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(This is the second in a series of columns from Rick Cleveland’s bucket-list golf tour of Ireland.)
TRALEE, Ireland – Before his death, Arnold Palmer and his golf course group designed or renovated approximately 250 courses around the world. The greatest of all these must be Tralee Golf Club, in County Kerry, Ireland.
If Palmer was The King – and of golf, he surely was – then Tralee is his most magnificent castle. It is a masterfully designed links course on land that affords spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean from cliffs and dunes that defy description. As legend has it, Palmer created the front nine and God created the back.
Palmer, himself, said, “I have never come across a piece of land so ideally suited to build a golf course.”
I would agree. Every which way you turn, you see a scene befitting a post card..
The beautiful scenery makes it somewhat easier to endure a difficult test of golf with some of the finest, most challenging par-3s these eyes have seen.
But I must first tell you of the 11th hole at Tralee – aptly named “Palmer’s Peak” – a par-5 that is basically played up a mountain, framed on either side of the fairway by huge dunes. It is, without question, the most difficult par-5 I have ever played: difficult to walk, difficult to play. Five is a tremendous score. Six is certainly no sin. Four is like Christmas. Three is a miracle.
It measures 595 yards from the back tees, a mere 548 from the senior tees, which is how we played it. The terrain makes 548 seem like 650. I hit my biggest drive of the trip, scalded a 3-wood up the peak and still had a full wedge to the green. I made a par and it felt like a birdie, and surely will be one of the lasting memories of this bucket-list trip. One of our group, who shall remain nameless but answers to Bob, finished the hole, seven shots later, huffing and puffing and proceeded to announce: “(Screw) Arnold Palmer!”
The King surely would have laughed.
You should know that it is possible to view the Atlantic Ocean from all 18 holes of the classic links design.
The par-3s at Tralee are all classics and it seemed we played all into a steady breeze. The signature hole is the third hole, “The Castle,” so named because of the remains of a 13th century castle behind the green. The smallish green, surrounded by devilish pot bunkers, is a 170-yard carry over rock and sea, from an elevated teeing ground, more like a cliff.
To call it difficult is to understate matters entirely. But then, all is relative. Difficult? We were playing golf on a spectacular Irish spring day. Invaders of the ruined castle back in the 13th and 14th century were met with stones and boiling water. I much prefer the hard-earned bogey I made.
I have never played Pebble Beach or Spyglass Hill but the vistas at Tralee are often compared to those two California golf courses. I have played Palmer’s home course, Bay Hill in Orlando, and would much prefer Tralee.
It surely helps that I hit the ball just about as well as I can at this advanced stage of my golfing life. I scored 81, despite never making a putt of more than three feet. (No fault of the perfect greens, I assure you.) My only birdie was a two-putt on the splendid par-5 18th. The frosty Carlsberg in the 19th hole was among the best I have ever tasted.
As long-time readers know, Arnold Palmer was a man I much admired, as much for his charm as his golfing ability and his competitive spirit. The larger-than-life bronzed statue of Arnie, near the clubhouse, is a nice touch at Tralee.
Palmer’s death in September of 2016 was mourned worldwide, and certainly in Tralee.
Said Dave Power, head pro at Tralee, “We lowered our flags, American, Irish and Tralee, to half-mast for a month. Arnold Palmer was beloved here.”
Next: The Old Course at Ballybunion.