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The Emerald Greens: Golfing in Ireland

Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Wayne Gretzky, Mar/Apr 97

(continued from page 2)

At the end of the round is the fine, friendly clubhouse, where a good steak, a good Guinness and a good conversation can be had. Upstairs there are spartan accommodations for those seeking to stay overnight, the rooms mindful in their design and furnishing to early YMCA. Still, the bar is just down the stairs, the course just out the door.

Now swing an hour south of Dublin, to County Wicklow, to the tiny hamlet of Brittas Bay. There you will find delightful beaches and very few people. You will also find Pat Ruddy's European Club, a new links course designed by Ruddy himself that embodies all that is good about the grand old game: sandy soil, dune mountains and rough, rolling fairways.

What Ruddy has created at the European Club is special. Although the course has been played for only four years, there are classic holes here tucked among giant dune hills and carpeted along the beach. The eighth is one of the best par 4s anywhere in the world, its green in a natural amphitheater among the dunes.

Given Ruddy's passion for the theater, he has also designed a curtain-raiser for the second act. Players take a bit of a stroll to get from the 11th green to the 12th tee. Coming around a dune mound, the player steps up on the tee and gets one of golf's best panoramas: a sweeping look at the Irish Sea, and northward, the long par 4 that awaits him, followed by a par 5, followed by a par 3 hidden in the dunes, followed by another par 4 that plays up to the Mizen Head. It's a dramatic, definitive stretch, one that won't be forgotten.

Nor is the 18th forgotten, because everybody gives Ruddy an argument about it. The 18th plays inland toward the tiny, modern clubhouse. There's a pond in front of the green, one of the most controversial bodies of water in the game of golf.

It would be quite easy to commute to either Baltray or the European Club while staying in Dublin. And near Baltray are several other delightful links courses, such as Bettystown, Greenore and Seapoint. Yet while in Dublin it would be almost impossible to resist the temptation of playing Portmarnock. It has been called the most natural links course in the world. There is nothing about it that seems at all artificial, and the charm and challenge of Portmarnock are not readily discerned from the very start. The links land here is subtle, much more like St. Andrews.

The opening holes offer little challenge, unless the wind is blowing. Like St. Andrews, Portmarnock requires wind to bare its teeth. Since the land is fairly flat, when the wind does blow there is little to stop or deflect it. The difficulty of Portmarnock will suddenly become more overt. Its best holes, at least by consensus, are the par-4 14th and the par-3 15th. The 14th is Ireland's Eye, so named for a rock outcropping in the Irish Sea, the top of which is visible from the tee and provides an excellent line of play. The shot to the 14th green is a white knuckler. Miss it and deep pot bunkers gobble up golf balls like so many jelly beans.

The 15th is Ben Crenshaw's favorite par 3. Playing at somewhere around 190 yards, the hole sits hard against the beach line, and out-of-bounds is very close on the right. The green is convex and vexing. You can easily find yourself putting back and forth across it three times.

While it's in the Dublin suburbs, Portmarnock is still blessed with isolation, sticking out on a finger of land that keeps the urban sprawl at a civil distance. Civility, in fact, seems the order of the day at Portmarnock. The clubhouse, a homey white wood building with a red roof, can be quiet and staid.

Stories of Portmarnock caddies abound. It is told that an American once found himself in one of Portmarnock's deep pot bunkers. After three full swings the ball remained in the bunker. At that point, the caddie demanded the club and proposed to show the visitor a trick or two about playing from the sand. He took three swings and the ball remained in the bunker.

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