PNGA trip to Southwest Ireland in May 2016 – as good as it gets
by Dick Ferguson
The world’s most spectacular golf course was the favorite of Pacific Northwest Golf Association Ireland 2016 golf tour participants. Forty-two men and women from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia made the week-long tour the second week of May. Ten were non-golfers.
Full SW Ireland photo album:
Twelve of the 32 golfers responding to a survey voted Old Head Golf Links as their favorite. The tour featured six courses, including Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville, all of which are frequently included on World Top 100 lists.
Old Head is built on a 220-acre diamond of land jutting two miles into the Atlantic Ocean near Kinsale, County Cork. Nine holes play along the cliff tops, and all 18 holes provide stunning ocean views. With the ever-changing sea breezes, the course provides a stern test to the touring pro and a challenging and entertaining adventure for golf tourists.
Its No. 1 spectacular ranking was conveyed in 2009 by Links Magazine, which placed California’s Cypress Point and Pebble Beach as Nos. 2 and 5, respectively. Others ranked were Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand, No. 3; Black Mesa, La Mesilla, N.M., No. 4; Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisc., No. 6; Weihai Point, China, No. 7; Pinnacle Point, South Africa, No. 8; Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, China, No. 9; and Cabo del Sol, Mexico, No. 10.
Old Head was voted first by seven of the 12 survey responders and received 65 total votes, outpacing Ballybunion which had 52; Waterville, 42; Lahinch, 40; Tralee, 38; and Dooks, 15. Dooks replaced Doonbeg, newly purchased by Donald Trump and unavailable due to upgrading work. Players considered Dooks an outstanding course in its own right but slightly below the level of its more famous counterparts.
“I truly enjoyed all six courses and had the time of my life,” said retired teacher/coach Wally Bradt of Marysville, Snohomish County. He made the tour with two fellow Cascade High School (Everett) graduates – Bruce Newman and Jay Tomlin – who competed among themselves for the Cascade High School Cup. Tomlin, who resides in the Sequim, Wash. area, added, “The opportunity to play great Irish golf courses with two childhood friends was so memorable that it didn’t even bother me to lose the Cascade title to Bruce by one stroke.” Newman, who resides in Bartlesville, Okla., added, “I enjoyed the friendliness of the Irish . . . Irish beer and food . . . bus rides, humor of hosts and great accommodations.”
Tony Smith of Chemainus, B.C. and Cliff Hosker of Salmon Arm, B.C. both said rating the courses was difficult. “They were all great,” Smith said. “Tomorrow I could have a different order, as they were all great courses,” Hosker added.
While the tour members raved about the golf courses, they also gave high marks to Sullivan Golf & Travel and to the good relationships developed among participants.
John Van Dyke’s sentiments represented virtually all participants concerning Sullivan Golf. “Cathal O’Sullivan and his organization kept everyone continually updated. The transportation, lodging and course quality exceeded our expectations. We were impressed with the daily activities and entertainment of our non-golfers. The driver (John Clifford) had daily plans for them, provided great commentary and ensured their needs were met. My wife would say she had a great time, too.”
Van Dyke, from Portland, Ore., made the trip with friend Tom Lulich of Eagle, Idaho. “We decided to do a fantasy golf trip, and this tour fit perfectly into our schedules. We brought our wives as non-golfers.” Lulich’s assessment: “Weather, friendships developed and the professionalism of Sullivan Golf were some of the key positives.”
Larry Hall of Salmon Arm, B.C., one of the better golfers on the trip, was making his second PNGA tour and plans to join another in the future. “I cannot say enough good things about both the PNGA and Sullivan Golf. They are first class all the way. In addition to playing top notch golf courses, I enjoy the camaraderie – they are great people,” he said.
Neil Leibowitz of Portland said the golf was wonderful but the people connections were even better. “For me the camaraderie was the best part of the trip. Georgia and I agreed that everyone on the tour was warm and gracious,” he said.
Greg Kocher, who resides north of Vancouver, B.C. termed the PNGA week “astoundingly successful.” His golf holiday had a second week as he traveled an hour north of Dublin to compete in the Irish Senior Open at Ardee Golf Club and then attended the Irish Open at the K Club in Dublin, watching Rory McIlroy and other top European Tour pros battle on another great Irish course.
Sullivan Golf & Travel also partners with golf associations from Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan and New Hampshire. “The PNGA is one of the largest golf associations, and they believe strongly in providing the best benefits to its membership,” O’Sullivan said. “Trips to Ireland and Scotland are bucket-list experiences. We look at exceeding golfers’ expectations, and thankfully about half of the golfers on these trips are repeat visitors. Obviously, they enjoy the Irish and Scottish golf experience.”
Sullivan Golf (www.sullivangolftravel.com) provides discounted trips for PNGA members who wish to travel on their own during the year.
The PNGA also conducted tours to Northern Ireland in 2013, to Scotland in 2014 and 2015 and for the first time will have two tours in 2016 – Northern Ireland is this fall’s destination.
I made the 2012 PNGA trip with golf buddy Guy Richards of Federal Way. This year I took my wife, Molly, as a non-golfer. We both enjoyed the adventure immensely.
Old Head Golf Links is designed as a walking course where members and guests are encouraged to walk the links with a caddie. Old Head’s caddie program is among one of the most extensive and professional worldwide.
The Kinsale area is known for being the location where people on land last saw the liner Titanic as it headed on its tragic 1912 voyage to America. In addition, the liner Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat 20 miles off shore in 1915 during World War I.
Dick Ferguson is a PNGA member through The Home Course in DuPont, Wash. and Scott Valley Golf Club south of Tumwater, Wash. He went on the 2012 and 2016 PNGA trips. He is retired from two careers – media & community relations manager for the Pierce County Executive, and assistant city editor/reporter for The Tacoma News Tribune. He resides with wife, Molly, in East Olympia.