Ireland – home of golf, Guinness and Peaky Blinders!

 FOR nigh on three decades we would instinctively cast inquisitive eyes starboard at the stretch of sand dunes hugging the River Liffey as our motley crew of a dozen or so aging scribes embarked on their annual golfing pilgrimage to Ireland.

TRUE LINKS: Royal Dublin

FRIENDLY WELCOME: Royal Dublin Golf Club

We could only resort to admiring from afar the Royal Dublin links, forever associated with legendary Ryder Cup player Christy O’Connor, because we had long since deemed them out of bounds for the likes of us.

“Looks a bit too posh for our lot,” muttered a member of the group during an earlier trip. “We’ll never get on there!”

He was merely confirming what most of us had been thinking for years. So, it came as something of a pleasant surprise, if not a shock in some instances when, to mark the 30th anniversary of our Irish escapade, we learned that Royal Dublin was on our itinerary.

And not before time, too. After all, we were a well-travelled decent bunch of maturing journos who in more recent visits to the Emerald Isle had been invited to play such challenging, and dare I say prestigious, courses as  Lough Erne, Doonbeg, the K Club and Malahide without a single complaint of a breach of golfing etiquette or drunken ribaldry.

Royal Dublin was the final leg of our Irish odyssey so I’ll save the best to the last.

Within half-an-hour of arriving in the vibrant fair city we were whisked along to Teelings Whiskey

Woodbrook Golf Club, County Wicklow

WOODBROOK GOLF CLUB: Slick greens

Distillery and Visitor Centre. It served as a wake-up call to sober up fast for the lads who had, as is traditional, overindulged on the Guinness and red wine during the smooth crossing from Holyhead aboard the mighty Ulysses.

Now we all knew that whiskey (that’s how they spell it in Ireland in case you didn’t know) is meant to be sipped and not necked like a pint of the aforementioned black stuff. Our behaviour was impeccable and our patience commendable as our guide explained the history of resurrection of one of Dublin’s oldest distilleries dating back to 1782.

In those days there were 37 different outlets in what was known as the Golden Triangle within a mile of the city centre. So it was about time Teelings, one of the original distillers, were back in business with a heady selection of whiskeys to tickle the taste buds.

We tried most of them and agreed their flavours were highly palatable. We left to with sample of miniatures – and Peaky Blinder caps!

Goodness knows what the staff at the Glen View Hotel, an old favourite of ours in County Wicklow, thought of the high-spirited media men sporting the dapper head gear as they headed for the reception desk!

It was agreed that we would wear them the next day when we played the first of our triumvirate of golf clubs, the much heralded Woodbrook at Bray which once staged the Irish Open. Its description as an “oasis bounded by unrivalled views of the Irish Sea on one side and the blue haze of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains on the other,” was bang on the mark.

Wicklow Golf Club

Wicklow Golf Club: Challenging

After a typical Irish welcome by the club, there was rain in the air as we prepared to tee off so our coveted new caps stayed in the locker-room. The sun was already out by the time we reached the first green, a risk-and-reward par five which gave us an early warning signs that the undulating greens were lightning fast. I took four to get down from the fringe – and so did the other two players in our three-ball!

Every hole offered a testing but fair challenge and once acclimatised with the pace, putting became less of an ordeal. Most of us were provided with buggies but despite its length, was easy on the feet for the few who walked it.

The course, with its par of 72, was relatively flat but one suspected it would bear its teeth when the wind whipped across from the seas.

Wicklow Golf Club was a completely different challenge, a fascinating mixture of links and parkland and bounded by the sea. The drive on the par five first looked scary – water on one side and out of bounds on the other with the rocky fairway leading to an elevated green.

I struck three straight shots and fancied at least getting down in par. I five putted on a green that made Woodbrook’s look slow.

The course was no stroll in the park – without a buggy I might have struggled to complete the round because so many drives were up hill.

There were a lot of blind shots, too, and I won’t reveal my score but maybe one day I’ll get the chance to play there again safe with the knowledge I’d know my way round a little better!

As everywhere you go in Ireland, you are guaranteed a warm welcome and Wicklow was no exception.

We all had preconceived ideas about Royal Dublin. Did we have to wear collar and tie in the clubhouse at all times; ROYAL DUBLIN GC CHRISTY OCONNORexpected to dress in a tuxedo for dinner; tread carefully on the hallowed turf; make doubly sure pitch marks are repaired and don’t hold up members?

Would it, indeed, be too posh for us as one of our group had suggested.

It wasn’t like that at all. When the genial captain officiated at a welcome reception all our fears were allayed. And, after the golf, the hospitality was way above par as we were treated to a splendid meal in the clubhouse during which the Guinness and wine flowed as freely.

Royal Dublin, as with most prestigious clubs worldwide, have had to shed the old fuddy-duddy image (did it really have one, I wonder) and have relaxed the rules because the game has to move with the times if it is to survive.

And the links we’d so often dreamt about playing were precisely that – a dream! Traditional, fast-running fairways, many of which were bordered by sand dunes, deep and strategically placed bunkers but not as punishing at they appeared, and undulating greens that needed some studying before activating the putter head.

Overall, a wonderful experience like the other courses we played during four days that went in a flash! Roll on 2016.

FACTFILE

 David Birtill travelled with Irish Ferries (0875 171717, irishferries.com) Tourism Ireland (discoverireland.com).  Woodbrook Golf Club(+353 12814799, woodbrook.ie); Wicklow Golf Club (+353 404 67379, wicklowgolfclub.ie); Royal Dublin Golf Club (+353 404 67379, theroyaldublingolfclub.com). The Glenview Hotel (+353 1287 3399, glenviewhotel.com);The Gibson Hotel, Dublin (+353 (0)1 681 5000, thegibsonhotel.ie); The Castle Inn, Newcastle, County Wicklow (thecastleinn.ie); The Ocean Bar, Bray, County Wicklow (oceanbarandgrill.ie). Teeling Whiskey (+353 (0)1661 4055, TeelingWhiskey,com).

 NB; Irish Ferries offers up to 16 crossings of the Irish Sea a day, with a fleet of four superb ships including the only genuine ‘fastcraft’ between the UK and Ireland, the twin-hulled catamaran Dublin Swift which takes as little as 1 hour and 49 minutes to cross from Holyhead to Dublin.

We also sailed on Irish Ferries’ flagship, Ulysses which at almost 51,000 tonnes is the largest and best-equipped ship on the Irish Sea.

Cruise-ferry fares start at £79 each-way for a car and driver, with no extra charges for carrying golf clubs or any other baggage in the car.  Additional passengers in the same car are from £30 each way.

Irish Ferries Holidays can also package up stays at selected hotels, B&Bs and cottages to create great value self-drive golf holidays.

 For further information visit www.irishferries.com  or call 08717 300 400

  • Ships: cruise ferry Ulysses, fast catamaran Dublin Swift, cruise ferry Isle of Inishmore and the cruise ferry Epsilon
  • Routes: Holyhead in North Wales to Dublin; Pembroke in South Wales to Rosslare
  • Drive times: Holyhead from Liverpool or Manchester 2 hours; from Birmingham 3 hours. Pembroke from Cardiff 2 hours; from Bristol 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Shortest crossing times 1 hour 49 minutes on Dublin Swift; Ulysses 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Club Class (priority boarding, reserved seating, free refreshments etc) available
  • Ship-wide free WiFi

 

 

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