Southwest Ireland: Storied links allure presidents, celebrities and droves of golf fanatics

By Travel ArticlesNovember 20, 2012, 3:52 pm

COUNTY KERRY, Ireland -- Passionate about their sport, it's easy to understand why the Irish love golf for it has all the right ingredients.

It's played in the fresh air and in the most gorgeous of settings, which appeals to the romantic Irish. It takes a deal of time and can't be rushed, which strikes a sympathetic chord in a society not given to undue haste or gripped with an enormous sense of urgency.

And then there's the humor. Golf offers almost unlimited scope for mirth and the Irish appreciate a good laugh at least as much as they do a hot tip in the last race at Fairyhouse.

And, finally, it affords an almost unrivaled opportunity to indulge in what the Irish do brilliantly well, which is talk at length about anything and everything without reaching any particular conclusion.

So it should come as no surprise that Ireland produces a great many more talented golfers than is reasonable and has far more fabulous courses than it really needs. Three of the very best are in the southwestern counties of Kerry and Clare.

But splendid though they undoubtedly are, these golf courses are only part of the appeal of golf in Ireland. What makes it irresistibly attractive are the wonderful characters and barely believable stories that enrich the overall experience.

President Clinton, who first played the Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club in September 1998, recounted one such story. Before he teed off, his caddie asked him how many Irish golf courses he'd played. When he said, 'Just two' the caddie commented, 'Then the bet's good.' It transpired that the caddie had offered odds of 20-1 that his man wouldn't break a hundred. Despite a 12 and two sevens, President Clinton just squeezed under the target and the caddie lost comfortably more than he earned that day. To say the Irish like a bet is akin to suggesting they enjoy a sip of Guinness now and again.

Clinton has been back several times and famously drove into the cemetery well to the right of the opening fairway. When he shouted 'fore', the starter suggested he was wasting his breath. 'Nobody in there is worried about getting hurt.'

Although there's certainly no shortage of Irish characters, it was Tom Simpson, an English eccentric, who deserves much of the credit for improving the Old Course at Ballybunion. Back in the 1930s and with no funds to spend, the club turned to him for help. An independently wealthy man who enjoyed the luxury of turning a hobby into a career, he happily accepted the challenge.

Simpson always turned up for work in a chauffer-driven silver Rolls Royce, wearing a flowing cloak and beret, wielding a riding crop and accompanied by his stunningly beautiful wife, Molly Gourlay, an accomplished golfer in her own right.

The chauffeur would polish the Rolls and then drive it onto a pre-designated fairway at the appropriate time to serve lunch from an enormous wicker basket. Because it was their favorite picnic spot, the two pot bunkers in the middle of the first fairway (back then it was the 14th) are named 'Mrs. Simpson's' after Molly and not, as is often thought, Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.

The Old Course has recently been tweaked by Martin Hawtree, another famous English architect who not that long ago helped restore nearby Lahinch Golf Club to its former glory. Opened in 1892, Lahinch had previously been modified by a succession of great names, including Old Tom Morris, George Gibson and Alister MacKenzie. In 1927, MacKenzie improved the course enormously and went on to design such icons as Augusta National, Pebble Beach and Cyprus Point.

A purist, MacKenzie passionately believed in using the existing attributes of a site and keeping a course's natural appearance. Holes weaved through the dunes and the greens rolled with the natural fall of the land. Who was responsible and why it was done no one seems to know, but the greens were flattened considerably in the 1930s.

'I think they were altered simply because the members found them a bit too difficult,' said Robert McCavery, who has been the pro at Lahinch for more than 50 years. His father was the pro before him and McCavery remembers his dad walking home to lunch across the course, pausing every so often to remove a weed with the penknife he always carried.

In 1999, Hawtree was asked to restore the MacKenzie characteristics of the Old Course (there's a gentler Castle Course at Lahinch as well). Only four greens and two tees weren't touched. The 'restored MacKenzie' course received a rapturous reception and Lahinch has since soared back up the rankings.

Photos of famous golfers, including Phil Mickelson (twice), Tom Watson, Stewart Cink, Ian Baker-Finch and dozens of others, hang on every wall in the pro shop. There's even one of Neil Armstrong, who may have walked on the moon but never won a major. The other person in nearly every shot is McCavery, who keeps a camera handy at all times because, 'You never know who's going to drop in.'

A more modern great Irish links is Tralee Golf Club. Arnold Palmer designed it and said that he is proud of the outward nine but really didn't have much to do with the back nine because, 'God had already designed it.'

There are wonderful views of the Atlantic from every hole and its elevated location leaves it particularly exposed. A calm day here is even harder to come by than an Irishman who doesn't like a drink.

'Links golf tests temperament in a stringent manner because good shots can end up bad and bad shots can finish up good,' said David Power, the professional at Tralee. 'One doesn't always get what one deserves. Be patient, accept the challenges and regard it as part of the fun. That's what the Irish do.'

Power suggests the trick is 'to use the wind rather than fight it by playing punch shots with a choked-down grip and restricted follow-through. Play by feel, imagination and trajectory control. Remember, the best scrambler wins.'

And, more important, try and have as much fun as the Irish always do.

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Romo turns in even in PGA Tour debut

By Will GrayMarch 22, 2018, 3:00 pm

After stumbling out of the gates, Tony Romo has found his footing in his PGA Tour debut.

Playing in the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship on a sponsor exemption, Romo shot an even-par 36 for his opening nine holes in the Dominican Republic. The former NFL quarterback bogeyed his first two holes, but steadied the ship with three birdies from Nos. 4-8 while playing alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.

The early highlight of the round came at the par-4 fifth hole, where Romo drained a putt from across the green for his second straight birdie:

Romo has played as an amateur partner in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and has played individually in U.S. Open local qualifiers and mini-tour events as an amateur. But this marks his first attempt to gauge his game against the best players in the world who are not in Austin for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Romo, who plays to a plus-0.3 handicap, said earlier in the week that he expected some jitters once it came time to put a tee in the ground.

"You'll be nervous on Thursday on the first tee. Just going to be," Romo said. "I've got to get through the first three or four holes. If I can handle the nerves on the first three or four holes, I think that I'll settle in and hopefully just play the way I've been playing."

Click here to watch live first-round action on Golf Channel.

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Kim's missing clubs show up at sporting goods store

By Will GrayMarch 22, 2018, 1:58 pm

More than a month after they were lost on an American Airlines flight, the clubs I.K. Kim used to win last year's Ricoh Women's British Open turned up on the sale rack of a California sporting goods store.

Kim's clubs became lost in late January when she flew from Miami to San Diego, with the airline suggesting she simply rent a new set. A few weeks later, Kim shot a "What's in the bag" television segment which according to a Golfweek report caught the eye of three good samaritans in the San Diego area.

The three men recognized Kim's clubs for sale at a local Play It Again Sports, with the major winner's tools listed at $60 each. The store even had Kim's tour bag, complete with her LPGA player badge. Kim filmed the reunion with her bag - containing wedges and a few hybrids, minus the head covers - at the Carlsbad police station:

Kim was back in southern California this week for the Kia Classic, where she'll begin play Thursday morning at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad.

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New dad Garcia removes shoes, wins match

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:48 am

AUSTIN, Texas – In one of the day’s most explosive matches, Sergio Garcia rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to defeat Shubhankar Sharma, 1 up, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The duo halved just nine holes on Day 1 at Austin Country Club, with Garcia going from 2 up through four holes to 1 down with five holes to play.

But the Spaniard rallied with five birdies over his final eight holes and pushed his record to 20-17-1 in the Match Play. He also gave himself his best chance to advance out of pool play since the format began in 2015.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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The victory continued what has already been a memorable week for Garcia, whose wife, Angela, gave birth to the couple’s first child last Wednesday.

“I already feel like I’m a winner after what happened on Wednesday,” Garcia said. “Obviously, it's something that we're so, so happy and proud of and enjoying it as much as possible.”

The highlight of Garcia’s round on Wednesday came at the 12th hole when he took a drop on a cart path. After considering his options, he removed his shoes and hit his approach from 212 yards to 29 feet for a two-putt birdie to halve the hole.

“I have spikes. So if I don't take my shoes off, I'm going to slip. It's not the kind of shot that you want to slip,” Garcia said. “I had tried it a couple of times on practice swings and I was already slipping a little bit. So I thought I would just take my shoes off, try to get a little bit in front of the hole and it came out great.”