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Powerscourt GC unknown to many, but they like it that way

Dave BowersBy Dave Bowers,

DUBLIN, Ireland - There is very little about old-style imperialism which gives the 21st century Brit a warm glow.

For every sign of opulence there was undoubtedly much suffering among the local population.

Ireland is a classic example. But the one thing Britain did leave Ireland was some beautiful buildings and estates – it was the least we could do under the circumstances.

And thankfully the Irish people are beginning to reap the benefits, albeit 100 years later than they should have done.

Certainly the golfers of Ireland should appreciate the beauty of Powerscourt, just 12 miles south of Dublin at Enniskerry and easily accessible from the city's airport for those from further afield.

Part of the renowned Powerscourt Estate – famed for its beautifully manicured and crafted gardens and a majestic waterfall - which dates back to the 14th century, the golf club now boasts two magnificent courses.

Their maturity defies the fact the whole club has been in situ for less than a decade.

Mature trees, undulating landscapes and the occasional brook all add up to something a little bit extra when it comes to playing – and indeed designing -- a golf course.

It seems some omniscient golfing power has taken all the prerequisites for a desirable course and dropped them into this one area, nestling at the foot of the magnificent Sugarloaf mountain.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the estate was owned by the Wingfield family and it was they who built the majestic Powerscourt House.

Sadly, everything within its magnificent structure was lost to a fire almost 30 years ago. With no insurance, the house lay dormant for many years and a wonderful collection of treasures and fine art was lost to the Irish nation.

Nearly 200 years after the original house was erected, with the estate in the hands of the Slazenger family, a handsome Georgian-style clubhouse was built – in keeping with the original house -- to accommodate golfers.

The first course – the East, which hosted the 1998 Smurfit Irish Open and a 2001 European Seniors Tour event -- was designed by Peter McEvoy and opened in 1996.

The former Walker Cup captain made fine use of the natural landscape and avoided the use of massive reconstructive design.

And just one look can tell you he made the correct decision.

When the course opened, its greens were described by Golf Monthly as "18 of the best-shaped putting surfaces since God had a hand in shaping Prestwick."

So there's that omniscient golfing hand at work once again.

Originally the club was set to have 27 holes – an 18 and a nine; but initial reaction from the new members was so good the second nine became a second 18 and a new course opened in June this year.

The superb new West course found its designer by something of a circuitous route.

The club worked very closely with Gleneagles Golf Development from its conception and in doing so became on good terms with greenskeeper Jimmy Kidd, whose son David just happened to be putting the finishing touches to a course across the Atlantic.

Golf manager Bernard Gibbons, himself an ex-golf pro, said "He got great accolades for Bandon Dunes. But everybody was saying 'David who?'"

"But he's a great designer and the reviews and reaction we have had since day one support that view. The terrain was very natural and there was not a lot of earth moving involved.

"We spent nothing on advertising – not a penny. And we still have people phoning up every day inquiring about the possibility of membership. We have had a waiting list since we opened."

The club has plans for 100 holiday homes on the estate and then for an internationally-owned hotel.

Gibbons added: "The initial idea was to open them all together, but the events of September 11 put a halt to that -- so we're now looking at a 280-bedroom hotel for 2005. It will be down in the hollow and won't be seen."

So, there are two wonderful courses on a famous estate, with world-renowned gardens ... so why haven't we heard of the golf club?

Quite simply, the club has not marketed itself abroad. It felt it had no need to, as Gibbons explained.

"Our business consists of the 900-strong membership and the corporate market.

"All the major Irish companies do their corporate entertaining here. And on top of course we have the visitors' green fees which are €100 all day, every day."

But things may change. When the proposed extension of the M50 is completed the motorway will pass just three miles from the estate's substantial, tree-lined, main drive.

A trip from Dublin airport would take around 35 minutes – and with holiday homes and the hotel on the horizon, more foreign visitors are expected.

But the club will not saturate its courses with golfers.

Annual usage will be limited to around 29,000 to 31,000 rounds – 12,000-member rounds; 8,000 members' guest-rounds; with the balance enjoyed by visiting green fee customers.

"We have a policy that we don't want it overused," said Gibbons.

"Golf is booming at the moment. The only thing lacking is tourists - but we've always dealt with the Irish corporate market.

"We did not suffer as much as others after September 11, but those clubs who were relying on the overseas market are now looking to get into the corporate market, which has always been very successful for us.

"However, even the corporate market is beginning to shrink a bit -- particularly in the number of events they host each year. Purse strings are tightening across the board."

So perhaps now is the ideal time to visit Powerscourt, before they decide to really market themselves overseas.

Other venues worth playing

There are a number of fine courses in Co Wicklow.

Another in which Peter McEvoy had a hand is Rathsallagh, around 30 miles from Dublin.

McEvoy joined forces with Christy O'Connor Jr. to produce one of the most demanding parkland courses you can face. Measuring almost 7,000 yards, seven of the holes are in excess of 450 yards, including an opening par-5 hole of 571 yards.

You can't talk of golf in Wicklow without mentioning Druid's Glen.

Set on the Woodstock estate, some 25 miles from Dublin, it regularly hosts the Irish Open and is a mecca for golfers of all nations.

Designers Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock were charged with designing ""the most beautiful parkland course in Ireland."

Whether they achieved that target with the 7,026-yard par-71 course is still open to debate – what isn't is that it's worth the visit.

Ruddy also designed – and owns – The European Club, 30 miles south of Dublin at Brittas Bay.

Just 10 years old, the European is a genuine links course, with views of the Irish Sea from 17 of the 20 holes – there is a 7a and 12a, just to tantalise a little further.

The par-4 470-yard seventh already has been listed among the world's 100 greatest golf holes.

Other clubs worth a visit include Blainroe – a parkland course overlooking the sea; Woodbrook, at Bray, 6,956-yard, par-72 parkland course on high cliffs; and further afield, the K Club and Luttrellstown Castle.

And that's without venturing north of Dublin ...

Where to stay

Powerscourt's hotel and holiday homes aren't available yet, but the estate does have some converted servants' quarters providing very comfortable self-catering accommodation within a pitching wedge of the original house.

If you require a luxurious hotel, you could do worse than stay at Rathsallagh House, within the grounds of the Rathsallagh Golf Club.

It is a four-star Grade A country house with just 17 en-suite bedrooms.

There are several good bed & breakfasts in and around Bray or you could try the Royal Hotel and Leisure Centre in the centre of the village.

For that little bit extra, if you'e intending to play several of the courses, you could always splash out on a few nights at the Druids Glen Marriott Hotel and Country Club (druidsglen.ie).

It has 148 rooms and a spa and health centre – not to mention a close proximity to one of the best golf courses on the continent.

Where to dine

If you're staying at Powerscourt, there is little need to dine anywhere else other than in the clubhouse. The food here is delightful – not cheap, but well worth paying for.

However, take one night out to visit Johnnie Fox's (johnniefoxs.com), one of the most famous pubs anywhere. It has been the location for many films and TV shows, has live Irish music seven days a week and an award-winning seafood restaurant.

It's what the Irish mean by "the craic..."

Powerscourt GC, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow
East course: par 72, 7,024 yards
West course: par 72, 6990 yards
Green fee: €100

Dave lives on the south coast of England with partner Jackie and their three children. Originally a football writer in his homeland, he even rose to the giddy heights of public relations manager for an English professional Premiership side. But he'd been bitten by the golf bug and returned to his roots in journalism as executive editor for Golf Management Europe magazine and as a sports sub-editor/golf writer on one of the country's largest regional daily papers. Like all of us, he plays golf whenever he can - which isn't as often as he would like - and has even performed stand-up comedy in a top comedy club.

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

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