IRELAND - The European Club is situated at Brittas Bay in Co. Wicklow, on the main road south from Dublin to the ferry port of Rosslare, and about a 45-minute drive from the capital Dublin. It is the first new links course to be built in Ireland for nearly 100 years, and opened for play on St. Stephen's Day, 1992.
The brainchild of golfing aficionado Pat Ruddy, golf course architect of growing renown and owner and editor of 'Golf Illustrated' magazine, it is already ranked as the 24th best golf course in the world, an almost unbelievable achievement for a course so young.
I knew the small bay on which it is built long before the golf club ever opened, and on many occasions remarked to my wife that it was an ideal spot for a golf course. But it took the vision and foresight of Pat Ruddy to make this a reality. What he has created from the scrubland and sand dunes will live on for centuries to come, and ensure his name is always remembered in the world of golf.
The course falls down a little in the off-course facilities it offers visiting golfers. For the present, you could forgive them for this drawback, as Pat has poured all of his personal money and resources (and then some) into his wonderful golf course, all without the benefit or comfort of major corporate backers. A result of this is that he didn't have too much left over to spend on an elaborate clubhouse.
For the first two years of the course's existence, you changed in a simple portacabin, but a new clubhouse has now been provided, which while it will never rank amongst the best, at least has the basic necessities for the golfer. The reception area has a small shop where you can buy all the basics, like balls, gloves and tees, and hire a caddy cart if necessary. Pat has lots of souvenirs of the club itself for sale here as well, should you want a memento of your visit.
The changing rooms and showers are basic but functional, and there is plenty of toasty hot water to warm your cold bones after your round. A seating area with tables and chairs is provided, and catering is available, but this is of the quick and easy variety, like toasted sandwiches, mixed grills and burgers, and so on.
One big drawback at present is the lack of a bar. If you want some liquid refreshment after your game (as lots of golfers do) then you have to make your way some six miles or so to the nearest hostelry to partake of an alcoholic beverage.
I would see this situation changing in the very near future, as it is costing Pat dearly in terms of lost revenue, especially in relation to the now very lucrative golf society market. However I wouldn't let the slight lack of facilities deter you in any way from trying out this wonderful course, for what it lacks in facilities, it more than makes up for once you set foot on the actual links itself.
Some of the most famous names in the world of golf have given permission for individual holes to be named after them here at the European Club. This gives you some idea of the utmost respect afforded to this course in top golfing circles.
Thus the 8th is named after Arnold Palmer, the 11th after Gary Player, the 6th after Lee Trevino, and the magnificent 17th after Tom Watson. Most of the legends of the modern game are represented here.
This is links golf at its very finest. Pat Ruddy has made the best possible use of the land at his disposal, to create a course of such stature that it is a very difficult task for me to pick out any feature holes to talk about, such is the quality of almost every hole on the golf course. So here are just four of the holes that I particularly enjoy playing.
The second is a par-3 of some 160 yards, so it's not the longest you will ever play. But what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in the degree of difficulty. I've played nearly every club in the bag on this hole, with the exception of my driver and three wood, depending on the wind direction. You play from a slightly elevated tee, to an elevated green, surrounded by bunkers and sand dunes on three sides, and fronted by the most fearsome bunker in the whole of Ireland, without exception.
This front bunker would even put 'hell bunker' on the road hole at St. Andrews to shame, such is its depth and ferocity. Get caught in here, and my advice is to come out backwards or sideways, and accept your fate. The face is practically vertical, all of fifteen feet in height, and banked with old railway sleepers. If you are lucky enough to get a good lie towards the rear of the bunker, it just MIGHT be possible to get enough elevation on your ball to hit towards the green, but this would be the exception rather than the rule.
If you avoid this potential card wrecker (and so early in the round) of a bunker, you still have two other bunkers both right and left of the putting surface that you have to avoid, both of which are difficult enough in their own right. And if you miss these, you still have the rough covered sand dunes, which can prove equally as tricky.
My best advice on this hole is to treat it with great respect. Make absolutely certain that you take enough club to carry the front bunker, and try to hit a high, soft shot onto the green, which with luck, should reward you with your par figure. With the wind directly in your face, this hole would scare the wits out of any golfer on the planet!
The 7th hole is a par-4 of 435 yards, and rated as the index one. It is easy to see why, as there is nothing easy about this hole, right from the moment you step onto the tee, until you walk off the distant green.
Your first problem is you must carry the ball all of 200 yards plus, over knee high rough, before you even get close to any short grass. Hit it right, and you are out of bounds, and reloading. Hit it left, and you are into a fearsome sand dune. Even if you do manage a good, long tee shot, there is then an area of scrubland on the left of the fairway where you cannot guarantee any kind of decent lie.
I have a love/hate relationship with this hole. I love it because you cannot help but admire its layout and the degree of difficulty. I hate it because my own natural tee shot is a draw, and for me to find the middle of the fairway with my drive, I must aim out over the boundary fence. This is not inspired to instill confidence in anyone, no matter how sure they are of their game.
Even after finding the short grass with your drive, the difficulty is not over. You are still faced with a long iron or wood shot for your approach to a green that is well bunkered on the left and has an out of bounds and a small stream on the right.
You can't even get away with hitting it over the back of the green, as here you will find a mess of tall gorse and bushes, that will almost definitely result in a penalty drop for an unplayable ball. Enough said. Walk off here with a bogey five and you should be well content. A par-4 feels like you've just made a good birdie.
The first hole that really grabs your attention on the back nine is the 11th, a par-4 measuring 385 yards, to which the famous South African golfer Gary Player has lent his name. This is not the longest of par-4's, but once again great care and attention is required in order to score that elusive par.
The tee shot is again the key. Hit it long and straight and you will be left with a relatively simple approach shot with a short iron to the slightly elevated green. But miss right and you are either bunkered, or once again into the ever present sand dunes. Miss it left, and you'll find yourself in a deep valley, with a totally monstrous sand dune right in front of you, and most likely in a lie that you can only take a speculative hack at.
If you succeed in hitting the fairway, care must still be exercised with your approach to the green. It's well bunkered at the front, with yet another sand dune on the right, and a huge fall off down a steep bank to the left. Left is definitely the place to avoid here, as if you do go down that steep bank, you're faced with a blind third shot to a green that is falling away from you, and no way will you manage to keep your ball on the putting surface. If you can't find the short stuff, then the back of the green will at least give you a fighting chance of a par.
Having gotten past the 11th hole, take a deep breath, because the very next, the 12th, is, in my opinion, the most difficult on the golf course. Again it is a par-4, this time measuring some 420 yards. There's about 150 yards of carry before you reach the extremely narrow fairway. On the right, you have the largest natural hazard on any links, the beach. Land on here, and in all probability you will have an unplayable lie, as it isn't sandy but comprised of a mixture of small and large stones, and all sorts of accumulated debris and flotsam.
There is also a large bunker on the right hand side, just at the point where most well struck drives will end up. On the left you have, well, can you not guess? Right. You got it. Yet another massive sand dune, once again covered in scrub and rough. A strategically placed bunker is situated just at the likely resting point of a well-struck drive. (life just isn't FAIR, is it?)
Find the fairway and you're hitting a long iron for your second into a green that is surrounded by a series of fearsome pot bunkers. Not only this, it's extremely small and narrow, so great precision is required to achieve the required outcome and get the ball onto the putting surface. I'll take a bogey five here any day!
The standard green fee is £80, and the course is extremely 'visitor friendly', with tee times available every day of the week. Pat Ruddy has deliberately kept the club membership small in order to allow as many golfers as possible to enjoy his new creation.
Finding the course is fairly easy. Simply take the main Rosslare road south from Dublin, until you come to the signposts for Brittas Bay. There is a famous landmark pub called 'Jack Whites Inn' where you turn left. Then follow the road until you hit the beach. Swing a right, and drive on for about four miles. The golf course is signposted on the left-hand side.
This is one of my favourite golf courses here in Ireland, and one that I play often. I hope I have managed to give you just a small taste of the golfing pleasure that awaits you if you pay this beauty a visit.
The overall par of the course is 71, and the length of the championship tees is 7,089 yards. To give you some idea of the degree of difficulty, I have only ever managed to break 80 once in nine years of playing here, and I have played to a single figure handicap for all of that time.
Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow
Tel: (353) 404 47415
Fax: (353) 404 47449
Secretary/Manager: Sidon Ruddy
Course length: 6,480 metres/7,089 yards
Green Fees: £80 per day
Carts: Limited availability
Ken Johnstone is a freelance journalist and taxi-cab owner based in Dublin, Ireland. He came to journalism late in life, receiving his degree in August, 2000, although he has always been a prolific scribbler.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Darren Clarke learned to play the game at Dungannon Golf Club, a pretty parkland course right in the middle of Northern Ireland. While the course is pretty enough and the green fee is almost embarrassingly reasonable, the appeal of Dungannon is the opportunity to pay homage to the 2011 British Open champion, Clive Agran writes from County Tyrone.
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