Category Archives: golf courses

An American Golfer in Ireland

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.


Five Scottish Golf Courses You Should Know About

Everyone wants to go to Scotland and play the famous courses. If they don’t, they should. It’s the home of the game, it’s where golf architecture was born from a marriage between the land as it was found, and the game to be played. These five courses are not on the Open Championship rotation, but they are very bit as challenging and would comprise a wonderful itinerary if you decided to make a pilgrimage.

1. Cruden Bay. A major course on the east coast. The opening drive on a 416-yard par 4 pitches down along the coast. From there, the rest of the course winds among shaggy sandhills which make a course that should not be missed.

2. Nairn. The site of British Amateur and Walker Cup competitions, Nairn is duneland golf — fast but narrow fairways with the sea always in view.

3. Western Gailes. This course serves annually for Open Championship qualifying. Holes 1 through 11 are the essence of links golf. Hummocks, bunkers, and greens exactly where they are supposed to be, tucked between the railroad line and the sea.

4. Brora. This is the northern-most course of quality in the British Isles, designed by James Braid. Notice the fence surrounding the green. Sheep graze freely on the course, and the fence is to keep them off the green.

5. Royal Dornoch. Donald Ross grew up on this course and every architect visits it and studies it. This is the course Tom Watson said he would choose if he only had one course to play on.

To read more about these courses, I strongly suggest the book, A Golfer’s Education, by Darren Kilfara. This Harvard student provides masterful descriptions of these courses and his experiences on them which he played during his year abroad at the University of St. Andrews.

President’s Cup – The Royal Melbourne Golf Course

This year’s President’s Cup will be played on one of the great golf courses of the world, the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Victoria, Australia.

The course was designed by Alister Mackenzie in 1926, who also designed The Augusta National Golf Club course. There are two courses of eighteen holes each at the club, Mackenzie having designed the East course. Alex Russell designed the West course in 1932. The tournament course is an amalgamation of the two, taking twelve holes from the West, and six holes from the East. For those of you keeping score at home, it works like this:

1  (13) – W1
2  (14) – W2
3  (5) – E3
4  (6) – E4
5  (7) – W5
6  (8) – W6
7  (9) – W7
8  (10)  – W10
9  (11) – W11
10  (12) – W12
11  (3) – W17
12  (4) – W18
13 (15)  – W3
14  (16) – W4
15  (17) – E9
16  (18) – E16
17  (1) – E17
18  (2) – E18

In former years, the same holes were used, but the routing, shown in parentheses, was different. For example, what is the first hole this week used to be the 13th hole.

Holes of note (current routing) are the fourth, sixth, and seventeenth.

The fourth hole, a 401-yard par 4, requires a blind, uphill drive directly over an imposing array of bunkers on the right. The safe shot into the fairway runs the wrong direction for a shot to the green, and most second shots will be hit from a downhill lie. The green, like all at Royal Melbourne, features subtle slopes that cannot be seen until it is too late. Four is a good score here, and five will be easy to make.

The sixth hole is a very short par 4 – only 285 yards. The catch is that the drive must be hit over an enormous bunker that is built into the side of a hill. A shot out of it will be hit from a level well below the green. The safer angle crosses a valley to a crest at the same level as the tee. Miss the crest and you have a blind pitch into the green.

The seventeenth is a famous hole for its deception from the tee. The fairway is so wide that it’s almost impossible to miss, yet unless the ball is put in the right spot, finding a way to get the second shot near the pin will not be easy.

Even though the course is in the middle of an urban area, it has the look of being in the Australian wild. Royal Melbourne is one of the most beautiful courses in the world, I think, for that very reason. I’ll be watching the broadcast as much to look at the course as to see the competition.


A Desert Golf Course

I got back from my vacation to the Southwest yesterday. My wife and I hiked across the Grand Canyon, from the north rim to the south rim, in two and a half days. We had a wonderful time. What made it even better was playing golf in the midst of the desert, not at a resort course, but at an executive course in the heart of the Colorado Plateau.

It’s called the Thunderbird Golf Course, and it sits at the intersection of highways 9 and 89, between Kanab, Utah, and Zion National Park, in a place called Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah. The course is 1,868 yards long from the whites, par 31. The course record is 24, I asked. This is not a destination, believe me. You would have to be there for another reason.

I seem to be going there every few years. I had passed by the place three times in the last ten years, and each time I really regretted having to keep going. On this trip I decided to schedule some time to play.

From the first tee, you get the feeling of where you are from the brown road sign you won’t see in many other places. It says, “Grand Canyon National Park 101.” My wife thinks the policeman must get a kick out of watching golfers while he waits for speeders to come by.

Below, I’m going for the green. You don’t get this background in many places, either. Those formations in the distance are at least 2,000 feet above the surrounding plain.

It took about an hour to play. I had one birdie and a few pars. Not bad for still being in recovery from two quite strenuous hikes in the past three days.

The best part is that the green fees, club rental, and cart all came to $20.

Now that the hike I had been preparing myself for all summer is over, I can start devoting myself to golf again. Life is good.


How to Choose the Right Golf Course

Golf is a recreational sport where the field of play is not standardized. Unlike softball or tennis, where if you’ve seen one field/court, you’ve seen them all, every golf course is different. That could be, in fact, the major attraction of golf — to try your luck on different layouts. Each one has its own challenges, tests, and design that encourages us to do our best and at the same time to enjoy the look of new surroundings.

For developing your skill at the game, though, take some time to choose the courses you play on regularly. Playing on the right ones makes a big difference. Here are some things you might consider, given that you have enough different courses to choose from in the area where you live.

If you’re a beginner, an executive course is the best bet. This is a short course, around 2,000 yards long or less for nine holes, and consisting mostly, if not exclusively, of par 3 holes. Most of the time you’ll be able to reach the green in one shot. Each time you swing the club the ball will be on a tee, making it easier for you at the start.

Golfers who are comfortable with golf’s basic skills now want to find courses that present a well-rounded set of offerings. You might want to play one that is fairly wide open from the tee, so you can learn how to be comfortable just giving your driver a good whack. You might also want to play one that is fairly tight (rough, trees) to get you comfortable hitting your driver straight. On one course I play,  if you get the ball  in the fairway, the rest is easy. Miss the fairway and it will be a long day.

Play a few courses with lots of hazards – water, bunkers – to learn how to avoid them, and more importantly to learn how not to fear them. I read some years ago about a touring pro who grew up on a course that had no water, and as a professional was always intimidated by water hazards.

Play a course that forces you to hit accurate iron shots into the green. This would be one that has small greens, or larger greens surrounded by sand traps, thick rough, mounds, and so on.

Play courses that develop your short game. One course I play on has thick rough around the green, so I had to learn how to hit very short shots out if it to nearby pins. Another one has closely-cut grass surrounding the greens, calling for a different kind of chip. A third course, because of the hole yardages, has me hitting more pitches from 60-100 yards than any other. On some courses you can bump and run the ball onto the green. Others make you fly the ball on from close in. There is no one course that will develop a rounded short game. You have to travel to get one.

Amenities are important, too. Is the staff courteous and helpful? Is the course easy to walk if you wish to? Is it well-maintained? Is it easy to get a tee-time?

Quite important is whether the course fits your skill level. Each course has ratings, two numbers printed on the scorecard beside each set of tees. Most recreational golfers would best play on a course where the first number is under 70 and the second number is under 120, something like this: 69.3/117. Courses with higher ratings might be too hard and not as much fun.

Remember, as recreational golfers, we play for the enjoyment of the game and the company of good friends in beautiful surroundings. Take advantage of the variety that is built into our sport, and you’ll have more fun, and may be even get to be a better player.


Practice Making Pars

Up North, it’s getting wet already. Not much fun to play in a liquid atmosphere with squishy lies. Keep playing, though, and use the opportunity to improve.

Shun the regulation course and find an executive layout. Make sure you go out as a single, because you are going to be hitting a lot of mulligans. What you are going to do is par every hole before you move on to the next one.

First off, this method is for short game practice. You don’t get do-overs for tee shots and approach shots. Practice those on the range. So, after you have gotten the ball within 100 yards of the hole, drop a ball and hit it again if (a) your pitch doesn’t land and stop on the green, or (b) your chip doesn’t end up within 3 feet of the hole, (c) your bunker shot doesn’t get out, (d) your approach putt doesn’t finish within 2 feet of the hole, of (e) your second putt doesn’t go in. If you make all those corrections, you should end up scoring a par on every hole.

What you accomplished: You learned how to get a par and how to hit the shots you need to hit in order to do it. Those will be the short shots and putts. Now when you take you game to the big courses starting in March, you will have the skill and confidence it takes to play well around the greens and shoot the scores you deserve.


Play a Difficult Golf Course – 2

I blogged earlier on this subject and would like to continue the thought. The basic idea is that your learning curve flattens out when you play courses on which shooting your handicap or below has become an expectation. To get better, you need a new challenge.

Find a course that takes about six to seven more strokes to get around than what you’re used to scoring on your home course, which I assume you play well on. Go play that course straight up. Confront the hazards. Hit the forced carries. Hit driver to restricted landing areas. Play the shots the architect makes someone play to shoot a good score.

What’s going to happen is that you will get eaten alive for a while. It won’t be fun, you’ll shoot high scores, you’ll lose lots of balls. But take your lumps. Keep hitting the shots that need to be hit until you can hit them without worry and with good result. Consider this to be tuition in golf school. Play that course over and over until you have a solution to every problem it gives you.

You’ll learn to be unconcerned by shots you once feared. You’ll learn to hit shots with precision. If you have to hit it right there, you’ll learn how to and be confident when you have to. You’ll learn how to play a course using the shots you want to hit, rather than the shots the architect wants to scare you into hitting.

Of course you improve by spending time at the range learning to hit shots and taking lessons. But you don’t become a player unless you play, unless you challenge yourself to hit those shots you spent so much time working on, and put trust in your skills.

That’s how you learn to shoot lower scores.

See also How Solid is Your Handicap?


Play a Difficult Golf Course

Today I played a difficult course. I play it every year to see how I’m really doing. My home course is fairly forgiving, but this one isn’t. It’s carved out of the Pacific NW forest and if you’re off the fairway, don’t even bother looking for your ball. It puts a premium on hitting every shot as well as you can.

Now I have all the shots I need to score well on this course. It’s just, like I say, there’s no room for clinkers.

Take the first hole, Hugely wide fairway, doglegs right slightly uphill to a medium-sized green that is fronted by a creek. Any shot that hits short of the green will bounce back into it. So if you catch your first iron of the day a little fat, like I did, into the creek it goes.

I found out today which shots I can’t get away with hitting like I do. When my club selection isn’t good. When my decision-making isn’t up to par. A tough course will expose all these faults, and that’s why you should play one very now and then to find out what you still need to improve on.

When I got home, I wrote down my score by hole, then wrote down what I would have shot if I had played steady golf. Not especially spectacular golf, but if I had hit all the shots I can hit without straining the limits of my ability. I won’t tell you what the result of that analysis was, but I’ll tell you I would have turned in a very good score. I even took away a birdie. If you take away the shots you don’t expect to hit, irons that park themselves next to the pin get tossed out along with snap hooks.

About a month ago, I wrote about being positive about your golf. This is my positive spin for today’s drubbing. I have the game right now to shoot a good score in this course. I know which errors to correct, and which shots I have to firm up by the next time I play up there. I can’t wait.

See also Play a Difficult Golf Course – 2


Back From Oakmont

When the U.S. Open was played at Oakmont in 2007, Tiger Woods said that a 10-handicapper wouldn’t break 100. He was being too kind. More like 120. Maybe.

This course is so hard I don’t know where to begin. Natalie Gulbis said she played it five times before Women’s Open week and never came close to breaking par. I completely understand why.

The fairways are not that wide, and if you don’t hit into the rough that looks innocent but grabs your club instead of letting it slide through, there are the bunkers. These things are big, and they are surrounded by a high mound on the side toward the hole. Chip out. Between these two, you can use up par just getting to the green.

The course is quite hilly. A level lie is rare. There are blind shots into greens. There are shots downhill into greens that slope away from you. Fairway slopes feed the ball toward the bunkers. I saw one golfer hit 7-iron off the tee of a 558-yard hole to avoid the bunkers.

Then there are the greens. The ones on which Sam Snead said he marked his ball and the coin slid off. Fast, slopy, have you ever seen someone go tink! on a 20-foot putt and have it go five feet by the hole?

If I were allowed to play here, I would take a double bogey and not be disturbed, a bogey and be very happy, a par and faint.

But let me tell you as well, this course is beautiful, and it manicured in every sense of the word. I have putted on greens shaggier than the fairway grass.

And it’s big. You can see almost the whole thing from the clubhouse. It looks like no other golf course you’ve ever seen. Pictures do not do it justice.

The men play there again in 2016. Make your travel plans.