Tag Archives: Harry Colt

A Trip to Bountyful: Royal Dublin

“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?”

Royal Dublin's 18th

Royal Dublin’s “Garden” eighteenth is a tough row to hoe. (John Garrity)

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.

Christy O'Connor Sr. and American writers

“Himself” at Royal Dublin with captain Paul O’Grady (far left), Top 50 CEO John Garrity (far tallest) and a team of mostly American golf writers. (Photo courtesy of Rory Matthews.)

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.


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Wentworth Redesign Inflames Poulter

It went unnoticed last year, the precipitous Top 50 dive of the Wentworth Club’s West Course from No. 58 to No. 712. I had meant to comment on it, since Wentworth, just outside London, is the most storied non-links venue in European golf — headquarters of the PGA European Tour, site of the 1953 Ryder Cup, host to the World Match Play from 1964 to 2007, and longtime venue for the British PGA Championship. But one of my aides pointed out that criticism of Wentworth by an American, coming at a delicate stage in Anglo-American peace talks, might not be in the national interest. So I simply tweeted, “els redesign of wntwrth sucks, shld blowit up n strt ovr.”*

*I dictate my tweets in standard English.  My granddaughter converts them to Twitterese.

Yesterday, however, an Englishman known for his Union Jack trousers tore into Wentworth West with such abandon that I no longer see the need for reticence. “Bloody hell,” Ian Poulter almost said yesterday, after he double-bogeyed the tarted-up 18th hole for a second-round 74 at the aforementioned BMW PGA Championship. My GOLF Magazine colleague, Paul Mahoney, reports that Poulter “ranted” when asked what he found most challenging about the redesign by golf legend Ernie Els:

“The tees, the fairways, the rough, the greens, and those 20-foot-deep bunkers,” he ranted. “I don’t like this golf course, period. End of story.”

The new green at the par-5 18th hole, fronted by a mail-order brook, received the brunt of Poulter’s opprobrium. “We are trying to land it on a dining room table from 230 yards out,” he sputtered. “I’ve hit what I thought was a perfect third shot, maybe caught out a tiny bit by the wind, and it pitches by the green and finishes in the hazard. Marvelous!”

Asked if he was begging permission to play from the forward tees, the world’s 14th-ranked golfer reddened. He said, “I don’t have a problem with tough courses, but I’ve walked off the golf course and I’m headless, absolutely fuming.”

Tokyo Neon Image

Harry Colt considered, but rejected, a neon-distraction feature for Wentworth's 18th hole. (John Garrity)

Poulter is known to get emotional, so I checked the British papers to see what calmer heads had to say. The Telegraph, under the headline, “Ernie Els’ New 18th Hole at Wentworth Is a Ghastly Sell-out,” seems to take Poulter’s side. “Wentworth’s new 18th hole is a nasty piece of Americana,” barks the subhead. “It is a strip of blazing neon** jagging across the natural green and russets of the Surrey countryside.”

** I’m not speaking for the Top 50 here, but I LOVE neon and have long wondered why it hasn’t been put to better use by golf architects. The anti-climactic 18th at Cypress Point, for example, could use a little Times Square wattage to heighten its appeal.

Harry Colt’s double-par-5 finish, of course, was a Wentworth trademark, the encroaching woods creating enough risk to frighten contenders while allowing for go-for-broke approach shots and crowd-pleasing eagles. Running a faux burn through it was so outrageous that Ryder Cupper Paul Casey begged for a plan to protect classic British courses from predation. “Maybe we should introduce a scheme like we have with historic buildings in this country,” he said a year ago. “Ernie has a beautiful house by the 16th with the thatched roof and old plaster work. Now, he owns it, but that doesn’t give him the right to paint it pink and put a tin roof on it.”

The Telegraph’s Mark Reason, while conceding that much of Els’s work at Wentworth was needed and well-executed, struggled to explain the Trumpian excesses.

The simple answer appears to be that the owner [Richard Caring] saw a bit of eau un-naturel on telly and decided that he wanted some too …. The result is something that looks flash, but is golfing nonsense. A perfectly good par five has been turned into a bash, a lay-up and a pitch across water. It might as well be a par three. They spent half a million quid on an aquatic folly – there goes the winner, not waving, but drowning.

Els, understandably defensive, faulted the tournament staff for some “crazy” second-round pin positions. That aside, he dismissed his critics as a bunch of hacks who couldn’t break par while he was shooting 68. “This is a real golf course now,” Els proclaimed. “Forget about going 24-under-par any more. It ain’t happening.”

Sorry to hear that, Ernie, because Wentworth just dropped another twenty rungs to No. 732.

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