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Ireland – the Other Home of Golf

(Tom Cade, the editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, is traveling in Ireland, and will send a few posts from that distant land. Between the struggles with jet lag [an eight hour time difference from the West Coast], technical difficulties [couldn’t find an adapter plug], lack of wireless access in remote coastal towns, and various detours to taste Guinness and Smithwick’s, he has managed to finally send this first post.)

Having reached the age of two score and ten, it seemed somehow out of balance to have not yet made a pilgrimage to Ireland to play some of the world’s top-ranked links courses – courses with names such as Old Head, Lahinch, Royal County Down, Portmarnock, danced like benevolent demons in the deserts of my poorly-equipped golf game. I had heard tales of rain, wind, green fields, hedgerows, ancient clubhouses and hardscrabble fairways, and sheep everywhere. It was something that needed to be seen.

Landing in Dublin, we spent the first few days staying at the Dunboyne Castle Hotel about a half hour outside the city. Many buildings are labeled ‘castle’ in Ireland, and this hotel must have been an estate of some kind, at some point, but now is updated with restaurants, tourists, and yes wireless in your room.

We joined a group of international members of the media, who are visiting as preparation for the 2011 Solheim Cup. There were journalists from several countries – Italy, Sweden, France, Germany, Austria, Great Britain, and Texas (which, we learned, is indeed a foreign country).

The Solheim Cup will be played in September. The 2011 version of the biennial matches – the “Ryder Cup” for professional female golfers, the USA versus Europe – will be played at Killeen Castle, about an hour outside of Dublin. Killeen Castle is a new course, only a few years old, designed by Jack Nicklaus, and is very much in the vein of sites selected for recent large golf events in Europe – the K Club in Ireland for the 2006 Ryder Cup, the 2010 course at Celtic Manor in Wales for the 2010 Ryder Cup, both of which are new courses, and resorts, built specifically to host the respective events. And both of these courses are very American-style courses (read: they are not links courses, which are what you think of when you think of golf in Ireland, or Wales, or Scotland).

But Killeen Castle is a good course, an enjoyable course to play, meandering its way across the huge fields of the Irish countryside. It is home to the only Dave Pelz Short Game Academy outside the U.S., so draws golfers from all over Europe. The course has already been the site of last year’s Ladies Irish Open (which drew a record crowd of 35,000 spectators), and will host that championship again later this summer. Organizers for the Solheim Cup are expecting up to 100,000 spectators in September – an astounding number for this event, and in this out-of-the-way location – and they may get it, as they’ve already sold a quarter of those tickets. Yes, they are golf-mad, here in Ireland.

I took a caddie for my round at Killeen Castle, a young man by the name of Brian. Whether he is typical of the young people here, I don’t know, but he couldn’t have been nicer, and was very well-informed about the game of golf – he carries a single-digit handicap, and every shot I hit he said, “That’s a nice one,” which I liked. He had very green eyes (as do most people here), and looked like he could beat me up with one hand tied behind his back. Our group enjoyed his company immensely.

After these couple of days in this very American-style resort, we head out to the courses along the east coast of Ireland. To the links courses, hard by the Irish Sea. And tonight we’ll lay our head on an Irish pillow, and dream of ancient golf courses and peace on earth.