|The Headfort Estate towers over the new course at Headfort Golf Club (East Coast & Midlands Tourism)|
Between the European and U.S. senior tours and his growing course-design business, the nephew of Irish great Christy O'Connor Sr. was plenty busy. When initially contacted by Headfort members, he politely passed. Only with some prodding did O'Connor Jr. visit the club about 45 minutes northwest of Dublin in County Meath.
The club kept up the pursuit, though. And when the four-time European Tour winner and former Ryder Cup star laid eyes on Headfort's dense woods, wetlands and tumbling terrain, club Captain Jimmy Walsh recalled, it was love at first sight.
"We insisted he come visit, but he was half-hearted about it," Walsh said. "When he got here, he said, 'You didn't tell me there was water on it.' His eyes lit up.
"We couldn't keep him off it. He would spend day and night in the forest and trees. He feels it's one of his best designs."
Most who've played the new golf course at Headfort would agree. Just as O'Connor's playing career will forever be linked to his magical 2 iron to the 18th green against Fred Couples that allowed Europe to retain the Ryder Cup in 1989, all his designs will likely be
compared to this one.
But be warned: You might need to stiff a 2 iron like O'Connor to tame this beast.
For members and most players, the original 18, opened as a nine-holer in 1929 and upgraded to 18 in 1958, has the moxie to hold its own.
"The old course is really beloved," said Michael O'Grady, the club's honorary secretary. "These trees move. They reach out and grab the ball. Some are more than 300 years old."
But at 6,300 yards the old course is too short to test the country's top players. In 1980 Des Smyth, now on the Champions tour, blistered it to the tune of 27 under to win the Dunlop Tournament.
The club acquired the land for the new course in 1997, 10 years after it bought out the lease for the old-course property. O'Connor praised the 230-acre parcel across Slane Road from the old course as "the finest piece of land I have worked with. [It] could host the Irish Open without any trouble."
Players must be ready to navigate a wet and wild ride from the first tee forward. Eleven holes feature water, including most of the front nine. O'Connor built in a handful of intimidating carries off the tee across the River Blackwater.
There are too many strong holes to profile. The par-3 fourth and 17th both mandate near-perfect shots to peninsula greens. Drives on the par-4 ninth and 10th must carry the river or meet a watery end, and you'll flirt with the drink all along the stern par-4 12th. From there, the course climbs toward the higher ground near majestic Headfort House.
No. 18, boasting the final dramatic carry of the day, plays overly long and difficult into the usual head wind. Players who finish the round with the ball they teed up at No. 1 definitely deserve a pint from the club's bar overlooking the old course.
The new course at Headfort is almost as scenic as it is difficult. Castle-like Headfort House stands guard over the property, almost castle-like, adding to the visual appeal. Bring your camera, but leave your ego behind: O'Connor's new course could hand your game a reality check. For higher handicaps, tee it up on the old course.
The Headfort Arms Hotel (+353-818-222-800, www.headfortarms.ie) in Kells sells golf packages with the club, including a 199 euro midweek special (260 euros on weekends). This elegant B&B has 32 guest rooms and a spa.
Kells is a good base for exploring County Meath, home to sites that go the heart of Irish history and culture, including the Royal Hill of Tara and the massive megalithic tombs at Newgrange and Knowth. Near the River Blackwater at Kells are the ruins of a ninth-century monastery founded by monks from Iona in Scotland. On the upper stretches of the Boyne River, at Trim, is the greatest of the country's Anglo-Norman castles.
The hotel's Vanilla Pod Restaurant (+353-46-9240084) won a Bushmills award as one of the best new restaurants to open outside Dublin in 2003.
Headfort House was built in 1780. It now houses a prep school.
June 8, 2007
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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