“What have you been smoking?” asks a reader from St. Andrews, N.M. “You had Royal Dublin ranked in the mid-80s, and then, like overnight, it’s No. 48. What happened? Did they open a Baskin-Robbins in the halfway house?”
Actually, Ireland’s second-oldest golf course has continued to move up. Royal Dublin currently resides at No. 36, and it could climb even higher if that Baskin-Robbins rumor checks out. (Instead of cheese peanut butter crackers at the turn, you could have Fudge Fescue on a sugar cone!) On the other hand, it could stall out and drop back into the 40s. The Top 50 is known for its volatility, especially during the summer months, when courses can improve or degrade significantly between supper and sundown.
Even so, I’m at a loss to explain Royal Dublin’s dramatic surge. I played there a couple of weeks ago, and I found the venerable links to be pretty much the same as it was seven years ago, when Martin Hawtree put the finishing touches on a tasteful modernization of H.S. Colt’s original out-and-back routing. The course, if you haven’t had the pleasure of playing it, is situated on an island in Dublin Bay, not far from fabled and 51st-ranked Portmarnock Golf Club, site of the 1991 Walker Cup.* Royal Dublin, like Portmarnock, is a classic links with firm, flat fairways and great plots of tall, golden, fescue rough.
*The island itself is the work of William Bligh, the notorious “Captain Bligh” of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. In an effort to make Dublin Bay safer for 19th-century vessels, Bligh commissioned a two-mile-long sea wall. Over time, sand piled up against the breakwater and spread, creating North Bull Island.
Royal Dublin is a members’ club, but the links is available for public play, in the Irish manner. You can pay as little as $75 (summer twilight or early-weekday-morning rate) or as much as $120 (standard 18-hole rate), or you can play for free as a world-renowned course ranker (my gambit). I emphasize the daily-fee aspect because American golfers, seeing the “Royal” imprimatur, assume that Queen Victoria herself stands at the clubhouse entrance, sorting the aristocratic wheat from the trolley-pulling chaff.
This is not the case. Royal Dublin’s golfers are as hospitable as any in Ireland, and if you’re lucky the loquacious gent buying you a drink might be “Himself” — the club’s resident legend, World Golf Hall of Famer, ten-time Ryder Cupper, ten-time Irish professional champion and former head pro, Christy O’Connor Sr.
I was lucky. (See photo, right.)
Returning to the ratings question, I did tack on a point or two for Royal Dublin’s memorable eighteenth hole. Called “Garden” for the adjoining practice range, which plays as O.B., No. 18 is a 480-yard right-angle dogleg right that can be played as a two- or three-shotter; but going for the glory requires a long-iron or fairway-wood approach over a winding burn and a sea of unplayable fescue, usually against a battering wind. I consider it one of the great finishing holes in golf, and I’m sure I’m joined in that opinion by many former winners of the Irish Open at Royal Dublin.
So, doing the math, Royal Dublin picks up — or loses, depending upon how you use the Cal Sci algorithm — roughly .17 points for it’s finishing hole; another .17 points for serendipity (I had the best driving round of my life); .02 points for the post-round showers and big, fluffy towels; .04 points for the Irish-barbecue buffet in the upstairs dining room; and a full two points for O’Connor Sr., who hailed my drive off the first tee with a hearty, “Now there’s a nice bit of rhythm!”* That lifts Royal Dublin to 11.51 on the concentric Perfect-10 scale, just ahead of Michael Bamberger’s Philadelphia Cricket Club Flourtown course.
*I took O’Connor’s remark to be an uncompensated endorsement of Tour Tempo: Golf’s Last Secret Finally Revealed, by John Novosel and John Garrity — hereinafter referred to as “Myself.”
Gold Medal Ribbon, meanwhile, retains the top spot in the Baskin-Robbins Top-31.
Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the PGA Championship returns to 51st-ranked Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. One of my favorite parkland courses, Oak Hill has been ranked as high as No. 17, but the presence of so many trees has cost it points over time.