golf, talk golf, or are merely content to listen to golf being discussed, you will be entirely at home here.

The place has another distinct virtue: It is just 30 miles north of Shannon International Airport. There can be few things more rewarding in the life of an American golfer than to make the transatlantic night flight, pick up a rental car at Shannon, and, somehow miraculously refreshed and rejuvenated, tee off not an hour later at Lahinch.

I recall doing just that in 1974, when the predecessor of the present clubhouse was still in use. It was a simple, spartan structure then, the stone-floored changing room unheated and sans lockers. You hung your clothes on a wooden peg. Dangling from the peg next to mine were rosary beads. It could only be Ireland!

That day there was a neatly typed little notice at the main entrance to the clubhouse advising the members that the club would be closed Monday out of respect to John Burke, whose funeral was being held then. John Burke was the greatest player in the history of the club and one of the half-dozen greatest in the annals of Irish amateur golf. A big strong fellow with a wide swing arc, he was noted for the phenomenal length he could produce with woods out of deep and clinging rough. He won the Irish Open Amateur in 1947, defeating the up-and-coming Joe Carr at Royal Dublin; the Irish Close Amateur eight times, between 1930 and 1947; the West of Ireland Amateur six times; and the South of Ireland Amateur 11 times (Lahinch was the permanent venue). In 1932 he was named to the Walker Cup team, the first golfer from the Republic to be so honored. I suspect that no one could remember the last time Lahinch had been closed. Only an event of such magnitude as John Burke's passing could have prompted it.

It was a day for encountering notes at Lahinch. In the clubhouse there was one under the broken barometer that said: "see goats." Some four or five goats have for years grazed on the links, and they continue to do so today. They are our guide. We may not have the sense to come in out of the rain, but they do. When the weather turns mean, the goats turn toward the clubhouse — and shelter. So keep an eye out for them and their peregrinations.

Golf was first played at Lahinch in 1892, when members of the Black Watch Regiment, stationed at Limerick, heard of what was rumored to be ideal golfing country in the sandhills by Liscannor Bay. Over they came to see for themselves, and agreed that it was worthy ground. Nor would this mark the only time that Scots would bring the gospel of the game to the benighted Irish heathens.

The club itself was founded a year later. As is almost always the case, the course we play today is an evolutionary product incorporating elements of the original layout (half the holes in the sandhills, half in the much less interesting terrain on the other side of Liscannor Road); of the Old Tom Morris scheme, 1897 (still half and half, but considerable improvement to the holes themselves); of the Charles Gibson design, 1907 (13 holes now in the dunes, five on, if you will, the wrong side of the tracks); of the Alister Mackenzie plan, 1928 (all 18 now in the glorious duneland); and of the current eighteen (basically Mackenzie but with a number of attractive later modifications).

A word or two about Alister Mackenzie, whose fame today rests on such masterpieces as Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point, Augusta National (with Bob Jones), and Crystal Downs (with Perry Maxwell). A Yorkshireman born in 1870, Mackenzie studied medicine at Cambridge, served as a surgeon in the Boer War, then came home to establish a practice in Leeds. He began to dabble in course design during the first decade of the century and gradually gave up medicine to devote full time to golf course architecture. Over the next 20 years, beginning about 1914, he designed, remodeled, or expanded countless courses in England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and the United States. In 1920 he published a small book titled Golf Architecture in which he set down what he judged to be the 13 essential features of an ideal golf course. One of them must endear him forever to the high handicapper: there should be a complete absence of the annoyance caused by having to search for lost balls. The book was widely influential and is considered a classic of the genre today.

Lahinch, par 72, can be stretched to over 6,700 yards, but it is regularly played at about 6,300 yards, with the ladies' markers at 5,500 (par 74). That perfect opening hole, uphill, is followed by a delightful short par 5, spilling downhill past the clubhouse, and then a good 145-yarder with a steep falloff on the left of the raised green. Now comes the strong — and altogether wonderful — 410-yard 4th, where the drive must gain a fairway at the top of a high, steep hill, and the long second shot, turning left now, must carry a broad expanse of rough country in order to reach a green defended by low dunes and little sandy pots at the wings. There is not a great quantity of sand at Lahinch, but it is doled out in such meager measures that there are actually 101 bunkers.

Two of golf's most celebrated curios now confront us, consecutively. First comes "Klondyke," the 475-yard 5th. We drive up a narrow, secluded valley formed by high grassy dunes on both sides of the fairway. Nothing unusual in that. What makes this hole unforgettable is the sandhill that abruptly terminates the fairway, looming some 30 feet above us at about 350 yards from the tee. This startling obstruction calls to mind a traffic cop's hand thrust up intimidatingly to make sure you stop. What is now required is a 4- or 5-wood that surmounts this blockade and comes to rest on the far side of it in the expanse of fairway shared by the 18th hole. An item on the back of the scorecard, appropriately printed in red, is worth quoting:

"SPECIAL WARNING re KLONDYKE: 5th HOLE. The Committee of Lahinch Golf Club wish to inform all players that they will not accept liability for accidents at the crossing of the 5th and 18th fairways. It is the responsibility of each individual golfer to ensure that there is no one on the crossing before he plays over Klondyke."

Well, having safely negotiated the crossing and putted out, perhaps for a par five, we proceed to the tee of the 6th hole, which could be said to be even more improbable. A 145-yarder, the 6th is called "Dell" because the green is tucked away in a little natural amphitheater between two sandhills, one walling off the front of the green and one backstopping the rear. Between the two nestles the putting surface, which has considerable breadth but very little depth. There is no sign of a flagstick, no suggestion of a green. This could fairly claim to be the blind hole of the world. But the Committee has taken pity on us; a white marker stone placed on the fronting hill provides the line (the stone is moved whenever the cup is changed), and so we launch our 6-iron prayerfully in the general direction, trusting that if a carom off a steep slope should follow, it will be more helpful than harmful.

Some have called the hole defective (and worse). That may be. But, believe it or not, skill does have some role in this low adventure (beginning with the club choice), and taken in the right spirit, it is tremendous fun.

With "Klondyke" and "Dell" now behind us, we begin a virtually unbroken skein of marvelous holes that carry us higher and higher into these majestic and turbulent sandhills, out along Liscannor Bay, then back to interior ground with nearly as much feature and fascination as the more dramatic reaches. We keep expecting the occasional indifferent hole. It is nowhere to be found. Every hole is inviting, a visual delight in a wild and woolly landscape culminating at a green so superbly natural — on a plateau or in a dell, more often than not — that even the most artful bulldozing could never simulate it. Hole after hole is fair and challenging. Of the eight two-shotters (par fours) that remain, five or six of them are classic links holes, and three of them are among my favorites anywhere.

The 375-yard 7th calls for a rising drive to a-generous expanse of fairway that, at about 240 yards, comes to a sudden halt when the terrain plunges to a cavernous hollow with a large sand bunker as its floor. This pit is to be avoided like the plague. The second shot, from the safety of the high ground, now sails down through the flanking dunes to a tightly bunkered green set strikingly above the ocean.

The 12th is rather more straightforward but, at 440 yards, a bear. It is also a beauty. Here, from a lofty perch at the cliff edge, we drive at the ruins of the ancient O'Brien Castle in the distance, the sands of the river estuary immediately on our left but far below and just waiting to snare the aggressive hook that gets away. A pretty multiple-arch stone bridge over the river beyond the long green (42 yards, by my pacing) is an appealing element in this composition.

(The Castle, I might point out, is the name given to the second eighteen, several holes of which are routed around this ancient fragment. This is a relief course, designed to handle the overflow from the principal eighteen. Some 5,400 yards long, this par-67 layout is, unfortunately, laid out over dull ground. In no sense is it an acceptable substitute for the Old Course, though the turf itself is generally good.)

As for the final par four I will mention, the 13th, it is 175 yards shorter than the splendid 12th, but it demonstrates convincingly that the game owes little to length. A scant 265 yards, it nonetheless has plenty of bite. The drive is imperiled on the right by a deep hollow that calls for a blind pitch from the long and throttling rough. The fairway slopes off to the left, and the consequences of a pull are less dire. Yet even a straight tee shot that leaves only a little half-wedge is no guarantee of success, for the plateau green, not far above us, is heavily bunkered and double-tiered. The chance of three-putting is uncomfortably real. This is a teasing hole, full of opportunity and," potentially, also of frustration.

Well, it is all here at Lahinch — the spectacular duneland that makes links golf the most natural and most satisfying expression of the game, the magnificent vistas that lend such exhilaration to a round, and, above all, a succession of varied and spirited golf holes that test the top-rank player and still delight, at every turn, even the least accomplished among us.

Alister Mackenzie said, however ingenuously (if not immodestly), that Lahinch might come to be regarded as "the finest and most popular course that I or, I believe, anyone else ever constructed." For my part, I would simply say I cannot name another course that, day in and day out, I would rather play. For here, in fullest measure, is Bernard Darwin's indispensable ingredient: pleasurable excitement.

Two of Ireland's great natural wonders lie just north of Lahinch, and I encourage you to set aside a little time to see them both. Some 15 minutes drive up the coast are the Cliffs of Moher, which stretch along the sea for almost five miles and range in height from 400 to 600 feet. A variety of seabirds, including puffins, razorbills, and kittiwakes, can be observed there, particularly in nesting season. The best view is to be had from O'Brien's Tower (not to be confused with the O'Brien Castle), approached by a track that leads away to the left off the main road. On a day when the wind gusts unexpectedly, you will want to take care.

Some 20 minutes farther north, beyond Lisdoonvarna, lies the Burren. The word burren means "great rock" in Gaelic. And surely this is the greatest rock formation any of us is ever likely to encounter — 100 square miles of limestone. It is a lunarlike wonderland, a baffling and eerie plateau of gray stone seeming to stretch away limitlessly and containing within its bounds prehistoric graves and ring forts and ancient Celtic crosses. It is a favorite stamping ground of geologists and botanists. In its natural rock gardens grow an extraordinary assortment of flowers, among them orchids and blue spring gentians, white anemones and yellow primroses.

In the very heart of the Burren, near the bottom of Corkscrew Hill on the road to Ballyvaughn, is an excellent small hotel in the Irish country-house tradition. Its name is Gregans Castle, and if it is not at all castellated in appearance, you will not be disappointed in the welcoming atmosphere, the creature comforts, the gardens, and the views across this unique wilderness to Galway Bay. There are 18 bedrooms and 4 suites. The emphasis is on comfort but not at the expense of style. Laura Ashley fabrics (florals and paisleys), period furniture, an occasional family heirloom — all contribute to a sense of warmth and well-being. Peat fires in the public rooms are a gracious touch.

The cooking is of a high order. Since the hotel is only four miles from the sea, the menu always offers a number of seafood dishes. As a reminder, a patch of Galway Bay is clearly visible in the distance from the dining room. The wine list, while not extensive, is a good one.

Peter and Moir Haden, who own and operate Gregans Castle, make an excellent team. There is about him an unmistakable sense of professionalism and crisp efficiency — you know the hotel will be well run — while she is quite outgoing, eager to help make sure that your stay in this remote and starkly beautiful spot is enjoyable. She mentioned that they, frequently host golfers playing as far away as Ballybunion, a good hour and a half to two hours south. I was not surprised.

Gregans does not look like a castle, but Dromoland certainly does. With its battlements and crenellations and turrets and towers, its impregnable gray stone walls and its air of antiquity, it matches most people's dreams of what a castle should be. Located in Newmarket-on-Fergus, less than 15 minutes from Shannon Airport, it is ideally situated for touring golfers, who find it a convenient stopping place the day they arrive in Ireland and the day before they leave. Then, too, Dromoland Castle is a hotel with its own 18-hole course.

Despite staying at Dromoland on three prior occasions, it was not until 1995 that I ventured out onto what always looked to me to be a pretty but innocuous layout that surely could provide nothing more than a pleasant walk in the park. I was wrong. Pretty it assuredly is, but the walk is often a trudge and the test can be stern.

The long, curving driveway that takes you to and from the hotel cuts right across the course. What you see from the car is an expanse of rolling land, a complete absence of rough, a green or two almost indistinguishable from the fairway and with neither character nor defenses, and some sturdy old trees that obviously aren't going to get in any golfer's way. In short, the place for a family fivesome before or after tea.

Ah, 'tis but a snare and a delusion!

Against a par of 71, the course measures about 6,200 yards for men, 5,400 for ladies. The turf, a meadowy mixture, provides a minimum of run. The opening hole measures 390 yams and plays 460 yards — uphill every step of the way, doglegging smoothly right. The 2nd, 520 yams downhill, plays only 470 yards, but woods are tight on the right, the fairway slopes steeply left, and the green is on a shelf. Since the 3rd hole is your basic 230-yard straightaway par three, a perfect driver is all that's called for. Two perfect drivers will not get you home on the rising 450-yard par-four 4th, where bunkers right and left patrol the crowned green. The 5th looks just like the 4th, but since it's a mere 410 yards, your inclination is to consider it a breather. At 560 yards, the 6th is decidedly not a breather, but it does lead to the 7th, a 140-yarder played from a vertiginously high tee in the trees down to a very narrow green backdropped first by Lough Dromoland and, on the far side of the water, by Dromoland Castle itself. It is one of the exquisite vistas in the world of inland golf. The first nine concludes with the fine 390-yard 8th, a wooded roller coaster of a hole, and the falling 220-yard 9th.

The second half is more than 400 yards shorter, and it is easier — what wouldn't be? — but it, too, is hilly and, if anything, there is more variety and the greens are jauntier. The modest river Rine pops up a couple of times, the lake itself comes into play on the 10th, 11th, and 18th, and there are some attractive distant views to the Shannon estuary.

Put it all together and, despite the very light bunkering, the even lighter rough, and the deceptively easy look of things, this eighteen at Dromoland Castle is hardly dismissable. As for the architect, I could learn nothing about him but his name, B. E. Wiggington.

I was introduced to a husky 18-year-old member of the hotel's room service staff, a 2-handicapper who knew this course and the other courses in this neck of the woods well. After reviewing with him several of the outstanding holes here, I asked him which of the two, Dromoland Castle or Lahinch, would be more difficult from the regular tees on a pretty day and with a wind between 10 and 15 mph.

He did not have to mull his response. "Oh," he said instantly, "Dromoland would be harder."

Dromoland Castle, which dates in part to the sixteenth century, was long the ancestral seat of the O'Briens, the most powerful clan in County Clare and directly descended from Brian Boru, High King of Ireland in the tenth century. Impressive reminders of the castle's historic past can be found everywhere: in the wood and stone carvings, the paneling, the old portraits and landscapes and still lifes, and the romantically beguiling gardens and grounds. There is a total of 75 guest rooms and suites, many overlooking the lake. All accommodations ire quite comfortable; some are luxurious to the point of opulence.

The public rooms manage the difficult trick of being both stately and warm. There is nothing hushed about the atmosphere at Dromoland, and the guests, many of them American, obviously do not feel constrained. They are having a good time here.

The dining room struck us as particularly beautiful — mahogany paneling below the chair rail, blue and gold antique velvet wall covering above, three large crystal chandeliers, a marble fireplace that suggests the ecclesiastical Gothic leanings of this particular room, irresistible views of the lake from every table. And the cooking fully holds up its end of the bargain. It inclines to be fancy: dodine of guinea fowl with foie gras; a salad of veal sweetbreads with bacon and croutons; braised fillet of sole in a champagne sauce laced with squid ink; iced chocolate and coffee soufflé with calypso sauce. It need scarcely be added that the wine list is extensive.

One of the special appeals of dinner at Dromoland Castle is the singer/harpist, whose repertoire goes far beyond the obligatory "Danny Boy" to include unfamiliar and often moving Irish folk ballads. She is the ideal complement to the room, the food, and the view.

Some 500 yards past the terminal at Shannon Airport lies the Shannon Golf Club. The course, designed by John D. Harris, who laid out the second eighteen at Lahinch, opened 30 years ago. Par is 72. It can play as long as 6,870 yams, and from the regular tees it is almost 6,300 yams. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this course, a rather level parkland design with many attractive trees, deciduous as well as evergreen, but I'm afraid that too much of it is rather ordinary. Still, the turf is uniformly excellent, and you can be confident of a warm welcome in the clubhouse.

Perhaps 20 minutes south of Limerick, on the N21, and no more than 40 minutes south of Shannon, lies the picturesque village of Adare. It stands on the river Maigue and is noted for its thatched-roof cottages, its great oak trees, and its ancient ruins. Among the village restaurants, the Mustard Seed has a reputation that goes well beyond County Limerick for contemporary interpretation of classical dishes. Three pubs — Sean Collins, Lena's Bar, and Bill Chawke's Lounge Bar — offer traditional Irish music.

For more than 90 years Adare had just nine holes of golf, at the Adare Manor Golf Club. This was a rather compact layout, so much so that it was the only nine-hole course I can think of with just eight fairways: the first hole and the last hole "shared." Within the past few years, the course was extended to eighteen. I confess that I have not played the new holes, which, like the original nine, are routed through pretty parkland. I suspect that there is more challenge here than we might at first expect.

Next door, however, is all the challenge a golfer could ever want. At Adare Manor itself, which is to say within the grounds of what was for centuries the demesne of the Earls of Dunraven, Robert Trent Jones has laid out a course to rank among the three or four finest inland courses in Ireland and among the top 15 here overall. What's more, it is the center-piece of a truly great hotel and resort which, in addition to golf, offers indoor swimming, horseback riding, clay pigeon shooting, fox hunting, and fishing ("Excellent piscatorial conditions are available on the river Maigue, which meanders through the grounds and yields plump salmon and trout catches.")

Also within the grounds are many of the historic ruins that draw visitors to Adare, including a fourteenth-century Augustinian priory, a fifteenth-century Franciscan friary, and Desmond Castle, which dates to the twelfth century. The castle remains are composed of a keep within a moated inner ward, two great halls, a kitchen, bakery, and stables. The friary has well-preserved cloisters, with a very old yew tree in the center of the enclosure.

The aerial view of the hotel that adorns its color brochure suggests nothing so much as a 500-year-old French chateau — gray stone great house perched on the riverbank and fronted by formal gardens, its countless chimneys and gables giving promise of rich architectural adornment within. In fact, this splendid dwelling, built by the Second Earl of Dunraven, was not begun until 1832. In 1988, after an immensely detailed restoration — to say nothing of the installation of much in the way of plumbing — it opened as a luxury hotel.

The elaborate decoration is a miracle of carved stonework — arches, gargoyles, chimneys, bays, window embrasures, etc. — and of carved plasterwork (the numerous gracefully patterned ceilings). There are 365 leaded glass windows. The interior spaces were conceived on a grand scale; one of the most renowned is the Gallery, which is 132 feet long and 26 1/2 feet high and is lined on either side with seventeenth-century Flemish choir stalls.

The private rooms scarcely pale in comparison with the public rooms. The accommodation we occupied (#406) on a visit in the spring of 1995 was spacious, high-ceilinged, impeccably appointed with pieces that called up both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and possessed of idyllic views. It also provided two fireplaces — there are more than 50 in the manor — one in the bedroom (ebony and tile), one in the bathroom (charcoal gray marble). Over each hung a Venetian-glass mirror.

This bathroom was very grand indeed, 15 feet by 12 feet and with a softly vaulted ceiling. In addition to all the expected fixtures, it boasted a handsome dark iron chandelier, a striped satin armchair, and a broad Chippendale-style low chest of drawers beneath a generous window giving on the formal gardens and the golf course, that view complete with a short stretch of the river Maigue. From time to time, you have relished breakfast in bed; this is the only place I can think of where "breakfast in bath" might be even more tempting.

As at Dromoland, so at Adare: the food is superlative. The table d'hote menu has good variety — five starters, six entrées, nine desserts. I am recalling with particular pleasure a carrot and ginger soup; panfried medallions of monkfish accompanied by a stew of broad beans, tomatoes, and garlic potatoes; and a poached pear in a burgundy syrup and with a pear sorbet. The wine list is all that it should be.

Of even more importance to some of us, so is the golf course. It roams over 230 acres of the 840-acre estate. Some of the holes are framed by mature trees; others play over more open ground. This is very gently rolling parkland, and I doubt that the overall elevation change is more than 25 feet. The manor house itself hoves into view on a number of occasions during the round, not just at the beginning and end. In addition to the river and a sneaky little tributary, there are two ponds and a 14-acre lake that contribute enormously to the aesthetic charms — and not simply from a visual standpoint. Again and again — on 5, 11, 15, 16, and 18 — we actually hear the water rushing over weirs. Perhaps it will even drown out the sound of our gnashing teeth. For this course, despite its serene beauty — or rather, in large part because of it — is a punisher, surely one of the half-dozen most difficult courses in Ireland. That is true whether this par 72 is played at 5,400 yards, 6,200 yards, 6,600, or 7,100.

Ten holes are menaced by water — 10 holes and no fewer than 15 shots. Sometimes the danger is remote; more often it is boldly confrontational. We waste no time in having to face up to it, for the green on the sharply doglegging 380-yard 1st taunts us from just a few paces beyond a stream. This is a risk we might accept with a certain sangfroid along about the 7th or 8th, but not on the opening hole. That same stream, I hasten to add, reappears uneasily close to the right side of the following green, where our approach will again be played from more than 150 yards out.

There is respite on the next three holes — respite from water, that is — but now there are the fanciful bunkers, almost all of them large and some of them deep, and the fanciful greens, almost all of them large and replete with intriguing cup positions, that maintain the tension. It quickly becomes clear that unless we place our approach in the proper sector of the green, we will be three-putting consistently. It may be the only consistent aspect of our game.

The 7th is an especially intimidating par five, even though it measures only 495 yards from the regular markers. Each shot is imperiled, on the right, by the curving shore of the lake. Here is an exemplary "cape" hole, inviting us on the drive to cut off as much of the water as we dare and, if we've been successfully aggressive, to fly in the face of sweet reason again on the long second shot in the hope of setting up a birdie. The hole can, of course, be played timorously out to the left from tee to green.

If no hole at Adare is less than good, as is certainly the case, the last four constitute a sparkling finish. On the 15th, only 350 yards long, both tee and green are sited at the river's edge, and the fairway never gets far from it. A large tree on the left, some 50 yards short of the green, eliminates the possibility of deliberately taking the water on the right out of play. The 16th hole, 160 yards, plays fully across a pond to a heavily bunkered green. There is no reason to get wet unless we focus exclusively on avoiding the sand. The 17th, a charming two-shotter of 375 yards through the trees and over lightly rising and falling ground, is no card-wrecker, but the three-leaved green is difficult both to hit and to putt.

Which brings us to the home hole, a daunting piece of business indeed. It is 510 yards long. For some 440 yards the river all but abuts the left edge of the fairway. It then swings right and sweeps across in front of the green, which is located just below the manor house itself. A couple of substantial trees in the right side of the fairway (you know Trent Jones was thinking of the 18th at Pebble Beach) force our second shot left, thus heightening the threat of the water. Admittedly, the third shot, over the river, is not long, but we must be up, and the green, cunningly, is not deep. It is a great hole — beautiful, fraught with danger but entirely fair, making no untoward demands on the swing yet requiring control of it and of our nerves and our thinking at every juncture. The 18th at Adare is a perfect summation of all that has gone before it.

Robert Trent Jones was well into his 80s when he undertook to fashion Adare. It was his second Irish design, following the Cashen Course at Ballybunion, which opened in 1984 and will be discussed in the final chapter of this book. I am certain that Jones, the preeminent figure in golf course architecture during the second half of the 20th century and the creator of such outstanding courses as The Dunes, Mauna Kea, Spyglass Hill, Peach Tree (with Robert Tyre Jones, Jr.), Point O' Woods, Metedeconk National, and Nueva Andalucia's Las Brisas Course (near Marbella, Spain), to name only a handful, must be pleased with his work at Adare. There can be observed here no diminution of his remarkable gifts. It is a course fully worthy of its magnificent home.

Copyright © 1996 by Aberdovey, Inc.

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Table of Contents


Introduction     11
Orbiting Shannon$dLahinch G.C.$dDromoland Castle$dShannon G.C.$dAdare Manor     23
Galway Bay and Connemara$dGalway Bay G. & C.C.$dConnemara G.C.$dAshford Castle     42
A Great New Course and a Great Old House$dWestport G.C.$dCarne G.C.$dEnniscoe House$dEnniscrone G. C.     58
Two Poets: William Butler Yeats and Christy O'Connor$dCounty Sligo Golf Club$dBundoran G.C.$dDonegal G.C.$dSligo     73
A Vote for Myrtle Beach$dDonegal$dNarin & Portnoo G.C.$dRosapenna G.C.$dBallyliffin G.C.$dPortsalon G.C.     84
The Curtain Is Lifted$dCastlerock G.C.$dPortstewart G.C.$dRoyal Portrush G.C.$dBallycastle G.C.$dRoyal County Down G.C.     103
Side by Side$dCounty Louth G.C.$dSeapoint G.C.     131
A Newcomer Makes Its Mark$dMullingar G.C.$dGlasson G. & C.C.     142
Round and About Dublin's Fair City$dDublin$dPortmarnock G.C.$dThe Links Portmarnock$dRoyal Dublin G.C.$dThe Island G.C.$dLuttrelstown Castle G. C     153
Arnie and Pat$dK-Club$dEuropean Club$dDruid's Glen     174
From Carlow to Venice$dCarlow G.C.$dMount Juliet$dWaterford Castle$dTramore G.C.     192
Cork Comes of Age$dCork G.C.$dFota Island G.C.$dHarbour Point G.C.$dOld Head of Kinsale G.L.     207
One of the Great Ones and a Handful of Others   Waterville G.L.   Dooks G.C.     227
A Dead Crow and a RedJacket$dKillarney G. & F.C.$dDunloe G.C.$dBeaufort G.C.     243
The End of the Game$dTralee G.C.$dCeann Sibeal G.C.$dBallybunion G.C.     257
Updating Courses and Hotels, 1997-2006     278
Golf Courses in Ireland     293
Hotels in Ireland     298
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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Orbiting Shannon

The first stroke I ever played in Ireland was my drive on the opening hole at Lahinch more than 20 years ago. I urge you to follow in my footsteps, for as the ball leaves the clubface to wing over this restless and hummocky and tumbling terrain and land on the upslope of a great sandhill, the flag straining on its stick higher yet on a perfect plateau of green, you will know without being told that here is links golf -- the reason you have crossed an ocean -- in its purest and most joyous form.

Lahinch seems to me the ideal introduction to the game in Ireland, and not just because of irs wonderful golf holes.

There is the plain little town itself, which has been called the St. Andrews of Ireland. In truth, Lahinch is even more single-minded in its pursuit of the game than is the ancient royal burgh, for Lahinch has no university, no historical monuments, no handsome blocks of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century houses. It has the two eighteens, a handful of small hotels and B&Bs, some tweed and souvenir shops, several convivial pubs (where the Irish folk music for which County Clare is noted can be enjoyed), and a passion for golf. Even lovely Liscannor Bay, on which the town is set, seems of little moment other than as a backdrop for some of the golf holes. Golf, more often than not, is the opening subject in any conversation here, and though other topics may well be touched upon along the way, the talk will inevitably come full circle back to what really matters, like the blind second shot on Klondyke, or the best line for the drive on 12 (perhaps a little left of the castle is more prudent), or the impact of World War II on thecareer of the illustrious John Burke. If you play golf, talk golf, or are merely content to listen to golf being discussed, you will be entirely at home here.

The place has another distinct virtue: It is just 30 miles north of Shannon International Airport. There can be few things more rewarding in the life of an American golfer than to make the transatlantic night flight, pick up a rental car at Shannon, and, somehow miraculously refreshed and rejuvenated, tee off not an hour later at Lahinch.

I recall doing just that in 1974, when the predecessor of the present clubhouse was still in use. It was a simple, spartan structure then, the stone-floored changing room unheated and sans lockers. You hung your clothes on a wooden peg. Dangling from the peg next to mine were rosary beads. It could only be Ireland!

That day there was a neatly typed little notice at the main entrance to the clubhouse advising the members that the club would be closed Monday out of respect to John Burke, whose funeral was being held then. John Burke was the greatest player in the history of the club and one of the half-dozen greatest in the annals of Irish amateur golf. A big strong fellow with a wide swing arc, he was noted for the phenomenal length he could produce with woods out of deep and clinging rough. He won the Irish Open Amateur in 1947, defeating the up-and-coming Joe Carr at Royal Dublin; the Irish Close Amateur eight times, between 1930 and 1947; the West of Ireland Amateur six times; and the South of Ireland Amateur 11 times (Lahinch was the permanent venue). In 1932 he was named to the Walker Cup team, the first golfer from the Republic to be so honored. I suspect that no one could remember the last time Lahinch had been closed. Only an event of such magnitude as John Burke's passing could have prompted it.

It was a day for encountering notes at Lahinch. In the clubhouse there was one under the broken barometer that said: "see goats." Some four or five goats have for years grazed on the links, and they continue to do so today. They are our guide. We may not have the sense to come in out of the rain, but they do. When the weather turns mean, the goats turn toward the clubhouse -- and shelter. So keep an eye out for them and their peregrinations.

Golf was first played at Lahinch in 1892, when members of the Black Watch Regiment, stationed at Limerick, heard of what was rumored to be ideal golfing country in the sandhills by Liscannor Bay. Over they came to see for themselves, and agreed that it was worthy ground. Nor would this mark the only time that Scots would bring the gospel of the game to the benighted Irish heathens.

The club itself was founded a year later. As is almost always the case, the course we play today is an evolutionary product incorporating elements of the original layout (half the holes in the sandhills, half in the much less interesting terrain on the other side of Liscannor Road); of the Old Tom Morris scheme, 1897 (still half and half, but considerable improvement to the holes themselves); of the Charles Gibson design, 1907 (13 holes now in the dunes, five on, if you will, the wrong side of the tracks); of the Alister Mackenzie plan, 1928 (all 18 now in the glorious duneland); and of the current eighteen (basically Mackenzie but with a number of attractive later modifications).

A word or two about Alister Mackenzie, whose fame today rests on such masterpieces as Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point, Augusta National (with Bob Jones), and Crystal Downs (with Perry Maxwell). A Yorkshireman born in 1870, Mackenzie studied medicine at Cambridge, served as a surgeon in the Boer War, then came home to establish a practice in Leeds. He began to dabble in course design during the first decade of the century and gradually gave up medicine to devote full time to golf course architecture. Over the next 20 years, beginning about 1914, he designed, remodeled, or expanded countless courses in England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and the United States. In 1920 he published a small book titled Golf Architecture in which he set down what he judged to be the 13 essential features of an ideal golf course. One of them must endear him forever to the high handicapper: there should be a complete absence of the annoyance caused by having to search for lost balls. The book was widely influential and is considered a classic of the genre today.

Lahinch, par 72, can be stretched to over 6,700 yards, but it is regularly played at about 6,300 yards, with the ladies' markers at 5,500 (par 74). That perfect opening hole, uphill, is followed by a delightful short par 5, spilling downhill past the clubhouse, and then a good 145-yarder with a steep falloff on the left of the raised green. Now comes the strong -- and altogether wonderful -- 410-yard 4th, where the drive must gain a fairway at the top of a high, steep hill, and the long second shot, turning left now, must carry a broad expanse of rough country in order to reach a green defended by low dunes and little sandy pots at the wings. There is not a great quantity of sand at Lahinch, but it is doled out in such meager measures that there are actually 101 bunkers.

Two of golf's most celebrated curios now confront us, consecutively. First comes "Klondyke," the 475-yard 5th. We drive up a narrow, secluded valley formed by high grassy dunes on both sides of the fairway. Nothing unusual in that. What makes this hole unforgettable is the sandhill that abruptly terminates the fairway, looming some 30 feet above us at about 350 yards from the tee. This startling obstruction calls to mind a traffic cop's hand thrust up intimidatingly to make sure you stop. What is now required is a 4- or 5-wood that surmounts this blockade and comes to rest on the far side of it in the expanse of fairway shared by the 18th hole. An item on the back of the scorecard, appropriately printed in red, is worth quoting:

"SPECIAL WARNING re KLONDYKE: 5th HOLE. The Committee of Lahinch Golf Club wish to inform all players that they will not accept liability for accidents at the crossing of the 5th and 18th fairways. It is the responsibility of each individual golfer to en

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