|Seapoint doesn't have history on its side, but it's an outstanding links experience nonetheless. (Courtesy of Seapoint G.C.)|
COUNTY LOUTH, Ireland — There's an old joke that has passed among the Irish membership at Seapoint Golf Club in Termonfeckin.
It involves a round of golf from some foreign tourists unfamiliar with their beautiful surroundings in County Louth, roughly one hour north of Dublin. As the group made the trek to the 14th tee at neighboring County Louth Golf Club in Baltray, the foursome mistakenly walked through the stunning sand dunes lining the shore to find the 16th tee box at Seapoint.
When the foursome got to the Seapoint clubhouse, they couldn't explain how they'd just played only 16 holes. They also couldn't find their car in the parking lot.
Nobody's sure if the story is true, but it does make for some good fun in the clubhouse. Sad, but true, most Americans will probably never even make it to the parking lot of these two fine links golf courses stacked one upon the other along the shores of the Irish Sea.
Most golfers landing at Dublin airport usually drive right by the twosome on their way to Royal County Down, long regarded as one of the top five links courses in the entire world. They just don't know what their missing. The joke is on those who don't take the time to stop and play. With less than 200 true links layouts worldwide, it's amazing to find two good ones in such close proximity.
Seapoint, a private golf club that accepts outside play, doesn't have history on its side, like most links. Des Smyth designed the 7,150-yard course on 260 acres, with an assist from current course superintendent Declan Branigan, in 1993.
Seapoint Golf Club continues to evolve. The setting, including magnificent views of the Cooley and Mourne Mountains in the distance and the Termonfeckin beach and the Irish Sea to the east, can sometimes steal the thunder from a solid course.
"Here, you have the quirks of links golf, but it's fair," Club Secretary Kevin Carrie said of the course. "There's not too many blind shots. You want players to enjoy the course and also be challenged."
A limited budget handcuffed Smyth during the original design, but a burgeoning membership could bring an exciting future. The current clubhouse, which serves traditional Irish fare, is in the midst of an expansion.
Tweaking the course remains a priority. For example, the dunes surrounding the 17th, a scenic par 3, once funneled shots onto the green. The additions of a deeper bunker and greenside swale now demand more precision from players.
Smyth, a member at Seapoint, practices here regularly in preparation for the Champions Tour.
"The course is almost half-and-half" links and parkland, Smyth said. "At first there are woods and lakes. It's a bit marshy. The center of the property once grew cabbage and potatoes."
Despite sharing the same links land, County Louth, also known as Baltray Links, couldn't be more different than Seapoint. County Louth dances through some magnificent dunes throughout the 18 holes, offering a more pure links experience. It's virtually treeless and always windswept.
County Louth, established in 1892, has seen its share of tinkering over the last century. Thankfully none has stolen the true character of the course Tom Simpson perfected in 1938 at the mouth of the River Boyne.
In 1993, architect Donald Steel, who has consulted on every course in the British Open rota, upgraded the design to modern standards. At 6,936 yards, the course was study enough to host the 2004 Nissan Irish Open. It continues to rank among the top 10 links on the Emerald Isle.
As the course twists and turns through the dunes, players must guess which way the wind will wail. Blind greens tucked behind towering sand hills and stout par 4s characterize the design. The seaside 14th hole, a dynamic short par 4 of 332 yards, and the 15th, a tricky 152-yard par 3, are the only two holes that run parallel to one another.
After a round at County Louth, guests don't even have to leave. The clubhouse, a former hotel built in 1928, was purchased by the club in 1943 and features 12 bedrooms above the pro shop, locker rooms and cozy restaurant/lounge.
If you're looking for something more from your accommodations, the d hotel, located on the River Boyne four miles away, overlooks the historic town centre of Drogheda. The four-star hotel with 104 rooms forms part of the redevelopment and rejuvenation of river's south bank. Slick and contemporary are the best ways to describe the personality of its rooms, lounge and bar.
Wherever you hang your head, just don't sleep in too long. More fascinating Irish links are calling. Award winners such as Portmarnock Golf Club and The Island Golf Club are also nearby.
Both Seapoint and Baltray have wonderful restaurants to service both members and guests. The d hotel does, too.
If you've got time, head to downtown Dublin, where the original Guinness Storehouse factory draws the thirsty from around the world for tours. Even if you're not a fan of the thick brew, you'll find the rumors are true: it does taste better here.
For tourists, the Boyne Valley offers numerous historic treasures, from the famed battlefield of 1690 to the beautiful medieval abbeys at Mellifont and Monasterboice. But the main attractions of the region must be the magnificent passage graves at Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange, where the rising sun illuminates the tombs as it has every winter solstice for thousands of years.
July 9, 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.
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