O'Tooles of the Trade - To The Open and Back
What can I say about the British Open this year that has not already been said? It has been a tournament that I have always wanted to attend and thanks to the hospitality of Fairways to Heaven Golf, my wife and I had the best seats in the house; on the balcony above the 18th green at the Carnoustie Hotel. It was surreal to be that close to all the action as the drama unfolded. Despite the weather, fans turned out in the thousands ready for the weather with umbrellas and rainsuits in hand. It was a once in a lifetime experience and one that I will never forget. I never fully appreciated the difficulty of an Open set up until I got to see it in person. It was never more clear to me just how good these guys are.
After attending the Open in Scotland I returned to the Dublin area for a few more rounds of golf before heading south. My first round back had me at the Island Golf Club located just north of Dublin. In May of 2005 this course was ranked number 26 in the world by Golf World magazine. I had the pleasure of playing with the 3 members of the club who provided great craic and some interesting background on the club. One note I found very interesting is that the course was only reachable by boat all the way up until 1973. Being located on an estuary, the members would take a short boat ride from Malahide to get to the course. The old clubhouse had a white disc on the side and when the members wanted the boat to return, they would turn a flap to make the disc half black and half white indicating the boat man to come get them. Being that this club was established in 1890, they did this for 83 years! Now that is dedication.
A few days later, I had the pleasure of playing the Links at the Portmarnock Hotel. This links course, designed by Bernhard Langer, is located right next to the more well known Portmarnock Golf Club. While the Links at Portmarnock Hotel does not get the publicity that its more storied neighbor does, I found it to be every bit the test of golf. Langer's placement of pot bunkers in the fairways and around the greens is well thought out. Accuracy and not length will keep your score down on this links. I am paired up with a fellow from Germany for the day and we have good fun on the links. Prior to teeing off the first tee a fellow comes out of the starters hut and greets us before the round. We get a slight interrogation as to where we are from and where plan on going this evening after the round. After we give our answers, he gives us a warning. “Be careful of the Guinness. It will
make you see double and act single!” A character no doubt. While my playing partner for the day struggles, he is good company and always has a smile on his face even if he has just hit his second ball off the tee into waist high rough. With about 4 holes left in our round, the sun disappears and a strong and windy rain rolls through. In order to stay dry we had to hold our umbrellas sideways! 5 minutes later, it was gone and the sun came out again. You certainly can get 4 seasons in 18 holes in Ireland.
I headed out of Dublin south into County Wicklow. The O’Tooles of Ireland made a name for themselves here in Wicklow along with the O’Byrnes. Back in the day apparently both families were a bit of a thorn in the side to the English. Living up in the Wicklow Mountains both families regulary raided the English and basically made things unpleasant for them. O’Toole is still a name found frequently throughout the county. I made a stop into the Bray Golf Club which is a little parkland course that has recently moved from one side of town to the other. I received a warm welcome and enjoyed a round on a course that is setup a little more like what I am used to at home. While Bray is not on the level of the Mount Juliet or Druids Glen, it is a fun round of golf nonetheless. It was in immaculate shape and the view from the 11th tee down into Bray Harbor is as good as you’ll find in Ireland.
For my next round, it was back to a links course and one that really is somewhat special to me. The seed for this whole project was planted seven years ago when I played my first round of links golf at the European Club. It was here I first experienced true World Class links golf and it set me on my path to today. Since it has been seven years since I had been here I looked forward to coming back. The European Club is owned and designed by Ireland leading golf course architect, Pat Ruddy. The course only opened for play in 1993 after Ruddy discovered the property while surveying the coast by helicopter. Golf Digest has ranked the European Club number 2 in the top 100 courses in Ireland and I may argue that it is the best. Ruddy’s design is superb and offers a golfer a stern test of links golf. Ruddy makes wonderful use of his bunkers which are unique in their construction as they are framed with wooden railway planks so you get some interesting bounces should you hit one of these planks. Another interesting facet of this course is that in most days there are 20 holes in play. During my round, all 20 were open however you were told to throw out your scores on 6 & 14 as those greens had been recently aerated though I found them to be in rather good condition considering. I had a sparkling, sunny day for my round with the usual strong winds you get along the Irish Sea. The European Club was also host to the Irish PGA Championship the week before the British Open this year. The European Club was everything I remembered it to be and more. This course is a “can’t miss” while golfing in Ireland.
Well, I am off to the Southeast and will check back in a few days.