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Eric Bruening

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About Eric Bruening

  • Birthday 12/11/1992

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  • Club/Course/Company
    Lahinch Golf Club
  • Location
    Lahinch, Co. Clare, Ireland
  1. My summer at Lahinch Golf Club could not have been better, both personally and professionally. It showed me that the world is far bigger than what I can see out my back door. That concept would have scared me before this summer, but it now excites me. My experiences put into context how many different people and point of views there are in the world, and that my 'normal' is strange to the vast majority of people on planet Earth. Professionally, I was able to see how a world class golf course was managed, while staying true to golf's roots. 'Firm and fast' is a way of life in Lahinch and you'll get nothing but a chuckle if you let it be known that you think 20 mph wind is unplayable. I was also exposed to a management style that is not common in the states, but is becoming more prevalent. Water was used sparingly, only to establish new turf and keep greens and tees out of dormancy in drought conditions. Nutrient inputs were low, and promoting healthy soil microbe activity was of highest importance. Water was used sparingly, only to establish new turf and keep greens and tees out of dormancy in drought conditions... Personally, there are many things I will miss about Ireland. The hospitality that was shown to me was unbelievable. I was truly treated like family there, from the grounds crew to the office managers. I have mixed feelings on the weather, as it was mostly cold, rainy and windy. A good day in Lahinch, however, is second to none and made the bad days worth it. I am glad to be back home in a familiar place, and am eternally grateful to everyone who allowed me to intern and Lahinch, and those who enriched my experience as the summer went on. These people include everyone at TurfNet for giving me a platform to share my experiences with anyone who will listen, and helping me along the way. I would also like to thank Jacobsen for sponsoring my blog and encouraging young people to get out and experience what a profession in turf has to offer. Also a big thanks to Mike O'Keeffe for taking me through the necessary steps to make this summer real. I would also like to thank Jacobsen for sponsoring my blog and encouraging young people to get out and experience what a profession in turf has to offer... A big thank you to Thomas McInerny and his family for hosting me at their hotel for the summer. Finally I'd like to thank everyone at Lahinch GC: Paddy Keane, Anne Scales, Brian McDonagh and everyone on the crew and in management for giving me a once in a lifetime opportunity. And thank you for reading and following along!
  2. After returning back home after my unforgettable summer in Lahinch, I was set to volunteer at the 97th PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. I had made the commitment to volunteering before I was lined up to go to Ireland, and Brian assured me the experience there would be just as valuable as an extra week in Lahinch. It was hard to leave, but knowing what was waiting back home eased the transition. I was a part of the ProGreens staff for the tournament. My morning responsibilities included stimping the 12th and 14th greens, reporting the speeds to the decision makers and knocking dew off the 13th and 15th tees. Everyone met in the volunteer shed at 4:30 in the morning. Doughnuts and drinks were provided before we went out, and a full breakfast buffet with eggs, bacon and hashbrowns was waiting upon our return. The volunteer shed during our pre-departure meeting in the morning. Sunrise over the 12th green, where I spent my mornings all week long. After our morning job was complete, we were free to do whatever we desired, which meant I was off to watch some golf. Personally, I enjoyed watching the players practice on the range and putting green the most. Being a golfer, I was in awe of the consistency in their ball striking, their intensive putting repetitions and their unique warm-up routines. A sampling of the equipment on hand and ready to go in the maintenance area. In the evenings, we were required to be back by 4:30 for dinner and our pre-departure meeting. My post-round responsibilities, along with three other volunteers, was to walk the front nine and fill divots and remove the displaced turf from the fairways and surrounds. It was a prime opportunity to see the course and set-up up close, and I enjoyed every second of it. Everyone getting their jobs on the 12th green done early Thursday morning. Looking back on the picturesque par 5 5th hole. Overall, Whistling Straits and the PGA went out of their way to accommodate volunteers and make us comfortable. The opportunity to help set up for a major is appealing enough. When you add on the chance to watch the tournament for free and meet other people in the business, it truly was a can't-miss event. It also served as the perfect cap to my summer, and lead-in to my final semester of school.
  3. Before my internship at Lahinch was over, my family made the trip across the pond to see the sights and play some golf... but mainly to play some golf. As I have previously mentioned we are a golfing family, so a trip to the homeland of golf couldn't be more fitting. The first course we played was Dooks Golf Club. Dooks was founded in 1889 and for 100 years it remained a 9 hole course, as membership fought modernization. Eventually, in 1970, it was lengthened to 18 holes, with later improvements carried out by Martin Hawtree The course has made a few headlines lately as it lies on the opposite side of Dingle Bay from Inch Peninsula, where Mike Keiser (of Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links fame) is seeking to add to his catalogue of impressive golf courses. Dooks is one of Ireland's best kept secrets. It is not a part of the Ballybunion/Trump at Doonbeg/Old Head/Lahinch club, which is part of it's charm. The course is not situated on dunes as dramatic as Lahinch, but the scenery is second to none, as it is situated among the mountains of County Kerry. The course is wonderfully kept with an intriguing layout that provides both challenge and intrigue. It looks more similar to Royal County Down than it's Southwestern Ireland counterparts, with its gorse and dramatic mountain views. The club logo (above) features the Natterjack toad, commonly found in the area. Its use on the logo signifies the courses commitment to enhance the natural environment, rather than overtake and pollute it. Sign on the walk to the first tee. It proved to be all too true. I didn't take many pictures as I was enthralled by the views and golf. I wish I would have taken more as the golf course is just as beautiful as the views that surround it. That being said I would recommend Dooks Golf Club to anyone seeking to get off the beaten path a bit, without sacrificing quality. Me teeing off on the par 3 4th My oldest brother Chris on the par 4 1st.
  4. Back in July I was lined up to play golf at one of Ireland's most outstanding parkland courses; Dromoland Castle Golf Club. The golf course is only one aspect of the high class resort. The main attraction is the Dromoland Castle, which was the ancestral home of the O'Briens, the kings of Thomond, and dates back to the late 15th, early 16th century. Arriving on site feels like you've stepped into a time machine. As I drove up a horse drawn carriage passed me on the road, with the massive castle in the background. The area is heavily forested, with lakes and streams dotting and crossing the property. The 5 star hotel (the castle) offers activities such as archery and falconry that add to the mythical aura around the property. The golf course was reminiscent of what I am used to back home in Eastern Nebraska. The layout curves around lakes and has a few dramatic elevation changes that put the property into perspective. The course itself is a good mix of challenge, with sound strategy being key to a successful round. The par 3s and short par 4s are the highlight, mainly the 179 yard par 3 7th, with its huge drop off, the short (323 yd) par 4 9th with it's multiple routes, and the even shorter (273 yd) par 4 with its steep drop and endless trouble. Overall the experience was memorable. Combining such an ancient building with a modern golf course provides a perfect mix, and a taste of home, for parkland golf in Ireland.
  5. The South of Ireland Amateur Championship has been held at Lahinch Golf Club since 1895 and is one of the proudest traditions in Irish amateur sport. The tournament has been won by legendary golfers including Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, with Padraig Harrington finishing as the runner-up twice. A 36 hole qualifier takes place on the first two days, narrowing the field of 100 to 64, where match play will start until a winner is crowned on Sunday afternoon. Preparation for the tournament includes ensuring everything is in top form, from bunkers to pathways and tees to greens. Tournament hours are from 5 to 8 am hand-cutting tees and greens, rolling greens, mowing fairways, triplexing surrounds, cutting cups and raking bunkers. Some of the crew then returns in the evening to clean up litter and do whatever odd jobs need to be done. Mowing the 18th green at sunrise to be done and out of the way before play During the season leading up to the event, the tees that will be used for "the South" are intentionally unused to ensure healthy stands for the tournament, especially on par 3's. The silver lining of the tournament is that it allows members' and women's tees, which have endured heavy traffic all year, a week of rest and relaxation. South crowds following the final group in on Sunday morning Spectators gathered around a match with local interest on the 10th green. One of the players is the son of the Lady Captain at Lahinch Large crowds of spectators create a unique stress for the course. Onlookers tend to take short cuts and routes not taken by golfers, resulting in trails and matted-down areas in the native marram grass. Luckily however, the natural resiliency of these grasses prevails, and no human intervention is needed for their recuperation... only time. Post-South, the intense daily mowing and rolling is backed off. The pathways are solid tined to alleviate any compaction resulting from the heavy traffic of the tournament. Trash is also picked up and is a unavoidable result of having so many people on the course. Stuart Grehan of Tullamore was the eventual champion. There was a true appreciation by players and spectators of both the classic links set-up and of the top condition the course was in.
  6. In the past few years Brian and his crew constructed a few revetted bunkers on the par-4 7th and par-3 8th holes here at Lahinch. The new bunkers replaced the sand-faced bunkers on holes that ran along the coast, which were continually stripped of sand by high winds. While I was not present for this work, Brian took awesome pictures documenting the process step by step. The pictures below are of the right greenside bunker on the par 3 8th. The purpose of revetting bunkers is to create a steep turf wall that keeps sand in the bunker and provides a well defined line and intimidating look to the golfer. Sand on an inclined bunker face is prone to being blown away in wind, as the angle creates a runway prime for wind to blow out sand. This creates sand deposits on turf and poor quality bunkers. The first step is to excavate the area of the new bunker, creating a base that is completely flat to ensure the stacked sod layers are level (after establishing proper drainage). After the base and drainage are established, the next step is to lay the sod. The angle of sod is critical. Depending on preference and what resources you use, it is suggested that a greenside bunker be angled at approximately 55 degrees. This is accomplished by setting back each successive sod layer by 30 mm. Original excavation of the old bunker. A level base has been created, with the first circle of sod having been laid Progression up the bank, giving a sense of what the revetting will look like in the end. Sod stacking almost finished, showing a clean revetted face and level sod lines which are aesthetically pleasing It is vital to ensure the bunkers revetting peaks to match the level of the surrounding area. Not doing so results in an odd looking bunker that seems out of place. It also beneficial to slit the back edges of the sod to make it easier to maneuver around the curved bunker edges. After all the sod has been laid, a final layer can be placed on top, and the surrounding area can be cleaned and sand can be replaced into the bunker. The finished product. Revetting bunkers is highly work intensive, but for a short time. The effort it saves in the long run however, from return trips to reshape windswept bunkers, is well worth the initial time and energy.
  7. Weather in Ireland rarely produces the extremes we experience in the States. No hurricanes or tornadoes, no earthquakes or blizzards. While this may be the case, winter weather in Ireland can leave much to be desired. A perfect example came just after New Years Day of 2014. High tide met high winds and a incoming ocean swell, resulting in Irelands version of a perfect storm. The brunt of the storm hit overnight, but it did not sneak up on anyone. Weather services predicted a bad storm, but the level of severity was unknown. What resulted was waves reaching higher than light poles and wind that made standing stationary nearly impossible. View of flooding from on top of the 3rd fairway. The course goes as far as the first fence line you see on the right. Then there is a parking lot for the boardwalk area and the small building at right is the lifeguard house. If you can make them out, the waves were reaching overtop of the light poles on the right side of the photo to give you a sense of the intensity of the storm. The morning after revealed damaged concrete along the boardwalk, large rocks scattered and intensive flooding. The golf courses close proximity to the ocean resulted in damage to the course as well. Damage done to the boardwalk area by the storm. Flooding with salt water was the first issue facing the crew at Lahinch. By design, the sand dunes that the course was built on have quality draining, so removing salinity entailed flushing it out. Unfortunately, any water soluble nutrients are flushed out with the salt, so supplemental nutrients were added. After the water receded it revealed trash littered everywhere. Over 500 trash bags were filled by member and community volunteers, to put in perspective how much trash was washed onto the course. Above, trash left in the wake of theflooding. This picture is taken in a low native area short left of the 3rd green. Below, after cleanup. The storm was described to me as a 'once in 100 years' storm, and I'm sure everyone in Lahinch would be content if that were the case.
  8. It is said that at the beginning of golf, bunkers came about by concentrated divots made where golf balls collected from the surrounding natural dunes. The turf present was completely stripped clean, leaving a bare spot in its wake, giving birth to what we now call bunkers. The issue of concentrated divots from high traffic is not foreign to the people at Lahinch Golf Club. The classic links lay of the land, coupled with high traffic results in certain spots on fairways being fairly beaten up. This is combatted by a couple crew members being almost completely committed to filling divots in the fairways in the height of the playing season. By the time the course has been divotted completely it is time to start again. The actual divot mix is high quality and provides an ideal environment for germination. The mix is a combination of "Miracle-Gro" type bagged soil and a compost mix on site, with seed scattered throughout. The seed germinates quickly and uniformly, allowing the course to heal its wounds as new marks are made. The photos showcase collection areas that suffer from the large numbers of golfers that come through Lahinch daily.
  9. The Klondyke at Lahinch is another signature hole that will likely never be replicated. While it seems easy enough on paper, measuring 470 yards from the tips and playing with the prevailing wind, many a large number have been made on this classic golf hole. An intimidating tee shot into a natural valley meets the player upon his arrival to the 4th hole. While the fairway is thin and meandering, it plays larger as a ball that favors the right hill will feed down into the fairway. There is, however, a fine line between a good drive that kicks back into play and one that gets stuck on the hill leaving an uneven stance. I've personally played a shot with the ball at equal height with my shoulders. Assuming a quality drive, the second shot requires a great deal of trust in ones game and decision-making. You have nothing to guide you but a yardage marker and a white stone on top of a dune that stands 150 yards from the green. Missing right on the second will finish in native Marram grass or a bunker, while missing left will leave a challenging approach over a hillock that lies on the front left corner of the green. The green is beautifully laid in a valley, almost mimicking the fairway. The contours form a boomerang shaped green around the hillock short left, and can play like a redan-style green although it does not fit the true definition. A stone wall that runs the length of the road bordering the course on the East protects the player from going OB. A grass mound was created to cover the wall because balls would often bounce off the stones, leaving the player in good position after a poor shot. The grass wall absorbs the impact and leaves the ball off the green, although often still in good shape. The grass mound that protects the rock wall behind the Klondyke's green. The forecaddies' shack on top of the dune. Another quirk of the hole is that it crosses paths with the 18th. People on 18 tee off perpendicularly over the fairway between the dune and the green. Because of this a caddy stays on top of the dune with a red or green flag, signaling when the group in front has cleared the green and to ensure no one from the 18th is crossing. Looking back toward the tee from the top of the dune shows how narrow the fairway truly is. Facing the green from the top of the dune. Standing on the green looking back at the dune.
  10. Lahinch Golf Club is one of the few courses in the world that uses grass pathways from tee to green. This provides a unique aesthetic value, but comes at the price of extra labor. A public course that is a popular destination of tourists and native Irish alike, Lahinch is open all year (weather permitting) and puts through between 42,000 and 45,000 rounds per year. A policy of no golf carts (or buggies, as they're called here) unless warranted by a medical condition helps reduce wear and tear, as maintenance equipment are the only heavy machines on the course. A newly sodded pathway leading to the 13th tee The paths have irrigation, and the sandy nature of the soil allows for ideal drainage and growing conditions. Maintaining high quality turf on these high traffic areas does not come easy however. Human nature dictates people taking the shortest route between two points, regardless of the health of the turf below their feet. To combat this, movable gates are used to direct traffic away from worn areas and allow the stressed turf time to recover. Movable gates used to divert traffic on the pathways Accumulated compaction also is an issue, but an active aeration regimen helps alleviate it. The paths are hollow-tined in October, and then Verti-Drained with ½" tines to a depth of 8 inches twice between December and March. The paths are also solid tined with ½" tines on a ProCore machine 4 to 5 times during the season. Topdressing pathways by hand. In addition, the paths are topdressed as often as possible. This is done by hand and shovel, something I have never seen done in the States. It is yet another practice that is tied to tradition and keeps golf history alive and well.
  11. While Lahinch's signature par 3 and par 5 are givens, the best par 4 is up for debate, with many worthy holes. Out of personal taste, I believe the 13th ought to have the honor. The 13th plays 270 yards from the member tees, and is the embodiment of a perfect risk/reward short par 4. The options off the tee are endless, with careful consideration a requirement. The view from the tee. Largely blind, the player must trust his caddy or his own research on the best option for the hole. Many players can reach it with a driver, but a slightly errant tee shot can result in a 5 or more very easily. At the same time, the fairway is wide and receptive, although blind, and leaves no more than a 100 yard approach shot after a mid to long iron. From 100 yards out on the right side of the fairway, with the green visible on the right. A large flat area is on the left, which is an ideal setup for the short second shot. The danger on this hole comes in the form of two large, intimidating bunkers on the left, which collect any ball rolling off the left side of the green. The other threat is a large grassy hollow to the right, running the effective length of the hole. The hollow will grab a pushed 4 iron or driver just the same. A view from 130 yards out, just short of the hollow to the right. The grassy hollow to the right of the 13th. The picture does not do the angle and depth of this justice. The grass is wispy and balls are fairly easy to find, usually to the dismay of the golfer. The two collection bunkers along the left side of the green. Any ball that just reaches over the left side of the green will find itself in one of these, resulting in a challenging bunker shot. A 3-tiered green quickly reminds a golfer that the challenge of the hole is not isolated to the tee shot. Playing the hole safe with an iron, but following it up with an poor wedge can easily result in a 5 or more, just the same as a wild driver. It is demanding from start to finish, and a sigh of relief is common after retrieving one's ball from the cup. I have a fascination with the short par 4, and the 13th at Lahinch is a prime example. It challenges the modern golfer without the addition of yards. Golf equipment technology is neutralized, and the burden is put back on the golfer's shoulders to meet the challenge.
  12. As with any golf club, the geographical location of the course and the natural environment that comes along with it present unique challenges. Some of these issues cannot be overcome in one big effort then put aside, but are recurring and must be tended to on a consistent basis. One of these issues at Lahinch lies in the bunkers. The bunkers at Lahinch are subject to constant wind, usually coming off the Atlantic. After an extended time of no precipitation (resulting in dry sand) and steady wind, many bunkers accumulate sand deposits on one side, or have their lips blown clean, exposing the underlying soil. Sand may also accumulate above the bunker, resulting in an undesired and unnatural bump that must be taken care of. The greenside bunker on the 12th illustrates sand accumulation through wind. The sand has built up on the left side of this image, making a soft, poorly angled surface, while the right side is exposed. A good bunker has a large, flat base with sides steep enough for a ball to always roll to the base. While the individual bunker dictates the steepness and base size, these two conditions must be met. Depending on the state of the bunker, additional sand may need to be added or existing sand redistributed. While it is logical to think that bunkers along the water are most often the issue, that is not necessarily the case. Bunkers along the water get their fair share of damage, but the rolling dune landscape at Lahinch channels wind into certain areas where the wind swirls around. Bunkers in these areas need the most attention. As with life, one must take the bad with good, and a few extra hours a week reshaping bunkers is a small price to pay for the ideal location that Lahinch Golf Club calls home. The first step in reshaping bunkers. By removing sand from the pile and returning it to the bare side, you can restore the bunker to its intended form. After reconfiguring sand, tamping in the sides and maintaining a mostly flat base with a slight incline towards the playing surface, the bunker has been successfully reshaped. A different angle reveals the desired steepness of the bunker side, to assure no ball will stop in an unplayable position. Sand accumulation on top of bunker lips creates an unclear edge and unnatural look. The problem is quickly remedied with a stiff bristled brush.
  13. The 5th hole at Lahinch is perhaps the most well known and talked about holes on the course (and in Ireland), rivaled only by the Par 5 4th Klondyke. The hole measures 154 yards from the tips, with member tees measuring at 145 and women's at 118. The hole plays longer however, as one needs to take enough club to carry the front hill guarding the green. The Dell also plays into the prevailing wind, which can be an advantage as the ball will have a more vertical flight path coming down, minimizing the chance that you'll witness the dreaded sight of seeing your ball land on top of the 30 foot hill. It's green is wide but shallow and angled about 30 degrees off center from the tee box. It also has a subtle two-tier like contour, with the high side being on the left. There is an additional 30 foot dune on the back of the green that the locals commonly use as a backboard. The Dell green from the 6th tee. The view is from the left of the hole, with the tee shot coming in over the hill on the right. The blind nature of the hole requires a large white stone be placed on top of the hill to mark the days pin placement, as the width of the green allows for many pin placements on different lines. View from the top of a smaller hill to the right of the hole. The right side, where the pin is in this picture, is deeper and more receptive than the far side, as balls come in over the hill to the left of the photo. Old Tom Morris laid out this hole in the late 1890's, and it has remained untouched through Dr. MacKenzie's re-design in the 1920's and Martin Hawtree's restoration in the late 1990's. It is a truly unique hole that cannot be replicated and gives Lahinch Golf Club a touch of character. It stands unapologetically in a current world where no architect would dare design a similar hole for fear of cries of unfairness. The saying rings true... 'Only in Ireland.' A glance from short right of the green, displaying the sharp angles the hills have around the green. The steep hill at right in this photo is the hill that is used as a backstop by locals. The confusing image that greets players on the 5th tee. There are stories of golfers who elected not to take caddies, and ended up playing to the 9th green, which lies on the dunes above and to the right of the 5th green.
  14. Accommodation in Lahinch is hard to come by in the summer, as the town comes to life from June to August when the weather heats up to a sizzling 70 degrees F. Native Irishmen and tourists swarm the beach and pubs for a summer getaway. This quickly became an issue for me, as finding a room or apartment to rent was proving difficult. The club put me up in the Sancta Maria Hotel, just a city block away from the course. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. The Sancta Maria Hotel The Sancta Maria is run by the McIlnery family, who are some of the nicest people I've ever come across. They go above and beyond to look after me, but it seems to be business as usual from their perspective. It feels more like staying with extended family than at a hotel. Breakfast is normally served from 8:30 to 10 every morning, but the McIlnerys set out breakfast and a few sandwiches for lunch for me every morning, as work starts at 6:30 am. I feel like I'm back in grade school with my mother looking after me, and it's lovely. My breakfast for the weekdays, with sandwiches made for lunch. On any day off I am able to catch breakfast at the regular time. A full Irish breakfast is not to be taken lightly, as it includes orange juice, bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, tea and brown bread that is not of this world. I don't know if the McIlnerys have a special recipe or the brown bread is like this all over Ireland, but it is unreal. The "Full Irish" breakfast... not to be taken lightly! In addition, I am asked almost daily if everything is suitable and am reminded to ask if I need anything at all. The hospitality shown to is not isolated to just where I sleep. The same sentiment has been expressed by everyone, from the maintenance crew to club management and everywhere in between. Although I am almost immediately asked what part of America I am from after merely exchanging "hellos", I still am treated as one of their own.
  15. While golf has brought me to Ireland, I'd be a fool not to explore all of the wonders this country has to offer. After a bit of research before my trip, I was under the impression the Cliffs of Moher were a can't miss sight. They also happened to be just seven miles away from Lahinch. With no car at my disposal and no knowledge of public transportation routes, I decided to make the trek on foot and make use of my Saturday off. This shows the width of the roads as soon as you get off the main routes. I realized quickly that the roads in Ireland are a far cry from what I was used to back home. Shoulders are a rare occurrence on less heavily trafficked roads, and sidewalks are even less common. The casual stroll I had been planning quickly turned into what felt like a life or death journey. The guys on the crew had a laugh at my expense when I asked them how people could drive, let alone walk, on such narrow and winding roads. Another thing that jumped out to me were the stone walls lining each road and dividing every agricultural field. They were all hand laid with flat stones stacked on top of each other. The time and effort put into these walls was astounding, and they were literally everywhere! The character and history these walls represent is magical. It is something you will not see in the states, as most everything is done with efficiency at the forefront, especially things seen to be as trivial as 'fences.' Stone wall in a rural area along private land. The walls along the main roads are maintained well and even rebuilt if need be. The product of my excursion was well worth the time and effort, as The Cliffs are one the most visually stunning natural formations in all the world. The Cliffs reach to an approximate height of 700 feet above the Atlantic, which is comparable to the height of the Eiffel Tower. The north end of the Cliffs. The 'castle' off in the distance is a 3-story lookout tower, for height comparison. The south end of The Cliffs.
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