(This is the fifth in a series of columns from Rick Cleveland’s bucket-list golf tour of Ireland.)
PORTMARNOCK, Ireland – So, we are playing the 17th hole at Portmarnock, considered by many the greatest of all Irish golf courses and certainly one of the flattest. There is nothing to block the wind coming in off the Irish Sea to this little peninsula about eight miles from Dublin.
The 17th, from our forward tees, measures 432 yards and heads back toward the sea. Steve, my banker friend who can ever more pound a golf ball, slammed his drive into the wind. I mean, he absolutely murdered it. Normally, it would have traveled 270-280 yards, maybe more. In this case, the wind slammed on the breaks. Steve still had 215 yards to the green for his second shot.
So, he took out his 3-wood and pured it with all he had. It was right at the flag, a mighty blow. From 200 yards away, we could see the wind knock it down. His ball wound up on the front fringe, 30 feet from the cup. He two-putted for a par that seemed for all the world like a birdie. (After backing away from my ball twice on the tee because of the wind, I hit driver, 3-wood and a full sand wedge and three putts for a routine double bogey.)
A few minutes later, we were in the pro shop and I asked the pro: How hard is that wind blowing out there today?
To which he replied, “Ah lad, ’tis but a breeze today.”
The “breeze” blew my cap off twice.
Such is links golf. The wind blows and blows and blows. There is no shelter from it. And even when it is at your back, it causes problems with club selection.
I never want to play Portmarnock when a breeze becomes wind. As it was, I shot a vacation-high 86.
Portmarnock is generally rated the highest of all the courses we have played. Tour pros in Europe have consistently rated it among the best and fairest on their tour. They play it at over 7,400 yards. They would have played the 17th at 472. I can’t even imagine.
A little history: Portmarnock was founded in 1894. In the early days, most golfers reached the course by boat, unless the tide was low and then they came by horse.
No other Irish course has hosted so many prestigious championships. The Irish Open was begun here in 1927. The great Bobby Locke, Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Seve Ballesteros, Berhard Langer, Ian Woosman and Jose Maria Olazabal are among the champions who have won the tournament here.
In 1960, Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead teamed to win the World Cup at Portmarnock. Snead was medalist. The Walker Cup has been played here.
You look at the scorecard and then glance at the golf course and you say to yourself: What’s the big deal? How can this be so hard?
And then you hit what you believe to be a perfect 100-yard wedge shot that the wind blows, 20 yards off to the left of the pin, and then the ball rolls off the sloping green, down into a man-eating bunker, from which you have to blast out sideways. A possible birdie – or a routine par – becomes a double bogey in no time at all.
Links golf is a different game entirely. Clearly, I don’t know how to play it. And remember, we were playing in a “breeze.”
It is no coincidence that Bob and Pat, two low-ball hitters, shot their best scores of our golfing vacation here. It is no coincidence that I, a high-ball hitter, had my worst.
There is a third nine at Portmarnock, opened in 1971, that is said to be every bit as difficult as the first two. We had plenty of time to play it. The sun doesn’t set here until 10 p.m. My ego had been bruised enough this day.
Next: The European Club
Old Head: Where the scenery is supreme