Rather than write about why Michelle Wie shouldn’t be playing this week, I’ve decided to revisit my 2005 trip to Ireland — a precursor to the Ryder Cup that was supposed to be written for the National Post. It never happened, largely because of a switch in travel editors. Oh well — I can do a better job in more detail here.
So here it goes anyway — a trip to Ireland leaving on a Friday night and returning the following Saturday. It involved three good friends — Fairway Stevie Waxman, golf architect Ian Andrew, and his father, Gerry. I’ll follow this one with a piece about my 2006 trip to Scotland later in the month.
Today: The European Club and Druids Glen
Pat Ruddy is a dreamer. He’s been a golf writer, a player and a golf architect. He’s built or reworked golf courses across Ireland (and in Canada — see Club de Golf in Montreal), but the European Club was his goal. It is a club that is singular in its vision and singular in its concept. It rests on a tremendous piece of rolling links land that rivals the sea land where Kingsbarns rests in Scotland. It is an amazing testament to one man’s vision and rests in the lower reaches of Golf Magazine’s Top 100. With that in mind, our group had to seek it out.
Getting there from central Ireland, especially to a Canadian, doesn’t look difficult. You simply head through the picturesque Wicklow Gap. At least that’s what our itinerary, developed by Irish Tourism said. Yes, it is beautiful. And yes, the mountains in the morning are incredible to see and something I’ll never forget. But I’ll also never forget nearly slamming into an 18-wheeler coming the opposite direction on a winding road the size of a bowling lane. I’ll never forget the crazed local who passed us on a curve only to encounter a car in the land as he came around the corner, nearly killing all of us in the process.
With that in mind, I’m not sure any of us were really in a clear state of mind when we reached the European Club, which is located on the east shore of the island. And if you’ve played the opening holes of Ruddy’s dream course, you’ll quickly realize one needs their wits about them right out of the gate. The club grabs you in its teeth from the start and thrashes about like a wounded animal for 18 holes. You might have the occasional respite, but largely the nasty beast will get you.
The course starts uphill, with a tricky par four that offers much of the features you’ll see throughout Ruddy’s design, including Pete Dye-style railway tie bunkers that punctuate the outside of fairways and nasty green sites.
If you manage to survive through the 7th hole (a tremendous, and tremendously difficult 447 yard par four with a marsh in play on the left side of the fairway), the course offers a bit of a respite. Interestingly, where Ruddy ramps down the difficulty is where the course, to my mind, really started to become exceptional.
The stretch of holes beginning with the 10th and ending the ocean series at 15, is as good as golf gets and rivals any links. Along the way, you’ll note the course actually has 20 holes, with two additional par threes being added into the mix should you choose to play them. Make sure you do — they are two of the best on the course.
So is the European Club world class? Without doubt. Is it all it could [photopress:TheEuropeanClub12th.jpg,full,alignright]be. I don’t think so. Ruddy’s vision of a difficult, tight and narrow links has a lot in common with Colt’s Portrush, but is even more extreme in places. If you can hit the ball laser-straight, you can succeed at European Club. But there is little chance for recovery and plenty of lost balls during a round as well.
There really is no need for it. If Ruddy would agree that the course’s difficulty is actually off-putting for many of his customers, he could easily make a few slight adjustments that would not make the course easier for the good player, but make it more fun for the higher handicap.
Like it or not, The European Club is an example of what a golf architect can accomplish if they don’t have to make any concessions to their vision. That’s a laudable concept and one I applaud Ruddy for sticking with, even where I don’t think it works. In order to hit a home run, you’ll likely go down swinging every so often; and the European Club is at least a three bagger for the most part.
The extremes of The European Club are interesting when contrasted with Ruddy’s work on parkland courses in Ireland. Though we were tired from our morning round, the weather was still beautiful, leaving us to travel to his http://www.druidsglen.ie/about.htm” target=”_blank”>Druids Glen, just north of European Club. The contrast between the European Club and Druids Glen was stunning. One is a links while the other says it is the “Augusta of Ireland.” Good God. Why would anyone need such a thing?
In truth there is little comparison with that track in Georgia. Instead at Druids Glen you get wider fairways and a parkland style, with meticulous gardens and maintenance. There’s nothing wrong with the course — and I thought it was better than K Club — but there’s no reason one would travel to Ireland to play it, either. The best holes (http://www.druidsglen.ie/course/h13_3d.htm” target=”_blank”>like the fine 471-yard 13th) offer great elevation changes and interesting contours which force players to carefully consider their shots.
If you’re interested in Pat Ruddy, there’s a http://www.pbase.com/image/55295654” target=”_blank”>strong article on his career at Golfweek.
Oh, and we didn’t take the Wicklow Gap route back to our hotel that night. It turns out the highway, which runs south of Dublin and appears like a much longer route, is actually quicker and safer. Thank God.
Tomorrow: County Louth (Baltray)
European Club — Website
April 1 – October 31
Midweek: One round 150-euro
All fees can be found here.
Druids Glen — Website
Rates (peak season)
Individual Green Fee From 9.10am 28/04/07 14/10/07 â€š¬ 180
Midweek: One round 150-euro All fees can be found here. Druids Glen Rates (peak season)Individual Green Fee From 9.10am 28/04/07 14/10/07 â€š¬ 180