IT’S not the way Irish golf is seen by outsiders but ever since the Ryder Cup was staged at the K Club in 2006, golf course developments here have been languishing in limbo land with club memberships declining steadily and our self-confidence on the receiving end of sustained bashings.
At the same time, Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke’s ascension to major-winning status gave The R & A the final push to put Royal Portrush back on its Open Championship rota.
By working his ‘Gleneagles Magic’ to become the most admired and talked about European Ryder Cup Captain since Tony Jacklin, Paul McGinley also gave Ireland’s golfing stock overseas a major boost.
Developments here in the Midwest are taking full advantage of this much-needed change in attitude and atmosphere. As a result, this uniquely golf-endowed region is advancing more rapidly than most. Why not? Are not the World’s most famous and iconic links golf courses located right here?
When Donald Trump jetted in to purchase the Doonbeg Links in County Clare last year and then, immediately began investing ‘millions’ to repair the storm damage suffered early in 2014, even Ministers of Government jumped on the bandwagon. Trump has since further increased his ‘investment’ by employing the proven skills of Course Designer, Martin Hawtree, to undertake an extensive course reconstruction and upgrade. No matter how Mr. Trump is perceived elsewhere, and he has his detractors, you can never say that he doesn’t back up his big talk by not putting his hands deep into his own pockets.
It’s also a clear vote of confidence to hear news filtering through from across the Atlantic that Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes in Oregon fame is squarely behind Dr. Arthur Spring’s 20-year old dream of building a golf course on Inch Island in County Kerry. With four of his courses currently in the world’s top-100 ranking list, for the ‘conservative’ Keiser to show an interest in Ireland could not come at a better time. Knowing how Keiser works, he’ll have a big input into the end result and there will be huge interest in the USA. All of Irish golf will benefit from the synergic spin offs that will accrue.
Perhaps, the most interesting development of all is underway at Ballybunion’s Old Course where thanks to Herbert Warren Wind writing in the New Yorker magazine in 1969 Irish golf tourism first hit the jackpot. Wind wrote that Ballybunion was the finest golf links in the British Isles and the influx of free-spending American golfers to our shores began.
Last month, the members voted to accept the proposal by management under the Chairmanship of Pat Harnett to re-lay all 18-greens on the Old Course and engage golf architect, Graeme Webster to redesign the 7th green, which before its present incarnation was regarded as one of the most challenging and terrifying anywhere in the world of golf. Having seen the standard of workmanship on a redesigned second green on the Cashen Course carried out by AGC, Anthony Bennett’s locally-owned, golf course construction company with bulldozer shapers, Jake McTavish and Donald Bennett operating in unison to create all of the dunescapes and turfgrass surfaces under the eagle-eyed supervision of new, course superintendent John Bambury, formerly of Trump Aberdeen, the members had zero reservations.
A well-attended SGM was overwhelmingly supportive of relaying the greens as well as allowing a ‘strategic introduction’ of indigenous, marram grasses as part of on-going course development with the ultimate objective of uplifting the overall appearance and maintaining traditional links characteristics to proceed.
On first observation, the course appears more difficult because the playing corridors have a narrower ‘look’ but they remain exactly the same as always; shot values and the way Ballybunion has always been played won’t change one iota.
Having played the course regularly since 1962 I must say that the fairways do look narrower but targets are also more sharply defined. The ‘marramification’ may have the capacity to terrorize and intimidate but after a game or two, I expect that it will be more like a warden directing traffic than an unplayable hazard.
In September, the greens will be mapped and micro-managed using new, high tech technology; stripped of all organic matter underneath the surfaces and re-sodded with native fescue grasses cultivated and prepared in very specific nursery conditions. The course will be fully back in play by Spring 2016 with the entire project costing around €1.5 million.
The entire area around Kitty’s River on the second and thirteenth holes on the Old Course has been beautifully re-configured with lovely stonework. The ‘dead’ ground behind the 5th green was always an uninspiring sight due to an ugly fence and untidy backdrop but it is now hidden from the view of the approaching golfer by low dunes and marram framing the green complex exquisitely.
It strikes me that a disorderly woman has received a timely makeover and a new wardrobe of fashionable clothes. Voila! She is a spectacular stunner but she is still the same woman. I’m hugely impressed and may have fallen back in love with a course that I felt so passionate about during my formative years of playing the game.
And, I never even mentioned the big plans that are afoot at Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort where I predict the 2026 Ryder Cup Matches will be held!