LAST week I was in Cavan; not a county I have visited often.
I played at Slieve Russell Resort and Virginia GC. The former is an enjoyable, big, bold, modern, championship standard golf course with strong par-3s and par-5s, mature trees and lakes; playable by every standard of golfer.
Our overnight stay at Slieve Russell was super luxurious and extraordinarily good value. Until October 31 you, too, can enjoy 2-nights of B&B + 2 rounds of golf for €190 per person (sharing) but you must quote: EGT22, when booking.
Virginia is a delightful trip into nostalgia in a charming arboretum. A throwback to the 1940s when it was built as a 'distraction' for the guests at the Park Hotel, still on the site, Virginia proves the point that a golf course can only be as good as the ground and surroundings on which it is built. The 9-holes course is only 2065-metres long, but it is a delight and by no means a pushover.
The 6th hole might be the shortest 'par-5' in the world at 225-metres. It is a brute; long, uphill through a narrow avenue of trees. Tiny, square-shaped greens with tantalisingly difficult to negotiate grassy banks on the sides are elusive targets but what really caught me by surprise was the quality of the putting surfaces. They were quite superb. I one-putted almost every green and didn't want my round to end!
Both Slieve Russell and Virginia are offering great deals in membership - call them directly for details. Indeed, quite a few GCs are now offering annual memberships for less than €1 per day and yet membership figures released by the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) make for depressing reading.
Since 2007, 20% of Irish golfers have left GUI-affiliated clubs. That's 50,000 golfers in a decade! It's a big worry for the GUI that depends almost completely on Poll Taxes for its revenue.
A recent article in the Irish Examiner by Kevin Markham stated that while golfers are giving up their memberships (and therefore their GUI affiliation) it doesn’t mean they are giving up playing golf. Many are becoming nomads and picking and choosing when and where they play.
But, being a member of a golf club has many under appreciated advantages; club membership is the best way to pursue the game - as long as you play the game regularly.
Why wouldn't you when it is proven by the health experts how good for your overall wellbeing playing a game of golf actually is? Playing lots of golf prolongs an average person's lifespan by up to 7-years, not to mention the camararderie involved and other benefits.
You can play at your home course whenever you want and as much as you want without restrictions or paying a green fee. If you’re a member of a club you can also book your preferred tee time in advance and know you’ll always get a game. It's easy to make new friends and there are other benefits too. Some of the best friends you make in a golfing atmosphere would really surprise you because you might never have met them otherwise. The pursuit of a common passion makes for the most lasting of frienships.
If you are competitive, being a club member is a no brainer but the beauty of golf is you can also enjoy it without having a competitive bone in your body. Nor should the friendly atmosphere of a golf club bar be overlooked. It is somewhere informal to bring your non-golfing friends for a game, a drink or a meal. Who knows, maybe the quality of the course and clubhouse will convince them to join too?
There are competitions galore in most golf clubs — from better ball scrambles to individual strokeplay. And, there is the opportunity for participation on club teams if that is what you enjoy!
If you have kids, they could not be in a safer or better environment. Most clubs have junior programmes and are very welcoming with low cost, group lessons. Young friendships that last a lifetime are made. Learning to play golf when young is like learning to ride a bicycle. Once you can do it, you will never forget. Even if your kids stop playing golf while they attend university or begin pursuing a career, they can always come back to golf later in life. You can be assured they will thank you at that time because they will pick up from where they left off. You are only a beginner once.
The benefits of a club membership far outweigh being a nomadic golfer. Many golf clubs are keenly recruiting new members currently and are promoting 'great value offers'. If you are a former member of a GC, you should know what you are missing. If never a member how could you know what you have been missing! That's a win-win in my book if people thought 'straight'.
So, thank you Kevin Markham of The Irish Examiner for reminding me of all of that! Incidentally, there is no better man than Kevin to write a piece like this. He is the author of the best-selling 'Hooked' in which he wrote about his odyssey of playing golf at every 18-holes golf course on the island of Ireland a momumental task that took 18-months to complete.
Words of the Wise: My swing is more important than the clubs I use - Rory McIlroy.