Friday morning, we woke up at the Rosapenna Golf Resort in County Donegal and the golfers had a short walk to their golf pavilion. We were playing the Sandy Hills course which was designed by Pat Ruddy. The resort also boasts a course laid out by Old Tom Morris but it was booked for a Golfing Union of Ireland competition.
The weather was fairly brisk as seventeen golfers took to the tee for our 8:20 start time. Once the golfers were dispatched on the course, many of the non-golfers had a leisurely breakfast and made the short walk into the village of Rosapenna.
On the first tee at Sandy Hills.
Scott Schukraft and Mike Cook gear up for their last round of the trip.
The Sandy Hills course at Rosapenna Golf Resort could qualify for one of the nicest golf courses you've never heard of...
Here more than some, it pays to hit it straight.
As the tide was out, we were able to walk along the beach. Once in the village, we walked up some steps along the rocks, found a local coffee shop and the McNutt Tweed Shop - a specialty woolen store. The items in the store were unique to this region and certainly could not be found in the myriad of stores back in Dublin. The operation is so small and intimate that one of the lead designers was working the till that day.
The non-golfers took the beach walk to the village.... and were greeted by a friendly sheep along the way.
McNutt Tweed Shop in Donegal.
A light rain started as we were leaving the store, so we opted to walk through the village to return to Rosapenna Resort. After the golf, we enjoyed soup and sandwiches in the café above the golf pavilion. We had time for one final group shot around the iconic statue of Old Tom Morris.
Simon had been dispatched back to the Matthews home base as he was to be redeployed as a driver on Monday and needed a three-day break from behind the wheel. Our driver for the drive back to Dublin was none other than Paddy Matthews himself, founder of the company. We loaded the bus as usual and settled in for the 4+ hour ride to Portmarnock Links Hotel. Once in Portmarnock, the evening was spent packing up for the next morning's drive to the airport and reminiscing on our outstanding and remarkable week together.
Final loud-out at Dublin Airport.
A few couples (the Crowthers, Galls, and John Brauer and Lisa Donovan) opted to stay in Dublin another evening, but the rest of us took the bus to the airport to catch a series of flights home. We caught one last amazing Irish sunrise on our way to the airport, and it symbolized the beauty of this country that we had experienced for the entire week.
On Thursday we checked out of the Bishops Gate Hotel in Derry and boarded our bus to Ballyliffin in County Donegal, back in the "South" of Ireland. On the docket for the day was a face off against the Irish superintendents on Ballyliffin's Old Course as part of the 10th playing of the TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup.
The Old Course at Ballyliffin Golf Club.
The Irish brought 16 of their best golfers and our group had a total of 20 players in the event. It was determined that since four TurfNet players had to play together two would play representing Ireland to even out the teams. After a coin flip, it was determined that Matt and Cheryl Crowther would play representing Ireland. That was only fitting given Cheryl's Irish heritage which includes relatives from County Clare.
Paul Rauker, JJ Young (formerly of Tralee), Ken Flisek, and Fintan Brennan from Portmarnock Links ready to face off in the TurfNet Emerald Challenge
Ray Brennan and Trevor Dargan from Ireland with Tripp Trotter and Jorge Croda
We started out with cold winds but the weather eventually warmed and calmed down a bit. Andy Robertson and his crew had the course in great shape, just as it was during the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July. Scoring for the event was based on the Stableford system. Ireland eked out a win by a score of 207 points to 199.
The winning Irish team (yes that’s Matt and Cheryl Crowther with them - Irish for the day!)
All players in the 10th TurfNet Emerald Challenge Jim Byrne Cup after the round at Ballyliffin.
JJ Young is the recently retired head greenkeeper from Tralee Golf Course in County Kerry... the first course we played on our first trip to Ireland in 2009. JJ had arranged for an additional trophy in honor of the event being named for Jim Byrne. This trophy was made out of thousands years old bogwood and was a fitting tribute to a special man.
JJ Young explains the making of the special trophy in honor of Jim Byrne, long considered the father of professional greenkeeping in Ireland.
Ballyliffin Golf Club was a great host for the TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup
The non-golfers were able to tour the nearby Doagh Famine Village and Malin Head - the northernmost point in Ireland, before picking us up for the ride to Rosapenna.
Non-golfers visited Malin Head - the Northern-most point in Ireland - Simon our driver for the day on far right.
View from Malin Head - Ireland’s northernmost point.
During World War II, the white rocks at Malin Head alerted German pilots that they were over neutral Ireland.
Famine era thatched roof home.
Breathtaking scenery for the non-golfers that day.
Learning about poitin (illegal malted barley pot still whiskey) on the Doagh Famine Village Tour
After approximately an hour and a half on the bus, we arrived at the Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort – also in Donegal and our home for the evening. We had a delicious meal in the hotel restaurant, courtesy of Paul Raucker and Foley United. An excellent piano player provided post dinner entertainment.
Josh Webber and Jake Coldiron on the bus.
The Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Links in Co.Donegal.
We had a fairly tame and early evening in anticipation of our final round of golf the next day at the resort’s Sandy Hills Course.
Wednesday morning found us waking up in Northern Ireland for the first time on our trip. We were greeted outside the hotel at 8:00AM by Paul Doherty of Bogside History Tours. From our location just inside the Derry City Walls, Paul began our personalized tour of Derry. We learned the history of Derry as a walled city dating back to the 1600s and walked on top of the wall. We then proceeded to the Bogside area of Derry, the location of the infamous Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972.
Paul Doherty of Bogside History Tours speaks to the group on top of Derry’s famous wall.
Paul has specific ties to that event as his father, Patrick Doherty, was one of the 13 killed on that day. Paul admitted that other tours in the area take a milder, more politically-correct approach to their tours, but he and his family feel strongly that their perspective be told directly. Our tour with Paul ended at the Museum of Free Derry. On display was the belt of Paul's father, which had a notch from the bullet that ultimately killed him.
Inside the Museum of Free Derry we saw the belt Patrick Doherty (our tour guide’s father) was wearing when he was killed on Bloody Sunday. The notch is from the bullet as it went through his back.
After the tour we made a quick stop at the Bishop's Gate Hotel to pick up our golf gear, then got on the road for the 40 minute drive to play Castlerock Golf Club’s recently renovated Mussenden Links Course.
Our home for two nights in Derry: the recently renovated Bishop's Gate Hotel.
Portrait hanging in the lobby of the Bishop’s Gate Hotel. We knew we would like it there!
Castlerock Golf Club - founded in 1901 - was actually one of the newest courses we played. Castlerock recently completed a six hole (mostly greens) renovation and it was evident that these new holes were an improvement to the course. Early on about 80% of the work was done by outside contractors, but as the project came to completion more of the work fell to the existing staff of nine.
Kevin Collins, Mike Cook, Matt Crowther, and Scott Schukraft on the first tee at Castlerock’s Mussenden Course
The weather at Castlerock was great, except for a few light sprinkles. Course Manager Charlie Edgar visited with us out on the course. Matt Crowther's caddy had left all of his cold weather and rain gear back at the clubhouse, so Matt loaned him his TurfNet vest for the three or four holes when the weather was less than perfect.
Castlerock Course Manager Charlie Edgar greets Matt Crowther, Mike Cook and Scott Schukraft out on the Mussenden Course.
John Gall, Tripp Trotter and Jake Coldiron with Charlie Edgar out on the course.
Fashion faux pas! Charlie took issue with Kevin Frank’s hat from a rival course so he loaned him his for the photo!
The weather turned cool so Matt Crowther’s caddy donned Matt’s TurfNet vest for extra warmth - looking good!
After golf and a quick round of drinks in the club bar, we were back on the bus to Derry and rejoined those who had opted to spend the day relaxing, shopping, or touring there.
Our dinner was sponsored by John Brauer and IVI Sandtrapper and started with drinks at the historic River Inn - the oldest pub in Derry, established in 1684.
The traditional Irish band Connla was a last minute addition to the TurfNet trip this year as they had arranged a short tour of Northern Ireland when their original plans to play farther afield fell through. They had just returned from a 12 week tour of the US. Lead singer Ciara McGafferty greeted the group and said “It’s funny – we can’t wait to get back to America and youse can’t wait to come to Ireland!”
Connla entertained us during dinner, sponsored by John Brauer of IVI Sandtrapper.
The group of five entertained us as we sat down for dinner, took a short break while we completed our main course, and finished off the evening with some rousing tunes, including performing Eric Clapton's Layla as an encore.
Cheryl and Matt Crowther get reacquainted with Paul Starrett - Connla’s guitar player
Connla lead singer Ciara McCafferty and dinner host John Brauer
Two members of the band live in the Bogside neighborhood and were literally a five-minute walk from the venue. After signing a few CDs and chatting with our group, Connla headed home and we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our departure the next morning and our participation in the 10th TurfNet Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup at Ballyliffin.
We had a 6 AM departure from Carlingford, and the Four Seasons Hotel prepared an excellent continental breakfast for us. Soon our bus was loaded and on its way north to Royal Portrush Golf Club, host course for the 148th Open Championship in July, 2019. The drive took approximately two and a half hours, which allowed people to catch up on sleep or enjoy the view as we entered Northern Ireland.
As we arrived in Portrush, the weather turned against us with high winds and rain. We unloaded our rain gear and prepared to play the course which had been renovated since our visit in 2015.
Ken Flisek found his Pacific Dunes rain hat (from an earlier TurfNet trip) helpful at Royal Portrush
We were joined in the clubhouse by Graeme Beatt, course manager at Royal Portrush, who explained some of the changes that we would see since our last visit. He also mentioned some of the many infrastructure changes as the course prepares to host The Open Championship in July.
Wally Gresham on the tee at Royal Portrush as Kevin Frank, Jake Coldiron and Josh Webber look on.
John and Maureen Gall with Mark Hoban, at Royal Portrush.
Ken Flisek, Tripp Trotter and Jorge Croda.
Jorge Croda gets ready to give it a ride.
An "unidentified golfer" takes an Interesting approach to his bunker shot.
The weather eventually turned better with sunny skies but still a noticeable breeze. All players commented how thrilled they were to play the course that will serve as next year's final major of the season.
Matt Crowther's Twitter collage of his day with wife Cheryl at Royal Portrush.
As the golfers played Royal Portrush, Simon-our-driver took the non-golfers up the road to Giant's Causeway, a series of hexagonal stones formed millions of years ago. On the way back to Royal Portrush the group stopped at Dunluce Castle. The visit to Dunluce Castle brought the story full circle as the group could see some of the stones were quarried from nearby Giant's Causeway.
Coastal walk in Antrim
Wendy Dahl, Sharon Flisek and Linda Croda at Giant’s Causeway
Wendy Dahl, Dennis Gresham and Linda Croda on the Antrim coast
Holy Pot o' Gold! What would a trip to Ireland be without a rainbow?
After golf we headed south to the city of Derry. Everyone met in the hotel lobby and made the short walk to Derry’s Guild Hall. While there we took a tour of the historic building and its many stained-glass windows. Our guide explained the many uses of the building and even allowed us into the council chamber.
The historic city of Derry in Northern Ireland.
The group touring Guild Hall in Derry.
Another Matt Crowther Twitter collage, of Guild Hall in Derry.
After the tour, we were greeted by Councillor Gus Hastings in the Mayor's Parlor. In addition to welcoming us to the city with refreshments, he explained some of the many issues facing the city of Derry and the Council. Councillor Hastings Is Chair of Governance and Strategic Planning. This was a fitting introduction to Northern Ireland politics.
Councillor Gus Hastings and our group in the Mayor's Parlor
Power trip! Jorge Croda takes a spin in the Mayor's robes (with permission, of course).
After our visit at the Guild Hall, the group split up into smaller groups for a light meal or some evening refreshments.
On tap for Wednesday was a walking tour of Derry, a visit to the Museum of Free Derry, and golf at Castlerock Golf Club in nearby Castlerock.
After two fun nights in the city of Dublin we checked out of the Grand Canal Hotel. Simon-our-driver worked his usual magic in repacking the bus, and we were on our way to County Meath. We made a quick stop at the Bru Na Boinne Visitors Center, where four of our golfing group (Wally Gresham, John Brauer, Lisa Proctor and Jorge Croda) were able to tour the Knowth Megalithic site before joining us at our next golf course.
The Bru Na Boinne Visitors Center includes burial mounds in Knowth and Newgrange that predate the pyramids. Very little is known about the communities that built them. Earlier this summer during Ireland's sustained drought, outlines of a few additional structures/henges became visible in aerial drone photos.
The group at Knowth as part of the Knowth/Newgrange Tour: (L-R) Dennis Gresham, Wally Gresham, Wendy Dahl, Linda Croda, John & Patty Brauer, Lisa Donovan, Sharon Flisek, and John Brauer
After making sure this part of the group was all set, Simon took the golfers down the short drive to County Louth Golf Club, also known as Baltray. We had another great day weather-wise on tap. Baltray was founded in 1892 and is an outstanding piece of land for a links-style golf course, with several holes bordering the Irish Sea. Our participants enjoyed not only the history but the friendly reception we received at Baltray during our round.
Baltray had the Irish, American and Canadian flags flying today in honor of our group!
"Irish Crystal" weather for our day at County Louth Golf Club, aka Baltray.
The view of the Irish Sea from Baltray.
Baltray's resident fox.
Kevin Frank, Wally Gresham and Paul Rauker at Baltray.
No "carts" in Ireland, only buggies. Fescue, anyone?
Josh Webber, not as far from his home (Exeter, England) as most of us.
The non-golfers went on to The Battle of the Boyne Visitors Center and Historic Site, which helped bring Irish history full circle as 11 members of the Talbot family, owners of Malahide Castle which we toured on Sunday, died at the battle.
At about four o'clock, Simon picked up the golfers and we were all headed to the fishing village of Carlingford. Since we were playing golf in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, we stopped into the Dundalk Bureau de Change so that people could secure Pounds Sterling, which were necessary to pay the caddies at Royal Portrush.
After a quick spin through Dundalk, we continued on to Carlingford where we checked into the outstanding Four Seasons Hotel. The Four Seasons was an ideal location and also delivered excellent service. It was a short walk into town and most of the group ended up at PJ O'Hare's.
The very modern Four Seasons Hotel, not exactly what one might expect in the medieval fishing village of Carlingford (below).
Above, Matt and Cheryl Crowther with John and Maureen Gall at PJ O'Hare's. Below, Jorge and Linda Croda.
Tuesday morning's departure was 6 AM to allow plenty of time to arrive at Royal Portrush so it was a relatively tame and early evening there.
After an enjoyable evening Saturday night, the group woke up to sunshine and a full Irish breakfast in the Grand Canal Hotel. We had an early departure at 8:30 to visit Malahide Castle, which has been occupied by the Talbot family for over 800 years.
The entire group prior to our tour of Malahide Castle.
We arrived shortly before the first tour and enjoyed visiting the Botanical Gardens on site. The greenhouse included many species of butterflies and we were again reminded of the importance of pollinators.
Wendy Dahl observes butterflies in the greenhouse at Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle is just a short walk from the center of town and the guided tour was an outstanding explanation of the many aspects of castle life over the centuries.
We boarded the bus for Portmarnock Golf Club at 10:45 and arrived 10 minutes later at this historic club. Portmarnock will host the British Amateur Championship in June of 2019. The weather was perfect with sunshine and a light breeze.
Mark Hoban tees off with the Portmarnock Golf Club clubhouse in the distance.
Jake Coldiron and Josh Webber with Kevin Collins of Ocean Organics.
Wally Gresham, Tripp Trotter, Jorge Croda and Mark Hoban. Hope they didn't forget their beer!
The Portmarnock links lie right along the Irish Sea. Plenty of fescue to get you in trouble.
John Brauer (IVI Golf), Lisa Donovan and John's father, also John.
Just a few pot bunkers for interest...
The Irish Times published a nice article on Portmarnock Links Manager Gary Johnstone and his environmental efforts just a couple days after we played there.
While the golfers enjoyed four hours on the links, Simon took the non-golfers on an excursion to Skerries Mills, where they learned about the history of milling grain there for over 400 years.
Sharon Flisek, Linda Croda, Maureen Gall and Wendy Dahl at Skerries Mill.
On the way back to Portmarnock, they took the coastal route along the Irish Sea, stopping at Howth for a walk through this historic fishing village and a bit of ice cream. The golf group was picked up at Portmarnock after golf and we all returned to the Grand Canal Hotel to prepare for our evening function.
Our evening function included a short meal at The Jar sponsored by Mike Cook of The Care of Trees. The Jar had a limited menu of pizza and chicken wings, but it was excellent food, surroundings and service. Most importantly it was a short walk to our next function.
Nice welcome at The Jar, where the group enjoyed a casual dinner.
After dinner, we went to the DC Club, a five minute walk away. The DC Club has been in existence since 1883 and I was the first American to join when they asked me three years ago.
We set up PutterBall on the stage and in addition to traditional PutterBall, several members of the group started an alternate version called Speed PutterBall.
Putterball on stage at the DC Club.
It was a fitting and fun end to a perfect day in Ireland.
Saturday, Portmarnock, Co.Dublin, IE -- “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” That was Josh Webber’s admonishment to the group as rain set in for the morning round at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
Nine hearty souls braved the elements to play the course Bernhard Langer designed in 1996. The course and the hotel span the grounds of the former Jameson estate, and three or four original holes have been incorporated into the current design.
Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, part of the original Jameson estate.
"No bad weather" for Paul Rauker, Ken Flisek, Josh Webber and Jake Coldiron.
The rest of the group opted for a morning tour of Dublin and would meet up with us later in the afternoon. My local contact, Liam Gregg, picked up the group at 9:00 and went directly to Trinity College to see the exhibit on The Book of Kells. The site of Trinity College has been a seat of learning for over a thousand years, dating through Trinity's founding over 500 years ago and a monastery before that.
Those who decided to tour Dublin on Saturday morning, here at Trinity College.
The balance of the group took advantage of the hotel's many amenities by getting massages, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, or otherwise relaxing.
Saturday also marked the inaugural round of PutterBall. The hotel provided a meeting room where we set up this fun putter game. The object of putter ball is to sink balls in all six holes before your opponent's team. It has been described as “beer pong for golf.” John Brauer, Lisa Donovan, Matt and Cheryl Crowther, Mike Cook, Kevin Collins, and I spent a few hours competing. Fortunately, the meeting room was not far from the hotel's Jameson Bar, which was happy to deliver libations for the round.
Cheryl Crowther tries her had at PutterBall - the perfect rainy day game!
When the golfers arrived back at the hotel, they changed clothes, had a bite to eat, and we loaded up all the luggage, and golf clubs on the Matthews Coach bus. This is where Simon's expertise is especially handy. Fitting all that gear into the hold of the bus is like working a giant jigsaw puzzle.
We decided to keep up with the Jameson theme by attending the Jameson Experience with a special tour that included a cask tasting in their Maturation Room. This visit was hosted by Doug Middleton and Kevin Collins of Ocean Organics. The city of Dublin was bustling, and the Jameson Experience was no exception. We had pre booked a 2:30 tour, and had a lovely young Irish woman taking us through the primary exhibit.
Kevin Collins of Ocean Organics, our host for the the Jameson Experience portion of the trip, with portraits of John and Margaret Jameson
The Jameson Experience is a fully guided tour, and explains not only the history of the company, but the processes behind making the world's most famous Irish whiskey. The tour was updated in 2016 to reflect the more interactive/multimedia effects that people expect today. In addition to the standard tour, Ocean Organics provided the opportunity for most of the visitors to attend a cask presentation in the Maturation Room. Our second guide explained the process of how the whiskeys were matured in former bourbon and sherry barrels.
The TurfNet group in the Maturation Room.
The special Cask Room portion of the Jameson Experience tour.
The Cask Room was limited to 20 participants so Cheryl Crowther (behind Matt) and four others opted to stay on the outside, looking in.
Paul Rauker filling his own special bottle of Jameson Black Barrel.
Paul Rauker and Wendy Dahl enjoy a taste of his new whiskey.
After a taste of the cask strength whiskey, and a group photo, we all headed to the bar to receive our “daily grog.” The daily grog represents the whiskey that workers would receive at the beginning and end of each day. The group also managed to spend a fair amount of time and money in the Jameson Gift Shop.
Ken and Sharon Flisek are a couple after my own heart... or ears. They popped in to the nearby Cobblestone for a traditional Irish music session.
After a short ride to the Grand Canal Hotel we unpacked, relaxed, and got used to our new home for the next two days. A handful of visitors attended mass at St. Patrick's church in nearby Ringsend, while seven of us attended an international football match between Ireland and Denmark. The match ended in a thrilling zero to zero tie.
The Aviva stadium hosted Saturday night’s soccer match between Ireland and Denmark
The Grand Canal area is home to many high tech companies, including Google and Facebook. It is a neighborhood in transition as these companies, and their workers move in. The added excitement of having nearly 60, 000 soccer fans pass in front of the hotel made the evening especially memorable. While some may have gone out on the town, many retired early in anticipation of our next round Sunday at historic Portmarnock Golf Club.
Donabate/Portmarnock, Co.Dublin, IE -- The advance crew (Wally and Dennis Gresham, Mark Hoban, Jake Coldiron and myself) arrived in Dublin Thursday morning. With rain forecasted for the full group's first round at the Island Golf Club on Friday morning, Wally, Mark and Jake decided to shake off the jet lag and head out a day early for an afternoon round. The weather improved to sunny skies and a great introduction for them to Irish links golf.
Mark Hoban, Wally Gresham and Jake Coldiron snuck in an early round at the Island Golf Club.
The skies cleared. Here's Jake Coldiron on his way to shooting a 76.
Some of the towering natural dunes at the Island.
One of the many revetted bunkers at the Island.
On Friday morning our Matthews coach arrived at the airport to greet the rest of the trip participants and loaded all the golf clubs and luggage for our week’s trip. Simon Smyth – our driver from the 2015 trip - is with us again for the week. Thirteen golfers played in rainy weather but enjoyed the round very much.
Jorge Croda and Matt and Cheryl Crowther make a return trip to The Island Golf Club Friday morning
Having played The Island Golf Club on Thursday, Mark, Wally, Dennis and Jake opted to do some sightseeing in Dublin on Friday morning, starting with St. Patrick's Cathedral.
St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, above and below.
After golf on Friday, a quick bus ride took us from The Island to Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, where we settled in for a nice dinner sponsored by longtime trip sponsor Syngenta. The meal was in The Snug – a new venue adjacent to the golf shop at the hotel.
Mike Cook, Dennis & Wally Gresham and Jake Coldiron at Friday’s dinner.
Syngenta’s Tripp Trotter welcomes the group to Ireland.
Jake Coldiron reunites with Josh Webber and visits with John Brauer in the Portmarnock Hotel. Josh arrived late Friday night from Exeter in the UK.
The menu from our opening dinner Friday night at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
On a trip like this, getting there is half the fun – NOT!
As the person in charge of the trip I feel it’s necessary to get to our destination a day early just to be there despite any contingencies along the way. With three other participants coming from Atlanta we thought it would be fun to travel together and have an extra day in Ireland.
Superintendent of the Year Finalist Mark Hoban, Wally Gresham (@wallygresham, Bulk Aggregate Golf), his dad Dennis and I all booked JetBlue flights that connected in Boston to Dublin. We built in a five hour layover as a hedge against the usual mechanical and weather-related delays.
David "Wally" Gresham and his dad, Dennis, ready to embark on their first long trip together.
Our JetBlue flight left Atlanta around noon and we had five hours before the Dublin flight left. Boston’s Logan airport is on Boston Harbor and there are a number of water taxi services to get you quickly between the airport and the city.
Boston-bound on a Boston Harbor water taxi from Logan Airport.
Superintendent of the Year finalist Mark Hoban with Dennis and Wally Gresham on the water taxi.
We took a meandering tour of the harbor and ended up at Rowes Wharf Harbor where we could store our carry-on bags and do a little sightseeing. A quick Uber ride later and we were at the Old North Church. While there wasn’t time to venture inside, we were in awe of this historic place in American history. The setting sun provided some outstanding photos.
Old North Church, of Paul Revere's "one if by land..." fame.
Less than a block away we explored Copp’s Hill Burying Ground – a cemetery that dates to the mid-1600s. A few pizzas from Benevento’s (recommended by the water taxi company) and we were back on our way to the water taxi and the airport.
A beautiful evening for a return trip across Boston Harbor to Logan Airport. (Mark Hoban photo)
We all admitted that a chance to stretch our legs while breathing the sea air and a proper sit down meal outside of the confines of the airport was a great way to spend the layover.
Aer Lingus flight 138 from Boston to Dublin Wednesday night.
We are not the only ones to arrive on the Ireland trip early. Jake Coldiron (@jcold16), son of our late friend Jerry, hastily arranged an early departure from his home in the Tampa area due to the arrival of Hurricane Michael. We look forward to catching up with him in the Dublin airport.
The early weather reports for Friday’s arrival don’t portend well for our first round of golf at The Island Golf Club. A storm named Callum is on the way and threatens a Code Orange weather warning.
It’s said that pubs are “the official sunscreen of Ireland”. I suppose they can serve as umbrellas, too!
The centerpiece of any TurfNet members trip is the group of courses we play. Ireland 2018 will be no exception as we have the opportunity to play eleven courses during our eight days there. All but one are true “links” courses so a definition of “links” is probably in order. “The links” simply refers to a strip of generally undulating, but always sandy terrain linking the sea and the arable farmland around the edges. A links course is one built on this strip of land. There are approximately fifty links courses in Ireland. The following courses are arguably many of Ireland’s best.
Royal Portrush Golf Club – Portrush, Northern Ireland – Imagine tuning in to watch The Open Championship next July (the year’s final major…) and being able to follow the pros around using your own scorecard as a guide. That’s exactly what each participant will be able to do as we play the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush. Renovations were underway when we were in Ireland in 2015 and we will now play the exact routing for The 148th Open Championship. Our hosts for the round will be Course Manager Graeme Beatt and Secretary Manager Wilma Erskine. The club was founded in 1888 and also hosted The Open Championship in 1951 – the only other time it was held outside of England or Scotland. We will play it on Tuesday.
Royal Portrush Golf Club, Dunluce Course, site of the 148th Open Championship to be played next year.
Here is an overview of the courses in the order in which we will play them.
The Island Golf Club – Donabate, County Dublin – Friday
After clearing customs and immigration our coach bus will take us directly to The Island Golf Club for our first round. It’s a short trip to the small village of Corballis. The Island was accessible only by boat until the early 1970s and there is a small plaque commemorating that unique mode of transportation when you’re out on the course. You may already know about course manager Dave Edmondson from his very active social media activities. The club was founded in 1890 and the course is surrounded by the sea on three sides. It includes the tallest dunes you’ll find on the east coast of Ireland.
Above, the Island Club at dusk. Below, wind "sometimes" comes into play. TurfNet Ireland 2011
Portmarnock Links – Portmarnock, County Dublin – Saturday
Wake up at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, have your first “Full Irish” breakfast and you’re ready to head to the first tee of this links course. It can only be described as “precocious” – it seems a lot older than a course opened in 1995. The layout was used for golf by the Jameson family, and the family graveyard is nearby. Our host for the day is veteran golf course superintendent Fintan Brennan. When TurfNet’s 2017 BIGGA delegation visited the course, Fintan and his son Mike showed us some of the work on their 98 course bunkers. Our first tee times are at 8:00 AM so don’t spend too much time in the Jameson Bar the night before. See this video from our friend author Tom Coyne provides a preview of our stay at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
Our host, Fintan Brennan, shows us how it's done at Portmarnock Links, with the hotel in the distance.
Portmarnock Golf Club – Portmarnock, County Dublin – Sunday
Sunday takes us to the historic layout of the Portmarnock Golf Club – a favorite on the TurfNet trip. We will be staying in town Saturday night but the drive out is easy and scenic. The club was founded in 1894 and has a rich history of hosting many of the championships in Irish golf. In fact, the 2019 R&A Amateur Championship will take place at Portmarnock – only the second time the event has taken place outside of Great Britain. Our host for the day will be Gary Johnstone – originally from Scotland and a longtime friend of TurfNet.
Fescue and potbunkers abound at Portmarnock Golf Club.
County Louth Golf Club – Baltray, County Louth – Monday
A drive of less than an hour from our Dublin hotel takes us to County Louth Golf Club, just outside of Drogheda in County Louth. The club was founded in 1892. It is situated adjacent to the River Boyne and you can see how important the river is to the town on our way to the course. Course Manager Wayne Murray reported for duty in November, 2017 so it will be great to see his impact on the course since our last visit three years ago. “Baltray” as it’s known locally - hosted our 2016 TurfNet intern Nate McKinniss for the summer.
Green complex at County Louth/Baltray. The other side of those dunes lies the Irish Sea.
Long putt. TurfNet Ireland 2015.
Greenore Golf Club – Greenore, County Louth – Monday afternoon
A short drive up the road (and very close to the Four Seasons Hotel in Carlingford) lies Greenore Golf Club. The club was founded in 1896 to welcome hotel and railroad guests in the area. A similar welcome has been extended to us for anyone who wishes to continue their golf that day. We’ve been encouraged to “beat the sunset” and play as many holes as we can at this special course. Many of the holes meander around Carlingford Lough and this will also be your only chance to experience a few Irish “heathland” holes on the round.
No need to decide before you arrive if you’d like to play, just grab your clubs off the bus and head to the first tee. We’ll decide if a special format (including everyone just playing their own ball) makes sense. Your round at Greenore will go a long way toward working up an appetite for Carlingford’s famous oysters – harvested literally two blocks from the town. Don’t be surprised if you’re distracted by the view of the Mourne Mountains to the Northeast.
Royal Portrush Golf Club – Portrush, Northern Ireland – Tuesday
See the description at the top of this post.
Castlerock Golf Club – Castlerock, Northern Ireland – Wednesday
After our morning tour of the City of Derry, we will take the short ride up to Castlerock Golf Club. We will play their Mussenden Course, which features several newly renovated holes. The course is fairly flat on the front nine, but changes elevation dramatically on the back. Castlerock has been declared one of Ireland’s “hidden gems” and has arguably one of the best golf club logos around – so plan on stopping by the pro shop for some gifts for the folks back home. Course Manager Charlie Edgar, his Deputy Damien McConway, and General Manager Bert Mackay will be our hosts for the day. After your round you will have two options: retire to the bar or go back out for a quick round on the nine-hole Bann Course. We will likely set up our round on the Bann as a friendly group event in a special format, but be forewarned you may have a few spectators on the final green...
The Mussenden course at Castlerock Golf Club.
Ballyliffin Golf Club – Ballyliffin, County Donegal – Thursday
Put the £ bills away – we’re headed back to the land of the Euro as we leave Derry and head to County Donegal – one of Ireland’s largest and most beautiful counties. Ballyliffin Golf Club’s Glashedy Links will not only host us but our Irish greenkeeping counterparts as we face off in the tenth playing of Jim Byrne Cup – TurfNet Emerald Challenge. You should be well rested from the mandatory curfew imposed by your Team Captain so we should expect to retain the coveted hurley trophy which we won back in San Antonio. Ballyliffin hosted the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which was won by Scotland’s Russell Knox. Our host for the day is Course Manager Andy Robertson. It will be great to see Andy and all our Irish greenkeeping friends again.
The Emerald Challenge/Jim Byrne Cup competition is all about international camaraderie.
Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort – Rosapenna, County Donegal – Friday
Rosapenna has two stunning golf courses. Our Friday morning round will take place on the Sandy Hills Links. The appeal of Sandy Hills lies in its beautifully balanced routing through the high dunes. You’ll also experience stunning views of Sheephaven Bay. We will have the chance to experience some of the Old Tom Morris Links upon our arrival Thursday afternoon and before our mid-afternoon departure on Friday.
So that’s the lineup – eight full 18-hole rounds and a few shorter tracks for those who want to squeeze some additional fun from their golf trip. All rounds are walking so consider taking a caddy for at least a few of your rounds. Manual pull carts and battery-operated electric trolleys are available to rent at each course.
Welcome to the TurfNet Members Trip to Ireland blog for 2018. We’re starting early to allow the blog to explain the details of the trip. We also want allow for additional participants/sign ups in the wake of one of the most difficult seasons in which to maintain turfgrass. Have a look and consider joining us on a “trip of a lifetime.”
Dates: Thursday, October 11th (Leave the US) and return Saturday, October 20th, 2018. You are welcome to extend the trip on the front or back end on your own.
History: This is the tenth TurfNet members trip overall and our fifth visit to Ireland.
Trip Philosophy: Relax, enjoy yourself, have fun, get along. You’ve earned it. Especially this year…
Links Courses to be played (year established):
Royal Portrush Golf Club (1888) - Host of the 148th Open Championship in 2019
The Island Golf Club (1890)
County Louth Golf Club – Baltray (1892)
Rosapenna Golf Club (1893) – Laid out by Old Tom Morris
Portmarnock Golf Club (1894)
Castlerock Golf Club (1901)
Ballyliffin Golf Club (1948)
Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links (1996)
You will find virtually all these courses in the rankings of top courses to play in Ireland. We will also meet our superintendent/greenkeeper hosts at each course and when possible meet their staff and tour their facilities.
Test your bunker shots with the many revetted bunkers on Ireland’s links courses (photo: The Island Golf Club)
Where we stay: We plan our hotels so they are evenly distributed around the areas we are playing. This means we never have a really long bus ride to get to or from the golf course. Specifically, we’ll stay in the following hotels/towns:
Dublin: Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links and Grand Canal Hotel
Carlingford, County Louth: Four Seasons Hotel & Spa
Derry, Northern Ireland: Bishop’s Gate Hotel
Rosapenna, County Donegal: Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort
Aerial view of the stunning Rosapenna Golf Club - laid out by Old Tom Morris.
A lucky rainbow over the Rosapenna Hotel - our home on Thursday night. Wake up and tee it up on Friday.
Ground Transportation: We will once again engage Matthews Coach Hire to provide our daily transportation around Ireland. The coach bus is leather-trimmed and has a bathroom on board. They did an outstanding job ensuring our comfort, safety, and enjoyment when we were last there in 2015.
Are non-golfers or partial golfers welcome? Yes! If you’re first reaction when you look at this trip is, “there’s no way I’m going to Ireland and leaving my wife at home” we’re happy to explain that there is a separate program for any non-golfers on the trip. We have the coach bus all day so while the golfers are on the links, the non-golfers use the coach to visit local historic and heritage sites.
These side trips are flexible and the driver will take cues from the group as to the number of places to visit and the pace of the trip overall. If there are specific interests for any non-golfers (shopping, art, history, gardens, etc…) we are happy to work those stops in as well. If someone would like to play some golf but not every day, they are welcome to sign on to the Tee/Tour package – roughly half the golf and half the tours. Any golfer is welcome to join the daily tour due to fatigue, rain, injury or other considerations.
The quaint village of Carlingford in East Ireland.
Flights: Since participants are attending from different parts of North America, we don’t have a set pair of flights for the group trip. The package rate for the trip doesn’t include airfare so you are free to book your own best deal with the airline you prefer to use. Just make sure you arrive into Dublin Friday morning October 12th no later than 10 AM and don’t plan to leave Dublin before Saturday morning October 20th.
A number of discount carriers have entered the US to Ireland market, which has generally brought prices down in recent years. Pay attention to additional charges for checked luggage and sporting equipment/golf bags.
Golfer Double Occupancy: $2600;
Non-Golfer Double Occupancy: $1700.
Other prices are on the attached flier: ireland_2018_v2.pdf
Other expenses: You are responsible for lunches, most dinners, optional caddy fees ($60-$80/round), evening beverages, and any souvenirs you want to buy. $100-$150 per day is a good range depending on your caddy use and the amount of items you plan to bring home, but everyone is different in that regard.
Final opening thoughts: We’ve designed this trip to make it especially memorable on many levels. The golf is first rate, the pace is reasonable but not exhausting, and the hotels are very comfortable. By playing these courses you’ll likely gain insight as to how you may wish to tweak the way you manage your course back home.
The trip is turnkey. Like what you see? Sign up, book your flight, show up and enjoy! No need to confirm hotels, tee times, car rentals (other side of the road!) etc…
I can’t tell you the number of people who see our trip blog and tell me, “I wish I had gone on that Ireland trip!”
We hope you’ll consider joining us and bringing a friend or relative!
Special Thanks to Syngenta, IVI SandTrapper and Foley for their sponsorship and support of the trip.
Have questions? Contact me at JKiger@turfnet.com or 1-770-395-9850.
Old Tom waiting for your photo op at Rosapenna.