NCGA Golf

Fall 2018

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a different type of temperament for the heather and gorse and pot bunkers deep enough for a flock of sheep to take cover. Leave your lofted wedge at home and prepare to invent all sorts of bump-and- run shots and putt from off the weather-hardened terrain. When the landscape is a links course, the mysteries are many, and the bounces good and bad, but rarely anything in between. In short, links golf is the heart and soul of the game. If parkland courses in the style of Augusta National is the "cover girl, lovely and unforgettable," writes Tom Coyne in A Course Called Ireland, "then linksland is the girl who doesn't bother with makeup but still turns your head, au- thentic and irresistible, the one you'd travel all the way to Ireland to spend a few more hours with." I couldn't wait for my return trip in late May, taking an overnight flight that landed at Dublin Airport the next day. Straight to Portmarnock Golf Club, founded in 1894 on a sandy peninsula that was once only accessible by boat. Yet you're playing on Dublin's doorstep, close enough to the airport that you can see planes flying overhead and an ideal place to kick off your golf adventure. The first Irish Open was held there in 1927, and it ranks 49th on Golf Magazine's 2017-18 "Top 100 Courses in the World" list. "It's the fairest links golf course you'll ever play," Harrington said. This long tongue of linksland between the Irish Sea and an inland tidal bay is nearly enclosed by water and so playing along the shoreline of a rugged peninsula running mostly over flat terrain that is loaded with variety gives a very full flavor of what golf in Ireland is all about. With a typically strong prevailing northeasterly wind, the first three holes at Portmarnock play downwind and allow for a gentle start, but the course toughens before long. The par 4, fourth hole measures 474 yards from the tips and is rated the hardest. It is protected by a berm along the left side of the fair- way and a series of strategically placed bunkers on the right. The last five holes at Portmarnock can play diabolically difficult. The par-4 14th plays toward the Irish Sea to a green perched on a plateau. Masters champion Ben Crenshaw once called Port- marnock's par-3 15th hole "the shortest par-5 in the world" after making a double bogey there. The 192-yard hole is hard by the sea along the eastern fringe of the course. Two pot bunkers flank the entrance of the green to catch the timid or mishit shot. If you listen to your caddie, Portmarnock won't beat you up. It's every- thing a links course should be and the type of club you'd like to be a member and play five days a week. "There are no tricks or nasty surprises, only an honest, albeit searching test of shot-making skill," Tom Watson once said. For dinner that night, my foursome enjoyed a beautiful sunset at the clubhouse of Sutton Golf Club, a nine-hole course with panoramic views of the Irish Sea. It also has a shrine to Joe Carr, one of Ireland's finest players and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. To dine in this private room and be regaled with stories by his son Marty Carr, who heads Carr Golf, one of the leading golf tour operators and the host of my trip, took it—as the kids say these days—next level. The next morning, we boarded our luxury bus and crossed the border into Northern Ireland to County Londonderry. "The Troubles," the Irish euphemism for the sectarian violence that dominated world headlines right through the 1990s, kept many a golf nut away from experiencing the gems that await on 48 FALL 2018 | NCGA.ORG The front nine at Portstewart (top) has received universal praise; Visit the shrine at Harbour Bar in Portrush to local boys who made good: major champions Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

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