|Two rivers cut through Woodenbridge Golf Club. (GolfPublisher.com)|
ARKLOW, Ireland - If you were to take an Irish golf dream, sprinkle it with some Guinness stout and a dose of fine mist from the Irish Sea, you might come up with something like the Woodenbridge Golf Club.
Actually, that's hedging a bit. The Irish Sea is never too far away from anywhere here in Ireland, but it never actually comes into play or view at Woodenbridge. But, nearly every other stock character in the storied Irish landscape does.
The golf course is in County Wicklow, the garden spot of the country, and in the Vale of Avoca, where Dubliners often travel south to vacation because of the scenery. The course is set in an amphitheater of sorts, in one of the four valleys that dominate the area.
The course is ringed with green-tinted hills, both near and distant, and the high, forested, dark banks of a fine estate, where one can sometimes hear the gunfire of the landed gentry hunting pheasant. The pheasants that don't end up on the dinner table under glass can be seen walking the fairways.
Two rivers, the Avonmore and the Aughrim, dissect the course with narrow, offshoot streams gathering into ponds, where wild duck join the pheasant. The rivers and water come into play on 10 of the 18 holes, but force only one carry off the tee, on the par-5 18th.
Throughout the course, the blooming, yellow flowers of gorse line fairways, along with the assorted colors of other Irish flora. To an American visitor, the scene looks as green as he always envisioned Ireland to be.
"In about a month, it will be really green and blooming," Director of Golf Pat Smith said. "We're really just coming into summer."
You get the picture. It's a fine golf course in a beautiful setting. It also has, like many Irish courses, some serious history.
Woodenbridge is the second-oldest course in Ireland. It was founded in 1884 - when Col. EAR Bayly offered an invitation to Sir Stanley Cochran of Woodbrook House to "field a team of gentlemen for a round" - but they were playing golf here even before that. The Bayly ancestors still live in the adjacent estate.
The course was designed by Patrick Merrigan and has been refurbished several times, including a recent re-doing of eight of the greens. Plaques in the oak-paneled clubhouse list captains dating back to the late 1880s. The clubhouse, bar and restaurant all overlook the layout and surrounding hills.
The course itself isn't long at about 6,800 yards, but it is fairly narrow, and Old Mr. Merrigan designed some interesting holes, with quite a few doglegs and risk-reward opportunities. The par-5 No. 18 has to be one of the prettiest closing holes anywhere, with a carry over the river to a tight green; it's difficult to reach in two.
"It's not a real hard course, but you do have to be careful," said Richard O'Brien, a local teen who plays the course often.
The Woodenbridge isn't one of Ireland's famous links courses and is a tad out of the way, so consequently, most Americans never see the course, which is a shame.
"Generally, Americans want to play the famous links courses," Smith said. "We get a lot of people from England and Wales and other parts of Europe. We always ask people if they want to come back and they all say yes."
It's easy to see why. It's one of the more scenic courses in Ireland. The only serious drawback to the course is related to one of its advantages. It's a good course for walking, but many of the holes are parallel and close together, resulting in frequent yelps of "fore!" and a lot of ducking.
Green fees are in the 50-60 Euro range - about $70-$80 U.S. dollars.
The Glenview Hotel is a good place to play the courses of County Wicklow and other areas in this part of Ireland, including Glen of the Downs, Greystones, Charlesland, Delgany, Powerscourt and the European Club. The 70-room hotel sits high above and right off the N-11 motorway and is only about 30-40 minutes from the city center of Dublin.
The property sits in the tree-bedecked hills of Glen of the Downs, with fine views of the Wicklow Mountains. The Glenview also has "The Haven" beauty salon and a leisure club with a fitness center, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, a swimming pool and "coffee dock." The hotel has a business room and conference space for up to 250 people.
The Glenview has the Woodlands Restaurant, with views of the mountains and the hotel's gardens, and an extensive wine list.
There is also the Conservatory Bar and Bistro with casual food and specialty coffees and the Malton Lounge - good for morning coffee or afternoon tea and yet more views. Nearby Bray has an assortment of restaurants and eateries.
A great side trip from Mt. Temple is Athlone, about a 15-20 minute drive away, with its castle, the River Shannon and all the shops and restaurants.
May 2, 2006
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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