Golf in Ireland



DAY 1 IN IRELAND

We arrived in Dublin at 8:40am. We were picked up by our driver and trip coordinator, Patrick Prendergast, and driven to our first golf course, Baltray, also known as County Lough. Our first tee time was 11:40am. Baltray is north of Dublin, on the Irish Sea. 12 of us began the first day of the trip at County Lough.

The first hole is a 423 yard par 4 which doglegs left. With the wind blowing from behind us, one of the members of our foursome placed the ball squarely on the fairway and ended up with a 325 yard drive. The green on one is rather ordinary except the right back falls away in the event of a hot shot on the green. This green design was a sign of future greens to come. Following is the par 5, 476 yard second hole. While short for a par 5, the fairway is extremely narrow and most long drives find their way to the rough. The green can be reached in two but falls off in the front and back and is fairly steep front to back. A birdie here is a good score. Number 3 is another par 5; this one is 534 yards in length. Once again, the fairway is narrow. Thereís a large mound in the middle of the fairway approximately 250 yards from the tee and the fairway narrows even more to a squeeze shot between two dunes. Land short, and your balls falls left in a hollow.

Hole number 4 is a par 4 of 334 yards. Itís a dogleg right and requires a fairly risky shot over a dune to take advantage of a big driver. The second shot is into an elevated green which falls off on the left front and right sides. Number 5 is the first par 3 and is only 148 yards. However, itís a shot to a green which falls off in the front, left, and back sides, so accuracy is important. If the wind is blowing off the beach, itís a lot longer than 148 yards. The 6th hole is another par 5 and is 521 yards in length. This hole turns left requiring a shot to the left side of the fairway or a three wood off the tee. There are several hollows in the fairway and the end of the fairway is almost impossible to run a shot up to the green which is only 27 yards in length. Number 7 is a 153 yard par 3, uphill and into a green guarded on the front by two traps and a steep rounded green and on the left and right by steep rounded edges.

The 8th hole is a 397 yard par 4 which doglegs right. A 200 yard drive will go through the fairway if hit to the left. The ideal shot is over the first bunker on the right side of the fairway. The second shot flies over the hill (blind) to a downhill green. Number 9 is a 409 yard par 4 that runs uphill toward the clubhouse. The hole doglegs slightly left and the fairway is protected on that side by four traps. The green is fairly narrow but has a decent length. The 10th tee (a par 4 of 388 yards) starts from the same elevation as the 9th green, but in this case, the fairway goes downhill and doglegs left. The second shot to the green will normally be a blind shot unless you place a long drive to the right side of the fairway. Enter the rough to the left side of the fairway and it will be close to impossible to reach the green in regulation.

The par 5, 476 yard 11th hole is reachable in two, but once again, the fairway is narrow, the hole runs perpendicular to the beach which probably means that the dominating winds will blow left to right or right to left either of which accentuates a draw or fade (or hook or slice). The 12th hole runs parallel to the beach and is adjacent to the beach. This 410 yard par 4 is called The Crater and is aptly named. The hole runs downhill and has several hollows in the fairway running downhill. Additionally, there are dunes on the left side of the fairway near a decent tee shot and dunes on the right side before the green. Thirteen finishes the beach parallel run with a 408 yard par 4 which moves downhill from tee to green. Fourteen is a short (322 yard) par 4 that seems drivable from the tee box which is 50 feet above the 13th green and the 14th fairway. Both days that we played it, the wind was in our face and longer clubs than might be expected were required to hit to the elevated and small green (one of my partners hit a 7 wood 176 yards to two feetÖand missed the putt). Fifteen is a short par three (142 yards) that requires only a correct club selection to clear the crevasse separating tee box from green. The real difficulty is keeping your shot high enough to stay on the green as the front and back are rounded and the green slopes downward from front to back.

Sixteen is a dogleg right that plays longer (375 yards, par 4) than it looks. Playing the left side of the fairway runs the risk that you will wind up in the rough. Cutting the dogleg runs the risk that youíll land in one of two bunkers guarding that side. The green is elevated and well-guarded by small mounds and dunes. The 17th is a par 3, 169 yard hole that played between 200 and 225 both times I played it. The danger of this hole is the extremely thick rough on the right hand side of the hole all the way to the green. Itís a good thing that Ireland doesnít have any snakes! The course finisher is a par 5 of 527 yards and it usually plays with the wind in your face. The fairway is narrow and several bunkers line both sides in a strategic position to capture your tee shot. If you avoid the bunkers, keeping the ball in the fairway is a must for a par. My last time I played this hole into the wind, my clubs selected were driver, 3 wood, and 5 wood and I was pin high in three. Going downwind, some of the par 5ís might be reached with driver and an 8 iron.

After our round, we sampled a few of the local brews; Smithwick Ale seemed to be a popular choice. We then left for our four hour bus trip to Sligo, on the West Coast of Ireland. On the way, we stopped at Brandywell in Dridon. Brandywell is a family pub-style restaurant with fair food and decent service. I believe that two thirds of us ordered the pork chops. A number of us ordered the Smithwick Ale again. The wine selections were limited with only 8 selections (none in a box as far as we knew). We finally arrived at our hotel in Sligo (the Tower Hotel) around 10:30pm.

DAY 2 IN IRELAND

We spent the night at the Tower Hotel in Sligo, Ireland, a port city on the west coast of Ireland. Sligo is the hometown of William Butler Yeats of literary fame. Itís also the ancestral home of Wino John.

We left our hotel at 7:30am for a tee time at Enniscrone Golf Club, a seaside golf course in Sligo County on the Dublin Sea. Enniscrone was built as a 9 hole golf course in 1918. In 1974, nine additional holes were designed by Eddie Hackett and added to the layout.

I havenít seen Enniscrone in any of the Irish Top 10 rankings, but as far as golf courses go, this one played all world tough that day. The terrain looks like it could be on the moon. There are dunes that are 50-75 feet tall. The views from the tee boxes and greens are incredible.

Before we left the hotel, I happened to see the weather lady on Irish TV. Her comment was that the West Coast of Ireland was going to see some very wet and windy weather with wind gusts up to 75 miles per hour. ďIf you donít have to go outside today, I wouldnítĒ, she said.

We played in weather that I had never deigned to play golf in before. The yardage book was the only one I had ever seen that used aerial pictures of the holes to diagram the hole layout. We teed off on number one which is a 373 yard par 4 which parallels the clubhouse drive. A driver is not necessary for the tee shot and is probably a smart selection since out of bounds is possible if you drive through the dogleg right or go too far right off of the tee. The second shot is uphill to the green and you must avoid the three bunkers which are staggered across the fairway. Number two is a 526 yard par 5 that is impossible to reach in two. In fact, the first time player may find it impossible to figure out which way the hole goes. The tee shot is hit over a ravine. If the ball goes too far left, the second shot can be blocked by a huge dune. f it goes too far right, you have to hit blindly with no guide for where to hit other than luck. The third shot requires that you not overshoot the green or youíll go down the cliff that overlooks the beach.

The 3rd hole is a 165 yard par 3 which requires a shot at an elevated green over a ravine. Donít go left or your ball will be somewhere down the 65 foot embankment (mine journeyed there and amazingly, I reached the green in two from all the way down). Hole number 4 is a523 yard par 5. A big shot here will begin to run down the fairway provided itís on the left side (the right side runs out at 265 yards). Half of the 29 yard deep green has a hollow in it which will divert an approach shot or putt into the hollow away from the pin. Number 5 is a relatively long (450 yards) par 4 that requires a shot to the left side of the fairway in order to have a shot at the green which is tucked in on the right side and is blocked from view by right hand side drives.

Six is the fourth handicap hole following the second handicap hole (number 5). Back to back, these are two of the harder holes and were played on a day with wind gusts and rain far in excess of what anyone might see in the states other than in the Carolinas during a hurricane. Six is a 395 yard par 4 which doglegs right. Traps on the right side of the fairway are reachable at 200 yards and require a 250 yard drive to clear. The green is elevated. Seven is a 524 yard par 5 which requires a tee shot to split the two fairway bunkers at 205 yards out. The second shot must avoid any of the bunkers which cross the fairway approaching the small green which is downhill from the fairway. Number 8 is a 170 yard par 3 which is downhill from the tee box and the green is protected by three large bunkers in front. Wind can influence the club you select and your chances of staying on the green.

The ninth hole is alongside the beach and is a 382 yard par 4. The fairway is extremely narrow. The wind was blowing left to right from the beach and staying in the fairway was difficult. Three cross bunkers protect the green on this hole from a run up on your second shot. The 10th hole also runs along the beach (par 4, 359 yards). It was about then that one of the members of my threesome commented that the weather reminded him of the weather the day that the Bishop had his golf round in Caddy Shack. At that point, I believe that the winds were blowing at 50 m. p. h. The wind was so strong, that I hit a 5 iron for my approach shot to the green and I was only 100 yards out (my 5 iron is my normal 180 yard club). On the par three at 11, our first hitter played a driver to within four feet from 170 yards out. The rest of us hit driver as well and reached the green.

Twelve is a 345 yard par 4 which doglegs left. A fairway bunker guards the dogleg on the left side of the fairway. It requires a 232 yard carry. With the wind behind us, all three of us carried it. Unfortunately, the second shot is not so easy if you overshoot the green which is cut out of the dune (this hole is the 3rd handicap hole). The 13th is a short par 4 at 338 yards. Unfortunately, itís a blind tee shot requiring a hit over a white stone. If youíre successful on this dogleg right, itís a relatively short shot to the green. Fourteen was my favorite hole on the back. Itís a par 5, 542 yard uphill test. With the wind behind us, I wound up with a 200 yard shot to the green (and Iím no John Daly!). Playing the left side of the fairway is important in order to see the green for your long second (or third) shot. Fifteen is the number one handicap hole (as a par 4, 373 yard hole). Keeping the tee shot down the right hand side is important for a view of the green. The green is very long and has three tiers making an accurate approach shot important.

The 16th hole is a 514 yard par 5 which doglegs right. Dunes guard the right hand side of the fairway, some of which are very tall and all of which have very thick grass making ball location difficult. Seventeen is a 149 yard par 3. Your shot must travel the right distance. Too long is trouble and too short is trouble. Eighteen is a par 4, 400 yard test which requires a blind tee shot over a white stone. If you keep the shot close to the stone, youíll find a long drive in the fairway. Stray left or right and you may never find your golf ball in the deep rough. The green is large and has four traps in each of the four ďcornersĒ. Play the ball up the middle and youíll be okay.

We finished our round in four hours (as a threesome). The group behind us finished 40 minutes later. At the end of the round, the 12 of us doubted that we would be able to play the afternoon round at Rosses Pointe (County Sligo Golf Club). Fortunately, we found out that Rosses Pointe had carts, otherwise, we would not have had the energy to continue.

Due to the lateness of our arrival at Rosses Pointe (4pm), we ordered sandwiches to eat from our carts. The first hole at Rosses Pointe is a rather unassuming par 4. The second hole provided a different perspective. The guide book said to stay away from a stone fence on the right hand side of the hole (out of bounds). The point where the fence came into play was about 220 yards from the tee box, all uphill. With a 270 yard drive, you were almost at the crest of the hill where you could see the green and chip on.

Rosses Pointe has been around for a long time (since 1894). The course was modernized in 1928 by H. S. Colt. The Western Irish Open has been played there since 1921. This course is viewed as a more traditional course, but it still has a links style. The first four holes at Rosses Pointe traverse the high ground around the clubhouse. Number 5 has an interesting tee from a cliff down to a fairway below. The fairway is wide open (US Open width) with gorse rough on either side. The view is spectacular. Holes 6 through 8 are on fairly flat turf, but more than interesting. Seven is a 434 yard par 4 with a creek strategically placed in front of the green to force a lay up if you donít hit a big drive. Unlike the first two courses we played, Rosses Pointe is marked in meters, a fact I didnít realize until the sixth hole.

The ninth hole is a par three which requires a hike to the tee box. While itís a relatively short hole at 150 meters, it requires accuracy as the ravine between the green and tee box is planted with the thick gorse. The 10th hole is about 95 meters downhill from 9 and is named Ben Bulben in honor of the local mountain whose view dominates the golf course from this side. During our round here, our weather was similar to earlier in the day where the winds would gust at 40 mph and rain would surface during those gusts. Because of the intermittent rain, we were witnesses to many beautiful rainbows on the course (I recall seven).

The 11th hole begins an uphill trek again. The 12th hole is named Lighthouse for a reason that is only apparent when you line up for your second shot and realize that the sightline for the green is the lighthouse in the harbor. Since we started our round at 4pm, by now the sun was setting and the glare from the water and the sun through the clouds was almost blinding. The 13th is a par three, downhill, reminding me a little of number 6 at Pebble Beach. It only required a pitching wedge, but accuracy was important with deep pot bunkers guarding the front of the green. Fourteen requires a draw on the tee shot or a risky shot over the gorse and creek with 215 meters minimum required for clearance. If you cheat a little to the right on your tee shot, youíll have to lay up short of the green to avoid the creek winding across the fairway.

Fifteen requires a tee shot with tremendous accuracy. The fairway is narrow and enclosed by dunes on both sides giving a tunnel effect. Naturally, the tee box is offset to the right so your aim is important. The hole is slight dogleg right with a slightly elevated green protected by a large trap on the left. Number 16 is a par 3 at 189 yards from the tee. The entire right side of the hole is guarded by dunes and gorse and the tee shot requires a minimum 125 yard carry over the rough.

The outcome of any match which is close after 16 could go either way given the tough test of 17 and 18. Seventeen is a 423 yard par 4 with a maximum 250 yard tee shot before the end of the fairway. Placing that tee shot close to the end is important given that shot number two on this dogleg left is uphill. The front left of this green is severely sloped and funnels short shots back into the rough. The back of the green is guarded by dunes. Eighteen is one of the finest closing holes that Iíve played. Itís a par 4, 357 yard test that requires an uphill tee shot aimed at a white stone with no certainty of what lies on the other side of that stone. Shot number two is uphill with bunkers guarding the entire right side of the fairway including the front of the green.

By the time our last group finished Rosses Point, it was after 9pm (by the way, in May, you can play golf at most Irish courses until 10pm). We opted to eat at Aussiesí Restaurant, just 600 yards from the golf course. Seafood was a specialty here and most of us ordered the salmon which was excellent. We had narrowed the choice of wines to a Cote de Rhone and a Bodegas and ordered the Cote de Rhone. However, the waitress mistakenly brought the Bodegas which we kept as it was quite tasty.

DAY 3 IN IRELAND

We received a break on this day in two ways. First, we didnít leave Sligo until 8:30am. Second, we only had 18 holes scheduled. However, our round for the day was scheduled on the far West Coast of Ireland at Carne Golf Links at Belmullet Golf Club which was a two and a half hour drive from Sligo. Located in the town of Belmullet in the County of Mayo, Carneís current 18 hole setting was completed in 1995. Carne is sited on land that took the sea and wind centuries to carve out. The dunes, beaches, and mounds are every bit as beautiful as Enniscrone. Its architect was Eddie Hackett. We left Sligo while the sun was shining brightly. We were halfway in our journey and the rain began to pour.

The first hole is a par 4, 356 meters, and is a dogleg right. Slicing a shot to the right put your ball in a ďhollowĒ, the first of many we would see all day long. Pulling your ball left put you in the deep rough dividing this hole and the 10th fairway. Only a straight shot or long fade put you in position for reaching the green in two. All three of our groups teed off in a driving rainstorm.

Number two is a par three of 150 meters with a green surrounded by dunes and an elevated tee box. Itís followed by a 370 meter par 4, with a narrow fairway guarded by dunes on either side. Number four is a par five running alongside a sheep farm on the left, whose fence line is out of bounds. Stay in the fairway or stay right. This hole is notable by the many hollows in the fairway. Course knowledge of the flat landing areas is imperative for a good score on this hole. The fifth hole is a relatively short par 4 at 327 meters. However, a long shot on the left side of the fairway is necessary to provide a sight line to the green which is protected by a huge dune. The sixth hole gives you a more dramatic line up where a long tee shot on the 355 meter par 4 is necessary to give you a shot to the dogleg left green guarded by huge dunes on either side.

Number seven is a 154 meter par 3; all of the distance is uphill. Two of my group hit drivers and two of us hit 3 woods to reach this green, the right side of which is bounded by a large dune. The tee box for number eight is above the green on seven. Looking downhill, this 360 meter par 4 requires a well-placed shot in the middle or right side of the fairway in order to see the green which is tucked into a cluster of dunes left of the fairway. Nine is the consummate finishing hole, a 320 meter par 4 that requires a well-placed tee shot to go over dunes on the left while avoiding a huge dune on the right. From there, the hole climbs uphill, playing much further than the distance indicates. Making matters more interesting, thereís a huge hollow in the middle of the fairway, leaving a short approach shot more difficult if you wind up in the bottom.

The tenth hole is a fine starting hole. Itís a relatively short par 5 at 432 meters. The trick in playing this hole is to hit it straight since the fairway is very narrow. The tee shot is slightly uphill, while the second shot will go over the hill and toward the green that cannot be seen. Shot number three should be a chip shot. Number 11 is a short par 4 at 302 meters. Our caddies advised us to hit three and five woods to avoid shooting through the dogleg on the dogleg right. The green is uphill from the landing area and is guarded by a huge dune. I believe that a well-placed driver could possibly drive the green, but the risk may not be worth it since the shot would be blind. Second shots short of the green will roll back down the hill given the steep grade. The 280 meter, par 4 12th hole is almost a mirror image of 11 and might be the architectís cynical sense of humor. Our caddies advised us to hit long irons or five woods off the tee to avoid going through the fairway. Our second shot was uphill on the dogleg left to an elevated green whose front was rounded and closely cut in order to direct short shots back down the steep grade. Number 13 is an uphill par 5 playing 446 meters. The grade is most severe on the second shot. The third shot is open to a fairly large green.

Fourteen is an uphill par 3 of 129 meters which plays longer. The left side of the green is guarded by a large dune in front of the green and two dunes left of green side. Number 15 is a par 4, 356 meter long hole that runs uphill. There are some tremendous hollows on the right side of the fairway. The second shot is incredibly steep and only the flag can be seen from any tee shot. The par 3, 142 meter 16th requires a club of approximately the same distance even though the tee box is significantly higher than the green.

Seventeen is a challenging par 4 at 392 yards. This hole gradually rises, with the second shot requiring tremendous accuracy as the left side of the fairway falls into a raving and the green is a narrow left to right green with a steep fall off in the gorse on the right hand side of the green. The 18th is a challenging par 5 of 486 meters. It is important to hit a decent length tee shot as the tee box is elevated and the beginning of the fairway is well below the eventual target. The out of bounds fence comes close to the right side of the fairway for the second shot. Additionally, too long of a second shot will require you to walk down into a steep hollow which, while well groomed, is substantially below the green which is protected by small dunes traversing the front of the green. All in all, Carne is a fine course which should only improve as the grass thickens on the fairway and the greens keepers flatten out a few of the bumps on these relatively new greens.

By the time our last group finished, it was close to 7:30 which meant we might not be able to make last call for Sligo restaurants. We stopped in the town of Ballina at Murphyís Pub. To our surprise, Murphyís was the recipient of the 2001 Wine and Dine Award by an Irish association. The pub downstairs was fun and even had an excellent selection of cigars. The dining room upstairs had great food and the best wine selection of any restaurant thus far. We ordered a 1998 Wyndham Estates Shiraz which everyone enjoyed.

DAY 4 IN IRELAND

We left the Tower Hotel, our home for the past three nights, at 8:30am. Our drive was north to Northern Ireland. We stopped at Belfast Airport to pick up four new arrivals to the group. From Belfast, we drove north to Portrush, on the northern coast of Northern Ireland and the home of Royal Portrush. Royal Portrush opened in 1892 and has hosted more than fifty national championships, Irish and British. It received its ďroyalĒ designation by having the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII as its patron. We played the Dunluce links which were designed by golf course architect Harry Colt in 1929. Our first tee time was 2pm, so we had time for lunch at the clubhouse restaurant. Viewing the many championship trophies on display was truly impressive. Equally impressive was the weather and it looked like this might be our first day of golf without any rain.

Hole number 1 is a par 4 of 382 yards. With the tee box situated near the clubhouse, the tee shot is defined by the need to stay left as the out of bounds markers are very close to the right side of the fairway. The second shot to the green is uphill to a large, two tiered green. Hole 2 is a dogleg left, par 5 of 490 yards. The first shot is tight with out of bounds markers and bunkers guarding the right side of the fairway. Depending on the length of your tee shot, shot number two may land in a rather bumpy series of mounds going across the fairway. The final shot to the elevated green is guarded by three bunkers on the left side and once again, the green has two tiers. The third hole is a 145 yard par 3 guarded by a lot of rough and a bunker in the left front corner. The green elevates and is long front to back meaning that hitting over the pin requires a tricky downhill put.

The fourth hole is named for Fred Daly, the only Irish winner of the British Open and a native of Portrush. This is the number three handicap hole and is a 455 yard par 5 uphill. Thereís a big bunker in the left side of the fairway approximately 240 yards from the tee box. Avoiding that is necessary to have a chance to get on in two. Approximately 100 yards from that bunker loom two more bunkers on the left side in the climbing range ready to take your short shots. The left side of the hole is lined with whins which is the local definition of this flowering bush that is bad news for anyone who hits a shot toward it. Number 5 is named White Rocks and is a beautiful par 4 of 379 yards. There are ridges and hollows which cross the fairway with the more notable challenge being the back of the green which comes very close to the out of bounds stakes.

Hole number 6 is a 185 yard par 3 named Harry Coltís hole. I donít know the tradition behind the naming other than itís the course architect, but the green is elevated and the front is shaved so that any short shot will roll back down the hill. The 7th hole is the number one handicap hole and is a par 4 of 418 yards. The tee box is located to the left side of the fairway and a good shot requires a risky hit over the rough and whins. Most hitters will err on the right hand side which means that the second shot is uphill, over two bunkers that traverse the fairway and over a section of rough. The green is 34 yards in length front to back. Number 8 is a short par 4 called Himalayas. The 363 yard length is shortened somewhat if you can hit slightly right of the white stone located on a dune to the right of the fairway. This dogleg right can get long if you hit a short tee shot in the safety zone to the left. The second shot is all uphill to a relatively narrow green which is 42 yards from front to back. The last hole on the front nine is known as the Tavern Hole. Itís a dogleg right par 5 of 472 yards. Cutting the dogleg requires a tee shot of at least 260 yards (not counting the wind). If successful, from there, itís only 220 uphill to the green (not a high percentage shot). Thereís a deep hollow in the fairway in front of the green which safely swallows all short shots.

The 10th hole is a par 5 listing out at 475 yards. Itís a dogleg right with a tee shot requiring a well struck shot over three fairway traps (at 207, 233, and 259 yards from the tee box) and a group of whins. The second shot is uphill over a rise. The approach shot to the green requires accuracy as the front five yards slopes severely downhill. Number 11 is a 165 yard par 3 with a green surrounded by five enormous traps. Itís followed by number 12, a 386 yard par 4 whose pro tip is to avoid the big bunker to the left of the green at all costs. The par 4 13th hole begins another uphill climb requiring a well placed tee shot to the right side of the fairway in order to see the green which is downhill from the top of the landing area. Number 14 is a par 3 of 202 yards aptly named Calamity. The shot is uphill with everything on the right side falling into a very, very deep crevasse (Our caddy told us that it was up to us to retrieve any shots that went down the right hand side; ďcaddyís revengeĒ he called it). We hit 3 woods and drivers to reach this hole.

Number 15 is a relatively short par 4 of 360 yards thatís even shorter after you reach the top of the fairway looking for your tee shot. Thereís a 30 foot black and white pole behind the green which is your target off the tee. However, our caddies never told us that the fairway significantly fell away so that a well-placed tee shot would leave you with an 80 yard shot to the green. The 16th is a difficult par 4 of 409 yards that is a dogleg right. The tee shot is the most difficult here as a straight shot with a driver will place most people out of bounds. The right side of the fairway is aptly guarded by two very large bunkers. The green is an uphill target from any spot on the fairway and is very narrow left to right and 39 yards in length. Fairway bunkers traverse the fairway in front of the green preventing a bump and run shot for anyone fearful of shooting over the green. Glenarm is the name of the 17th hole which is a 528 yard par 5. This hole is recognized by what might be the largest sand trap in the world which is strategically placed on the right hand side of the fairway, in position to capture any misplaced tee shot headed right. Literally, this trap rises 30 feet in the air as part of a very large sand dune. The right side of the hole is protected by more whins while the narrow green is protected by six bunkers, three on either side. Finally, your round finishes with back to back par 5ís with the 457 yard par 5 18th. The distinguishing nature of this hole is the thickness of the rough on the right (go left, but not right on this hole) and the nine fairway bunkers defending any shot placed in the middle of the fairway. Lastly, the green is only 25 yards deep and is fairly narrow with the out of bounds fence coming very close to the right hand side of the green.

After our round, we journeyed to Bushmills Restaurant, a short distance away from Port Rush. The food was great and we enjoyed a great Rioja Reserve red wine (1995) from Spain. After dinner, we drove for two hours to the town of Newcastle where we checked into the Slieve Donard Hotel (www. hastingshotels. com) which is located adjacent to our next golf course, Royal County Down.

DAY 5 IN IRELAND

Staying at the Slieve Donard Hotel didnít require a bus trip to our next golf course. The Royal County Down golf course is 500 yards behind the hotel and can be accessed from a footpath. The course occupies a beautiful piece of land on the Irish Sea. Behind the hotel and the golf course are the Mountains of Mourne which frame the sky and clouds from any angle on the course. Old Tom Morris created this golf course for the sum of four golden guineas. A framed picture of Prince Phillip in military uniform graces the clubhouse restaurant.

Teeing off on the first hole for the first time is an antsy moment. Royal County Down is rated as high as third in the world in some golf course rankings and is truly a natural work of art. The first hole is a 502 yard par five, not too difficult for a starting hole, in fact, maybe too easy, but thatís offset by the first hole jitters. This hole, as well as the next two, runs along the beach of the Irish Sea. Thereís really no significant problem unless you hit a drive greater than 275 yards to the left where the gorse comes into play. The 2nd hole is a 385 yard par 4 and requires a decent tee shot to reduce the risk of hitting into a very narrow green which is only 29 yards long. Both of these are warm-ups for number 3 which is a 474 yard par 4 (yes, I said par 4) and is the 3rd handicap hole. We had one person in our foursome who reached the green in two and the rest of us played catch up.

Number 4 is a 212 yard par 3 with the front of the green protected by 7 bunkers. The 5th hole is a 416 yard par 4 which doglegs right. The tee shot requires a blind hit over a stone and the fairway falls downhill from there. Once again there are traps lining the end of the first fairway and the carry shot to the green is uphill. Number 6 is a relatively short par 4 of 369 yards with an opportunity to play a long tee shot down the right side to cut the right hand dogleg. The fairway to the green is narrow and noted by a large hollow in front of the green and a falloff from the right and back side of the green. The 7th hole is a 135 yard par 3. The green is elevated and protected by mounds on the right and bunkers in front and to the left. Number 8 is a 425 yard par 4 which happens to be the number one handicap hole. The fairway is very narrow and requires a 170 yard carry shot from the tee to reach. The fairway narrows from the landing area to an elevated green, narrow left to right and 29 yards in length. The front nine finishes on a par 4 of 425 yards. Tee shots in excess of 200 yards will roll down a steep hill to the fairway below. The view from the top of the fairway looking at the Slieve Donard hotel in front of you, the mountains behind the hotel and the sea to the left is breathtaking. The fairway narrows again as you approach the green. The entire right hand side of the fairway is protected by thick gorse as is the left hand side.

The 10th hole is a 189 yard par 3 which generally plays shorter due to the prevailing winds and an elevated tee box. It played around 165 yards on our round without any major winds. Number 11 is a 425 yard par 4 which requires a blind tee shot over a pole at the top of the hill (stay left was the recommendation from our caddy). The fairway on the other side of the hill is reasonably wide (compared to the front nine). The 12th hole is a 479 yard par 5 which requires a lengthy tee shot to reach the fairway. The fairway is narrow and continues to narrow as it approaches the green. The left and right sides of the green fall away and do a good job of deflecting the long hits into the hole. Thirteen is the number two handicap hole and the most difficult on the back. The tee shot requires a 200 yard carry over the rough and the fairway doglegs right. Almost all shots will require an accurate placement over the rough to a 35 yard long green which is narrow from the angle approached from the typical fairway landing area. Bunkers line the right side of the fairway and gorse surrounds the entire hole.

Fourteen is a 203 yard par 3 which requires a minimum 180 yard shot to play it safe. The green falls away on all sides. Out of bounds is just behind the green. Number 15 is a 450 yard par 4 dogleg right. At 240 yards, the fairway slopes down providing a benefit for the big drives. The second shot must hit an elevated green with a severe falloff on the right side where many shots approach from. Number 16 is a 265 yard par 4 which is drivable. Shots of 230 yards or less will be below the steeply elevated green.

The 17th is a 400 yard par 4 which requires a 3 wood shot from the tee for big hitters as the fairway contains a pond which is reachable at 265 yards (and by the way, the pond canít be seen from the tee box). The green is uphill and surrounded by seven bunkers. The finishing hole is a par 5 of 547 yards. An accurate tee shot is required as the fairway landing area is surrounded by eight bunkers, most on the right. The second shot has to risk more bunkers as the fairway begins to climb. Mounds line the right hand side of the fairway at this point. Finally, the approach shot into the green is almost anticlimactic. The green slopes downhill from the back to the front.

After golf, we had dinner at the Buckís Head Restaurant in Dundrum, a few miles away from Newcastle. The food was excellent, seafood is a specialty of the house. We had Mad Fish Shiraz from Australia for our wine.

DAY 6 IN IRELAND

We awoke in the morning to a steady patter of rain. This was the fourth day out of six in which the weather did not appear to be cooperating. Our tee time for round two at Royal County Down was not until 2pm, so we had to count on the weather changing by afternoon. Unfortunately, it didnít so we had to break out the rain suits for another day of golf.

Royal County Down had been beautiful the day before, now we played it on a limited weather day. Fortunately, our group had elected to play a shamble format (pick the best drive and everyone plays their own ball in from there) so the scores werenít as high as they could have been. Going out from the clubhouse wasnít bad since the wind was blowing in from the sea, but coming back down the stretch was interesting in that any ball with a slight tail became a major slice with the wind pushing the ball.

One of the members of my group said that a person knowledgeable with Royal County Down said that the reason the course wasnít rated number one in the world was the two finishing holes, number 17 and 18. After hearing that, I was particularly sensitive toward how I played them on this day. While I had been advised by my caddie the day before to hit a three wood off the tee on 17 in order to avoid the pond in the middle of the fairway (the pond edge is 265 off the tee), I had no problem hitting driver today and was still 30 yards short of the pond. From there, it was a strong 7 iron to the uphill green. Number 18 is a par 5 that climbs uphill from your first shot in the fairway. With the gorse and traps on the left and right of this hole, I failed to see why it wouldnít be considered an excellent test of golf.

After our round of golf, we journeyed to Dublin. On the way, we stopped at a pub for dinner. No wine list was available.

DAY 7 IN IRELAND

We left our hotel, The Herbert Park Hotel in Dublin, at 7:30 for a 9 am tee time. The schedule for this day was to start off at County Lough (Baltray), the course where we played on Day 1. After that, we were going to play 18 at Seapoint, a course next door to Baltray. The weather was windy and chilly with a few holes played in rain that traveled sideways.

It was nice to play Baltray again. The seaside course is a fair test of golf and a fine links style course. As is typical of many of Irelandís golf courses, carts are not available and a round played walking the rugged terrain and looking for golf balls in the rough can take five hours. Caddies are available at Baltray and most are fairly knowledgeable about the course and its greens. The grass isnít as thick as that on the West Coast courses that we played and most golf balls that stray off the fairway can be found.

Rain appeared during the middle six holes for our group (we teed off first). We were able to remove our rain pants for the last six holes even though the 18th was played with a careful eye on the dark storm clouds approaching. As we putted the balls on 18, it became apparent that we would have to dash to the clubhouse for shelter from the rain. Unfortunately, the groups behind us werenít as successful in remaining dry. With a forecast of more showers in the afternoon, we opted for skipping the round at Seapoint and headed back to our hotel. Earlier in the day, we had been informed that our return flights on Aer Lingus had been cancelled due to a pilots strike and we were eager to arrange acceptable substitute flights.

For dinner, we walked to Coopers Cafe located across the street from the Herbert Park at the Sweepstakes Centre in Ballsbridge. The food was great and the wine list was substantial. We continued our trend of ordering moderately priced wines and ordered the 1998 Guigal Cotes du Rhone which was enjoyable.


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