Ivan Morris - The voice of Limerick Golf
WHEN my wife and I decide to go away for a few days of R&R in Ireland with a game of golf or two included, there is a wide range of really good hotels with excellent golf courses close by for us to choose from.
We had been to our most recent destination previously, Farnham Estate in County Cavan, wanting to make a return visit is the best of recommendations, surely?
Farnham is an elegant and modern lifestyle resort and spa offering luxurious retreat accommodation, high class gourmet cuisine and robust, leisure activities that include a challenging golf course, a 7 kms walking trail, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a state-of-the-art, holistic health spa incorporating a 300-years old, neo-classical, columned, villa located on 1300 acres that was the ancestral home of the Maxwell family (the Earls of Farnham) for seven generations.
Apart from the pampering we knew we would receive, we wanted to again experience the unique variety of the Jeff Howes-designed golf course with its two, distinct golfing styles on the first and second nine holes.
The golf course, which takes up all of 500-acres, winds through pampas meadows, babbling streams and mini-lakes before the back nine cuts through a rolling pine forest on much hillier ground.
Apart from the thrilling, sharply downhill, tree-lined par-4 2nd (a hole that would not be out of place at Augusta National) the front nine is similar to playing in the wide-open spaces of a prairie with the added features of deliberately unkempt bunkers and tall grasses encroaching on every turn of the snake-like but, wide fairways.
While Howes had few constraints with where he could go with his routing even if the planners were sensitive to the environment and protecting some historical views, the reasons for the two, distinct styles are due to the characteristics of the land and the possibility of expanding to 36-holes sometime in the future.
The vastness of the front nine with its tall grasses and unkempt bunkering would have been completely out of context in the forest of the back nine.
The most difficult hole ‘going out’ was undoubtedly the indexed 1, 4th. The uphill drive has to be deadly accurate to slice through a narrow gap between a pair of large, mature oaks and long enough to carry over the rise to leave a long, downhill, second shot to a green that sits on a virtual island, hugged by a duck and reed-infested, water hazard at both the rear and right hand side.
The par 3, 5th is an exquisite hole set in a copse of ancient oaks that requires a precision mid-iron stroke to a green surrounded by a necklace of deep, sand bunkers.
The 8th is an even stronger par 3 demanding a fairway metal shot in calm conditions that plays along the entire length of a walled ditch before it gradually widens into full-scale water hazard beside the left-hand side of the large green.
The 9th is a handsome, strategic, downhill, par 5 with its fairway divided in two by the ubiquitous stream that popped up at every other hole. Going for this green in two strokes via the direct route is fraught with danger whereas resisting that temptation and taking a more circuitous, lay-up route will not completely abandon one's chances of making a birdie with a deft, third shot approach.
After the wide-open ambiance of the first nine holes where claustrophobia is the furthest thing from one's mind, switching suddenly into a pine forest on the 10th tee is a shock to the system but, never fear, the fairways are wider than they might appear.
Besides, tall trees on all sides help the concentration and makes target projection easier. At the short, driveable, par-4 14th, I remembered that the last time there I went for broke and was heavily punished. Learning my 'lesson' well, I laid up this time and made a nice birdie.
The risk and reward aspects of the par 5, 18th with Farnham Manor an altogether appealing backdrop, makes it the ideal finishing hole that is enhanced by the newly-opened, stone clubhouse overlooking it.
Having the courage to take on the tiger line and aim straight over a large lake will be rewarded with the possibility of reaching the large, well-guarded, undulating, green in two, strong blows.
Veering safely to the left results in having a 'squeezed' lay up to the narrowest section of a fairway that is designed like an hourglass.
That's the way golf should be. Overcome a risk and be rewarded. Play safe and face a dilemma; bringing a perfect golfing day to a perfect end. The wonderful gourmet food in the brand new, Cedar Rooms Restaurant after the golf was the icing on the cake!
Twice bitten, thrice shy they say but not in the case of Farnham Estate and we have every anticipation of going there again sometime.
Words of the Wise
When considering the democratic side of golf, we should remember the original Scottish links were common soil over which every man, woman or child had free access.
They were as free as the ice in the Dutch pictures where small boys are seen pottering about with putters tucked under their arms. It's a pity that the boundaries of the popular links of today should ever be closed.
People may be inconvenient in their numbers, but barriers are worse. The perfect course, will, I think, always be as free as the air - H.N. Wethered