The Waterville Experience

Posted by Jamie on 23 September 2010 | 0 Comments | Tags: , , , , , ,

Waterville.  One of the wettest parts of Ireland.  By extension, one of the wettest parts of the (golfing) world (Is there any other world?  Not this year anyway...).  A wonderfully scenic part of Kerry, it lies just off the ghastly Ring of Kerry (which if Johnny Cash were to write a song about he might not be so kind, depending on which barbiturate was moving his conscience at the time).  By ghastly I??m referring not to the breathsnatching vistas but to the busloads and busloads of goldfish that stare with wonder upon prompting while their bus driver runs other vehicles off the road.  Why on earth would you?  

Waterville is one of those names that crops up in every other conversation between foreigners about golf in Ireland.  I suppose you might say it??s a ??name? course.  It was the dream of a chap named Mulcahy ?? an Irish born New Yorker.  Right enough there was an original 9 hole course that dated back to the late 19th century (originally part of the Waterville Athletic Club), but that was brought forward into the current links back in 1973.  Y??er man Mulcahy and his pal Claude Harmon ?? past Masters champion and long-time pro at Winged Foot ?? brought in Eddie Hackett, ??Ireland??s foremost architect?, and between the three of them they laid out what is the current track.  The plan was to make it the most testing links golf course in the world.  Since those days the course has played host to many revered pro??s, the likes of Woods, Els, Furyk, O??Meara and Stewart.  Tragically the last golf honour Payne Stewart would accept before his untimely death was the Captaincy of Waterville.

In 2006 the current owners brought in another fella named Fazio to update Hackett??s original masterpiece.  While he was at it they also got him to design a practice facility at the nearby Waterville House and a petanque area!  A man of many talents clearly...

Anyway, it was down from Killarney that we tripped, sad to leave Killeen House Hotel after a wonderful two days.  A pal whom we??d met recently had mysteriously fallen ill the evening before we played Waterville ?? his favourite course in the world ?? and, to bring him back to good health, he decided it would be better to join us for a hit than to go to work.  [puregolf2010 does not condone people taking sick days from work to join us on course].  For what it??s worth it seemed to work ?? y??er man, who obviously will go unnamed for risk management purposes, appeared to be back to full strength by the 18th.  The medicinal qualities of the fresh sea air...

Upon arrival we were greeted by Noel the manager and Jay Connolly, one of the partners that own Waterville.  Jay??s a larger than life character who after carving a very successful investment banking career on ??The Street? fell in love with this place and wanted to continue Mr. Mulcahy??s legacy.  In the clubhouse we also ran into Matt Adams ?? a roaming radio journalist for the PGA Network ?? and a few of his pals.  Matt did a quick interview with us for live broadcast back to the US, which was great timing because a particularly apocalyptic downpour was battering the course outside the windows ?? we were in no rush to get out there...  He and his friends Norm and Bill were delightful gents, obviously very relaxed and quite taken with this place that is Waterville.

The time came to take on what ??the most testing links golf course in the world.?  Number 1 is ominously called ??The Last Easy Hole,? and it??s not that easy!  Jay had made a bet with us that we wouldn??t break 80 from the backs ?? a challenge we were determined to conquer.  Poor Mike didn??t get off to the best start with a topped 2 iron that crawled 50 yards or so just past the end of the tee block ?? but being the grinder he is he got his 5!  I managed to par the 1st and even the 2nd ?? ??Christy??s Choice?, stroke index 1 from memory ?? and was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about.  It didn??t take me long to remember what to do though...

The 3rd ??Sanctuary? is a gorgeous par 4 playing along the estuary to a precariously cut green that before Fazio??s reinterpretation was even more hair raising.  Despite managing to hit a solid drive and one of my better 3 irons to the front of the green I took 3 putts and wandered off to the next tee pondering whether that was the start of things to come.  Gretta meanwhile was in her element snapping away, absorbing the invigorating sea air and chirping encouraging words to her other half who by this time was finding things a bit tough.

It was great having our pal there, who because he??s so fond of the place had plenty of insight to offer on the walk around.  If he won the lottery this is where he??d move in flash.  We??ll call him ??Bob? for the purposes of this blog post, so I don??t have to keep calling him y??er man.  

One of Waterville??s virtues is its variation: you never feel like you??re playing the same hole twice.  The par 3s are the most vivid example of this; the 4th, 6th, 12th and 17th each pose very different challenges.  I loved the ??Mass Hole? 12th, which has a bit of history behind it as you can see below.

Jay came out on the 9th green to see how we were faring.  Now, on the 9th the strokesaver instructs in no uncertain terms not to miss the (raised) green right, under any circumstances.  Bob also reiterated the accepted wisdom before I addressed my ball.  With wind hurling from the right at a rate of knots and my natural draw I thought the chances of my 5 iron hanging out there to be slim, even non-existent.  But the golf ball has a mind of its own.  So when Jay arrived expecting to hear about how his beloved links was tearing us up there was a wry smile on his face when he saw me down below.  In hell.  At that point I was 4 over the card and getting on OK; an inevitable double bogey ensued before the big man??s eyes, drawing a knowing glance.  His course was winning and he thought he was on course to win the bet.

Our four paused for quiet reflection and sustenance in the clubhouse before taking on the back nine.  Folks had you been present you may never have seen a cheese and ham sandwich inhaled with such vigour.  I was Starving.  

The back nine starts with a bang, the par 4 10th ?? stroke index 2 ?? being something of a brute.  Big drive and a 4 iron; welcome to the back side.  11 is a grand par 5 that snakes through the dunes, through a valley and up to a raised green guarded by the biggest false front in Ireland.  At last I??d carded my opening birdie, ensuring I wouldn??t be running into the sea fully clothed as I did at Ballyliffin (the same bet was made before play).  

To give you an indication of how strong the wind was by this point: On the par 5 13th, a mere 488 yards, I ended up over the back with driver, 8 iron; On the par 4 14th (ominously named ??Judge?) I couldn??t quite make the 458 yards required with a full blown driver and 3 wood.  This no calm day.  Bob in the pandemonium had stepped up his smoking, to 3 fags a hole!

The closing stretch from 16 to 18 is class.  A short par 4 playing uphill to the left, along the beach to a tabletop green is no gimme if there??s wind blowing.  Then on the 17th tee, ??Mulcahy??s Peak?, you find yourself at the highpoint of the course, under which Mr. Mulcahy is buried upright (seriously).  From here you can see right across the course and around Ballinskelligs Bay.  It??s a phenomenal viewpoint.  Again Jay arrived at an inopportune moment, just as I was making a third double bogey.  18 (??O??Grady??s Beach?) then is gargantuan closing par 5, the tee shot playing literally along the edge of the beach, pot bunkers guarding the left side.  It gets the blood pumping.  Much to my satisfaction I closed with a birdie and broke 80 ?? that Jay fella didn??t know he was messing with a Patton...

The four of us were washed by this stage, having endured a real battle of the elements.  Jay sat us by the fire in the bar and uttered for the first time in a very Wall Street fashion, ??Here??s The Deal...?  Rather than hurtling back up to Glen Beigh to stay as planned, our plans would be changed (??Tell them you got polio or something...?) and we would instead be staying as Jay??s guests at Waterville House.  Who were we to argue with this very commanding Nu Yawker?  The House is an 18th century manor, which Daniel O??Connell reputedly ate dinner at back in the day.  The big guns like Woods and O??Meara and co stay there when they??re in town.  It??s a grand but understated affair with a rich salmon fishing hotspot (Butler??s Pool) running right alongside it, out into the bay.  Of course it has the practice facility, short game area and spa facilities too...the full shilling.

Jay ran the evening in militant fashion, uttering ??Here??s The Deal? on several occasions much to our delight.  We got cleaned up for dinner; had an aperitif in the lounge with a few guests from Minnesota; went out for dinner to The Fisherman??s Inn down the road in the village (the best fish and chips I??ve ever had, hands on heart); then had a good old sing song in the bar.  Jay had one of his local mates ?? Mick ?? come and give us a tune or three after we??d finished eating.  Mick had a voice purer than Pavarotti??s.  He??d ask Jay what he wanted to hear; Jay would say sing what your heart??s telling you to sing; then Mick would ask again what Jay wanted to hear...and so this continued until his lungs burst into song.  His renditions of Danny Boy and You??ll Never Walk Alone will stay with me (and Michael and Gretta) for years to come ?? a less determined man might??ve shed a tear.  Mike banged out a tune or two on the piano through in The High Bar too, at Jay??s insistence.  What an evening.  

Jay met us for breakfast at 0800 hours ?? in that very endearing American way, he wouldn??t let us do anything without him as our chaperone ?? before we got ??into the wind,? off to Dooks.  Over porridge and a smashing fry he dispensed a few pearls of wisdom and explored with us some of life??s bigger questions.  A man whose company you could never describe as dull.  And then, just like that, we were into the wind.


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