We arrived on Friday into the midst of a morning that knew no night, nor the night a morn, as it all blended into a blurry-eyed gumbo of anticipation-fueled excitement that made any attempt at sleep on the relatively short flight from Boston, completely mute. Departing at 6:30 PM, our natural body rhythm didnt even consider sleep an option until we were within ninety-minutes of Dublin.
Upon arrival, we marched through the obligatory process of finding a car that would fit our party and luggage, ultimately settling on a Ford-crossover vehicle that I have never seen before (why dont they make these fuel-efficient, comfortable and practical cars on our side of the pond?). This particular version was a standard, making for an interesting learning curve (more on that later). Off we sped for the three-hour journey to Bushmills, in Northern Ireland.
It rained as if it would never stop for the length of the ride. My friend, Jocko, did his normal brilliant job negotiating the often confusing directions and round-a-bouts, assisted in his efforts by a very pleasant, British female voiced GPS (who we have learned will sometimes, sometimes not, verbalize her intention that you should turn at particular points along the way. Occasionally, she simply informs that she is recalculating the route, which is GPS-British female-speak for, you just missed a turn you were supposed to make, but I failed to inform you. Had the GPS been a male voice we probably would be angry at it, but as it was, we simply accepted our failings and carried on.
By the time we arrived at Portstewart for our afternoon tee time, the rain had diminished into merely an occasional mist and the temperature was comfortably cool. As we are only three, we requested and were granted the privilege to be joined by a member named Nigel (Nigel was dragged from his house by his brother, Steve, also a member, who was already committed to a game and lucky for us, felt that Nigel just might be convinced to play golf that afternoon).
Nigel was the perfect host, constantly going out of his way to explain every nuance of the course, proper angles and lines of attack and the in and outs of who is who as we trod along. His company was a complete pleasure and added immensely to our enjoyment of the moment.
Portstewart does not get the credit or recognition it deserves. It reminded me of Lahinch (Lahinch is one of my favorite links courses in the world, so the observation is meant as the highest of compliments). Due to its proximity to Royal Portrush, playing Portstewart is somewhat like meeting the kid-sister of a super-model. Persisting in the shadow of the acclaimed, it is easy to overlook its merits. However, when viewed for its singular merits, Portstewart is as fine a golfing experience as one could find. As it was, the day we met Portstewart, she greeted us without her make-up on, as the deep rough was seasonally low and there was barely a breath of a wind. As such, even through our sleep deprived status, we all played well and aptly guided by Nigel, we enjoyed a wonderful round. Portstewart is a golf course that should be included on everyones golfing agenda in Northern Ireland as you will fall in love with its rugged, natural beauty. I did.
The air was heavy by the time we dragged our taxed bodies back to the Bushmills Inn. Our first steps into the Inn were greeted with a warm peat-coal-wood burning fireplace surrounded by rocking chairs. The scene made for instant comfort. Parts of this hotel dated back to the early 1600s with exposed timber beams and ancient-looking walls of stone defined the confines. We enjoyed a delicious dinner, although we all were subject to occasionally nodding off between courses (and I am not kidding). After dinner we visited the Inns Gas Pub (which is not meant as a metaphorical reflection on our reaction to our aforementioned dinner), but rather, the pub is still lit by a series of gas lamps and the flickering light cast from the fireplace. Sleep was a welcome respite that night as I think we all slept as though we would never again awake.
Bushmills Distillery, Giants Causeway and the Dunluce Castle
Our tee time was set for 3:00 PM (15.00) on Day Two at Royal Portrush (non-members are allowed to play in the afternoon). So we put the day to good use by taking in some of the local color.
We first headed up the rode a short distance to the Bushmills Distillery. The Distillery was granted a license to distill, in 1608 and from the samples they allowed us to taste, they have invested their time wisely. Partial as I am to single malt, the chance to visit a working distillery is a bit like visiting a whiskey-theme park.
From the distillery, we headed off to climb down to the Giants Causeway (a two-mile trek in each direction. We ultimately decided to take the shuttle). The Giants Causeway is a natural phenomenon that only supports the impression that Ireland is a magical place. The Causeway features a landscape defined by six-sided rocks that geologists will tell us were formed during a period of volcanic activity some sixty-million years ago. However, in Irish folklore, this amazing spectacle was built by the Irish giant, Fin MacCool, who was attempting to build a bridge across the Channel, in order to battle the Scottish giant for supremacy.
While the Giants Causeway was an affirmation that there are forces at work far beyond our comprehension, the visit to the ruins of the Dunluce Castle was far more in keeping with the preferential tastes of my sentimentality; for while I find natural history of interest, my first love is human history, particularly that time defined by castles and knights.
The Dunluce Castle dates back to the Norman era, although it saw the heights of its power and prestige during the mid-1500s to the middle of the 1600s (when its precariously perched kitchen collapsed down the mountain into the pounding sea, claiming with it a number of lives). The ultimate demise of this castle (and all others) was the development of gun-powder and the advent of the cannon which relatively left these field-stone boarder walls and turrets in piles of bloody ruin. As much as I love the game, walking through these literal steps of history is most humbling, indeed.
Royal Portrush Golf Club, 6,845 Yards, Par 72
Our afternoon round at Royal Portrush proved to be as impressive as our heightened anticipation expected it to be. Royal Portrush is one of only a handful of golf courses around the globe, such as Muirfield, Royal County Downs, Royal Aberdeen, Turnberry Ailsa Course, Pinehurst # 2, etc., where playing a round of golf goes beyond a simple matter of having fun. Rather, it is a truly special privilege.
Often, Royal Portrush is paired with Royal County Downs as not only the two finest golf courses in Ireland, but among the best in the world. One of the things I enjoy about international travel is the fact that one can play these amazing golf courses. Such is not always the case in the United States as many of the many of the finest courses are strictly private.
Royal Portrushs lineage is impressive. The first professional tournament ever held in Ireland took place here in 1895, where Royal Portrushs professional, Sandy Herd, edged the legendary Harry Vardon in the match play competition (Vardon would win his first Open Championship the following year). The club has significant history in womens golf as well as it hosted first Irish Open Amateur Championship in 1892 and in 1895, Royal Portrush was the first golf course outside of England to host the British Ladies Championship (won by Lady Margaret Scott). More recently, and significantly, in 1951, the club hosted the Open Championship (won by Max Faulk ner with a score of 285 for four rounds), becoming the first and only Irish course to host the worlds oldest Major. Its Royal delineation was granted through patronage of both the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales, dating back to the 1890s. The Senior British Championship has been hosted here numerous times and is scheduled to return again in 2011.
If its history alone is enough to make one grip the club a bit tighter, then the par 3, 14th Hole, known as Calamitys Corner, is sure to make one realize the this course is still a formidable test of golf. The hole is visually stunning. It measures 210 yards and one must carry the ball the entire distance as the right side of the hole is marked by a mountainous cavern the there is a pot bunker awaiting the overly cautious on the left side of the green (as if the case with most of these strategically placed pot bunkers, the effective size is far more than the mere dimensions of the bunker itself, as the entire ground surrounding them are shaped like a funnel to scoop up any shot played too close).
After the round we set off down the road for Donegal
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a golf journalist, best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life) and a golf course general manager. To view Matt's books or sign up for his 'Golf Wisdom Newsletter,'go to www.FairwaysofLife.com.