- Golfer Benefits
After 9 different trips across Massachusetts for various Golf Staycations, I was recently blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime to join over two dozen Mass Golfers on a Member Trip to Ireland. While I’ll always suggest you support and play golf here in the Bay State, I now believe a trip across the pond is a pilgrimage every golf enthusiast needs to make.
By: Stephen Hanjack
The Golf Vacation vs. Golf Staycation. Sure, it’s a bit different than finding some of the hidden gems on the Mass Golf roster, but Irish links golf is as eye-opening in its own unique ways. The boldness of design, the culture, the style of play, the wind, the sense of community…all of it has helped me better understand the meaning of golf.
As Mass Golfers, we are privileged to be located in a hub that’s ideal for travel to both Ireland and Scotland. If you are in a position to do so…treat yourself. If not, start saving. It’s a trip worth every dollar, or should I say euro. If I can offer up one suggestion – it’s to experience it with a travel group like Sullivan Golf Travel. It allows you to show up, golf, take pictures, and enjoy. Leave the heavy lifting to them.
Looking back on my week of Irish golf, I could probably list a hundred different golf discoveries I made along the way. But as I organize the pages and pages of notes, and endless supply of pictures, five major topics have stuck with me most.
Ask anyone on the trip what their favorite course was and you’ll get a different answer. For some, it was the course with the best views, for others it was the course that best suited their game. For me, it was the courses that could deliver something I couldn’t get anywhere else – the dunes of Ireland.
In Massachusetts, we are lucky to have a few seaside courses, all beautiful in their own right. But take a walk alongside any beachfront property and I can assure you there will be signs stating: Stay Off The Dunes. Meanwhile in Ireland, the moto is to play through the dunes. And as far as I’m concerned, the most dramatic dune-scape can be found on the front 9 of Lahinch GC and the back 9 of Ballybunion GC.
Lahinch is one of the oldest courses in Ireland. The original design was done by Old Tom Morris and was updated by Alister MacKenzie. Latterly MacKenzie would design Augusta National and Cypress Point.
Old Tom’s bold design includes two of the most famous holes in all of golf: The Klondyke and The Dell. Both requiring the golfer to hit approach shots over a massive dune the size of the Green Monster. Because there is no way to know where the hole is located, a large white rock is placed on the hill to identify the proper line of play each day.
To me, Ballybunion’s closing nine not only matches Lahinch’s boldness and beauty, it tops it. The course bends, turns, lifts you up, pulls you down and dances you through the most dramatic dunes in all of Ireland. It has the rare ability to gobble up a sleeve of golf balls, make a mess of your scorecard, and still leave you awestruck by what you just experienced.
Photos don’t do it justice as they seem to flatten out the mountain-like structures. The tall thick grasses contrast beautifully to the coloring of fairways and greens. And as you’re playing it, you just can’t believe the shots it asks you to play.
Having seen all this, I now feel reinvigorated to seek out and appreciate the bold and historic design features unique to Massachusetts. The rock outcroppings, stone walls, chocolate drop mounds, and even the well-placed tree should all be appreciated for what they are. And what they are, is Massachusetts.
Everyone whose played in Ireland remembers their first experience with the wandering golf ball. For me, that experience came at Waterville Golf Links.
I clipped one perfectly off the firm turf, watched as it landed softly in the front quadrant of the green, and my American golf mind was put to rest. But then, it happened. The golf ball that had sat and behaved for my entire life decided to wander. And what I thought would be a birdie attempt quickly turned into a recovery shot from a closely mown collection area off the back of the green. It’s just something you don’t get to experience in Massachusetts.
Speaking of style of play, I wish I could have abided by the wishes of our Travel Coordinator, David. “Irish golf isn’t about your score” he would say. And as much as I wanted to follow his suggestion, my American mind wouldn’t allow me to ignore my scores. It’s how I’ve tracked my level of play for my entire life, after all.
Overseas, it’s much less common for players to compete in stroke play, but rather match play or stableford scoring. With all the blind shots, danger lurking, and extreme elements, it’s easy to see why. And it helps explain a commonality that we’d hear throughout our trip…
“Coming up is the number one index hole.”
At first, I didn’t think much of it, but then after two days, then three, then four…I started to recognize that stroke allocation is one of the most important elements of the Irish style of play.
It makes me wish that golf, in America, was played more like this. Where we judged our round more by our successes, and less by our failures. Zero points sounds a heck-of-a-lot better than “I made a nine there” doesn’t it?
For me, it starts and ends with Dooks Golf Club. Don’t get me wrong, every club welcomed us with open arms, but it was at Dooks where I truly felt part of their community.
The charming links course features ocean views on all 18 holes and staff that would make any ownership group proud. There was a sense of pride that you could feel beaming off them. They were genuinely excited to have a group of Americans choose their home track as part of a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
It’s one of those clubs where everyone chips-in to do their part. If a group of tourists are in town to play and there are no caddies, the members gladly put down their pints to hop on the bag. Pair that feeling of community with the greatest logo in all of golf, and it’s no wonder I pushed my credit card to the limit on their logoed gear.
If you ask any Irish golfer who their hero is, you will surely get a lot of Shane Lowry’s. As it turned out, our last day at Lahinch saw Shane Lowry tee it up just three groups behind us. And by the time the Irish Legend made his way to the 18th hole, he was greeted by the entire local community with cheers. They love him for his win at the 2019 Open Championship, for his stance on LIV, and of course, his infectious smile.
Other Shout Outs: I’ll never forget the caddies at Tralee. Hearing that Irish accent on the final hole say “you have a lovely game, Stephen” is something I’ll cherish forever. And for any Saved by the Bell fans that plan on playing Old Head, wait ‘til you get a load of the waiter. The guy is a dead ringer for Zack’s fake father in the “Rent-a-Pop” episode.
Water views are often considered cheating when it comes to golf course photos, but when every course you play is littered with them, what are you to do?
Go nuts. That’s what I did.
In seven days, I captured 482 pictures and videos. Dunes, logos, bunkers, bridges, caddies, ocean views, statues, pints, tee markers, Shane Lowry. If I could include a 400+ photo gallery of my work, I would. Instead, I’ll take pride in my “Your iCloud Storage is full” message.
Ask anyone on our trip which course was most photogenic, and I guarantee every single person says Old Head Golf Links. It’s one of the most impressive design achievements in all of golf. Not so much from a links golf perspective, but more from a “how in the world did they get a golf course here” perspective.
If you’re only looking to play true Irish links style courses, Old Head might not be for you. And while I certainly prefer the links style courses much more, I am proud to say I’ve seen Old Head at least once in my lifetime.
With all the amazing courses, rich history, and endless supply of Irish characters, I’m a little surprised that one of my biggest takeaways from this trip was the people of the Mass Golf Community.
In the days leading up to the trip, a list of golfers gets sent, and you start wondering – who will I be playing with, what’s their story, who’s ready to pull a few pints. At the airport you start looking around the terminal, trying to spot familiar course logos and identify those ready to make this journey with you.
While it takes a day for the group to warm up, by the end of the trip, one might confuse this group for a family. Everyone will remember cheering after Michael’s morning readings, the Roche brothers and their daily birdie pool, Rick’s ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ story, the energy that the Hatherly group brought to the front of the bus, the power of mustard, and of course the stories from our bus driver.
On the course, I got to learn more about people and what brought them to Ireland. Some were interested in the pictures, a handful were captured by the architecture, and others found themselves recalling memories of loved ones.
I’m grateful for those who welcomed me to dinner, shared a taxi, enjoyed a few pints, searched the dunes for my Pro V1’s, and helped me select the proper Irish sweater for my loved one.
As I’ve been known say…golf is the best.
INTERESTED IN A GOLF TRIP WITH MASS GOLF?
Just a few of the 480+ photos taken on the trip.
View this post on Instagram
View this post on Instagram