The Playin' O' The Green - Part 2
by Lisa 'Longball' Vlooswyk
My last article was Part one of a two Part series on my epic golf trip to Ireland. It detailed my adventures with my husband to Belfast and Northern Ireland and back down to Dublin including world renowned courses such as Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Royal County Down, Portmarnock and the Island.
Part Two of the article will lead us to the coast of Ballybunion, to Lahinch and ending in Kildare.
After a fabulous stay in Dublin it was off across country to the West Coast of the Emerald Isle. It was our only scheduled day without golf as we had a 6-hour drive ahead of us.
As with any good road trip we had good tunes with the ipod cranked, coupled with salty and sweet snacks and we were set to go. We encountered wonderful views of the Irish countryside with flocks of sheep and rolling green hills.
En Route we encountered Adare Village, a pretty area with flowers, thatched cottages and a great golf course. Though we weren’t teeing it up we stopped at Adare Golf Club and admired longingly, discussed briefly if we could fit 9 holes in before moving on.
We then stopped in to the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland which houses a delightful living museum of how the Irish lived 100 years ago. Always pushing the envelope and now 10 hours into our journey, including stops, I suggested we hit the Ring of Kerry which is supposed to be the most beautiful drive in Ireland.
My husband got out the map and proved it would be a 4-hour side trip and we didn’t have time (the pitfalls of traveling with a practical engineer). I settled with a drive to Dingle, a delightful traditional fishing village and a beautiful drive through lush hills and landscape.
We arrived late to Teach de Broc in Ballybunion. It was a bed and breakfast and we weren’t sure what to expect. It was the quaintest, most delightful accommodation I've ever stayed at. The owners, Seamus and Aoife Brock, are wonderful hosts and make you feel like you are personal guests staying in their home.
We had a fabulous seafood dinner at the restaurant on site, Strollers Bistro, then were off to bed before playing 36-holes at famed Ballybunion the next day. We teed off on the Cashen Course first and it was a true test of our mettle. We encountered sideways rain which was daunting with the level of difficulty of the course.
It was extremely hilly and required a great deal of climbs. It is the only course of the nine we actually took a trolley (power cart). It was one of the most spectacular courses I have ever played, ranking as one of my favourites of the trip. Every hole is a challenge.
The views from both the tees and greens were stunning as several looked off the edge of the cliffs into the crashing ocean. The greens were relatively small and the rough was deep. After 9 holes we were drenched. We couldn’t believe we had 27 more holes to play. Usually the rain lets up in Ireland.
We bought bucket hats from the pro shop which were not complimentary to our attire but kept us dry, a nip of Baileys and it was off to the back nine. We lost our fair share of balls. My advice is to not worry about the score and enjoy the scenery and the test of golf. In my opinion it is ok to get beat up every once in a while. It is true links golf.
The wind is a strong factor and the views of the water were breathtaking. It’s a love it or hate it course and many locals think it is too hard and won’t play it. We didn’t have much time between 18-holes but the rain at least stopped and we had caddies for the famed Old Course.
One of Tom Watson’s favourite courses, he has said, “After playing Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think the game originated here. (It) is a course on which many golf architects should live and play before they build golf courses. I consider it a true test of golf.”
The opening hole is an elevated tee with a generous landing area as long as you avoid the cemetery off to the right which plays OB. The holes wind and weave through the natural landscape offering beautiful ocean views and a fair test of golf.
The first 5 holes are a good warm up and can lull you into submission before needing to be on your game for the challenging 6th, 8th,11th and 15th. When the wind is down you need to make scoring opportunities but avoid the overgrown rough.
Take time to have a drink and meal in the clubhouse after which has some of the most stunning course and ocean views in golf. Upon our return to Teach de Broc there was a pianist playing in the open area taking requests.
He played everything from Billy Joel (you guessed it Piano Man) to Irish love songs. We drank whiskey and chatted with other guests from around the world.
The next day it was off to Lahinch.
It is a quaint surfer town and had a feel similar to that of St. Andrews in Scotland with cobblestone streets, unique shops, pubs and a homey feel. I was shocked in the poor weather to see surfers of all ages walking with wetsuits and boards in tow through the town.
Having time before our round we stopped by the Cliffs of Moher where a new multimillion dollar visitor’s center was recently opened featuring the 8 km stretch of the rocky cliffs that was featured in the last Harry Potter movie. Then it was off to the course.
There are two 18 hole courses at Lahinch, the Castle Course and the more challenging of the two,the 'Old' Course. The Old was designed by Old Tom Morris in 1892 and alternations were later made by Dr. Alistair Mackenzie of Augusta, Pebble Beach and Cypress Point fame.
The wind and rain were fierce that day and we were concerned about our round. We went to check in and the staff was shocked we still wanted to play. You know it’s bad when the Irish think the weather is too much.
Well you don’t come all the way to Ireland to sit in the clubhouse. We heard it was a phenomenal course and didn’t want to miss it. We teed off in gruelling conditions. The course was challenging. Intimidating rough coupled with several elevation changes and gusting wind and rain required precise club selection.
The fairways crossed in multiple locations which surprised me but as long as you respected the right of way play was not affected. The 5th hole is a fabulous par 3 where you feel like you are putting in a stadium and the 6th hole could be one of the best golf holes I have ever seen.
It’s like the experience of rounding number 3 at Pebble Beach. You turn the corner and the wow factor gets you with a stunning view of the ocean looking down on the beach and green. The massive dunes added to the aesthetics and challenge of the course and drainage was unbelievable. There were times the holes came so close to the ocean you could hear the surf crash.
The greens had subtle contours and the beauty of the rolling fairways and flowing grasses. You don’t have an isolated feel as some links style courses as there are a few roads and houses near some holes but you need to remember the course was there long before they were.
After the round we headed to the Vaughn Lodge Hotel. A quaint, intimate, privately owned hotel it boasts all of the personal touches of not being a big chain.
The accommodations were spacious and the shower felt great after a long round. We had a delicious meal in the elegant but casual Lodge Restaurant on site and went for the seafood that is highly acclaimed there.
The next day it was off to our final course, the home of the 2006 Ryder Cup, the K Club. This would be our only parkland course of the trip. We checked into the K Club Golf and Spa Resort. This was 5 Star excellence through and through. One of the most beautiful golf resorts in the world.
This elegantly restored country house provides luxury and superb service. The grounds are immaculate and have breathtaking gardens.
Each room is elegantly appointed and no two rooms are the same. No expense was spared in creating a stunning property. A state of the art spa is also located on site for those needing an escape and complete pampering. After checking in it was off to the course. Two championship courses are on property and offer vastly different golfing experiences.
The Palmer Smurfit Course is described as an 'inland links course' and pushed the envelope of golf course design. The Palmer Ryder Cup Course is described as Ireland’s most challenging inland course.
Truly every hole on this course could be a signature hole. The entire course is maintained impeccably and is punctuated by large, lush, beautifully manicured tree-lined fairways that give you the sense you are golfing in an oasis.
The water surrounding half the green makes you think twice making it a phenomenal finishing hole and a memorable one in the Ryder Cup. After the round it was back to the hotel for a drink at the Vintage Crop Bar where Rolling Stones member Ron Wood was having a pint.
There we met our tour planner, Eamonn. Drinks turned into dinner at the River Room, one of the fabulous restaurants on property. It was a perfect way to cap off the trip reliving all the memories and adventures across Ireland. We toasted many times and learned the Irish cheers term Sláinte (to your health).
Ireland is home to many of the world’s top 100 courses. It is one stop shopping for golfers who want to play golf the way it was invented, and have an experience of a lifetime.
Bring your camera, lots of balls, your 'A' game, and hopefully….a little luck of the Irish!
About the writer:
Lisa is the reigning 6-Time Canadian Long Drive Champion for women and can be reached through her website at www.lisalongball.com