Tag Archives: Royal Dublin

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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Irish Links Reaches No. 1 with Opening of New Kilmore Nine

For as long as there has been a Top 50 Blog — literally years — Scotland’s Askernish Old has held the No. 1 position. Laid out in 1891 by Old Tom Morris but abandoned by later generations, Askernish vaulted to the top spot upon its Brigadoon-like reappearance on a spring day in 1991. The Hebridean masterpiece maintained its No. 1 ranking despite subsequent vanishings, and in recent years its 18 dramatic holes have been rediscovered and even played by scores of diehard links aficionados.

Kilmore No. 1

The first hole on Carne’s new Kilmore nine provides a taste of the thrills to follow. (Larry Lambrecht)

Meanwhile, the No. 2 spot has been held just as assiduously by Ireland’s Carne Golf Links, an Eddie Hackett-designed gem on Mayo’s Atlantic coast. Carne’s second-place ranking has long been a puzzle to links lovers, or at least to those who remember that I proclaimed it “the world’s greatest golf course” in a 2003 Sports Illustrated feature. “You must be confused,” wrote a persistent nitpicker with GolfClubAtlas stickers on his steamer trunk — as if confusion were a disqualifying attribute for a course critic.

But now the thinkable has happened. After weeks of stealthy advancement — unnoticed until recently by the wool-gathering analysts at Top 50 headquarters — the Irish course was one good mowing and a couple of tweaks of the Top 50 algorithm from nirvana. This morning, at 9:42 Central Daylight Time, Carne caught Askernish at 10.15/9.85 points on the concentric Perfect-10 scale. For the first time in Top 50 history, two courses share the top ranking.

I, for one, was not caught by surprise. Carne’s rise can be explained by the recent opening of its new Kilmore 9, a spectacular side of golf winding through the Mullet Peninsula’s most breathtaking dunes. Designed tag-team style by American Jim Engh (Sanctuary, The Club at Black Rock, Tullymore GC) and Dublin-based architect Ally McIntosh, the Kilmore 9 was a decade in the making. I monitored its progress from Day 1, and last Tuesday I returned to the Mullet to bang out the ceremonial first drive on behalf of a contingent of American and British golf writers.

Carne’s new holes were worth the wait. Anchored by three dramatic par-3s and a split-fairway par 5 that invites an heroic approach over a gargantuan dune, the Kilmore 9 echoes the grandeur of Hackett’s back nine without copying any of his holes. In fact, I’d argue that no course in the world offers 18 holes of more distinctive character than Carne’s composite links. Kilmore’s par-3 second, for example, starts high on a bank and winds up far below on the lee side of a massive blowout dune, which McIntosh has cleverly tied into a playable bunker.

But that hole is a mini-wow when compared to the WOW of the par-3 seventh, which launches from a sky-scraping dune-top to another dune, 228 yards away, with a wrap-around view of the Atlantic and western Ireland as an unnecessary distraction. “That’s terrifying,” one of my playing partners said at the opening. I thought he was referring to the dizzying drop from the tee to the fifth fairway, until I looked up and saw that he was staring at the distant flag, flapping in a two-club wind.

I realize, of course, that some course-rating systems place greater emphasis on smooth greens. Carne’s new greens won’t be tournament-ready for a few years, and I say, “So what? I can wait.” Neither am I swayed by the $150 million in frills and environmental abuse that Donald Trump lavished upon his Trump International Golf Links in Scotland. Carne’s Kilmore 9 cost €202,000 from start to finish — or roughly what The Donald spent on cocktail shrimp for his grand opening. To which I say: “Sorry, Donald. You can’t crack the Top 50 on the strength of cocktail shrimp.”*

*If you’re talking cash, I might listen.

Anyway, I thought I’d better get this news out before Golf.com finishes its rollout of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Courses in the World.”  There might still be time to dump Pine Valley Golf Club from the No. 1 spot and give Askernish and Carne their rightful position in golf’s ever-changing firmament.

Christy O'Connor Sr. plaque

Writers Conor Nagle, John Garrity and John Strawn interrupt their round to visit the Christy O’Connor Sr. plaque at Royal Dublin. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Inbee Park goes for the “grand slam” of LPGA majors on the 16th-ranked Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. Meanwhile, they’re still dancing on Grafton Street in the wake of Ireland’s narrow victory over a crackerjack team of mostly-American golf writers in the biennial Writers Cup at 36th-ranked Royal Dublin Golf Club.

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