Stepping on to the first tee prepares you for a treat. Ahead is a softly rising wide fairway with undulating curves, bordered by gorse, or furze bushes as the Irish called them, and mature trees on the skyline. It appears to be a straightforward uphill punt. So when it reveals bunkers in hollows and unexpected curves suddenly players wake up to the realisation this is Ron Kirby’s favourite course maybe the cleverest of all those he designed and to play well you need to pay attention.
This is a course on which a newcomer to golf or a pro can play with satisfaction. It is a parkland course planted with Festue, the coarse grass commonly found on sand dunes and abundant on links courses. All the tees are planted with Festue shaved into uniformity; square and enviably flat. The grass on the greens is similarly a special salt resistant grass with a fine texture.
Like a card trick conjuror, the course has its own sleight of hand, presenting unexpected surprises as the fairways and greens have been sculpted into specific shapes. Each hole has its own character, some are extreme and even those that come into a straightforward ‘play me as you see me’ category reveal surprises.
The 7th hole is the first question; a 360 dogleg with disarming undulations and strategically placed bunkers. It is the 11 th which asks most strategic questions of how to play it. It begins like a big dipper with a series of deep dips in the fairway, then it swings left. The fairway continues into a series of bunkers alongside gorse bushes hiding the beginning of the green which is further left. The business end of the green is protected by gorse and the only entry is narrow. I tried wedging over the gorse and failed dismally. The 14th is a straight entry par 3 with an undulating green defended by about 7 bunkers. You either make the distance or you don’t and if you do even then you may slide back into a bunker. Mounds, curves, undulations and inverted greens make Castlemartyr enticing.