Ireland’s Ancient East: Golf attractions alongside stunning beauty of Kildare
Early in November, we sent Planet Sport contracts manager Andrew Swires to Ireland to report back on some golf and attractions in Kildare.
Ireland has a rich mix of tourist attractions across its varied and beautiful terrain. Golf is a key part of it, but in addition to golf there is so much more to enjoy.
Following a short flight to Dublin, two colleagues from the media and I were fortunate enough to spend three days in Kildare sampling a few of the riches on offer. Our focus was golf, but over the three days we took in so much more and sampled some of Ireland’s finest hospitality…
Day 1 – Palmerston North House
Set in the grounds of Palmerston House, a spectacular stately home, this course (Slope 139, 7,508 yards, Par 72) has been carved out of a landscape of trees and water. Some natural water features and others created.
It’s a case of, as Coleridge said “water, water everywhere”, with fifteen of the eighteen holes having water in play. Water to be cleared in front of greens, streams and lakes cutting into fairways to catch slightly misdirected shots.
It provides a challenging test with a generous collection of bunkers stiffening the golfer’s examination. But if you can avoid the water, you will be thrilled by the putting surfaces. Despite weeks of heavy rain, the greens were immaculate, fast, and true.
Their signature hole has to be the 179 yards, par 3, 10th which mirrors the island green at Sawgrass. Anything short, long, left, or right of the green will be wet. Pleased to report my hybrid managed to sneak onto the green setting up a disappointing three-put bogey.
With our first eighteen negotiated we set off for Newbridge a busy town boasting one of Ireland’s premier retail experiences the Whitewater Shopping Centre for a night at the Keadeen Hotel. The oldest family-run hotel (over fifty years in the same family ownership) in Kildare did not disappoint, providing a great place to recharge after an early start, a flight, and a challenging day on the course. We received a warm welcome and enjoyed, spacious comfortable rooms, superb leisure facilities and an excellent dinner.
Day 2 – Horses and a Royal History
In addition to its twenty-two golf courses, Kildare is at the heart of Irish horse racing. So, for any golfer who, like me, has a passion for the “Sport of Kings”, a trip to Kildare ticks both boxes.
The Curragh, Ireland’s Newmarket equivalent had finished their flat season, but a visit to Irish National Stud and Gardens more than made up for that.
Founded in 1900 by Colonel William Hall Walker, who later founded the National Stud in Newmarket, the site extends over eight hundred acres of paddocks, stables, and gardens. Invincible Spirit heads the cast of six thoroughbred stallions to whom Irish owners, send mares in their hundreds.
The tour which can be guided or self-navigated is fascinating, covering the full cycle of the breeding season, an opportunity to see a paddock of racing legends (Hurricane Fly was my favourite) enjoying their retirement with a twist at the end as the visitor can test their skills and knowledge via the “Irish Racehorse Experience” the site’s interactive breeding and racing game.
There is more than horses involved when choosing a visit to the Irish National Stud, the Japanese Gardens, designed by horticulturist Tassa Eida, feature trees, plants, flowers, water, and rocks in a stunning interpretation of the passage of life.
I think it’s very fair to say a family ticket (two adults and up to four children) at Euro 32.50 for all of this represents excellent value.
Leaving the beauty of the gardens, our next stop was at the Royal Curragh Golf Club. Here we met the club’s historian William Gibson who provided us with an overview of how the “Royal” prefix was confirmed by George V in 1910 making it only the second in Ireland and a member of an elite sixty-six clubs world-wide holding the royal prefix. A status removed in 1981 but reinstated following a very popular visit by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013 which cemented a new bond between Britain and Ireland. William also confirmed following his research efforts that the Club could rightly be called the oldest golf club in Ireland dating back to 1852.
The course (Slope 127, 6,587 yards, Par 72) developed under the supervision of the Earl of Eglington and designed by John Gourlay (a golf ball maker) is steeped in history.
Originally founded by and over time refined by the military who now have training facilities close by the course offers a series of reminders of its military influence and history. Training trenches for soldiers heading off to the First World War, boundaries of the internment areas used for captured troops in the Second World War are to be seen close to the fairways on a number of holes.
“Donnelley’s Hollow” a natural amphitheatre and the scene of a famous boxing match in 1815 between the Irish Champion Daniel Donnelley and the English Champion George Cooper, borders the course and adds to the charm.
The course changes direction and terrain throughout the eighteen holes meandering through natural valleys and basins of heathland and parkland. It’s a demanding test that requires the golfer to plot and think their way around a series of holes which require decision making “Do I go for it or lay-up and find another way to make my par”.
Sited on perfect grazing land, the course is surrounded by and sometimes visited by locally farmed sheep adding more colour to what is a beautiful place to play the game. The history and the Royal tag make it one of those courses the golfer is drawn to, as it holds a special place in the history of the sport.
Day 3 – The K Club
Home of the 2006 Ryder Cup and the venue for the 2023 Irish Open the K Club provided a memorable end to our brief stay in Kildare. This venue takes golf luxury to the highest level.
The K Club is understandably immensely proud to have hosted the Ryder Cup and throughout our short stay we were frequently reminded of those three great days. On entering the hotel, one was left in no doubt of the importance of that event to the Country, the County, and the Club.
The courses, there are two to choose from North and South, match the quality of the hotel which boasts pristine rooms with all the extras you would hope for in five star accommodation, great restaurants (we dined on quality beef, washed down with Guinness in the Palmer Restaurant) set in beautiful scenery.
So, despite waking up to some inclement weather which ruled out the golf buggies the prospect of playing the Palmer North Course (the Ryder Cup course – Slope 140, 7,413 yards, Par 72) was spine-tingling.
For the handicap golfer this was a very tough challenge. Long holes, lined with bunkers and intermittent water require both length from the tee and precision approaches. Only occasionally does the 16-handicap player harness both to shoot a good score on courses of this stature.
But a round here is as much about the majesty of the venue as the shots played. It is quite simply a magnificent golf course. Set in natural valleys with the river Liffey making an appearance (and collecting balls) or two throughout the eighteen holes it is a stunning Arnold Palmer-designed layout that makes the absolute best use of the natural features the landscape provides.
If your game is not tuned in, walking this course will compensate for the disappointment of river-bound balls, wide approaches and missed putts. Trees, plants, flowers immaculately maintained and manicured provide a premium scenic walk.
Revisiting the horse racing connection central to this visit to Kildare, one of Ireland’s finest horses, Vintage Crop winner of the 1993 Melbourne Cup and owned by former K Club owner Michael Smurfit has his grave and commemorative statue en route to 15th tee.
Visiting and even better playing at the K Club in my opinion the best and certainly the most scenic of our Ryder Cup venues provided a wonderful end to our short stay in Ireland. The place combines luxury, you might say opulence, beauty, and a now great sporting history. It is probably a must visit for those with a love of golf’s iconic venues.
Allied to the splendour of the venue, the association with Arnold Palmer one of the all-time greats playing golf and then designing golf courses will ensure the K Club enjoys a lasting place in golf history.
With our round at the K Club complete and bags packed for the flight from Dublin, we had time to reflect on our experience of Kildare.
Close to Dublin with easy transport links to so many interesting locations, it’s a great venue for a family and particularly a golf-loving family holiday. As a destination for golf trips, its heathland and parkland layouts complement the coastal courses Ireland also offers.
Kildare celebrates all that Ireland is renowned for, great scenery, great sport, great hospitality to suit all budgets and of course the “Black Stuff” which should only be taken on Irish soil. Following this short trip, I would like to return (most likely in the Summer) to revisit Kildare with the sun shining.
Anyone considering a visit to Ireland be that to Kildare or elsewhere to play golf and enjoy its attractions and hospitality should have a look at www.ireland.com/golf.
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