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How the Irish and Ireland inform their golf
A quiet Sunday morning on the Diamond in Donegal Town. That's the road south, to Sligo.

How the Irish and Ireland inform their golf

A quiet Sunday morning on the Diamond in Donegal Town. That’s the road south, to Sligo.

Sitting on a park bench this Sunday morning in the Diamond, the central square area of Donegal Town. The Road Warriors straggled back here, battered and bruised, late last night between rounds at Donegal Golf Club and Enniscrone. What we found upon checking into the splendid Abbey Hotel was a major league party underway, in our hotel bar/disco, and in every hotel and bar surrounding the Diamond. Saturday night in Donegal is no joke, and it wasn’t just the gaggle of young things strutting about. This was clearly a cross-generational night out. When I checked into my room, I shared an elevator with a 50something couple and another woman who had broken the heel off one of her 60s-era, black, Nancy Sinatra-style, go-go boots. The three of them were literally falling all over themselves in hysterical laughter at what had happened, and they wanted me to join in. When I crashed last night, sometime around 3 a.m., there was still plenty of laughter emanating from the Diamond.

It’s morning now, close to noon actually, and it’s quieter here in the square. A motorcycle club has gathered here on the stone plaza, but their comings and goings are the only break in the quiet remove of a Sunday morning after. You may think I’m crazy, but I believe I hear some Irish pan flute in the distance. Honestly. Some business establishment must be piping it in. I listen to the familiar chug of diesel engines (they predominate here) as lines of slow traffic putter by me. The three main roads all meet on this one spot, heading off south to Sligo, north Letterkenny and west to Killybegs. Nothing here in the square is made of wood. It’s all stone masonry, businesses on the first floor, resident apartments on top. People are out and about and the pubs are open for business.

I’m from Boston, so I’m used to the way Irish towns are laid out (i.e. around a square or town green — these forms of public architecture were imported directly to New England from the old country), and I’m used to the Irish. Growing up, I just assumed (up to a point) that everyone in America but me was Irish and Catholic. Everyone had relatives back in Ireland, just as everyone here has kin in the states.

The difference is (aside from the presence of a proper castle, Donegal Castle, just off the square), the Irish in Ireland are all too happy to chat you up about their relatives, where they live, where you live, what sort of trip you’re doing, have we played Sligo, there’s a pub round the corner you must try, and let me buy you a pint. The American Irish are nice enough; no more or less congenial than me, or any other immigrant population in the U.S., which is to say all of us. But the indigenous Irish are off-the-charts friendly.

Oftentimes the Scots and Irish people are compared, as the links courses in Scotland and Ireland are often compared. There is, I think, an austerity to life in Scotland, to the golf they play, to the courses they play, to their outlook on life. It’s nothing cold or perverse, but there is a reserve, a near asceticism to the people, culture and the courses. I love it there, but when you think of the Scottish links you’ve played, do you think green?

Well, this ain’t the Emerald Isle for nothing, people. It’s green and lush. The outlook is sunny, even if the weather isn’t always. Ireland and the Irish don’t do asceticism. They are, in contrast, generally garrulous and outgoing. Their golf courses run the gamut, naturally, but they generally reflect their keepers: they are greener, the dunes are bigger and more dramatic, the welcome in the clubhouse more genuine than those you find across the Irish Sea. Handsome is as handsome does.

Donegal Castle is just a stone’s throw from the town center, better known as The Diamond.





A Day in the Life: 36 more and a Warrior down
The 12th at Narin & Portnoo Golf Club

A Day in the Life: 36 more and a Warrior down

The 12th at Narin & Portnoo Golf Club [photo courtesy of John and Jeannine Henebry]

The day-to-day existence of The Golf Road Warrior might sound, well, sorta cushy when viewed from a distance. But trust me: The pace is unrelentingly, if purposely, grueling. Let me give you the blow by blow of our Saturday in County Donegal, using the 24-hour clock that pervades here:

01:15, Saturday, 23 July — To bed at the Rosapenna Golf Resort Hotel. We had arrived here for our 16:30 tee time the day before, whereupon we tackled the super striking, super difficult Sandy Hill Links, one of two golf courses here perched high on the North Atlantic coast. We finished at 21:00 or thereabouts, rushed over to the hotel for a lovely dinner, and set about blogging re. Friday’s events. My post was uploaded well after midnight and I was dead away the moment my head hit the pillow.

06:30 — Outta bed and upstairs for quick continental breakfast.

07:30 — On the road for Narin & Portnoo Golf Club, which sits in a remote village on the northwest coast — next stop to the west, Newfoundland. Thirty-seven kilometers of this trip from Rosapenna to Portnoo were logged on a road no wider than my driveway back home. Thankfully, unlike my driveway, it was paved, and there was little oncoming traffic. It is Saturday morning after all.

09:15 — Arrival at the club, and off the first tee 15 minutes later. Beforehand, however, I pop an 800 mg tablet of ibuprofen — a canny purchase I made in Cabo san Lucas the previous May. You can’t get that much ibuprofen in the U.S., not in a single serving and without a prescription. They’re bright orange and the size of a horse pill… Finian is our caddie. Like most we’ve retained here, he’s young and a very good player (he plays off 3).

10:30 — About four holes into this track, the thing takes off. Many of these links begin in flattish, gently duned, lowland areas, or maybe some sort of salt-water bog or estuary. This was the case at N&P. Yet as we made our way out to the beach, we could see a line of huge dunes rising to our left. At no. 5, we played a dogleg up into the breach of one and there we stayed for the next 13 holes, diving down off the dunes to seaside greens (no. 8), playing par-3s from promontory to promontory amid the dunes, and banking our way around the base of this stunning dunescape, right to left and left to right. This is a course you may never have heard of unless you book a Perry Golf tour or consult the Northwest Ireland web site. It’s superb, and if you’re doing 36 a day, it forms a nice link between the northern courses and Donegal GC.

13:30 — We finish the round literally one step ahead of the three women who pushed us the whole back nine, as we hit entirely too many balls in the junk, and spent entirely too much time looking for them. It was a big day at P&N, Lady Captains Day, where the leading ladies from clubs all over Ireland converge for their annual to-do. We grabbed a quick bite in the clubhouse, which was mobbed with some 60 women, all fresh off the golf course. Ran in to the threesome behind us outside; they had picked up a head cover we had dropped somewhere along the line. I took this opportunity to apologize for playing so slowly. They smiled and shot me a polite look that said, “Well, that’s all well and good but you should be ashamed for having played so slowly.” And so we skulked off to our green VW van, suitably admonished.

14:15 — In the parking lot we run into another group of three women, whom we had encountered prior to the round. They asked where we were headed next: Donegal Golf Club, also known a Murvagh (mer-vah). Well, that’s their home club. They advised us that Murvagh was several miles beyond Donegal Town and to “stay out of the rough.”

16:15 — Arrived at Donegal GC. We headed straight off the back, and the weather couldn’t be better: 70 degrees and 15 mph of wind. Fifth consecutive round in shorts. Second horse pill of the day, down the hatch.

17:45 — On the 8th, a lovely par-4 that plays off a dune down to a left-turning fairway, our fellow Road Warrior Peter Kessler was felled. We didn’t know it yet, but he ruptured a tendon in his left hip trying to hit a sand wedge a bit farther than perhaps was feasible. (I heard him say as much, to himself, before the swing.) This was serious: 5 rounds in 3 days had taken its toll, and Peter’s day was done. He couldn’t walk, so fellow Road Warrior Tom Harack packed it in after nine and brought him to the clinic in Donegal, from whence Peter was shipped north to Letterkenny Hospital for an x-ray, where the tendon-issue was confirmed. At this writing, Peter remains in hospital. We’ll pick him up tomorrow, with his crutches, and head to Enniscrone GC. At least, that’s the plan…

18:30 — And then there were two. Fellow Road Warrior Jeff Wallach and I headed out to play our final nine. Hey, we told ourselves, Tom has it handled — and he’d played the course before, whereas we had not, and Donegal GC is too good to simply walk away from.  I snagged Peter’s Adams Redline driver and hit the shit out of it. If he doesn’t play for a couple days, I’m appropriating it. If he rallies, we’ll share it.

20:30 — We holed out on 18, victimized by the Murvagh rough twice on the last two holes. In the clubhouse, Tom and Peter are nowhere to be seen, so we grab a Smithwicks and a bite to eat. They’re still sorting the patient, we’d soon learn from Brendan Reck, the affable club captain whom we met in the bar; I recognized him from his portrait hanging in the hallway. Tom arrived around 21:00 with all the details re. Peter’s condition. Nothing to do but find the hotel and start blogging.

22:00 — Saturday night in Donegal, and it’s quite a scene at The Abbey Hotel, where we’re kipping for the night. First-floor disco with a live band. The place is packed, and up and down the high street every bar and hotel is similarly equipped with live music, packed houses and dozens of folks on the street smoking butts. How does the Golf Road Warrior respond to such stimuli? “Um, excuse me: What’s the wireless password?” Thirty-six holes and two 90-minute drives have sapped us of all partying energy and initiative. Must post.

02:09, Sunday 23 July — The above is written, the photos/video are downloaded and posted. Looking to sleep in tomorrow, if only just. A 90-minute drive and a 16:30 tee time at Enniscrone await — that is, after we retrieve Peter from Letterkenny.

Thirty six holes in one day can be taxing. Thirty six with at least one 90-minute drive in between is more so. Thirty six on this sort of schedule three days in a row? Well, it has proved to be a bit more than at least one hip tendon ocan bear. Twenty-seven at Enniscrone tomorrow… I mean, today.