Dancing with Druids in the Glen

This trip to Ireland was dominated by the two very different, very beautiful and very beguiling courses at the Druids Glen Hotel and Golf Resort in Newtownmountkennedy Co Wicklow. With something for everyone – a full service spa, swimming pool and spill proof restaurant on-site, fishing, horseback riding, and hiking in the Wicklow hills near by, Druids Glen is well suited for those who enjoy the outdoors with a large helping of relaxed elegance.

My beloved brother and gracious host, Ted, discovered the Druids Glen when he and his family moved to near-by Greystones. With twin boys, Ted spends his days riding herd on two high energy three year olds. The swimming pool, on the Heath side of the resort, is one of Ted’s preferred play-time destinations. He was itching for the opportunity to play golf the iconic Druid Glen course.

Conor, the overseer of the fully stocked pro shop, collected our greens fees, sold us some extra balls and the course guide (essential – do not tee off without it) and sent us off to the first tee with a smile and suggestions on whiskeys to sample. He was particularly keen on two new releases by Jameson.

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The Course Guide – Don’t Leave the Pro Shop without It

Our outing started innocently enough. The first two holes were manageable, but the slippery green on 2, the road hole, foreshadowed what was to come. What followed was a series of challenges – blind tee shots, sinister bunkers, variegated greens – long, uphill shots; steep downhill drives, and, then, water. On the 8th hole water comes dramatically into play (“I say, is that a swan in the water hazard?”). Crossing the swinging bridge on 9, I half expected a troll to emerge and challenge our crossing.

At the turn we stopped for lunch. Woodstock House, built in 1770 by a son of the Earl of Aldborough, is now the clubhouse for the Glen course, so the grill room came by it’s gentlemen’s club vibe naturally. Sitting in our wing chairs at a table by the window, we could just make out the Irish Sea on the horizon. Sandwiches, burgers and a full dinners were on the menu and the bar offered abundant options. We opted for short Smithwicks Red Ale, club sandwiches and chicken wings. The wings were served with finger bowls – that’s how fancy this place is. Thus refreshed, we pushed on.

The mystery deepens on the back half. Here, the game not as much played upon the grounds of the Woodstock Estate, as it is absorbed landscaping dating to the 1600s. It is mesmerizing and diabolically difficult, (so much so that Druids Glen hosted the Irish Open from 1996 through 1999.) Designed by Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock, this classic parkland course pushes boundaries.  A good bit of fantasy is very much in play in the hollows of Druids Glen.

A Not So Quick Round

Tuesday we hit a record high of 84 F in Boston, and, out on the fairway, (which I managed to land on with some frequency, thank you very much) it was blistering hot, full on summer day. Jack the starter paired me with a very nice young man and sent us out, sandwiched between a four some of Harvard men, and the Belmont Hills golf team.

For its students, Harvard provides golf, gratis, on our little hidden gem of an urban golf course. Every year the university buys a allotment of vouchers, and each spring a small flock of students play our course.

The John Harvards in front of us were in their mid 20s, were taking time out of their studies at law or business school to enjoy each others company and a round of the royal and ancient game. Beer was the beverage of choice. Each putt was thoroughly scrutinized. Pace of play slowed to a crawl.

Fortunately, the nice young man I was playing with was  quite charming. On the 3rd tee we discussed barbecuing techniques. By the sixth hole we were comfortable enough to discuss politics.  Two hours in, and with three holes left to play, we parted – he had guests coming for dinner. The Johns had just hit onto the green – or attempted to (8 is a par 3; the green is protected by a water hazard). The wait did not appeal so I pocketed my ball and walked to the club house. On the way in, I stopped to admire the turtles on log in the water on the 9th.

turtles

 

Countdown to Ireland

It’s another beautiful Spring day, and I’m on track to play nine again this afternoon.

Last week, between the weather and errands (getting kids to doctor appointments and glasses fitting, grocery shopping, my dental appointment and the seemingly unending cycle of laundry.) I only got out once last week. (Friday was my second loop around FPGC this season). Rain is forecast for tomorrow (so I’ll have a crack at completing mid-week errands without wasting good weather!) Thursday & Friday both look promising.

countdown to Ireland

All this golf leading up to our trip to Ireland and yes, I’m taking my clubs and yes, it’s going to be epic, and not necessarily because I’ll be playing legendary courses – although that may happen, who knows?

This trip – out on Saturday evening, arrive at 5 am Easter Sunday morning at Shannon Airport/back on Friday, five days later – a quick hop, with the primary objective of delivering a set of golf clubs to my brother, Ted. Growing up on the country club coast of Connecticut, Ted played a lot growing up, and played quite well. Somewhere between college in the mid-West, moving to Seattle and then Europe (Prague, Munich, Paris and now Greystones, Wicklow County, in the Republic of Ireland) he lost track of his clubs.

I shopped the clubs to within an inch of their lives and found a set of used Walter Hagen hybrids and irons for $25 on Craig’s List. I traded cash with Don beside his car across the street the L Street bathhouse in South Boston on a very cold Saturday morning in January. And yes, I was struck by how the exchange has the look and feel of a drug buy.

As Ted is a full on stay at home dad, supporting his C-level working for a Fortune 500 company wife, with two twin boys just north of toddler-hood, he faces the daily challenge of putting 20 consecutive minutes together to take a shower. A round of golf requires monumental planning; even a trip to the near-by driving range needs co-ordination and bit of luck. Should our luck fail, however, I do have a backup plan. And it is my backup plan that is epic – it is the stuff that legends (at least family legends) are made of. Trust me! If you’re a primary parent and trying to balance golf and life you’re going to want to know what I’m bringing to Ireland for Ted’s Epic Easter Morning surprise.

Upon Reconsideration – NO MORE TIGERS…

…NO MORE WOODS.
Message carved into the green at the Trump National Golf Club, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, in response to the rolling back of EPA clean water regulations.

Clean water. What’s not to like? And it’s not as if golf courses can’t be managed in environmentally sustainable ways. On this, we golfers should be loud and proud. It’s the part about Tiger – a very clever play on words, but at Tiger Wood’s expense.

Tiger Woods. What remains to be said about a man who, at as a two year old, appeared on national television swinging a golf club? That was 39 years ago, and we’re still fascinated by Earl’s son hitting golf balls. This past fall, in his role as vice captain of the American Ryder Cup team, we saw the beginning of a man transforming from sole contributor to team leader. He has the potential to enrich the game that enriched him. To tar Tiger Woods with the brush meant for Donald Trump is unfair, misguided and counter productive.

Like it or not, golf is now caught in the white hot glare of the international political spotlight. We need the leaders of the game, people like Tiger, to make real the core values that groups like the First Tee instill in the future players of this ancient and royal game.

first tee values

Opening Day and Beyond

First Round….

The home course opened on Monday. I played the first round of nine this season on Thursday. I missed a lot of opportunities – mostly from wedge shots falling short – so I have something to work on. My drives were solid, and I was hitting my fairway wood (Lucky #7) well. On the 7th hole I got the ball from the wrong side of the cart path past a tree and close to the green using the new Mizuno JPX 850 7 iron. With wand-like accuracy, this could be my favorite club. While I didn’t use the latest addition to my bag – the Mizuno JPX EZ 5 hybrid as much, it may have as much potential as the 7 iron.

While playing this first round, contending with the rust on my swing, and my timid approach shots, I thought of the Babe. I finished Don Van Natta’s Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrickson Zaharias on the way back the Lazy Hollow ’17. I knew of her legacy as an athlete (Olympic medalist, barnstorming baseball player, and one of the founders of the LPGA); and I sensed that she was a force to be reckoned with (and how! as Wonder Girl makes clear!), what I didn’t know of was how forthright she was about having cancer at a time when people did not talk about having the disease.  She was public about her treatment – she had the courage to come back and play professional golf with colostomy bag. She changed the way we talk about cancer. After a while, I got a little braver.

…And Beyond. The golf associations – (EWGA and MGA) have issued their player day outings. I’m pulling out the calendar and planning for the great season that I’m sure lies ahead.

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