Featured Golf Courses – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Apr 2019 19:22:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Dublin’s Fair County https://irishamerica.com/2016/10/dublins-fair-county/ https://irishamerica.com/2016/10/dublins-fair-county/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2016 06:33:32 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=27378 Read more..]]> Seaside villages, mountains and castles. There’s more to Dublin than its famed city.

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I thought I knew Dublin. I’ve spent lots of time in the capital and even accompanied friends from other countries on trips to tourist sites such as Trinity College and the Guinness Storehouse. Surely I’d seen all there was to see of Dublin’s fair city?

On a recent trip, I realized how wrong I was. By confining myself to the delights of the city center and ignoring areas north and south of the River Liffey, all I’d done was skim the surface.

The Irish Tourist Board is currently running a publicity campaign which boasts that Dublin represents “a breath of fresh air.” What they mean is that it is more than its city center. As I was to discover, Dublin is also its seaside villages, its nearby mountains and its countless unexpected surprises.

The first of these is Howth, an old fishing village eight miles north of the city. A former Viking stronghold, the Howth of today combines the ramshackle charm of the working fishing port with an elegant yacht club and upmarket eateries.

I was shown around by Pat Liddy, one of Ireland’s most entertaining tour guides. We started at Howth Castle, which dates from the 14th century and is still inhabited by descendants of the original Lord of Howth.

“The Pirate Queen Gráinne Mhaol came here once seeking shelter,” said Pat. “She was refused entry and was so angry that she kidnapped the Lord’s son. She only returned him when the family promised that they would always set an extra place at their table for any stranger that needed hospitality. The family do that to this day.”

A small section of Howth Castle which dates to medieval times and has been the home of the Gaisford-St. Lawrence family for over 800 years.

A small section of Howth Castle which dates to medieval times and has been the home of the Gaisford-St. Lawrence family for over 800 years.

Funnily enough, they do that while keeping the castle itself closed to visitors except on Sundays during August and September. However, its higgledy-piggledy grounds are well worth a wander. You’ll find the National Transport Museum in one corner, a cookery school in another, and a golf course in yet another.

From the castle, we ambled along to the Cliff Path, a looped walk that starts and finishes in the village and culminates in a viewing point that takes in Howth, its lighthouse, Ireland’s Eye just off the coast and Dublin City in the distance.

A walk along the cliff path in Howth.

A walk along the cliff path in Howth.

Back in the village, Pat told me about the gun-running that happened in Howth prior to the 1916 Rising. When the Ulster Volunteers imported arms in 1914, the Irish Volunteers decided to do likewise. A group comprising of Erskine and Molly Childers, Roger Casement, Alice Green, and Mary Spring Rice, arranged for guns to be brought to Howth in the Childers’ private yacht, the Asgard.

Molly and Erskine and a crew of five others sailed the yacht to the Belgian coast where they picked up 900 rifles that had come from Hamburg and brought them back to Howth, where they unloaded them on the 26th of July. Molly kept a diary of all that happened on that journey – a diary now viewed as an important historical document and kept in Trinity College’s archive – and the guns went on to be used in the Easter Rising.

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Howth Harbor Lighthouse, built in 1817, is located at the end of Howth Harbor.

 

Pat pointed out where King George IV landed in 1821. Dublin had been suffering economically since the Act of Union in 1800 and this royal visit was seen as a hopeful indicator for the future.

So hopeful were the people of the city that they festooned Dublin with banners, flags, and bunting. On Howth Pier itself, locals went so far as to mark the exact spot where King George’s feet made contact with the pier and a stone mason then chiselled his footprints into the granite for posterity.

After strolling along the harbor, Pat and I sat by the pier enjoying some of the best seafood Dublin has to offer in Deep Restaurant. We cast our eyes enviously over the luxurious yachts berthed in the yacht club and giggled as seals tried to steal fish from fishermen on the working side of the harbor.

Sailing boats in the harbor of Howth Peninsula.

Sailing boats in the harbor of Howth Peninsula.

After lunch, I traveled further north to Malahide, which is another seaside town with a castle at its heart. The perfectly-preserved Malahide Castle was occupied by the Talbot family for 800 years up to 1975.

At the entrance, there’s a portrait of the last Talbots who lived here. There’s Lord Milo who died in 1973 and his sister Rose who sold the castle to Dublin City Council in 1976.

The castle stands as testament to the life that they, and their ancestors, lived. The impressive oak room has walls that are inlaid with carved oak panels that are more than 500 years old. The drawing room is painted in a shade that was created especially for it and is to this day known as Malahide Orange.

A guide pointed out the fireguards that were used to protect the ladies’ thick makeup from melting. Apparently, this is where the phrases “saving face” and “losing face” come from. When servants would see makeup melting, they would rush over with a fireguard and say: “My lady, you are losing face. May I save your face?”

I was most struck by the family bedrooms. They are furnished with children’s toys, dressing tables, wash stands, and personal items that make the era come truly alive.

I loved the gardens, too. Lord Milo was a keen botanist who traveled the world collecting specimens. The gardens are his living legacy.

Farmleigh, the  official Irish State guest house. It was formerly one of the Dublin  residences of the  Guinness family.

Farmleigh, the official Irish State guest house. It was formerly one of the Dublin residences of the Guinness family.

The following day, I traveled east of the city center to Dublin’s Phoenix Park, the largest city park in Western Europe. There, I visited Farmleigh House.

For two hundred years, this was one of the homes of the Guinness family, but in 1999, it was bought by the Irish government who set about establishing it as Ireland’s official guest house. It’s now where heads of state stay when they visit the country.

The public can take guided tours whenever the house is not in use. These tours take in the dining room, which is laid with official State-branded crockery. Then there’s the library, which is home to some of Ireland’s most valuable first-edition books.

The ballroom is a marvel with its elaborate plasterwork, chandeliers and oak floor that is said to be made from disused barrels from the Guinness brewery. So too, is the conservatory, with its marble floor, Victorian glazing, and exotic plants.

The grounds at Farmleigh are also worth exploring. There’s a fountain, a sunken garden, a walled garden, a boathouse and a café. You may even spot some of the wild deer that roam freely in Phoenix Park.

A calf on Airfield Estate, a working farm which is open to the public all year round.

A calf on Airfield Estate, a working farm which is open to the public all year round.

Later, I continued south to Airfield, a place that offers another fresh perspective on Dublin. It’s a 38-acre estate that was bought by a Dublin family called the Overends in 1894.

Three daughters were born to this family, but one died as a young child after contracting tuberculosis from unpasteurized milk. That tragedy defined the lives of her surviving sisters. They went on to turn Airfield into a city farm and to devote themselves to pushing for improvements in food and farming in Ireland.

You’ll learn all about these eccentric sisters as you roam through their home and farm. You’ll hear how they went to buy a car for use around the farm and come home with the latest Rolls Royce instead. That car is still on the farm and it’s the only known Rolls Royce in the world to have been fitted with a tow bar, to which the ladies would attach trailers of Jersey cows to bring to agricultural shows around the country.

You’ll see the pasteurization parlor the sisters installed at Airfield, which was the first of its kind in Ireland. And you’ll be told how even though they are now dead, the staff of this city farm are determined that the sisters’ legacy will live on.

Airfield now offers visitors an opportunity to learn about food and farming. Everywhere I went, children were being shown how to feed and look after animals. I even saw some excitedly collecting freshly-laid eggs and bringing them into the kitchens where they made scrambled eggs and toast.

From Airfield, I continued south to Sandycove, home to Dublin’s famous Forty Foot swimming spot. Although, I visited in winter, there were still people swimming in the cold, grey Irish Sea. Everyone is welcome to dive in and on that day, some visiting French tourists joined Dubliners in stripping down to their togs and taking to the sea.

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Sutton Martello Tower at sunset.

 

There’s a Martello tower right beside the Forty Foot. The coast of Dublin is lined with these towers, which were erected during the Napoleonic Wars, each within sight of the other so that they could signal in the event of an attack.

Round and squat, they have been put to various uses over the years. The one at Sandycove was occupied by a friend of James Joyce’s in the early 1900s. Joyce stayed there and it is said that he wrote the first part of Ulysses in the tower.

Today, the tower is a museum that is run entirely by volunteers. These enthusiasts have assembled a treasure trove of Joyce’s letters, books, photos and first editions. They even have one of his death masks. A section of the tower has also been kept as it was when Joyce stayed there. Anyone who considers themselves a fan should visit.

James Joyce Tower bed and hammock.

James Joyce Tower bed and hammock.

My final day in Dublin was spent in the Dublin Mountains with Liz McEvoy, the walking tour guide who runs Trails and Tales. A mere ten miles from the city center, Liz led me through unspoiled countryside, regaling me with stories along the way.

One of our walks was in the Glenasmole Valley (which comes from the Irish for “valley of the thrushes”). “Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna roamed this area in mythological times and Fionn himself is said to have given the valley its name,” said Liz.

As we walked, Liz pointed out 5000-year-old passage tombs. She told me how the reservoir in the middle of the valley was built during the Famine and that everyone in the valley was involved in building it. So much so that many had to go back to school once the building work was done in order to learn to read and write. “We have records of men in their 40s starting primary school,” she said.

Walking in the Dublin Mountains with Liz McEvoy who runs Trails and Tales.

Walking in the Dublin Mountains with Liz McEvoy who runs Trails and Tales.

Liz’s family have lived in the area since the 1600s so she has personal stories to tell too. She tells one of an uncle who had the same name as Michael Collins.

“The Black and Tans would arrive at the family home during the War of Independence and the poor man would have to convince them that he wasn’t the Michael Collins they were searching for,” she laughed.

My three days of exploration changed my understanding of Dublin entirely. I now know there is much more to it than its city center. Its surrounding suburbs are home to castles and seaside communities, Martello towers and museums, city farms and swimming spots and the natural wonders of the Dublin Mountains. I can’t believe what a breath of fresh air my capital city proved itself to be. ♦

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A Way of Healing https://irishamerica.com/2013/08/a-way-of-healing/ https://irishamerica.com/2013/08/a-way-of-healing/#comments Thu, 01 Aug 2013 11:11:53 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=16814 Read more..]]> In memory of her brother David, a victim of MS, Honora Harty joined a group of MS Ireland walkers on the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), the ancient pilgrimage route. The walkers picked up the trail in Estella in northeast Spain and walked to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia on the west coast.

I land in Dublin at 7 a.m. on the first of June, having left San Francisco the morning before. After 13 hours in the air, I am tired but awake with memories of my brother David young and alive – as he will always be for me – and in whose  memory I am making this trip.

I walk through the airport, weary from lack of sleep. But with each sighting of a red tee shirt bearing the MS Ireland logo (by 10:00 a.m., there would be 30 of us), I’m energized. The first to greet me is Caitriona Hughes with whom I’d corresponded over the last two months. She gives me the kind of warm, familiar hug one gets from someone they’ve never met, but somehow knows. We’re members of the same tribe. Kindred spirits. We all board a plane to Spain, each with our own hopes and anxieties about the trip ahead.

I hope that my training over the past six weeks – walking up to eight miles a day – will get me through this roughly 200km journey, and that my six-month-old hip replacement will hold up.

We’re met at Bilbao airport by our trusted and wonderful coach driver Gustavo. Straight from the get-go he looks out for us – a wise, gentle shepherd watching over his flock. It’s a good feeling.

At our hotel in Puente La Reina I take a quick shower and taste the local vino blanco (coffee aside) while getting to know the group by name.

I instantly warm to my roomy Marie Therese Wall – with her head of red hair and quirky sense of humor. She’s a bath girl while I favor the shower, and she always lets me go first and says it’s okay for me to grab the bed by the window.

To bed, then early up at seven for breakfast and on the road by eight, which will become our morning routine for the next ten days.

Day one of the walk we take turns telling our stories as to why we’re walking the Camino. Not one of the thirty aspirations is the same – to each his own. Yet every one is a lesson in life, and a step closer to where we’re going; towards something that has meaning.

As we leave the town of Puente La Reina we pass over a Romanesque bridge and continue for a time on what was an old Roman road. I contemplate the history of the Camino and the thousands of pilgrims over the centuries, each carrying their own dreams and sorrows, who walked this way before me.

Each day we begin anew, trekking different terrain. Today, surrounded by open fields of red poppies; tomorrow something else. Some days the paths are all climbing; others, an endless descent. But boy, the view from the top of these mountains is just beautiful, and if I may say, not unlike Ireland.

Most days we walk through small villages, sometimes stopping for coffee and to have our pilgrim passports stamped; always enjoying the locals and other peregrinos (pilgrims). We meet so many people from all over the globe that the world seems small and undivided.

Lunch is always a welcome treat. After coming off a mountain or through a forest or pasture, our bus is waiting for us. Gustavo, Ruth and Gabriel who have walked many a Camino and made many a hike with MS Ireland, look after us on the trek, always armed with some local delicacy to try, and ready to bandage a blister  or massage a cramping foot.

One day after hiking through a beautiful forest we came upon a plaque dated 1936, when the Spanish Civil War was raging. At this spot mass graves have recently been discovered and are still being excavated. It was here that Franco ordered the killing of hundreds of loyalists young and old. I shivered imagining. And chided myself for not knowing more about this period.

On the day we walked to Cruce De Ferro (the iron cross), the highest point on the Camino, it was raining, but as the ancient cross came into sight the clouds cleared to a bright blue sky. We had been told to bring a stone that could be left at the cross – it’s a long tradition since medieval times when pilgrims after traveling through the mountains would leave a stone in thanks and pray for safe passage and protection on the rest of their journey.

There are different stories about what the stone is meant to represent, but the general one is that it represents burdens from your past that you have been carrying. Or you can place a stone in memory of someone.

I took the small stone from my backpack and went to lay it at the cross. Smooth and cool, it weighted my hand. I could feel my brother with me, hear him whisper, “Good on you, Sis. Don’t cry.”

But of course I did.

I had a moment then when I thought I had lost my backpack. After looking around frantically for a couple of minutes, I realized that it was still on my back, but it felt weightless now. I suppose it was some physical manifestation of a psychological burden laid down. I felt lighter in my heart too. I was letting go of my grief over David’s untimely death from MS and remembering the good times we had together.

The final leg of the trek into Santiago de Compostela is bittersweet. We are anxious to get to the cathedral and finish our journey, but we are not ready to say goodbye to new friends.

We walk towards the Cathedral  of St. James as a group singing: “We’re on the one road/ sharing the one load/ We’re on the road to God knows where. …” A street artist playing the bagpipes picks up our tune and walks along with us. What an entrance we make into the square where our earth angels Gabriel, Ruth, Caitriona and Gustavo have bottles of champagne chilled and waiting.

On our last night, to celebrate at a Galician restaurant where after what feels like endless courses of local fish and other delicacies, we each receive a certificate of completion and get our pilgrim passport stamped.

And so it is that I raise a glass to my fellow pilgrims and give thanks to friends and family who donated to MS Ireland, and encouraged me along the way.

For more on MS Ireland see www.ms-society.ie

More photos:

David and Honora Harty, just before he was diagnosed with MS The old Roman Road. Photo: Honora Harty. John and Gorthie. Photo: Honora Harty. Pilgrim Passport cover. Photo: Honora Harty. A field of red poppies along the way. Photo: Honora Harty. Mountain views on the trail. Photo: Honora Harty. Caitriona Hughes, MS Ireland group leader. Photo: Honora Harty. A strange little house that prompts the question "Who lives there?" Photo: Honora Harty. Done for the day, the MS Ireland group takes a break. Photo: Honora Harty. Santiago at last! Cruce De Ferro (the iron cross), the highest point on the Camino. ]]>
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The Greens of Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2003/02/the-greens-of-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2003/02/the-greens-of-ireland/#respond Sat, 01 Feb 2003 08:29:22 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=40421 Read more..]]> The American love of golf has created a new form of business in Ireland – golf tourism.

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A mean Atlantic southwesterly howls up the sand dunes, blasting a wintry chill across the grassy headland. Out on the exposed hills a slow procession catches my eye. Leaning into the gale is a hardy knot of Arctic adventurers, pressing on and pausing, driving forward for all their worth. They’re buttoned from head to toe in woolens and waterproofs yet they’re out enjoying themselves, chasing after a small white ball. There’s no doubt golfers are a breed apart.

Do they ever look excited at the first tee? “Oh Jesus, yeah,” replies Martin Shorter, director of golf at the recently opened Doonbeg club in Co. Clare. “Shannon airport is in close proximity to us so American visitors will get off the plane and want to play here or Lahinch on the first day they arrive. It’s 8:30 in the morning and there they are, dead tired but they can’t wait to tee off. You see the sleep in their eyes but the adrenaline is kicking in and they can’t wait to go.”

While George Bernard Shaw famously observed that golf is one sure way to spoil a good walk, a growing number of strollers will risk dragging a set of clubs along with them. There has been an upsurge in the number of golf courses in Ireland but aside from local interest, the game’s growing appeal has generated a new form of business — golf tourism.

According to Damien Ryan, director of golf at Bórd Fáilte, about 58,000 visitors played the game in Ireland in 1988. “Last year we put that figure at 250,000 and our plans are built around 2006, by which stage we aim to bring 400,000 golfers a year to Ireland.”

It’s an ambitious target but the figures tell their own story. At present there are about 440 golf courses in Ireland with quite a number of high-profile courses — such as the K-Club, Mount Juliet, Doonbeg, Carton House, Druid’s Glen and Fota Island — developed in recent years.

Those who care little for the small ball game might feel we have more than enough courses thank-you-very-much but the demand is such that it’s not so easy getting out to play. Even with so many new courses springing up, the waiting lists for club membership are getting longer, not shorter. Private membership can cost over $20,000 — what’s more, you’d be lucky to get it, especially anywhere within driving range of Dublin.

“We have a private members’ club here but visitors are welcome,” explains Alan Reardon, club secretary at the famous Lahinch Golf Club in Co. Clare. “We’re full all the time — I mean between 23-24,000 visitors go through here but we have to turn away over 8,000 more every year. The demand simply outstrips supply.”

If all their birthdays have come together it has taken quite a while for clubs in Ireland to grasp that potential. “There was never a shortage of courses as such,” agrees Bórd Fáilte spokesman John Brown. “But one of the problems was that 99 percent of the clubs were run by their own members and obviously member-run clubs weren’t so open to the idea of tourists.”

Golfing holidays began to boom in Spain and Portugal while renowned venues in Ireland, Scotland and England lost out. They had something to sell but weren’t willing to sell it or didn’t know how.

To their credit however, administrators of the game got together to review the situation and sort out a cohesive marketing plan. They saw how they could accommodate visitors by opening off-peak playing hours to non-members. The income from green tees would defray running costs and visitors got to play. Whether the move was prompted by goodwill or business acumen it has certainly paid off. In a game notoriously unforgiving on close calls, it was a win-win situation.

Local clubs set up regional associations to promote their interests abroad. “It was Denis Brosnan’s idea modeled on the way the Kerry Group was formed,” explains Paddy O’Looney, chief-executive of Southwest Ireland Golf Ltd. (SWING). “When he brought the milk co-ops in Kerry under one umbrella they became a force to be reckoned with. He applied the same principle to golf tourism.”

SWING was formed in 1988, incorporating nine clubs — Lahinch, Ballybunion, Waterville, Dromoland, Dooks, Killarney, Shannon, Tralee and Dingle — and pooling resources to cultivate a growing overseas market. Clubs around the country formed similar marketing groups — such as West Coast Links, IGTOA, Green Isle Golf, Shannon Golf Partnership and others — to make their own pitch for business in an increasingly competitive and profitable arena.

But there was no point luring tourists if facilities weren’t here for them. At national level Bórd Fáilte’s Operational Program for Tourism (1989) provided £9 million in funds to develop new `pay-and-play’ clubs as well as encourage established clubs to open up for tourists. A second tranche (1994-99) completed the agency’s structural development of golf tourism.

“We’re putting Ireland up there to make us the Number One destination in Europe,” contends Damien Ryan. “One of the biggest pluses for us now is we have a lot of commercial courses here, which makes it more accessible than with member clubs.”

“The profile of visitors has changed dramatically,” confirms Alan Reardon at Lahinch. “At the start of the 90’s Irish visitors made up about 48 percent of our business; that’s now down to eight percent. The market spread is now 80 percent American.”

The same shift is reflected nationally. Golfers from Britain make up about half of those who come to Ireland to play but the American share has grown to almost 35 percent, many of whom play premium courses. In tourism-speak they are valued as `high-yield guests.’ A high ratio of repeat business suggests the visitors get exactly what they come for.

It’s a game where tradition runs deep. Golfers everywhere love to try the famous old courses and in Ireland they go for Royal Dublin (est. 1885), Lahinch, Royal Portrush, Portmarnock, Royal County Down, Old Head of Kinsale, Balmoral and Woodbrook.

7th Hole, Lahinch Golf Club, Co. Clare. (Photo Courtesy of Lambrecht Photography)

Lahinch itself dates back to 1892 when Limerick businessman Alexander Shaw deemed the coastal sand hills an ideal site to set up a course. He then built with the assistance of Scottish officers from the Black Watch Regiment, and the first game was played on Good Friday, April 15 that same year. To commemorate the occasion the West Clare Railway put on a special train “in order to give persons an opportunity to view the game and enjoy the sea air.”

The course was originally divided by a road but in 1927 six extra holes were added on the beach side to bring the entire course by the sea. Some 36 years later the club developed land on the other side of the roadway to make up a second course, the Castle Course, for which green fees of 50 euro are less than half the fee to play the Old Course.

Of course the newly-built courses can’t compete in terms of history and tradition. To win immediate profile and prestige the current trend is to hire an international golfing figure to design the course. Many of the new courses in Ireland have a famous stamp on them, such as Jack Nicklaus’ design at Mount Juliet, Arnold Palmer’s at the K-Club or Bernhardt Langer’s design of the newer links course at Portmarnock.

In fact, links golf — seaside courses — is one of the biggest draws in the Irish game. “You don’t get true links courses in America,” reasons Martin Shorter, himself a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. “The difference is the wind, and the firmness of the turf is something American golfers are not accustomed to. Americans are used to hitting the ball in the air, landing it on the green where it stops. Here, you have to allow for the bounce. It’s the shot you roll and the shot you have to chase. And it’s about patience. If you come to Ireland to play matchplay golf you’ll have a great time. If you come to medal play you’ll be a beaten and broken man!”

There are about 151 links courses in the world and one third of them are in Ireland. Not surprisingly, there was huge interest when Australian champion Greg Norman was invited to design the course on coastal farmland at Doonbeg, Co. Clare. The opportunities for building new links courses are obviously diminishing — Doonbeg runs for a sprawling 385 acres — but Norman was over-whelmed by the potential of the site.

“When I first looked at this site I thought I was the luckiest designer in the world,” enthused the man known as the Great White Shark. “It’s spectacular land made by God, one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is the course I want to be identified with.”

Designers are known to complete their work after a few visits to a course but Norman’s involvement at Doonbeg, saw him visit the site on an unprecedented 23 occasions. Under strict conservation guidelines to protect the 100-foot dunes in Doonbeg he sought to work around existing features on a `minimum disturbance’ philosophy. The Great White Shark also came up against a most unlikely foe. The site turned out to be a habitat of a rare species of snail, the Vertigo Angustior, so additional directives were issued to protect it.

After resolving various difficulties — including access to the beach for locals — the $25 million development is now in business. Plans include a 90-room hotel on site as well as holiday chalets in what Brendan Lynch of Shannon Development Tourism described as “the most significant project to be developed in the West of Ireland over the last 25 years.”

“We knew going in there’s always give-and-take,” explains Shorter. “If you don’t plan with the environment in mind you won’t be successful. We knew we had to work around the configuration of dunes but basically Greg routed the course around the 15th hole. When he saw the land there he thought it would be one of the greatest golfing holes in the world and wanted to work around that.”

The 15th is indeed a magnificent par-four, running along an ocean ridge with the green nestling in the natural bowl of a dune amphitheater. “Greg didn’t want to `Americanize’ the course,” continues Shorter. “By that, he meant he didn’t want to move earth. The site was so natural we just started mowing fairways. Twelve of the fairways are meadow grass and that’s very unusual.”

Doonbeg is managed by Kiawah Development Partners, and the importance of the American dimension is underlined by the preponderance of major figures from U.S. political and commercial life on its advisory board. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (who chaired the Northern Ireland peace talks), Wayne Huizenga (formerly of Blockbuster Entertainment), Kerry Packer (chairman of Consolidated Press Holdings) are just three of 19 influential board members.

In 2006 Ireland will host the Ryder Cup for the very first time. The tournament, which pits the best of Europe against the best of America, will take place at the K-Club in Straffan, Co. Kildare for what ranks as a highlight of any sporting calendar.

“The Ryder Cup will be one of the biggest sporting events Ireland has ever had and one of the biggest events in general ever staged here,” feels Bord Fáilte’s Damien Ryan. “We have another four years to market it.”

Earlier this year Bord Fáilte invested $1 million on the American Express World Golf Championship. The four-day event brought 49 of the top 50 players in the world to Mount Juliet in Kilkenny. The $5.5 million tournament was televised in 140 countries and brought crowds of over 120,174, a gallery record for a WGC event. “You couldn’t ask for a better showcase for golf here,” said Irish champion Padraig Harrington. “All the players have loved it here; the course, the facilities. Everything about it.”

Tiger Woods won the tournament by a single stroke, and the world champion added his voice to the promotion effort. “It’s great to play in front of galleries that are knowledgeable, and Irish fans certainly know the game,” he remarked. “I was telling Paddy [Harrington] they’re not only gracious but they understand the game of golf. They were fantastic. And I think the course is playing absolutely gorgeous. The fairways are perfect. The greens are the best we have putted on all year, including the U.S. majors.”

In the wake of the September 11 tragedy there were widespread fears that Americans would not travel in numbers this year. Tourist business in Ireland is certainly down, but golf, it seems, is impervious to everything. “Golfers are war-proof, recession-proof and waterproof,” suggests Paddy O’Looney. If Irish golf tourism remains a quality product offering value for money, he and others are confident that the future is bright.

The indications suggest the same. While I was speaking to Alan Reardon at Lahinch, the fax machine continued to hum behind us. It’s no time for complacency but business is brisk. The last fax put in a reservation for a group of eight to tee off at 10 a.m. on August 8, 2003. A whole year in advance and eight adventurers already planning to spoil a good walk! Golfers are indeed a strange breed. ♦

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