In May MG editor Phil took new to the game golfer and MG designer Chris on his first full on golfing trip to Ireland – our annual jaunt with Club Choice Ireland.
In Part I in the last issue, we stayed inland in the south east of the country, playing two classic parkland courses at Mount Wolseley and Mount Juliet, now it was time to move further south, towards the coast. We were there to check out Club Choice Ireland’s Waterford package venues.
Day 2 – We left Mount Juliet at around 2pm and had one of those ‘get in as many holes as you can’ venues to finish for our day two twilight game. But before that we had booked a buggy ride to have a quick look at Faithlegg Golf Club. This rolling piece of parkland was only opened as a golf course in 1993 but has a much more mature look, the country park effect, situated as it is in the shadow of a great old house. The mansion house at Faithlegg is an imperious looking 18th century build, now fully restored and open as a luxury hotel with 66 rooms with further amenities attached.
It dominates the views at the beginning and the end of a round of golf here, but in between the course route takes you on a part wooded/part open pathway and almost all the way over to the Waterford coastline. Far enough over to get some great estuary views at the side of the 13th and 14th holes, with another golf course eminently visible across the water, more on that later.
Faithlegg is a typical parkland examination on very attractive land, gentle changes of elevation, some good greens tucked away in corners or banked up to find and the very well placed bunkering was noticeable throughout our brief trip. There’s also a very nice looking and modern first floor golfer’s clubhouse, set away from the hotel. A really lovely looking golf course and one that myself and Chris promised to return to play another day when time was on our side.
The golf course across the estuary, which is the final destination of the River Suir before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, didn’t look like it was much more than a good three wood away from the 14th fairway at Faithlegg, but the sat nav mysteriously told us it was half an hour away, we were soon to find out why.
Waterford Castle Golf Club is situated on an island, so even though it only took 10 minutes by car to get there, you have to cross water to reach it. A little car ferry does the job for you and runs every 15 minutes to and from the island, and also costs nothing. It’s only around a 200 yard journey across calm waters and you’re there, and soon driving up the long wooded pathway to the golf clubhouse.
Chris, who had enjoyed a decent effort over at Juliet was ready for another few holes at Waterford Castle but we were interrupted initially by the strangest of phenomena’s for an MG course review. It had started to rain!
Those who sadly have to follow our social media know that we boast with very annoying regularity that we NEVER get rain during an MG review or at an MG event. It’s no lie either, we really don’t!
So there we were in the buggy, poor visibility and slip sliding away along the fairways of Waterford Castle. We missed the chance to play the early holes, some of which run right alongside the estuary but by the eighth hole the conditions had improved enough to venture out. The local deer were in concurrence and came out too, there are a lot of them here, their own island community and they are pretty tame as well, we caught up with part of the herd here at the tenth hole.
We managed to play ten holes with mixed results and the estuary flanking holes return a little later on and provide the highlights. Although it was separate water feature that gave me a lowlight later on at the 16th. It has a small lake running up the right hand side of this long par three and as the wind was left to right, it kind of got in my head in true Tin Cup style. The Waterford Castle lake dredgers will find a few MG logoed balls among their stash for sure!
So after running up double figures on that hole that was pretty much that, but what a lovely and unique course they have here. Designed by Des Smyth to fit around the natural contours of the island landscape with a view of water from just about everywhere, this is one you must come and play, a sunnier day would have been nice.
Director of Golf and head PGA professional, Ryan Madigan, was waiting for us when we returned and waxed lyrically about the recent and soon-to-be developments here, the growth of membership and the success of their first pro-am in 2017, soon to be repeated this year.
Naturally for a resort destination like this there’s more to the island than the golf. Plenty of accommodation options are available, lodges on the island plus the stunning Waterford Castle itself. We grabbed a quick look round with Ryan and hotel staff, what an incredible place, ancients walls and huge open fireplace in the reception area, four poster beds and ornate wooden furnishings in the guest rooms and suites. Pure opulence. Maybe another time.
By now though it was time to find our own digs for the night and we had a treat in store too. The Fitzwilton Hotel sits right in the middle of Waterford City, Ireland’s oldest city, which has a main street running right by the river side with a large collection of shops and bars to explore. The hotel sits just a little back from there, a very modern place with a really comfy and spacious room and this very nice welcome on the table for us. It’s a great location from which to explore the local courses…and pubs of course.
Dinner was good too, they did well to serve us as well as they did, we unwittingly timed our entrance with a large coach party, and rather dwarfed in the corner we were, but the food was delicious.
Then back in the bar we caught up with some old pals from yesterday (Part I) that we first met at Carlow GC. Eight golfers from Denbigh GC in North Wales were on a Club Choice trip with a strikingly similar itinerary to ours, just in a different order of play. We downed some pints together and found them to be very knowledgeable about Irish golf, and they go on a different route each year, and always with Club Choice Ireland, which says a lot about the sort of organisation they are.
Chris wanted to discover some real Irish night time atmosphere after I’d regaled him a few times over the years over nights I’d enjoyed during past trips. It was a Tuesday night so we had a job on to discover some but the waterfront bars were close so out we went. Treacys Hotel provided what we were looking for and their totally traditional Timbertoes Bar. Still a few people about midweek and the Irish music blared out as we got stuck into the guinnesses again, well Chris did! Treacys is another Club Choice Ireland partner on a trip to Waterford and we can only imagine what it gets like on a weekend, it was more than enough fun on a Tuesday night.
We returned for a nightcap at the Fitzwilton – and the Denbigh boys were still up and about, at the brandy stage by now.
The final day dawned and a little worse for wear we grabbed breakfast and took the short trip to our next destination, another local course on the Waterford package and very close by too.
Waterford Golf Club is positioned at the top of the hill that overlooks the city below and there are some breathtaking views from here, the finest we encountered on this trip. Before that though it’s worth mentioning that we also saw the biggest glass trophy of all time in the club’s cabinet.
The Waterford Crystal Scratch Cup here is a formidable thing, the first fully commissioned Waterford Crystal created trophy from back in 1956, and still the biggest of its kind made by the famous glassworks to this very day. Many famous Irish golfers have competed for it over the year, but how on earth anyone manages to lift it when they win, we’re not quite sure!
Our guide was Dennis, a lovely fella and a Waterford GC stalwart of many years, he’s also one of Ireland’s top senior amateur golfers too and he took us on a buggy ride, showing us his favourite holes here and how he likes to play them. Naturally we couldn’t quite picture ourselves playing them in the same fashion but what an awesome golf course, full of fantastic view holes and tremendous challenges to take on over the rolling landscape, both from the tee and also on your approach shots to some tricky green sites. It’s not a long layout but it doesn’t need to be, and it can get a little windy in these parts too, an absolute beauty but also one to be fully respected.
Time though for the finale of our trip, a final 18 holes over the other side of Waterford, but not that far away to the seaside town of Tramore.
Tramore Golf Club is set back from the seaside so it’s a parkland layout again but one that Chris and I were determined to finish the trip in style on. Oh and guess who were half an hour behind us with their tee time, those Denbigh boys again!
27 holes here now following some re-developments in recent times, we took on the Old Course, named simply because it is one of the oldest layouts in Ireland (1894). What a start in store as our grim determination to play well was pretty well examined right from the off. A twisting first hole, then a short par five with a demanding approach over water, followed by an uphill par three well protected by its bunkering. Then a shorter fourth, with quite unique upper and lower fairway levels, followed by a good dog leg fifth hole.
Chris was playing well though as this tee shot of his shows on the sixth hole, and also the clouds beyond stayed right there too as the weather stayed fine throughout. We were cooking on gas just as we’d hoped and a good scoring spell for me followed too. Fast forwarding a little, the par five 16th was the highlight as Chris expertly fired an eight iron over the green fronting water hazard onto the sanctity of the dance floor and calmly two putted for his par.
Not a guy to show much emotion Chris, so I did it for him….but I’m sure he was satisfied and so he should be, he had improved hole by hole all week long, and his play at Tramore Golf Club was the culmination of a lot of hard work and determination on his part.
Good golf does tend to make you view golf courses in a better light, that’s true but you cannot fail to like Tramore anyway. Such a gorgeous looking layout, tree lined with good looking flora and fauna with occasional patches of heather and gorse as a gentle reminder that you are close to the coast.
A great collection of golf holes, all very testing in their own individual ways because nothing here really appears as remotely similar to its neighbouring hole, each one has its own identity. With all due deference to Mount Juliet and Mount Wolseley that we had played earlier in the week, the older charms of Tramore took the honours for us.
We’re not sure how the Denbigh boys rated it, or got on – we had a ferry home to catch following a chat with the club secretary Geraldine, who was such great company and a true enthusiast about her golf club.
The evening ferry was quiet on the way home so we got to lounge about a bit in comfort and the cafe and duty free shops didn’t have the same queues that they did on the way over. Thanks to Stena Line, Club Choice Ireland’s travel partners for another very smooth ride
Then just as we thought it had been the perfect trip with no drama at all – a blow out by Conwy tunnel on the way back at half past midnight led to a very late night to say the least! But that’s another story…………….
Chris and I would like to thank everyone we met, everywhere we played (and toured in a buggy) and everywhere we stayed too. Chris had a great time on debut but personally this was my third Club Choice Ireland trip, all to different areas (a la Denbigh lads) and they never fail to disappoint. Each year I’m astounded at the quality of the product on offer and at the pricing point that Club Choice Ireland can deliver it!
Ireland is great – give Tiernan or Larry a call and come and find out for yourselves