It was October 2005. Jeff, Jacob, Erik and I were sitting around the Captain’s Hoose, our four- story self-catered apartment in Anstruther, Scotland. We were almost done with our wonderful week-long golf vacation at St Andrews, when Jacob said “Let’s do Ireland next!” We had all been sampling those things that the Scotch are famous for, and agreement was quickly reached. The year 2008 was tentatively suggested, and agreed to by all. When 2008 arrived, Jacob asked again – “What about Ireland?” I responded to him like the old fogey I was. I told him that I thought I could probably return to the UK to golf one more time, but I loved the links golf in Scotland, and if I could go back one more time, I just couldn’t see doing anything other than a return trip to St Andrews.
I felt bad after that. Jacob and Erik are in their early thirties, with lots of time and body left. The fact that I read the same Dick Francis books over and over again doesn’t affect anyone other than me, but when trips I plan are just repeats of other trips I have taken, that affects those who travel with me. So…I did a little research. I found out that 40% of all the world’s links courses are in Ireland, including some of the very best courses in the world. The greens fees for the best courses were in the stratosphere, but I found there were also many reasonably priced links courses which I thought we could enjoy. I thought we might fly into Dublin, rent a car, drive to a self-catered apartment we would use for a base, and make six or seven drives to different courses in the area. I ran that idea up the figurative flagpole, but nobody saluted. After a few email exchanges, I started to catch on. Although their logic escaped me at first, eventually I saw it. Because we are not rich, we probably cannot afford to go golfing in Ireland more than once. If we can only go once, then this will be our only chance to play the fine courses we have heard of. So, because we don’t have much money, we must spend twice as much. With my instructions now clearer, I returned to the internet to conduct more research.
A few weeks later I came back to the group with a different plan. I had found County Kerry, in the southwest corner of Ireland, home to Ballybunion, one of the finest links courses in the world. We would play there, and also at Tralee, another top-rated links course nearby. Filling the week with a few other local links courses would be easy, and travel would be minimal. Jacob thought that sounded good, but what about Waterville? A friend of his had played Waterville, and had thought it to be the finest course anywhere. I explained that Waterville was a little too far south for us to do in a day trip, but as soon as I pressed ‘Send’ I started to regret my response. My research had shown me that this part of Ireland is beautiful, and a popular tourist activity is to drive what is known as the “Ring of Kerry”. Why was I avoiding a pleasant drive with good friends through Irish countryside? Allowing our rental car to move a bit from town to town was very liberating, and it allowed me to entertain the notion of driving to County Cork on the Southwest side, and playing Old Head.
With a new, clearly better (but oh so expensive) plan in place, I once again sought the support of my three friends. We would start at Ballybunion, playing both the Old Course and the Cashen Course there. Then we would play Tralee, and drive to Waterville. After playing Waterville, we would drive to Kenmare, about halfway to Kinsale, where we stay at a pub called O’Donnabhain’s and play the Ring of Kerry course. When done, we would finish the drive to Kinsale, where we would golf our last Irish round at, what seemed from my research, to be the most beautiful golf course in the world, Old Head.
Everyone liked the plan, and because I told them we would do it in June of 2011, everyone figured they had enough time to save up the necessary money. I proceeded to determine which B&Bs we would stay at, although planning far in advance is not easy. When I wrote to Deirdre at the Cashen Course House in Ballybunion and asked her what her rate would be for two double rooms, she replied that she could not be sure of 2011 rates, as they had not yet set their 2010 rates.
As 2011 approached, Jeff and I became worried about our health, and our ability to play golf six days in a row. We also knew that riding in carts was frowned upon at Ballybunion, and that we would need to be able to walk that course, and possibly others. Jeff was concerned about his knee, and I was concerned about my skin, by feet, and my weight. At first Jeff’s Doctor told him that he could probably time his cortisone shots so that Jeff could walk pain-free in Ireland, but Jeff decided that he should get the knee replaced while he still had plenty of time to recuperate from the surgery and walk in Ireland unimpaired by pain. He worked hard to get into shape before his surgery, and even harder afterwards to recuperate.
I bought an Xbox 360 with the Kinect system so I could jump around in my living room and lose weight. I dropped a few pounds jumping around the living room, until the day I wrenched my back doing side-to-side squat jumps. My only interaction with the Xbox 360 since then has been to delete out the side-to-side squat jumps from the list of available exercises. I saw a physician, and a physiotherapist, but the pain was persistent, and I was concerned. My back quickly moved to the front of my list of things that might keep me from competing in Ireland. By the middle of May, however, it was feeling much better. Then my skin took a turn for the worse, and I sought out my Dermatologist’s advice. He put me on prednisone, and told me it would take care of the problem before I left for Ireland. I swam a thousand yards several times a week, and I walked on our treadmill on the days I didn’t go swimming or golfing. By late May, it became apparent that both Jeff and I were going to be in pretty good shape going into our Ireland competition.
On Wednesday evening, my golf travel bag, my suitcase, and my carry-on bag were all packed and sitting by the door. All I had to do was get a good night’s sleep, connect with Jeff the next morning, and begin the journey to Ireland. I was sipping my 5:00 pm martini with my friend Tom when the rainstorm we had been enjoying suddenly turned violent. Some of the booms and cracks didn’t sound like thunder to me, so I ventured out onto the porch to scan the area. I was shocked to see that a large tree had fallen across the driveway, narrowly missing Tom’s Lexus. My van, charged with the responsibility of driving us to the airport Thursday morning, was blocked in. The electricity was out, and I had no phone service, but when Betsy came home from work we managed to talk across the fallen tree. She visited a neighbor whose phone worked, and called our friend Danny. He came over with his chain saw and trailer, and worked for several hours until the driveway was again useable. This trip was going to happen.
Chapter 1 – Getting Together
Jeff and I flew from Charlotte to Newark and from Newark to Shannon, Ireland. We arrived early Friday morning, and took a cab to the Bunratty Courtyard, where we had reservations. Our room was ready, and we rested for an hour or so before walking down to the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, a living reconstruction of the homes and environment of Ireland over a century ago. I was pleased to find that our senior status changed our admission from 14 Euros to less than 10. We saved the castle for a rainy part of the day, and walked through the Folk Park. We quickly stuck our heads into the Doctor’s House, Sean O’Farrell’s Drapery, Brown’s Pawnbroker, Cahill’s Grocery, the Post Office, McInerney & Sons Hardware, and Foster’s Printworks, headed to the working pub in the Folk Park, P. MacNamara & Sons Bar. There we found a seat and ordered an Irish Coffee. The lass behind the bar told us we were in luck, as she taught classes in the making and drinking of Irish Coffee. When she delivered them to us, it was with the stern admonition that it was NOT to be stirred, and we should not start by drinking off the cream on the top. “Drink the hot coffee and whiskey through the cold cream on top”, she said. “Even if it leaves a bit of froth on your lip”.
As we left her establishment, we encountered a man outside pushing a cart of peat. He was explaining to some tourists that during the hard times, only the well-off could afford to heat with wood, and the others burned peat, which was dug out of peat bogs.
It started to rain as we walked back through the park, so we headed for the castle. The current structure was the latest of many castles to have sat on that site. It was built around 1425. Unlike most old castles, it was furnished with valuable 15th and 16th century antiques. The main block has three floors, each consisting of a single great room, or hall, and the four towers each had six stories.
The rain stopped when we were ready to leave the castle, and we headed over to Durty Nelly’s, a pub that opened in 1620. Supposedly Durty Nelly’s offered ferry rides across the river, a pint at her pub, and little something extra on the side. The Guinness there tasted great.
We explored the Woolery across the street, and ambled back to our room at the Bunratty Courtyard. After hitting some 30 yard wedge shots back and forth on the lawn outside our B&B, we headed out for something to eat. After another drink at Durty Nelly’s, we headed back to our B&B, to bed, and to my first sleep since 5 am Thursday.
Our plan had been for Erik to arrive Friday evening. Then, when Jacob flew in at 7:00 am Saturday morning, the four of us would head to Ballybunion to prepare for our first round of golf on Sunday. Unfortunately, Erik’s entire participation became iffy due to his wife’s hospitalization. He could not arrive Friday or Saturday, and would not be able to come at all unless Marga’s good health returned fairly quickly.
Jacob arrived right on schedule, and the three of us ate a very good breakfast at the Bunratty Courtyard, and then loaded up the car for our 90-minute drive to Ballybunion. It was immediately apparent that we had a problem. While all of our stuff would fit in the “seven person people-carrier” we had rented, it was necessary for one of the two back seats to be in the down position. It was apparent to all of us that if Erik was able to join us, we would not have room for four people and all our belongings.
We started off by getting lost within the first ten minutes. We found it wasn’t that hard to find the right road, but it was very important to go the right way on the road, and turning around and going back where you came from was not always easy. In a little less than two hours, having back-tracked a couple of times, we arrived at the Cashen Course House overlooking the golf courses at Ballybunion. Our hostess, Deirdre, had just sliced open a finger while picking up some broken glass, and, after showing us to our rooms, was driven to the Doctor’s office for some stitches by her daughter. We unpacked, and then headed over to the Ballybunion Clubhouse.
It was a bit chilly, but there was no rain, and the Cashen course was not crowded. I had low expectations when I asked if we could play the Cashen course. To my surprise, however, management there had no problem with that, and within half an hour we were out on the course. The first hole went smoothly for me, but it became apparent to all of us fairly soon that the Cashen course was a monster that could possibly consume every ball we had with us. The fairway was sometimes less than 20 yards wide, and the “rough” on either side of the fairway was actually four foot tall sea grass almost impossible to hit out of, if you could find your ball at all. Nobody scored well, although Jeff scored best, four strokes better than me.
When we were done, we drove to the town of Ballybunion to look for some glue so Jacob could repair his shoes, and for some Jameson’s Irish. Jacob retired early, but Jeff and I sat up for a few hours, sipping, and talking about our good fortune. We were poised on the brink of a great week of golf tournaments, about to jump in. Now, if only Erik could join us…
On Sunday morning I received email from Erik telling me that Marga was feeling much better, and he was going to join us after all. This was tremendous news for all three of us, leaving only our not-enough-space-in-the-car problem to figure out.
We went over to the clubhouse fairly late in the morning to inquire as to whether we could tee off earlier than our 3:00 pm tee time, and we were told that we could. Once again the three of us forged out onto the Cashen Course, only to have it tear us apart and steal our balls. Again Jeff did the best, and this time I did the worst of the three of us, three strokes worse than Jeff.
We drove into town for a quick bite to eat, although in my case I just had soup. I wasn’t feeling very well, and Jeff and Jake dropped me off at the Cashen Course House before heading back to the airport to pick up Erik, who was due in at 8:45. At least, they thought they were heading back to the airport. A little before 10:00 Erik called me, reporting no sign of Jeff and Jacob (who started off in the wrong direction). I provided him with the phone number of the Bunratty Courtyard, and with the information that Jeff and Jacob were planning on stopping there on the way to the airport to ask permission to store our golf travel bags in their garage for the week. Soon Erik sent me a text telling me that he had been told by the man at the Bunratty Courtyard that Jacob and Jeff had just left for the airport, and should be there within ten minutes.
I hugged Erik fiercely when he arrived at our B&B around midnight. He had persevered through numerous problems in order to spend a week with me and two other friends, and I was flattered and proud. His health was shaky though, and he went to bed quickly to attempt to repair that. On Monday morning we all had breakfast together. We were ready to begin our three competitions, and our five days of golfing the finest links courses in the world.
Chapter 2 – The Old Toms/Young Toms Challenge Match
Originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon at the Cashen Course, the match pitting Erik and Jacob against Jeff and me was rescheduled to be an overlay on Monday’s round at Ballybunion Old, which was also the first round of the County Kerry Classic. The pewter mug trophies had been purchased by The Committee months ago, and were sought after by all four contestants. This was a return match of the original Old Toms/Young Toms challenge match that occurred at St Andrews in 2005. That one had been won by the Old Toms, but now it was six years later. The strong Young Toms had gained a small amount of wisdom, and the wise Old Toms had not gained much strength, and may have lost some of their wisdom. Still, going in, both sides liked their chances. Like the original match, this would be medal play best ball event. If I shot a 6 on the first and Jeff shot a 5, only the 5 would go on our combined best card, where we hoped the total of our better score would beat the total of Jacob and Erik’s better score.
After the first hole, my par had us one better than the bogey posted by the Jacob and Erik team. At that point, Jeff and I were feeling pretty confident. That all changed on the next hole, and rather quickly we watched ourselves falling farther and farther behind. In the end it wasn’t close. The Young Toms whipped us by fifteen strokes.
Chapter 3 – The County Kerry Classic – Round One
Standing on the first tee at the Ballybunion Old course with my three close friends, posing for a photograph that I was sure I would value, gave me a wonderful feeling. We had planned on this for years, overcome many obstacles, and now the dream had come true. I knew it was going to be a wonderful day regardless of how well I golfed. Starting with a par on the first hole was a bonus. The course was as beautiful to play as I had expected. I especially loved the long par four eleventh hole, considered one of the finest par fours in golf. Just as I had done on the number seventeen Road Hole at St Andrews, I intentionally laid up short of the green with my second shot so as to avoid the trouble. I really wanted my 20-foot par putt to drop, but I got great satisfaction when I made my fairly short putt for bogey, just as I had done six years earlier at that other magnificent par four.
In the end, we had to add up all the scores, and not just those from my best holes. Erik’s 92 was the best round by far. Jacob had been second with 104. Jeff came in third, and I scored seven shots worse than Jeff.
After we showered and shaved back at the Cashen Course House, Jacob stayed to work on his shoes and do some laundry, and the rest of us drove back to the small Ballybunion town to get something to eat. My stomach felt like something more than soup tonight, and I enjoyed a small shrimp dish. Back at the B&B, Erik and I went to bed shortly after nine, as we were both a little short on sleep. Jacob and Jeff drove back to the course and walked around with their cameras, taking some amazing sunset pictures.
Chapter 4 – The County Kerry Classic – Round Two
We had arrived from the Shannon airport in two different trips. Tuesday morning was the big test – much dreaded by me. Could we fit all of our stuff (except for the three golf travel bags we had arranged to store in the garage of the Ballybunion Courtyard) and all four of us into our seven person people-carrier? The plan was to meet outside at 7:30 am on Tuesday and figure a way to do it. After a few failed attempts, Jeff, using the experience he had received one summer working for a moving company, came upon the solution to the puzzle. If we packed all our luggage in the back, we could squeeze all four sets of clubs in the car horizontally as long as they were above the wheel wells and pushed up against the roof. With this last problem solved, we all went in to enjoy another breakfast at the Cashen Course House before departing for Tralee.
Thanks to the Tom-Tom app on Erik’s iPhone, Erik was able to drive directly to the Tralee course, about 45 minutes away. This was the course that Arnold Palmer designed, although he credits God with designing the back nine. Although fairly new, the course has risen to the status of superstar on the Irish links golf stage, and we were all looking forward to playing it. Once again the weather cooperated wonderfully, and we played mostly in mildly breezy sunshine. Erik scored the best, shooting 94. Jeff was second best, shooting 95, and I did third best, two strokes worse than Jeff. Erik still had a big lead in the County Kerry Classic, but he hadn’t dominated at Tralee, and Jeff was still in contention.
After a beer and a sandwich on the deck overlooking the eighteenth hole at Tralee, we got back in the car and drove for an hour or so to Waterville. We found the Old Cable House, where we had reservations for the evening, and checked in just before the skies opened up and it started to pour. The Old Cable House had been built in the late 1800s to house the people who worked on the transatlantic cable. Over many decades, Waterville was a hotbed of cable activity, since it lies at the Irish mainland’s most westerly spot. The proprietor of the B&B turned out to be a great cook, and the four of us enjoyed an evening staying inside our B&B, listening to the rain fall.
Chapter 5 – County Kerry Classic – Round Three
To my surprise, the weather cleared up and we were able to play the Waterville course under blue skies. The course turned out to be every bit as beautiful as its reviews had led me to believe it might be. The course is mostly the work of Jack Mulcahy, who made millions in America, and returned to Ireland looking for a project. The Waterville community welcomed him with open arms, and Mulcahy’s money and hard work took the nine-hole course created a century ago by the cable workers for their recreation, and turned it into an award-winning seaside layout. Sometimes the beauty distracted from our golf scores, I think. Erik shot a 96, I shot a 98, Jeff shot 100, and Jacob shot 104.
We enjoyed a beer and a bowl of chowder on the deck of the clubhouse. The weather was great, and we all had experienced another super day of links golf. When we were done, Erik set his navigation software to Kenmare, where an hour or so later we checked in at O’Donnabhain’s, a popular pub in the heart of the town. Our rooms, which I had reserved many months earlier, were on the second and third floors, well away from the music and loud chatter in the bar.
O’Donnabhain’s turned out to be a great bar, and we spent many hours sitting there, enjoying the music and the atmosphere, and also at Foley’s, which was just across the street. One thing that made the pubs extra loveable was the inclination by the hired singer to introduce local people in the audience, and entice them to come up to the microphone and sing a song. Several times I witnessed a white-haired octogenarian sing several verses about some farmer’s daughter, or about Paddy’s wake, almost always without any accompaniment.
Chapter 6 – Two Old Irish Setters
When I wandered out of O’Donnabhain’s Friday evening, and over towards Foley’s Pub, I saw an old man sitting by himself at a table outside of Foley’s. I asked if the other seat was taken, and accepted his invitation to sit down. I asked him if he had spent most of his sixty-some years here in Kenmare, and he replied “Add twenty to that”. He asked where I was from. He had never heard of North Carolina. I enjoyed spending time with him, although I understood less than half of what he said. After ten minutes I got up and walked with my friends around the corner.
Right away I saw the second old guy – older, in his own way, than the last. He was standing next to three teenagers who were listening to music, and goofing with their phones. I thought he was with them, but they never noticed when he moved, oh so slowly, over towards where I had sat down outside a store Erik had entered. The old fellow’s white head and arthritic gait made his advanced age very clear. He sat next to me, and when I spoke to him he seemed to understand every word I said. We developed a bond fairly quickly. He put his head on my knee, and when I rubbed him between the eyes, he pressed into my knee with extra weight to show me how much he liked that. I scratched his back, and straightened his red hair in some spots where it was jutting out. After a few minutes, though, I got up and left. I knew he would follow me, but only for a step or two. The old fellow made friends easily, and I was only his latest.
Chapter 7 – County Kerry Classic – The Fourth and Final Round
Jeff packed the car again, and although we had eaten some cereal and toast at O’Donnabhain’s breakfast room, we found ourselves waiting near our parked car for a bakery to open at 8:00. As soon as we could, we went in for coffee and a scone. Then off we drove to the Ring of Kerry Golf Club, where we would play the final round of our County Kerry Classic.
The man in the clubhouse showed me the radar images and told me that it should be raining most of the day. Undaunted, we all put on our rain pants, jackets, hats and gloves, and headed for the first tee. When it still hadn’t started raining on the second hole, and with the temperature going up, we took off our rain clothes. Sometime around the fifth hole, however, a dark cloud quickly appeared and heavy drops started falling. Not only did I put my rain pants and jacket back on, but this time, for the first time ever, I got out my new wind-resistant umbrella. At one point I was preparing to hit my seven-iron onto the green in front of me when I noticed that hailstones were falling all around me. I figured the falling hailstones would take a little off my distance, so I switched and hit my six-iron instead. The hail only lasted a minute, and the rain lasted for just 20 minutes. We finished our round in mostly warm sunshine. Erik shot the lowest score, 101, and had easily won the County Kerry Classic. Jacob and I had each shot 108, and Jeff carded 114. Jeff came in second in the County Kerry Classic. Unfortunately, we had no prize for second.
I had an uneasy feeling when I unpacked the County Kerry Classic trophy. It had last been out of its Styrofoam wrapping when I had placed it in the Ballybunion Clubhouse trophy case to take a picture of it. Since then I had seen the box it was in hit the ground when the back of the car was opened and it tumbled out. I didn’t want to open the box now, but I did, and my worst fears were realized. It made too much noise. It should have been in two pieces, but I counted many more.
It was all very sad. Erik, who had traveled far, and had endured much, was proud that he had beaten the rest of us, for whom golfing opportunities come so much more easily than they do to him in Spain. I could tell that he was as disappointed as I was. There was some talk of perhaps throwing the remains off the cliffs at Old Head the next day as some sort of symbolic offering to the golf gods, but the trophy was Erik’s to do with as he chose.
The drive from Kenmare to Kinsale offered vistas gorgeous enough to take our minds off of our minor catastrophe. Several times we stopped to take pictures.
Chapter 8 – Kinsale
We drove by the Perryville Guest House without seeing the sign, and ended up stopping at The Spaniard, a bar and restaurant up on a hill going out of town. The beer tasted great, and I hoped we might return there, but after we went back down the hill and checked in at the B&B overlooking the harbor, we became absorbed with investigating all the interesting shops and pubs on the waterfront, and never had the chance. Andrew at the Perryville House was very helpful, and carried my suitcase to the top of the stairs for me. He showed us a room below the stairs where we could store our clubs, and he helped us bring them in from the car. We took at look at the menus he had accumulated, but ended up opting for some cheaper fare. We were told that the White House, just two blocks down, had reasonably priced meals, and when we went there we agreed. Three of us had the 1/2 lobster and salad for 14.95€, and Jacob had their seafood pancake. It was all very good, and we enjoyed watching the US Open on their large TV while we ate.
After dinner we walked around and sampled the beer in various establishments. Where we ran into live music, we always sat down and listened. One particularly good act asked several times for requests before someone behind me (I think it was Jeff) complied and called for “Danny Boy!” The musicians (guitar and mandolin, primarily) responded rather sarcastically that they had never gotten that request before, and then proceeded to sing a nicely rehearsed rendition where Danny Boy was intermixed with Bridge Over Trouble Water. I quickly determined that they were not playing in the key of D, which meant that the harp in my pocket would have to remain there.
The lead singer had announced that only he would be drinking beer that night, since he partner was the designated driver, and Jacob, who must have noticed that the singer’s glass was empty, slowly walked a tall fresh Guinness over to him just as he was belting out the high line on Danny Boy. It cracked him up a little, as it did all of us.
Chapter 9 – The Showdown at Old Head
Friday, June 17 was our last day of golfing in Ireland. I had scheduled Old Head for our final day, because all of my research had led me to believe that Old Head might be the finest golf course in the world. Yeah. The world. We enjoyed a fine breakfast at the Perryville Guesthouse before embarking on the fifteen minute drive to Old Head. It was impressive as we approached it, and even more impressive at every turn of the road as drove to the clubhouse. We were greeted by friendly people who took our clubs to the clubhouse, and directed us to the driving range. Jeff and I had engaged caddies, and they met us on the range and soon returned with our bags. My caddy, Darren, proceeded to clean each of my clubs as I hit balls on the range. We then walked to the chipping practice green. I practiced my greenside wedge shots for a bit, and then we proceeded to the practice putting green near the first tee. When it was time for our group to tee off, the Starter took us aside, told us about the history of the course, and then took our picture at their Stone of Accord. Finally the group in front of us was on the green, and it was time to tee off.
I had been concerned about my ability to walk at Old Head. My left foot had been sore, and it was now a little swollen, and I had a toenail on that foot that was about to fall off. As soon as we
started though, I felt really good, and very comfortable. I liked my caddy, and enjoyed the exceptional beauty on every hole. The first hole was wonderful. The second was more so, and by the fourth hole I thought that views could not get better. The last few holes, particularly 15, 16 and 17, were just stupendous. I had the most fun I have ever had on a golf course.
The tournament was a handicapped event, and used a modified Stableford scoring system, with five points for a net eagle, two points for a net birdie, no points for a net par, minus one for a net bogey, and minus three for a net double bogey or worse. The handicaps had been calculated by Jeff, and were based solely on each competitor’s performance in Ireland so far. I knew that this slightly under-handicapped Erik, since he had not been here to play the terrifically difficult Cashen course, but I didn’t care. He had the Claret Jug in St Andrews in 2005, he and Jacob had won the pewter mugs, and now he had also won the County Kerry Classic. If he didn’t win the last tournament, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Erik received 24 strokes, Jeff 32, Paul 33, and Jacob 36, which meant Jacob would get two strokes on every hole. It seemed to me that this format, where great shots are rewarded more than poor shots are punished, favored Jacob, who hits both the best shots and the worst shots of four of us. Every time Jacob got a par, he would score 5 points, and if he got a birdie, which he does more often than I do, he would score 8 points.
After the first nine, Jacob was in the lead, and my steady play had me in second place. On the back nine, I got a par on all three of the three par threes, getting two strokes on each of them.
Those fifteen points put me in front, and despite Jacob picking up fourteen points in the last four holes, my point total was able to withstand his charge. I won the Showdown at Old Head!
Chapter 10 – Patrick O’Conner
I put my clubs in the car, and walked back to the clubhouse to enjoy a beer at the Lusitania Bar. As I entered, Jacob called me over, and told me he had someone he wanted to introduce to me. “Paul” he said, “Meet Patrick O’Conner. Patrick is the owner here at Old Head”.
It seems Jacob had told Patrick about a little about The Committee, and Patrick seemed pleased to meet me. When the other two fellows showed up, we all went into the bar to share a drink. For about an hour, Patrick regaled us with stories about the making of the course, and about the people who had visited there. He told us about how his brother John, the Horticulturist, had come up with the idea of building a course on the tip of this beautiful peninsula. They had bought the land for only $250,000 from the farmer who was tired of so many of his sheep falling to their deaths on the cliffs below. John visited other courses which had the same climate, and he experimented with growing different grasses at those locations. The course had taken seven years to build. At least one large land-moving vehicle had slid down a bank and fallen hundreds of feet to its watery grave. Thankfully, the operator had jumped off and escaped injury. Patrick told us about how nice Arnold Palmer was, but at his age now, Arnie only played four or five holes. He told us about how when Tiger and Mark O’Meara played there, Mark had to be helped off the very windy and high back tee on the 18th hole because of an onset of vertigo.
Patrick asked us where we intended to have dinner that night, and we explained that we had reservations at the Fishy Fish, one of the finest restaurants in Kinsale. I had selected that restaurant for our final meal months ago, and had asked Jeff to make us a reservation there under the name Fitzpatrick. He had done so, and, at their request, called them again after we got to Ireland to confirm our reservation. Patrick said that he would most likely eat at the Shanghai Express, which was his favorite restaurant in town, and he mentioned he would probably be showing up there tonight between 7:30 and 8:00.
When we returned to the Perryville House, we told Andrew of our plan to change from Fishy Fish to the Shanghai Express, and he was not pleased. He reluctantly agreed to call the Fishy Fish for us and cancel our reservations, and despite Jeff’s objections about not having come all this way to eat our last dinner at a Chinese take-out, we walked to a bar and asked for directions to the Shanghai Express. We were only mildly dissuaded when neither of the bartenders nor the cook had heard of it. Leaving the rest of us to nurse our beers, Jacob walked back to the Perryville House and returned in five minutes with walking directions for us. When our walk took us directly past the Fishy Fish, we ignored Jeff’s arguments one last time.
We were given a table for four upstairs. The Shanghai Express offered primarily Asian tapas. Each dish, when shared amongst the four of us, provided only a bite or two, and did not cost very much. As soon as our initial order had been taken, in walked our new friend Patrick, along with his sister Margaret. They were seated at a table for two across the room from us, and while we were pondering how to best invite them to join us, they asked the waitress if she could push together some tables so we could join them. This worked our marvelously, and for the next 90 minutes or so we were again able to listen to Patrick tell his stories about the construction and operation of Old Head. Margaret turned out to be the General Manager at Old Head and very interesting as well. Patrick told us that his 21 year-old son had called that morning from Vietnam, where he was attending a party. Jacob and Patrick exchanged information, and made plans to get together later in Houston.
We spent our last night in Kinsale wandering around the pubs, looking for craic (a hard-to-define Irish pub atmosphere – you know it when you feel it). Most places didn’t start their live music on Friday nights until 10:30, but we found some that started earlier.
The last band we watched was a five person all-girl band called “She’s Electric”. They were quite good, and I watched for almost an hour. Eventually I left and walked back to the Perryville House to begin packing my bags. The others watched for another hour, until the band stopped playing.
Chapter 11 – The Trip Home
We had another good breakfast the next morning, and after about ten minutes during which nobody knew where the key to the rental car was, we left Kinsale for the two and a half hour
drive to Shannon Airport. We briefly stopped at the Bunratty Courtyard to pick up our golf travel bags (and drop off Jacob to make room), and then Erik drove Jeff and me to the airport. Our flight to Boston was on time, and our flight from Boston to Charlotte was close to being on time. After dropping off Jeff along the way, I got home just a little after 9:30 pm.
Jacob and Erik’s return tickets were for early Sunday morning. I had made arrangements for them to stay at the Bunratty Courtyard Saturday night, and I had suggested they visit the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, as Jeff and I had done. Their thoughts turned to golf, however, and at dinner they had asked Patrick about courses near Shannon airport. Patrick had suggested Lahinch, a highly respected links course not too far away. I was very pleased, after returning home, to receive the following email from Erik:
After I got back from dropping you boys off at the airport, Jake and I headed out to Lahinch, 45 minutes away. First we stopped by the clubhouse and secured a 4:30 pm tee time, then we went to a pub for a burger and headed up ten minutes away to some impressive cliffs. The 100-mph winds there made Old Head look like a breezy meadow. We took some pictures and headed back down to the course. 75€ each, and we were on the first tee. It was a gorgeous links course that was right by a town and beach and reminded us a bit of St. Andrews. It was very breezy. Several times my 3-wood wasn’t enough to make the 170 yards into the wind to the green. But boy was it fun crushing those 270 yard drives with the wind! My game shaped up nicely and I birdied #9 and was set to have all pars and two triple bogies on the back, but missed my par save on #18. Including a missed two-foot birdie putt on #11, I had a 43 on the back for a 94 total. Jake was in his usual Irish bell curve around 106. Oh, and we also got to experience the “cold + wind + rain” trifecta on the 15th hole. I played all of #16 with a numb right hand. We finished at 9:15 pm and made it back to Bunratty at ten, just in time for all the pubs to tell us they’d just stopped serving food. Luckily the place right next to the hotel was kind enough to serve us a hot veggie puré which really hit the spot. It was a lot of fun, and I’m glad we didn’t just sit on our asses in Bunratty all day.
Ah, youth. When I really knew the trip had been a total success, however, was when I received the following email and picture from Erik after he returned to Spain:
After some patience and superglue, one can hardly tell at first glance that the County Kerry Classic trophy was ever in multiple pieces.