WATERVILLE, Ireland – It feels a little like golfing at the edge of the world here at Waterville links on the Ring of Kerry on the west coast of Ireland where sheep outnumber human beings and bogey all too often is your friend.

This is a bucket list item for me: golf in lush Ireland where a group of eight Mississippians will play seven world class, links courses in nine days.

Rick Cleveland Credit: Melanie Thortis

That is assuming:

  1. My creaking back holds up.
  2. I don’t run out of golf balls.

Both are huge assumptions.

Wateville is the first of the seven. We have watched many a British and Irish Open on the telly. We came prepared for rain and wind. At Waterville, we had at none of the former and a sprinkle of the latter. Nevertheless, I lost three golf balls, which was better than most of my pals. Steve lost two on the first hole. Pat, my good pal since college, lost five and found one. That’s a net of minus-four if you are keeping score. We did. Friendship won’t allow me to tell Pat’s final tally. He birdied the second hole, was feeling frisky and promptly lost two balls on the third. And so it went.

Waterville is both beautiful and precarious. It opened in 1889 and underwent a renovation by the renowned Tom Fazio over a four-year period beginning in 1999.

We flew into Dublin and traveled by hired coach across the country to Waterville, a quaint, little village of fewer than 1,000 permanent residents in County Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula. The famed Ring of Kerry, the narrow, approximately 100-mile roadway that circles the peninsula, runs right through town, minutes from the links. Waterville was a favorite vacation spot of Charlie Chaplin and his family.

In 1866 Waterville became a hub of transcontinental communication when telegraph cable was laid for the first time between Europe and North America. A ship departed nearby Valentia Island for Newfoundland, laying cable behind it.

Naturally, golf followed. Americans played a huge role both in the beginning and a century later. The original nine holes were designed by Americans involved in the telegraph cable business. American were also involved, along with Irish, in adding the new nine holes. Fazio, an American golf architect, controversially added some dunes to the new nine holes and tweaked the original nine as well.

For my money, he did a fine job of it. Experts seem to like it, too. It ranks No. 5 on the Golf Digest list of best courses and in the top 50 of best courses outside America.

No lesser an expert that Slammin’ Sammy Snead called Waterville “a magnificent monster.” Raymond Floyd called it “one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.”

The views of the Atlantic Ocean are stunning. I found playing the golf course somewhat what I would think walking a tightrope would be. One slip and … well, you know.

I currently play to a nine handicap and shot an 83, with no birdies, and three double bogeys. I became all too acquainted with gorse, the yellow flowering shrub that apparently eats golf balls and especially fancies mine. They name their golf holes over here. Waterville’s first, a medium-length par-4 with a generous fairway, is aptly named “The Last Easy.” It is.

The par-3s on Waterville are spectacular and, from the back tees (which I viewed but did not play), as challenging as any I’ve seen anywhere.

Waterville whipped me and whipped me good – but I thoroughly enjoyed the beating. I did make 11 pars, which, on this golf course, were satisfying, indeed.

Next: Tralee Golf Club, Arnold Palmer’s jewel.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.