Notes, Thoughts & Photos About The Ultimate Golf Experience
The Players (L to R): Evan Scobie, Hank Bradley, Bruce Pendleton, Allan Stark, Jim Whitaker, Don Wagner, David Bradley and Jim Pace
Eight guys, nine days, six exceptional true Irish links courses, fish-and-chip lunches, a few pints and a million wonderful memories. That is just the thumbnail sketch of what was truly an always-will-remember experience.
I use the word "experience" versus "trip" because the details, especially the details regarding each course, have been overwhelmed by my all-around thoughts and feelings about the entire week. Certainly you can't ignore the courses, which were exceptional:
- Royal Portrush - Dunluce (The 2019 Open Championship will be played here. Ranked #14 in Golf Magazine's 2017-18 list of the Top 100 Courses in the World.)
- Ballyliffin - Glashedy Links (Ranked #10 in Golf Digest's 2018 Top 100 Courses in Ireland.)
- Portstewart - Strand (Ranked #15 in Golf Digest's 2018 Top 100 Courses in Ireland.)
- Waterville (Ranked #82 in GM's 2017-18 list of the Top 100 Courses in the World.)
- Ballybunion - Old Course (Ranked #17 in GM's 2017-18 list of the Top 100 Courses in the World.)
- Tralee (Ranked #6 in Golf Digest's 2018 Top 100 Courses in Ireland.)
No, we weren't able to play Royal County Down, which Golf Magazine ranked #4
in the World, but every course we played had flair, big to huge sandhills, firm greens, post-card views of the Atlantic and wind and MORE WIND. This is the par-4, 6th green at Ballybunion. The day we played, the wind was a steady 20 mph, but there were continual gusts up to 35 mph.
Thank goodness Don Wagner and I had Padraig Harrington with us the entire round. Okay, not Ireland's three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington, but caddie Padraig Harrington. As with many of the caddies at Ballybunion and many other Irish member-owned courses, our Padraig belonged to the club and
was a fine player in his own right, carrying a 2 handicap.
One of the many lessons I learned about Irish golf was that you can never underestimate the wind even when putting!
Portstewart's front 9 is dramatic and thrilling with its SAND MOUNTAINS, strategically placed bunkers and lurching greens.
Our last round was at Tralee and it was an excellent way to end our Irish tour. It was the first Arnold Palmer design in Europe (1984) and it featured four formidable par 3s, including the 13th hole, which played uphill from 127 to 152 yards. We played it at 134 yards and let's just say that our caddie made it perfectly clear you couldn't play the number. "Here's you 150 club," he said.
Yes, the golf was exceptionally fun and challenging, but what "made" the trip was the camaraderie -- the conversations in the bus, during meals and on the course. The talk ranged from politics to the day's bets to the economy to family to KU and MU football to American history to Putin to tariffs to right-before-the-shot swing tips. Let's just say our iPhones were busy "fact checking" throughout the trip.
This "golf experience" was summed up so very well by David Bradley:
(Photo: David on the 12th tee at Waterville.)
"If you like challenging golf in spectacular settings, head to Ireland. With bunkers as deep as you are tall, with 18-inch Maroon grass just off the fairway and with undulating greens rolling at 9 or 10 on the Stimpmeter, there's little room for error.
"The scenery -- 100-foot cliffs looking down to the ocean and ancient castle remnants standing nearby -- makes up for all of the frustratingly poor
shots. Even the 25-knot breezes and occasional rain showers don't put a dent in your experience.
"If all else fails in terms of your play, the 19th hole always offers a great venue to reminisce about the picturesque settings. And the locals provide a hearty Irish friendship for anyone who might have his dobber down after taking a few too many swings.
"Don't miss a little evening entertainment with some smooth Jameson Irish Whiskey -- Yellow Spot or Red Breast are highly recommended. Just be aware that you might find yourself joining the locals in singing their favorite Irish ballads."
1) Avoid the deep pot bunkers.
2) Stay away from the gorse. Gorse, which is spiny and prickly, is the devil's evergreen.
Bruce Pendleton made special note of two common caddie refrains, one in the good news department and the second, not so much: Good news: "I think you got away with it." Bad news: "Your second sand shot is always better than your first."
My favorite course? I really, truly can't say. I would gladly play any of the courses two or three days in a row. Royal Portrush was an outstanding test, but it did have a somewhat "factory" feel to it. All of the other courses, including Ballybunion, were "members/town courses" and had a more casual feel.
The Watson plaque greets you as you go up the stairs to the pro shop. It
TOM WATSON - Champion Golfer and Gentleman - On the 11th of July 1981, Tom
Watson came to play the Old Course. He fell in love with the place and told the world about it. This plaque has been erected by the members of the Ballybunion Golf Club in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the club.
In 1982, Watson said: "Nobody can call himself a golfer until he has played
at Ballybunion; you would think the game originated there!"
Our caddie at Portstewart, who was also a member, when asked what one piece advice he would give to the average visiting golfer, said, "Take one more club. I rarely see a player go over the green, but I see plenty short."
Player of the Year: Jim Pace. We paid the Top 3 places every round. Jim was the only man to pocket money every round - Rd 1) 1st. Rd 2) T2. Rd 3) 2nd. Rd 4) T2. Rd 5) 2nd. Rd 6) T2.
Allan (Still a struggling 13 on my home course.)