(Tom Cade, the editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, is traveling in Ireland, and will send some posts from that distant land.)
Golf in Ireland is more than golf – there are other reasons to play these courses.
People usually have specific reasons, and we’ve heard them before, as to why they enjoy links golf – it is a kind of golf that is played on the ground, it’s a more “natural” game, it’s a style of game that by its definition involves weather (such as the wind) as part of the equation. And these reasons all hold true when discussing the links courses of Ireland. But here, and particularly here, there are many other reasons to enjoy this style of game – it will be because the owner of the course will invite you into his private quarters above the clubhouse and show you his collection of ancient golf books, as did Pat Ruddy at the European Club; it will be because the first tee is located next to an 14th century castle, which is part of the oldest clubhouse in the world, as it was at Ardglass Golf Club; it will be because you can look at some of the oldest golf photographs in the world on the walls of the entryway at Portmarnock Golf Club.
Yes, the links golf in Ireland is good. But it is more than golf.
(Photo at left: On the left with Tom Cade is Pat Ruddy, the gregarious course designer and owner of the European Club.)
The European Club, located about an hour outside of Dublin, was built just 20 years ago, but it looks as if it has been there for a couple of centuries. It was designed, built, and still owned by, Pat Ruddy, a former golf journalist who managed to buy 200 acres of links land along a mile of beachfront on the Irish Sea. Ruddy has designed other courses, and bought and sold real estate, and finally, simply, wanted to build a course for himself, without having to care about what others wanted in a course. A scratch player, he designed a course that would challenge him, and it is a hard course, consistently ranked in the top 25 in the world, with massive bunkers and surrounded by rolling dunes and the ever-present Irish Sea. He also built his own quarters on the second floor of the clubhouse, where he and his wife spend much of their time. Their two sons work in the golf shop. It is a family-owned business, and it is a labor of love for Ruddy – a few years ago, when the Irish economy was riding high, he was offered $41 million Euros for the course, and he declined. His reasons simple – “What am I going to do with $41 million?,” he asked. And the propective buyer wanted to bring in a name course designer “to make some improvements to the course, and that got up my nostril a little bit,” said Ruddy. The one reason he did not give for declining the outrageous offer was evident in his attention to the game and his care for the course – you do not sell the work of lifetime.
Ardglass Golf Club is not a course that is on the normal golf tourist’s agenda. But it should be. It is located smack in the middle of a hardscrabble town 20 minutes northwest of its famous neighbor, Royal County Down Golf Club, so is easy to get to. With its wondrous views of the Mourne Mountains and the Irish Sea in three different directions, it is most memorable for three of the most ruggedly spectacular opening holes in the golf world. Set against a cliff, you will hang on and stay low to the ground if the wind is blowing at all. The first tee is set up against the remains of an 14th century stone castle – standing there looking at it, with your titanium driver in your hand, you will feel the irony to your bones. The clubhouse was added onto the castle, and is believed to be the oldest in the world. Go upstairs and look around – you will believe it.
Just outside of Dublin, near the coastal community of Malahide, is Portmarnock Golf Club. One of the oldest courses in the world, Portmarnock was once the home course of A.V. Macan, the Northwest course architect who lived in Dublin until he emigrated to Victoria, B.C. in 1912. Yes, play the course if you can, but also take some time to walk through the lobby of the clubhouse – you will touch the history of golf.