O'Tooles of the Trade - Northern Swing
Cead Mil Failte from a cold and wet Causeway Coast in County Antrim Northern Ireland. (“Cead Mil Failte” is an Irish Greeting meaning “a hundred thousand welcomes.”)
My swing through the north coast began in Ballycastle and then brought me to two of the world’s premier links courses, Royal Portrush and Portstewart. These two courses are only 3 km apart and are a “can’t miss” on any trip to the area. My round at Royal Portrush actually provided a peak at some sunshine but fierce winds made this course a test of patience and accuracy. The sun only enhanced the wonderful ocean views provided on most holes as well as the views of Dunluce Castle that can be seen from the east side of the course. Royal Portrush was the first course to hold an Open Championship (1951) in Ireland and it truly lived up to its lofty reputation. Low and straight was the order of the day but these orders were not always followed. My caddie for the round was a wonderful gentleman by the name of Johnnie Martin. Johnnie stood about 5’3” tall and had to be about 70 years old. He had been a milkman for 35 years but now caddied 4 or 5 days a week for the exercise. He did his best to keep me out of trouble but I did not cooperate. The 14th hole at Portrush is their signature hole fittingly named, “Calamity Corner”. Measuring 210yards from the back tee this is one hole that is all carry over a deep ravine that covers the whole right side of the approach. Johnnie says to me, “It is playing all of 220 and make sure you don’t go right.” Naturally I hit the ball about 175 yards and to the right down the ravine. Johnnie mentioned on a number of occasions that he played in a lawn bowling league and it was great fun. I think he was trying to drop me a hint that maybe I should consider the same after my display of golf that day. All kidding aside, Johnnie was good company for the 18 holes and he even offered a place to stay at his house for the night. I thought to myself, “Only in Ireland!”
My day at Portstewart provided no look at the sun, but rather heavy wind and rain. My new DryJoys have been an absolute necessity so far in this trip and have passed this test with flying colors. The front nine at Portstewart are as fine a nine holes of links golf as I have ever seen. Sadly, I witnessed a young man’s introduction into links golf at the second hole. It is a short par 4 to an elevated green surrounded by dunes. Any ball short of the green will roll back about 20 yards to the bottom of the hill. The young lad’s approach shot to this green had landed just in front and rolled down the hill. He chipped his next shot just short and it rolled back to the same spot. He repeated that shot and once again it ended up back at his feet. He made sure he got the next one up on the green as it stopped about 30 feet past the pin in the front of the green. As if three shots from the bottom of the hill weren’t bad enough, his putt went right by the hole, down the hill, and into the same position he had started from. He then chipped back on and 3 putted. Give the boy credit, he continued on with his round although he did end up playing with one less club than he started with after a brief battle between his club and his bag. You guessed it, the club lost. After drying out from my round, I spent a great night at the Anchor Bar in town watching a fantastic set of traditional Irish music. This type of music is a personal favorite and I was not disappointed. The music was first rate and I met people from France, Spain, England and of course, Ireland. It is this type of evening that makes the golf experience in Ireland so unique and one not to be missed.
Castlerock is a charming links that is situated right across the River Bann from Portstewart. While it may not get the publicity of Royal Portrush and Portstewart, it is a superb links course and a delight to play. As we stood on the tee, the starter gave us one bit of advice. “If you hit a ball into the rough and you see it bounce, you don’t need to hit a provisional. If you don’t see it bounce, hit a provisional because you will never find it.” With that little bit of advise given, we followed it to a T more often than we would of liked but the weather turned brighter as the day wore on. I had good company for the day, being paired up with 3 lads on a short golf holiday from England. They had played the day prior in the same pouring rain and the brightening skies made this round even more enjoyable. After our round, we shared a pint and said our goodbyes as they were off to the airport and me back to the B&B.
My next leg of my journey has me heading back to the Republic of Ireland for a week worth of golf in County Donegal. I have not played here before but have heard fantastic things about the area. Keep your fingers crossed that summer makes an appearance and I will check back in a few days.
- MikeLink to this entry!!!!