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Kilkee Golf Club: A little pot o' gold in County Clare, Ireland

Kiel ChristiansonBy Kiel Christianson,
Senior Writer

The stealth pond on Kilkee'sBased on a 1894 letter to the editor of the Limerick Chronicle we can gather that the conditions of the links here were "affected with true Irish apathy," despite their "grand possibilities" and "magnificent" situation.

The Kilkee Golf Club of today suffers none of this one-time (purported) apathy, however. Having grown organically, as most of the historic seaside links in Ireland and Scotland have, nine holes evolved into 12, then back into nine, and finally, as of 1994, into 18.

Today, the 750-member club and its 5,555-meter, par-70 links, which host most of their visitors during the peak summer months of July and August, promise those tenacious enough to search them out, some breathtaking views. There's George's Head, the Pollack Holes, and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as a handful of truly memorable golf holes.

How it plays

Almost ideally situated within 45 minutes of Lahinch, Doonbeg, Ballybunion and Kilrush, Kilkee Golf Club fits nicely into any west-Ireland golf itinerary. An avid golfing couple from Florida gushes about the course as they loaded up their clubs and headed toward Doonbeg, just nine kilometers away: "It's a short course, so keep your driver in your bag. It's penal, though, and the views, especially on the front nine, are spectacular."

Indeed, the opening four holes, as well as the memorable 18th, play along the cliffside of the often stormy north Atlantic, offering both inspiration and intimidation to the golfer who must maneuver his ball along the shore and over the craggy neck of Chimney Bay.

"This is a challenging course, normally," Secretary/Manager Michael Culligan said, "because of the winds."

After teeing off in the shadow of the modest clubhouse and skirting the road and scenic overlook to the left of the entire 341-meter first hole, the 443-meter, par-5 second dips into a shallow dell toward a green fronted by a largely hidden and very ball-hungry pond.

The 292-meter, par-4 third and the downhill 165-meter fourth are the topographical highlights of the entire routing, however. You will sense this as you struggle to trek up the steep path toward the third tee box.

Kilkee's dramatic short par-4 3rd hole On the third, all that's required is a 150- to 170-yard tee shot to carry the gaping mouth of Chimney Bay and find the heaving fairway that lies beyond the abyss. This fairway and green, like the greens on the second, fourth, fifth and sixth holes, were unfortunately damaged by relentless wind and sea-spray last year. As a result, golfers will find more weeds and dirt than turf at present, but plans are made to recondition and renovate these areas to protect them in the future.

After the stunning seaside holes, the inland turn is a bit of a let-down, but don't fall victim to malaise, or you will miss some excellent holes. Here's where players do get to pull out their drivers and go for broke. Several holes, for example the long par-4 fifth and sixth run parallel and offer gobs of room for misses to the right and left.

The 156-meter, par-3 11th is as bucolic an inland par-3 as you will find in Ireland, situated as it is in the forefront of a gently rolling valley dotted with dairy cattle. The green of the 387-meter 15th and - especially - the elevated tee box of the 343-meter 18th present players with lovely vistas out over the town and shoreline.

The verdict

Stumbling upon Kilkee Golf Club is a bit like discovering a small pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. For no more than 35 Euros on peak season weekends (less other times), the course yields more than a few views and holes that will stick firmly in any golfer's memory.

The Par-3 11th HoleThere are a few mis-hits as well to be sure, for example the rather silly 125-meter 16th, which has room to be lengthened. Playability could also be enhanced with more copious yardage markers (150-yard signs are found on each hole, but the scorecard is in meters) and even yardage books for first-timers who would like some help in sussing out the routing of certain holes. White rocks are provided to assist in alignment on blind holes, however.

The aforementioned conditioning issues will be addressed prior to May 2006, as the course will host an interclub competition at that time. More importantly for visitors, however, is the relative obscurity of these links compared to some of those in the surrounding area.

"Out of the peak summer season (of July and August), this is like a millionaire's course," Culligan said. "There are times when a visitor can have it all to himself."

Stay and play

As everywhere in Ireland, B&Bs and inns abound in west County Clare. For groups of golfers, particularly men, a true diamond in the rough is Keane's Oyster Bar (keaneskilkee.com).

Just a few minutes' drive from Kilkee, Keane's can sleep up to four foursomes in comfort between one three-bedroom cottage and several apartments. All rooms have bathroom en suite and smoking is allowed. Accommodations may be a bit rustic for some tastes, but for a group of guys, they are absolutely ideal for kicking back, lighting a cigar, and rehashing the day's round.

Rates vary depending on season, size of group and length of stay, but generally range around 25 Euros per night, including a full Irish breakfast. For larger groups, a rate can be arranged that will include one delightful three-course dinner during the stay. Best part of all is that you can drink and play cards in the pub into the wee hours and then not have to worry about driving back to your room.

Dining out

While numerous dining venues exist in west Clare, according to the locals, very few establishments can compare with Keane's Oyster Bar. Proprietor, owner, chef, local historian, peat-cutter and oyster-farmer Michael Keane is a jack of all trades, whose family have been on this very spot since 1641.

The Fine Closing HoleFrom the outside, the casual observer might think to stop in for a pint and a sandwich. Once inside, however, you find a fully-stocked bar and, more impressively, a gourmet menu featuring only the freshest seafood and local meats.

Keane farms his own oysters, so they are always fresh (7.50 Euros for half-dozen), and the locally caught crab claws (6.95 Euros) are succulent. Entrees range from 15 to 30 Euros and the brill, monkfish, stuffed duck, or fillet of pork will not disappoint.

Don't let the laundry flapping on the lines outside the dining room windows or the aroma of nearby cattle put you off: You will not soon forget your meal here.

Fast fact

The Kilkee Golf Club overlooks the Pollack Holes, which are natural swimming pools formed out of volcanic rock. When the tide is down, these pools hold bath-tub temperature water and offer some of the best swimming in the area.

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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