Why play Killarney?
Killarney offers a high end experience of golf. It is unashamedly elegant and beautifully maintained. It advertises itself as Killarney Golf & Fishing Club the most prestigious golf course in Killarney. The Irish Open was held there in 1991 and 2 and again in 2010 and 2013. The club hosted the Curtis Cup in 1996. This suggests it can only be a quality experience. Kevin Markham rates it highly and there is nothing quaint, quirky or unusual apart from excellence- or so the course claims.
I had not intended to play Killarney but on my last day in Kerry, driving past its impressive gates, I peeked in and immediately wanted to experience playing alongside Lough Leane under the MacGillycuddy mountains.
I called at short notice and was amazed that thanks to an efficient receptionist in less than an hour, Lucy and I were driving down the hill to an imposing club house. It has a solid traditional feel with a large reception area, pros shop and comfortable changing rooms downstairs. The bar and lounges upstairs provide a panoramic view of the course, the lake and the infamous 18th fairway and green
Killarney golf club was founded in 1893 under the patronage of the Earl of Kenmare who became its first President. The first course was developed on land given by the Earl, there were forty members who paid an annual subscription of 10 shillings.
In 1936 the Earl’s land agent increased the rent for the course from a nominal 5p to £75 a year. Horrified the club decided to move. The President, Viscount Castlerose, declared they would build in Killarney “the best and most beautiful course in the World”. They moved to Lough Leane and the old course was destined to become a shopping centre where Tesco’s and Marks and Spencer trade.
The Killeen Course
There are three courses at Killarney, Mahoney Point, Lacabane and the championship course, Killeen It is obvious from the moment you step onto the Killeeen course that it is scaled big, as massive decorative flower beds make it clear that it was used relatively recently for major competitions. It is in a gorgeous setting; surrounded by the lake, the mountains under the limitless dome of sky. It was a rare day as the sun shone and thus it was specially beautiful.
The tees are large platforms. The fairways are typically wide enough to land a twin engine aircraft. The greens are wonderfully challenging both with undulations and their positioning; for instance the 10th is almost surrounded by water.
The first hole runs beside the lake. and for me as a woman, it was easy with a couple of strategic drives of nearly my maximum length to get me onto the edge of the green. A man would be far more challenged by the curved sweep of that first hole. The second, third and fourth holes continued by the water and the greens were attractively placed. It was at the fourth that the bigness became more obvious and shaped my game thereafter.
I played the first three holes watched by James Bray, the course starter and Lucy who was welcome on the course on a lead. We caught up with Colin and Jane McGifford who were already on the 3rd hole. And I played on with them from the fourth.
The difference between men and women playing Killeen was highlighted by observing Colin, Jane and my own game The United States Golf Association says that the average golfer drives the ball 192 yards, but THINKS that he drives it 230. The average female hits 135, senior men, 180.
Only 1 in 50 routinely hits drives of 250 or longer. Colin playing off 8 did. We watched him tee off before walking the 100 yards or so to the ladies tees, gradually realising that the long distances in between our tees made for a less social game. He seemed to be forever catching us up or waiting for our dinky dink play to match his first ball.
I found the challenge to enjoy myself lay in mastering the long holes which seemed to cluster together. There are eight holes over 299 yards and five of those holes were over 350. Thus my real pleasure lay in strategic shots well placed rather than simply powering on and hoping for elusive and unlikely distance.
The course is beautiful with trees and streams and attractive little copses. It is up and down quite gradual slopes with a delightful café on the top of the 14th green. It provided a welcome break before playing the last few holes to finally stand on the elevated 18th tee overlooking a cunningly trap filled fairway with water along the left side and bunkers to the right. I intended to travel well right and avoid the water. Several people leaning over the balcony saw that only Colin played it well, Jane found the water and I the bunker.
Colin McGifford was Captain of the Marriott Beardsall Priory Golf Club in 2012. They had played the Mahoney Point course the day before. Over a velvety smooth Guinness watching others tortured by that 18th hole, they compared their experience of the two, choosing Mahoney as more fun to play. They said it was shorter and more amusing. They particularly commented on their greater pleasure as a couple not being separated by the huge gaps between tees. Colin said Killeen was straightforward to play.
Colin has a printing business and they travel to Ireland to play good courses. They have been playing for many years and noted the changes which have happened in their clubs and others. They commented on the changes in the relationships between men and women members. In their own club they have achieved full integration but in nearby clubs such as Hollinwell there is an adamant refusal to integrate. The same story of balcony ladies being banned is told of that club as I was told about Cork. So may be it never happened anywhere but was a great story created by a talented wit.
Colin wondered how money has changed golf. 40 years ago golf was played by the rich and powerful and the doors to clubs discriminated against groups of people. Now it is accessible to almost anyone and he referred to a growing number of ‘carboot’ golfers who drive to the club, play and leave instead of the old habit of socialising. Jane referred to the increasing number of senior members and that younger men and women seemed to more attracted by sports that take less time and commitment to master and play at a relatively satisfying standard.
Looking around in the club house, there were more older than younger people. There also appeared to be more ‘golf tourists’ like us enjoying the facilities. There appeared to be a committee holding a meeting in the middle of the room.