After promising myself I would do this kind of stuff all the time, and making exactly one golf trip since moving abroad almost two years ago, I jumped a flight from Amsterdam to Dublin for a weekend ball striking extravaganza at some of the best courses the east coast of Ireland has to offer. My buddy Barry O’Hanrahan from the A Good Talk Spoiled Podcast picked me up at the airport, and we drove directly to The Island Golf Club. What followed was 48 hours of wind, rain, sun, links, parkland, classic, and new golf that exceeded my already high expectations.
Thanks to the crowdsourcing, and Barry’s local knowledge, we ended up on four of the top 23 courses in the entire country, and we never even left the greater Dublin area. In this four part series you will find a breakdown of each of the four courses we played, with some pictures sprinkled in at the end of each post. Spoiler alert: I loved all four of them, and the reviews are glowing.
The Island Golf Club
I mentioned late on the podcast last week that I was going to making a quick trip to Dublin for some golf, and opened it up to suggestions from listeners on where to play. The feedback was tremendous, and I sincerely thank anyone that had a hand in helping us have such a great experience. One of these gentlemen was Chris McCourt, who mentioned that we were welcome to join him at The Island Golf Club on Friday afternoon. Admittedly, my knowledge of Irish golf and history is limited, so I defaulted to Barry for his thoughts. He lit up like a Christmas tree with excitement, and I soon found out why.
“In September 1887 four men rowed across the channel which separates the North Dublin village of Malahide from the spur of land to the north known locally as the Island. Their mission was to survey the wilderness and assess its suitably as a golf links.”
Up until 1973, this classic course was only accessible by boat. Now there is a long and narrow winding road that brings you to the property. The land sits on an exposed inlet (you can play around on Google Maps here), and the wind starts hitting you before you hit the car park. The rain clouds were letting loose, and less than two hours since my plane touched down, I was already getting my true links experience. We chatted with the professional in the golf shop, sat down in the clubhouse for a pint and some lunch, and explored the hallways to get a feel for the history of this place, founded in 1890. The Island Golf Club is one of those courses that you can take just one look at, and know that you are in for a special day.
I’ve played a decent amount of links golf (St. Andrews area courses, Bandon Dunes, etc.), but it takes years of experience on these types of courses to truly learn how to play them. All of your instincts change completely on pretty much every style of shot. I can’t think of one 420+ yard par-4 I’ve played in the U.S. that makes me want to reach for a 3-iron off the tee, but on a course like the Island, you are likely better off playing with your eyes rather than the yardage on the card.
Most holes are framed by aesthetically pleasing dunes that provide you with what seems like a tunnel to flight the ball through. However, the deep heather that inhabits the slopes of these dunes prevents balls from buoying back towards the fairway, which usually means that the head cover stays on the driver. Most courses I’ve played in the past that “force” you to hit a lot of irons off the tee feel gimmicky and Mickey Mouse, and often bore me to death, but this style of challenge was the exact opposite of that. A well struck iron that finds the seaside terrain of the fairway gets plenty of run out, despite the rain that fell on us for most of the front nine.
My golf impulses make me want want to get as close to the green as possible off the tee, as I’m usually most successful hitting wedges into greens, even if they aren’t from the fairway, than I am hitting 7-irons from the middle of the fairway. It takes a truly unique and special golf course to make that instinct go away just by looking at a golf hole from the tee. This is the kind of impact that links golf, and in particular the test that The Island gives you, that makes this style of golf so enthralling. When the greens are firm, protected by slopes, and the flag is bending over like a wacky waving inflatable tube man, a wedge from 100 yards is anything but a green light special. In almost no scenario are you better off throwing the ball way up in the air, so hitting a flighted 6-iron from further back in the fairway into a green where you need to land it in front to hold the green is often a more visually appealing shot than trying to nip a lob wedge off of firm turf, risking it ballooning into the wind if you do happen to catch it flush, and still not being able to control the run out. Factor in the bunkers that you have to avoid at all costs, the pin locations, the wind direction, and you have the world’s most fun rubik’s cube.
In summary, the Island Golf Club is a great challenge that tests your talent, spirit, brain, and internal will power to commit to a shot, and execute it. It is all you could ask for in a links experience.
Of course, my ego got in the way on more than one occasion, and I reached for driver more often than I should have, and paid the price for it. A common occurrence was me finally reaching the green, looking back down the fairway, and thinking to myself how differently I would have played the hole based on the knowledge I had gained in the last fifteen minutes. I barely even play golf anymore, so it was not surprising that the 88 I posted (3 handicap) was my worst score in I don’t know how many years, and I grinded my whole way through.
Admittedly, I’m a mental midget when it comes to playing in the rain. This is of course part of the experience playing golf in Ireland, and in particular, links golf. The Irish are a lot more tough than I am, and much more familiar with these conditions. I was at least relieved to hear them say that the rain that we played in was a strong shower, and was not upset at all when we decided to wait out a particularly strong part of the shower while waiting on the 5th tee box following my four putt from 15 feet on the previous hole (seriously, mental midget). The course was challenging enough in itself, but adding in the conditions, and the challenge of trying to keep at least some part of my body dry so that I could hold on to the club.
As would be custom for the whole weekend, a Guinness pint in the clubhouse was a necessity as we cheers’d to a memorable day on a historic track. If you can’t tell by now, I give The Island Golf Club my a very strong recommendation, and I would love another chance at it in the future. Thanks a ton for having us out, and thanks again to Chris McCourt for the invite. It is a day I will not soon forget.
Here are some more pictures from the day:
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) June 24, 2016
I will follow up shortly with details from Killeen Castle.