|Mt. Temple has plenty of history, from 500 BC onward. (GolfPublisher.com)|
MT. TEMPLE, Ireland - Michael Dolan looks out at the golf course he built and designed with his own hands, and in that humble-yet-proud Irish way, repeats his club's motto: "Built by God, polished by man."
Now, if this were a corporate motto, something dreamed up by overpaid consultants, you could either laugh at it, mock it or ignore it. But, Dolan has earned the right to such a lofty motto; before the course opened in 1991, his father farmed this rolling land on the plateau of Mt. Temple, and his father before him. This is land that has been worked by hand for generations, and torn by war and violence for eons before that.
It's the site of Greanan Castle, which was erected about 1400 A.D., back when it was the seat of the ancient Gaelic territory of Calraighe, ruled over by the McCauley clan. In all the wars and strife that followed, Greanan Castle suffered the most, because it was the seat of that power.
"All those wars and battle," Dolan says, looking over at the homey clubhouse he built, and which is constructed partly from the walls of the old castle. "And that little building is all that's left."
Well, not quite. There are the remains of the old Norman fort, for example, where they used to hide their cattle to keep them from being ravaged by wolves, back when wolves roamed the island. That was about 500 B.C. There are the ruins of an old abbey. The ridge just before the 18th green was the driveway to the castle. And more recently, there are ridges, little ripples, across some of the fairways, the remnants of potato fields; Dolan refuses to level them in honor of the million or so people who died in the great potato famine.
So, yes, by all means: Built by God, polished by man.
Mt. Temple won't get the publicity of other, more well-known courses, like Ireland's famous links courses such as Ballybunion, or even its more recent additions like the K Club or PGA National. But it is a very Irish course right in the heart of Ireland; in fact, you can see from the course the 30-foot spiral that marks the dead center of the island.
That's not all you can see from the plateau. You can see Limerick on a clear day, and you can see for maybe a hundred miles in all directions from the right places. If you want to see Ireland, play Mt. Temple.
Dolan won't take credit for the design of this charming but tough little course, insisting it is the site, not the design that makes a golf course. He's right, of course, but there have been big-name architects who have fouled up great terrain. Dolan has done a clever job here.
It may not have the immaculate conditioning or fancy clubhouses of the big boys, but it can be a bear when the wind blows, which it often does so high up here. There are blind shots and long, tough par-3s. There are some long par-4s difficult to reach and the par-5s will also test your machismo. The course plays up and down on the mountain, on different levels, with fairways bending and twisting, and many of the greens are elevated, so that your ball will re-introduce itself to you if not well-struck.
No. 13, nicknamed Augusta, for instance. It's a 464-yard par-4 that features a hill running across the fairway. If you don't reach the hill off the tee, about 250 yards, you're looking at a blind shot into the green.
It's a shame more Americans don't experience Mt. Temple. It's set in the little village of the same name, equidistant between Athlone, dissected by the River Shannon, and Moate. It's a friendly course with always some sort of competition going on it seems, with Dolan's wife and daughter helping out in the operation. It's the kind of course where everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.
Not to mention the fact it's a great bargain. Green fees start at 30 euros (about $32 US) and for parties of four or more, they'll pick you up at either the Dublin or Shannon airports and drop you off at the first tee. No need to drive the narrow, Irish roads.
The Johnstown House Hotel and Spa in Enfield, not far from PGA National, is a Georgian house that dates back to the 1750s . If you're looking for a little Irish architecture, this place has it. The 18th century drawing room has ornate doors and a Rococco ceiling, with Rocaille ornamentation, showing a boy playing a bugle, a bird swooping on a fly and a bow and quiver with arrows.
Owned by Marriott, it's got most of the modern amenities the weary traveler in Ireland might be looking for, including a leisure center that has a swimming pool, gym and outdoor tub. It also has a spa and a "relaxation room" overlooking the rooftop garden. It's about a 10-minute walk to Enfield, and its pubs and restaurants.
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 Johnstown Pavilion Restaurant for fine dining - reservations are required - and the more informal Atrium Brasserie serves breakfast and lunch. Other restaurants are in nearby Enfield, which is about 30-40 minutes west of Dublin.
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.
May 2, 2006
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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