Today’s post is written by guest author Jim O’Donnell, who fulfilled a lifetime goal earlier this year of traveling through Ireland with his golf clubs in hand.
This past spring I finally got to do what four previous trips to Ireland didn’t afford me: I played golf.
The first courses on our itinerary, Claremorris and Westport, both in County Mayo, were good tests and very affordable compared to their more famous links cousins. Several holes on the back nine at Westport provided fine views of salt water and Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain.
Each day of the trip I hit some good shots, but it was the shots between the good shots that did me in, particularly the ones that led me up into the badlands of marram grass that line many of the fairways on links courses. I essentially became one of the goats we occasionally saw. The bright side is that I attained many more vista viewpoints than my playing partners, and those views were terrific.
Par 3 at Westport
Sometimes on the tee we had first to determine the direction in which to hit our drives. It’s easy to get disoriented on a links course and overlook a directional sign to the next tee. My scouting helped in that regard.
At the Old Course at Ballybunion I recall at least four tees that called for us to drive over the preceding green. Good thing we weren’t being closely followed by any golfers that day.
The key thing was adapting to the next challenge. For example, the bunkering around a green might make a longer approach shot all the way to the green a poor option.
Many of the courses, unlike American courses, had the grass next to the bunkers shaved so that any shot that didn’t land at the perfect spot at the front of the green would roll down into a bowl-shaped bunker which was essentially a one-stroke penalty for “average” bunker players like me.
A better strategy if I were hitting a mid-iron or more would often be to leave the ball short of the bunkers and hope for an accurate pitch or chip for par.
Another strategy I employed frequently after a few days was hitting less than a driver off the tee on par 4s and 5s. A caddy at Lahinch initially directed me to do this to avoid some unseen fairway bunkers, and I surprised myself by hitting the shots he envisioned for me.
Later, on other courses, I decided to do this often, pretending there was a bunker in the middle of the fairway some 250 yards out and I had to stop my ball just short of it. The results were quite satisfying.
As for the short game, yes, I did putt from the aprons and fairways often, as I had been told was wise, although when playing in the moist morning grass I would have been better off chipping with my usual 9-iron for chips I wanted to run and a wedge for chips I wanted to check up.
Wind and rain are staples of Irish golf, but we were fortunate with the weather except for one cold, windy morning at Murvagh in County Donegal. I remember that we all hit a driver on an upwind par 3. Playing the ball back in the stance to keep its flight low is, of course, the best policy.
And you need to take along a quality rain/wind suit and a stocking cap to stay comfortable in windy conditions, even if the rain is negligible. Adapting to conditions is how you will survive. It’s also how you will best enjoy Ireland, on or off the course.
Jim Awaits Drive at Ballybunion
In all, we played a lot of golf. Besides the courses mentioned above, we played at the Ballybunion Cashen Course, Strandhill, Rosses Point, Enniscrone, and Carne. Twelve rounds in ten days, all on foot, most while carrying my bag. It was too much, frankly, for a 66-year-old, but in retrospect I don’t regret a single day.
Thanks, Jim. Have any of you played golf in Ireland? Please Comment below about your trip.