As much as it breaks any true golfing Scotsman's heart to admit that there are other places outside the Home of Golf in which to play this great game, Steve Fenton discovers the truly magnificent Druids Glen in Eire.
The course nestles between the Wicklow Mountains and the Irish Sea, 20 miles south of Dublin, and is not only a golfers paradise but has plenty on offer for the non-golfer as well. ScottishGolf readers can get a special reduced rate at the Marriott Druids Hotel and Country Club of £60 per person sharing midweek, including breakfast (Sunday-Thursday) or £68 Friday and Saturday. Just quote 'ScottishGolf' when making your reservation. Residents of the hotel receive discounted green fees for the Druids Glen course.
The famous Druids Glen Golf Club hosted the Murphy's Irish Open from 1996-1999 as well as the Seve Ballesteros trophy in 2002. A second cracking course, Druids Heath, is waiting to open its doors in September 2003.
I was not invited by Stena Line to sample the delights of Marriott Druids Hotel and Country Club because I am an avid journalist, nor world-renowned golf reporter. ScottishGolf's truly world-renowned reporter, Martin Vousden, was just back from his latest 'jolly' to Cyprus, so I took his place as he was still trying to sort out his suspect putting stroke (you're fired, Ed). Also, the weekend was not just about a couple of days playing golf but also to experience non-golfing activities available to the rest of the family.
Any parent of two young children will confirm that going anywhere is a major project requiring organisation, planning, patience and preferably a juggernaut truck. The thought of flying into Dublin from Edinburgh seemed at first appealing but the notion of lugging prams, cases, golf clubs and children did not. Consequently we opted to travel with the high-speed service (HSS) Stena Line sailing from Stranraer to Belfast and then onto Druids by car.
Unfortunately, the road to Stranraer was not so good - especially when we got stuck behind a dawdling red Fiesta. We eventually sped into Stranraer at 14:46, only to see the HSS sailing away. However, the Stena Caledonian was due to leave at 15:30 but would take 3.5 hours compared to 1.5 hours. It was a smooth crossing and the Stena staff were all helpful and friendly. The drive from Belfast to Dublin was also longer than we anticipated; there is a lot of work being done on the A1 (Northern Ireland) and the N1/M1 (Eire). It is a 104-mile drive but the roadworks meant that it took nearly three hours.
Next morning I rose early to play golf with the general manager of the hotel while the family slept. As I sat in Druids Restaurant tucking into a luscious cooked breakfast, I was overwhelmed by the genuine welcome I received from all the staff. I was looking forward to getting onto the course that I have read about and seen on TV so often - although a bit apprehensive about playing such a tough course, given I hadn't played much this season and was disappointed to say the least with the games I had played.
I met Barend-Jan Schreuder, aka BJ, (sorry BJ but someone needs to say that this is not necessarily the best acronym with which to be saddled) who has been the general manager of Druids Glen Marriott Hotel & Country Club since January. As the name would suggest, BJ is not a true Irishman and is, in fact, Dutch. Either the Irish sense of humour has quickly rubbed off on him or he is just a 'happy to be alive' type of guy. A really enthusiastically proud gentleman who was easy to get along with.
The first hole is a 427-yard par four (white tees) that meanders down the hill with traps right and tall pine and oaks imposing down the left. The ideal tee shot would be middle left of the fairway leaving a long to middle iron to the slightly raised green. A nice start as it's not too daunting. Holes two and three are par three and dogleg par four respectively and again there is nothing too intimidating as long as you keep it pretty straight.
The dew had now started to lift, revealing pretty slick greens. BJ started to show his true colours by making par on 5, 6 and 7 before we come to the magnificent par three eighth. This is a beauty of a par three of the Augusta ilk, with water from tee to green which slopes back towards the aqua. Suffice to say that BJ's run of pars continued, as did my run of bogies.
The ninth, a short par four, snakes up a slight incline to a green protected by two bunkers, I managed to get home with a short iron only to have my hopes sunk by a lob wedge neatly executed by BJ, which hit the stick and spun out of the cup to four feet. But I was no longer in the mood to give any puts and consequently BJ missed for par so we halved.
Like any great course the attention to small detail is key - bunkers were filled with beautiful white sand, the emerald greens were clearly defined from the fringes as were the fairways from the first cut of semi-rough, there were flowers all round the course just about to burst into bloom when the place will light up colour.
It really is like Augusta, although there are other touches that could well have been imported from famous Scottish courses, such as the broom from Carnoustie links, the pine trees of Gleneagles, Loch Lomond water hazards and greens from Blairgowrie Rosemount.
After 11 holes I am still two down as we approached the feature hole of the course. A par three with the elevated tea characterised by the Druid's cross, made out of flowers below. This hole certainly would not be out of place at Augusta National. There is a carry of 145 yards over water with the middle of the green a further 35 yards on. The green looks so inviting that some anxiety is caused by really wanting to hit a good one into the heart of the green
Onto the 13th, at 461 yards, a sharp dogleg right par four. A burn runs down the right with water and trouble waiting through the fairway for the big hitters. This is another classic hole, asking for a fade off the tee with a lengthy second over a large expanse of water to a green protected short and left by the lake and right by some trees. Not for the faint hearted. After numerous splashes BJ and I decided to halve, but what a hole.
Fourteen will stand out in the memory as it is one of the few obvious birdie holes on the course. There is a carry over water (which really should not come into play), and a decent drive should only leave a wedge into the green. The hole offers a welcome respite after playing 12 and 13.
We halved 15, which is another good hole with water in play off the tee but short left of the green. The 16th should, perhaps, be a birdie opportunity as a par five of only 481 yards. Well, that was the theory. The Stroke Saver suggested the greenside bunker was 199 yards to the front, so a good strike should see me safely on the fairway to leave a mid iron to the green. Unfortunately, this particular sandtrap is more than 30 yards long, I caught the end of the trap and hooked by recovery into gorse, so that was game over, three and two. As a guest, of course, I thought it would have been impolite to beat my host.
But the real winner on this course, possibly the hardest hole, was yet to come. The 17th, which is similar to the famous 17th at Sawgrass is a 178-yard par three played to an island green protected by a bunker running round the front - as if the water wasn't enough. Basically you need to hit the green or you are in trouble. There is a drop zone at 140 yards that leaves what is still not an easy shot. If you're not on your game you could have an expensive day here and only the best or most foolhardy would pull out a new ball on this tee.
The eighteenth (pictured above) is a nice finishing hole running up the hill to the majestic clubhouse (pictured over) in the distance. A stream trickles down the hill gathering into a small lake just short of the green. The burn steps down the hill with little waterfalls, making this hole not only look but also sound tranquil. The hole measures 422 yards from white tees and 450 from blue. It is beautiful, challenging and a fitting way to conclude a great golf course.
My wife Jane and daughter Gina had spent most of the morning in the 18-metre lap pool, while son Adam had a nap. For those who are wise enough to leave their kids at home, there is plenty to do while the other half is on the course. Swimming pool aside, he pool there is spa and sauna, plunge pool, whirlpool, fitness suite massage and beauty treatment or you can just lie by the pool and relax.
After lunch we decided to take a quick tour of the new Druids Heath course due to open in September. It is situated on the doorstep of the hotel. I was surprised to see the sea was in view from here; it is only two miles away but not visible from the Glen course, although will be from the new Heath course. In the distance the Stena Line ferry making its way from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead can be seen and our friends from south of the border have a much easier trip by ferry from Holyhead or Liverpool to Dun Laoghaire, Druids is only about 10 miles from there.
The Druids Heath course is now very like a traditional links. The course is going to measure 7,200 yards from back tees with an emphasis on accuracy as well as length.
The hotel has two restaurants; Druids serves traditional breakfast and home Irish cooking while the Flynn's Steakhouse - as the name suggests - serves succulent steaks, chicken or fish. There is also ample selection of vegetarian dishes available for those who choose to deprive themselves, and a wonderful selection of starters and puddings. There was a traditional Irish folk band playing in the Thirteenth bar - which incidentally overlooks the 13th tee shot and 12th green of the Druid's Glen course. The bar tenders were unbelievable helpful and happy and as the hotel offers a baby-sitting service, parents can enjoy their hospitality (almost) to the full.
On our return journey we managed to catch the HSS, which has plenty of activities for kids, with restaurants, a child's cinema, video games and of course watching Ireland disappear over the horizon from the stern of the ship. As we say in Scotland, 'Haste ye back'.
How to get there:
Stena Line Holidays offer a 3 night Golfing break to Druid's Glen.
* Travel by car and ferry from £401 per person.
* Travel by air from £408 per person.
* Ferry - Stena Line: Stranraer - Belfast or Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire
Druids Glen Marriott Hotel & Country Club is rated 5 stars
148 bedrooms on three floors
Two restaurants and one bar
Leisure Suite, which includes pool, sauna, fitness suite and sauna
Click here to visit Druids Glen website
Druids Glen home of Irish Open 1996-1999
Host to Seve Ballesteros trophy 2002
7, 000 yards
Discount to hotel residents (60 euros)
Druids Heath scheduled to open September 2003
7, 200 yards
20 Bay driving range and golf academy scheduled to open September 2003.
Our thanks to Stena Line and Marriott Druids Hotel
|| 2 - MAY 2003