Saturday, September 24, 2005

Back from Ireland -- here's my thoughts on the K Club

For those interested, here's a piece that appeared in the National Post today on the K Club. I love Ireland. Portrush is among the handful of best designs I've ever played. But the K Club is no Gleneagles.

K Club choice worthy of an 'F': Irish course unworthy of hosting next year's Ryder Cup
National Post Saturday, September 24, 2005 Page: S8 Section: Sports Byline: Robert Thompson Column: On Golf Dateline: BUSHMILLS, Ireland Source: National Post

BUSHMILLS, Ireland - Amazing golf is most often held on amazing courses. Think about Tiger Woods' breakthrough victory at Augusta National, Bobby Jones' completion of the Grand Slam at Merion Golf and Country Club, or Jack Nicklaus' win at Pebble Beach in 1972. Not only were these stunning examples of great golf, but also of epic battles played on tremendous courses.
Which is what makes the K Club in Ireland so disappointing.
Next year, U.S. team captain Tom Lehman will attempt to motivate his group of multi-millionaires when they meet the Europeans in the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club, a relatively new golf resort developed by Irish tycoon Michael Smurfit.
"It is a really good match-play club," Lehman told the National Post this summer. "I think it will work out really well."
The K Club is certainly a pretty, wonderfully manicured golf facility. There are two courses at this multi-million-dollar resort, the best-known of which was designed by Arnold Palmer and his golf architecture director, Ed Seay. Located in a rural area about 45 minutes from Dublin, it features big trees, waterfalls and Augusta-style putting surfaces. Nary a blade of grass is out of place. Even the golf carts that punctuate the fairways seem to have a shine to them.
But that doesn't make the K Club a great venue for the Ryder Cup. Or even a good one.
What's surprising about the selection of the K Club as a host venue for the Ryder Cup is that the breadth of Irish golf was largely ignored in order to take the prestigious tournament to such a mundane, ordinary parkland golf course.
But it is right in line with the series of other dull, tired parkland courses that will host the Ryder in upcoming years. In 2008, the event will go to the universally reviled Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky, a course that is owned by the U.S. PGA, the organization that runs the intercontinental golf shootout. After that it heads to Wales, where Canadian billionaire Terry Matthews will host it at his Celtic Manor. That course was considered so good, it was largely blown up and is being rebuilt to hold the event. Impressive golf indeed.
The shame about the K Club is that Ireland has so much spectacular golf to offer that could have been substituted. Ireland deserves the match, but the country would have been far better off taking it to the Portmarnock or Royal Portrush.
Portmarnock, a links that is tough as nails, is a classic seaside layout near Dublin. It would have been a terrific match-play site, offering Carnoustie-like toughness with a touch more grace. Portrush, located in Northern Ireland, was designed by Harry Colt, the genius behind Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Canada, and was the site of the 1951 British Open. As a seaside links, it is nearly unparallelled. Its one-shot holes have nuances rarely seen in modern golf architecture and its par fours offer a mix of distances and difficulties.
Whereas the K Club is one-dimensional, American-style parkland golf, Portrush and Portmarnock offer options similar to those found at the Old Course in Scotland. Balls can be bounced into firm, hard greens, and players must demonstrate imagination and cunning in order to conquer the charms of Portmarnock or the toughness of Portrush. That's a mix that makes for a great match-play golf course.
The two clubs represent the best of Irish golf, unlike the K Club, which is simply another high-priced resort.
Offering a great golf course upon which to play the Ryder Cup elevates the entire proceedings. It makes the sport more exciting and it makes the event better viewing, both in person or on television. Too bad that next year -- and for the next decade of Ryder Cup matches -- money and power seem to have overwhelmed common sense and good taste.

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