UK Blog
 

    O'Toole's of the Trade - The Home Stretch

     These last few days have been a lot of fun. I first made a return visit to one of Ireland’s most well known courses, Ballybunion. When most people think Irish golf, the Old Course here is one of the first courses out of their mouths. This was my 4th time playing the course and it is a pleasure to play each time. It is not an overly long course by any means but when the wind is blowing it can be a humbling experience which was the case for me. The 15th hole is a par 3 measuring just less than 200 yards and when we got to the tee my caddy handed me my driver and said. “This should get you to about 20 yards short of the green.” I took his word for it and hit a drive square to about 15 yards short of the green. This hole plays into the wind almost all the time and the ladies play it as a par 4 which is a little unfair since they really don’t have anywhere to land the ball short of the green other than the rough. I beat the ball around for most of the day like a 20 handicap but my game comes together on the last 2 holes and I finish par-par. The 18th is a slight dogleg left to an elevated green next to the clubhouse allowing those on the deck to supervise your finish. Although my game was not up to muster, I enjoyed the round and the feeling of history you get when walking the links at Ballybunion.

    The next morning I had an 830AM tee time at Lahinch so I headed up there after my round at Ballybunion so I could be close to the course in the morning. That night I made the acquaintance of a few members of Lahinch and what started as “I’ll just have one more, ended with 5 or 6 and usual statements about having to sleep on the couch once they got home.” It reminded of a song from the Irish band Gaelic Storm, “Don’t go for the one.” If you have never heard the song, give it a listen and you will get a good laugh.

    I grab a nightcap at Frawley’s Pub. This is a landmark in Lahinch and is run by Mr. Frawley who is said to be the oldest publican in Ireland. It is a tiny pub with one beer on tap, (Guinness of course) and one bartender, Mr. Frawley. He is a man in his 80’s and the bar closes a few times a day so he can have his tea, dinner, and so on. Getting a pint here is like taking a step back in time and an experience not to be missed if every in Lahinch.

    The next morning at Lahinch I headed off into a windswept rainstorm for my last round in Ireland with unfamiliar faces. The next morning, 3 friends from the States were to arrive and join me for my last week. Lahinch is a golf course rich in history and tradition. Alister McKenzie designed much of the course as you see it today back in 1927 but there have been some recent upgrades designed by well known architect Martin Hawtree. Both men’s work is superb and the course is a golf experience not to be missed. Lahinch is most well known for its 4th and 5th holes, “Klondye” and “The Dell” respectively. The 4th is a short par 5 downwind that you must play your second shot blind over a towering dune to the green. The 5th is a completely blind par 3 to a green located in the hollow between 3 dunes. There is a white rock placed on the top of the mound to give you a direction to hit. I must say, while these holes are the ones most people associate with Lahinch, I find them to be the 2 weakest on the course. I am partial to the last 5 holes. 14 and 15 are to very long par 4’s that provide a challenge for the longest hitters and 16, 17, and 18 are a par 3, 4 and 5 respectively all heading towards to the clubhouse. It is one of the best finishes in all of Ireland. I toasted my last round with a few pints and called it an early night as my friends were due to arrive at 630AM.

    My friends arrived into Shannon in good order and we made our way down to the Ring of Kerry to kick off our week together with a round at the Dooks. I had figured it would be a nice introduction to links for the boys but the day greeted us with strong winds and rain. Instead of a nice, leisurely first round we grind our way around the course trying to keep all of our balls in play with little success. It is a rude introduction to Irish golf but a good time none the less. We overnighted in Killarney and visited as many pubs as we could with the boys having not slept in close to 24 hours.

    The next day greeted us with a blanket of sunshine and warm (relatively speaking) temperatures. The boys all played well at Waterville and we were blessed with a caddie who seemed to know every inch of the course. Waterville is a course that grows on you every time you play and I would say that it would fall into the top 5 of all the courses I played this summer.

    We are off to explore the rest of Kerry and Clare before we head home. I’ll check back in a few days.


    -Mike

     

    Rumford triumphs in the Mountains

    Brett Rumford held his nerve to clinch the Omega European Masters with a dramatic chip-in at the first extra hole after finishing 72 holes tied for the lead at 16 under par. Rumford recovered from a crooked teeshot to strike a fine iron to the back of the 18th green and then calmly chipped in from 30 foot to clinch the title with a birdie three. Rumford relied on a strong short game all week, and now can relax safe in the knowledge that he has next year's card safe, giving him a number of privileges and guaranteed entry into a number of different tournaments.

    The Australian strode the fairways in a custom pair of FootJoy Classic Tour golf shoes and never looked like putting a foot out of place. Rumford's victory now takes FootJoy's win count to 25 this year on the European Tour alone, further underlining our position as the preferred shoe on golf's biggest stages.

     

    FootJoy - #1 Shoe in Golf

    Stricker and Fisher lead the way at the weekend

    Once again FootJoy was proven to be #1 Shoe and Glove in Golf.

    FootJoy ambassador Steve Stricker birdied four of his last five holes to finish at 69 (-2) and capture The Barclays by two shots over his nearest competitor. It marked the fourth career PGA Tour victory for Stricker, who finished at 268 (-16). Stricker, who trailed by one shot with three holes remaining, also vaulted to the top of the FedEx Cup standings entering the final three events in the Playoffs. Stricker was T4 in greens in regulation and T8 in driving accuracy at The Barclays. The win was the first for Stricker in over six years.

    FootJoy was the overwhelming golf shoe of choice at The Barclays with over 66% of players lacing up an FJ in pursuit of the $10 million first prize.

     Earlier that day our rising European star Ross Fisher took glory at the KLM Dutch Open, finishing coolly under pressure from a local favourite to birdie the final hole and take his maiden European Tour title by a single shot, closing with a classy 3 under par 67. Fisher continues his rich vein of form in 2007 having been co-leader of the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW Championship at his home course of Wentworth going into the final round earleir in the season.

    Over 60% of those that teed it up in the Netherlands chose FootJoy, with the nearest competitor just clearing 20%, underlining FootJoy's position as #1 Shoe in Golf.

    Find out more: FootJoy Golf Shoes

    O'Toole's of the Trade - The South East

     The “sunny southeast” is what they call the southeastern part of Ireland as this area receives more sun than the rest of Ireland and is well known for its long stretches of beach. For me however, it is not blessed with the world-class links land found in the rest of Ireland. So rather than bypass the area completely I decided to play some of the area’s finest inland courses as well as some out-of-the-way spots. These rounds provided me great golf, new friends and an introduction to Stableford scoring.

    Druids Glen was my first stop and I found this to be just a ton of fun to play. My game has degenerated into a series of slices and mishits but the course is much too good not to enjoy. It would make sense that my game would improve with all the golf I have been playing but somehow I am going in the other direction. The 12th and 13th holes are memorable. The 12th is a par 3 down the hill and over water. Druids Glen has to be one of the most colorful courses I have ever seen. There seems to be every color of flower or bush throughout the course. The face of the tee box on 12 is one many have seen in pictures, as it is a large Celtic cross made from a series of bushes. 13 is a long par 4 measuring around 460 yards and you must hit a very accurate tee shot just to have 200 yards into the green which is made all the better by the fact that you must carry the shot over the pond in front of the green. All in all, a pleasurable round to say the least.

    I then met 3 Irishmen playing golf at Faithlegg Golf Club. These boys immediately pull me into their match and I am told we are playing a game similar to nassua using the Stableford scoring system. I say no problem, just let me know what I owe at the end. We spend the next 4 hours giving each other the needle and I am told I owe 10 Euro once complete with the round. The good thing is the winner has to buy the pints in the bar at the end so I think I actually made out in the deal. We all have a good bit of craic and the boys invite me to join them in a 4 ball tournament in 2 days time which I gladly accept.

    Between then I make a stop at Mount Juliet, which has been home to the American Express Championships on 2 occasions. I am paired with a member for the day and neither one of us put up a score to boast about in the pub afterward. I manage a smooth 10 on one hole dropping 3 balls in the water yet I can’t help but have fun as I just think of where I am.

    The next day I join the lads once again for the 4 ball tournament at Enniscorthy Golf Club. Most clubs in Ireland have Open weeks where they hold tournaments every day open to anyone with a handicap. The best part is the greens fees are usually half of what they normally are. Gerry, Gerry, Tom and I have another enjoyable 18 holes although it would seem our scores were not the type to bring home any of the prizes. Tom is in his 70’s and hits the ball as good as most men 25 years his junior. His one problem is the putter and after 16 holes of terrible putting, he is lining up a birdie putt from about 25 feet. Gerry is holding the flag and pulls it out to which Tom says he can’t see the hole so put it back in. Gerry immediately tells Tom he is probably better off if he can’t see the hole. When you have friends like that, who needs enemies. After a pint in the bar to cheers the good company, I bid the lads adieu and head further south.

    I spend the next few days playing a number of courses including a singles competition at Dungarvan Golf Club, which I found to be a surprisingly good course. Once I arrive in the area of Cork city I play a round at the Cork Golf Club and Fota Island. Both are worthy tests of golf and if in the Cork city area, worth a visit. I spend a memorable evening in a pub on Plunkett St. in Cork city. An Bodhran is the name and this tiny pub had one of the most eclectic groups of customers I have run across in my travels. It seemed every language was represented here but everyone was chatting and telling stories. Spontaneous sessions of dance and song break out which I find to be quite entertaining. I am there for a few pints too many but fortunately for me it is a short walk home.

    Well, I am heading now to what some people would consider the crown jewel of Irish golf…the southwest. I’ll check back after a few rounds there.

    - Mike

    FOLLOW HIS PROGRESS
    You can follow Mike's journey via a custom Google Map, click here !

    O'Toole's of the Trade - To The Open and Back

     What can I say about the British Open this year that has not already been said? It has been a tournament that I have always wanted to attend and thanks to the hospitality of Fairways to Heaven Golf, my wife and I had the best seats in the house; on the balcony above the 18th green at the Carnoustie Hotel. It was surreal to be that close to all the action as the drama unfolded. Despite the weather, fans turned out in the thousands ready for the weather with umbrellas and rainsuits in hand. It was a once in a lifetime experience and one that I will never forget. I never fully appreciated the difficulty of an Open set up until I got to see it in person. It was never more clear to me just how good these guys are.

    After attending the Open in Scotland I returned to the Dublin area for a few more rounds of golf before heading south. My first round back had me at the Island Golf Club located just north of Dublin. In May of 2005 this course was ranked number 26 in the world by Golf World magazine. I had the pleasure of playing with the 3 members of the club who provided great craic and some interesting background on the club. One note I found very interesting is that the course was only reachable by boat all the way up until 1973. Being located on an estuary, the members would take a short boat ride from Malahide to get to the course. The old clubhouse had a white disc on the side and when the members wanted the boat to return, they would turn a flap to make the disc half black and half white indicating the boat man to come get them. Being that this club was established in 1890, they did this for 83 years! Now that is dedication.

     A few days later, I had the pleasure of playing the Links at the Portmarnock Hotel. This links course, designed by Bernhard Langer, is located right next to the more well known Portmarnock Golf Club. While the Links at Portmarnock Hotel does not get the publicity that its more storied neighbor does, I found it to be every bit the test of golf. Langer's placement of pot bunkers in the fairways and around the greens is well thought out. Accuracy and not length will keep your score down on this links. I am paired up with a fellow from Germany for the day and we have good fun on the links. Prior to teeing off the first tee a fellow comes out of the starters hut and greets us before the round. We get a slight interrogation as to where we are from and where plan on going this evening after the round. After we give our answers, he gives us a warning. “Be careful of the Guinness. It will
    make you see double and act single!” A character no doubt. While my playing partner for the day struggles, he is good company and always has a smile on his face even if he has just hit his second ball off the tee into waist high rough. With about 4 holes left in our round, the sun disappears and a strong and windy rain rolls through. In order to stay dry we had to hold our umbrellas sideways! 5 minutes later, it was gone and the sun came out again. You certainly can get 4 seasons in 18 holes in Ireland.

    I headed out of Dublin south into County Wicklow. The O’Tooles of Ireland made a name for themselves here in Wicklow along with the O’Byrnes. Back in the day apparently both families were a bit of a thorn in the side to the English. Living up in the Wicklow Mountains both families regulary raided the English and basically made things unpleasant for them. O’Toole is still a name found frequently throughout the county. I made a stop into the Bray Golf Club which is a little parkland course that has recently moved from one side of town to the other. I received a warm welcome and enjoyed a round on a course that is setup a little more like what I am used to at home. While Bray is not on the level of the Mount Juliet or Druids Glen, it is a fun round of golf nonetheless. It was in immaculate shape and the view from the 11th tee down into Bray Harbor is as good as you’ll find in Ireland.

    For my next round, it was back to a links course and one that really is somewhat special to me. The seed for this whole project was planted seven years ago when I played my first round of links golf at the European Club. It was here I first experienced true World Class links golf and it set me on my path to today. Since it has been seven years since I had been here I looked forward to coming back. The European Club is owned and designed by Ireland leading golf course architect, Pat Ruddy. The course only opened for play in 1993 after Ruddy discovered the property while surveying the coast by helicopter. Golf Digest has ranked the European Club number 2 in the top 100 courses in Ireland and I may argue that it is the best. Ruddy’s design is superb and offers a golfer a stern test of links golf. Ruddy makes wonderful use of his bunkers which are unique in their construction as they are framed with wooden railway planks so you get some interesting bounces should you hit one of these planks. Another interesting facet of this course is that in most days there are 20 holes in play. During my round, all 20 were open however you were told to throw out your scores on 6 & 14 as those greens had been recently aerated though I found them to be in rather good condition considering. I had a sparkling, sunny day for my round with the usual strong winds you get along the Irish Sea. The European Club was also host to the Irish PGA Championship the week before the British Open this year. The European Club was everything I remembered it to be and more. This course is a “can’t miss” while golfing in Ireland.

    Well, I am off to the Southeast and will check back in a few days.

    - Mike


    FOLLOW HIS PROGRESS
    You can follow Mike's journey via a custom Google Map, click here !