After five manic days on the road, wielding golf clubs in Ireland’s furthest northern and western reaches, we have come to rest in the Killarney, Cill Airne, meaning “church of sloes”. (What’s a sloe, you might well ask? It’s a blackthorn). This is County Kerry, in the southwest, and here we’ve continued our Golf Road Warrior mission whilst de-emphasizing the road part. We’re based here for the next few days, in this charming town 20,000, to complement the media corps covering the Irish Open and play the region’s top tracks.
Day 1 was Ballybunion. Day II, Wednesday 27 July, was the pro-am here at the sterling, Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. Tomorrow, Day III, my penultimate day in Eire, we head back to the links, at Tralee.
It was a brutal 5-hour drive to Killarney from Carne, but if you’re going to put down temporary roots somewhere, you could do a lot worse than Killarney. Like Tralee, the home base for my father, brother and I when we last visited SW Ireland, in 2008, Killarney is a lovely, walkable, vibrant town full of restaurants, pubs and high streets awash in colorfully painted signs and facades. Killarney comes off as even more alive, this week, as it’s fairly well bursting at the seams with Irish Open enthusiasts. The pride of Irish golf fans is bursting, too. They have come from all points to see their four major heroes — Paddy Harrington, Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell — in action.
Pro-Am day was also free admission day, so the crowds were quite substantial. I’m not used to playing in front of a gallery, but I can report that no one was hurt. Indeed, I treated them to my typically dazzling shot-making, when I wasn’t mixing in self-loathing mutters, three-jacks, and high, peeling slices into the pro-style rough. I was essentially useless to my team, but no one seemed particularly pleased with the way they played, either, and fun was had by all. Chris Wood was our pro. You might remember him for having finished 3rd, as an amateur, at the 2009 Open at Turnberry. I can tell you, having viewed him up close over the course of 5-plus hours, that he’s quite tall, resembles an oversized Dale Earnhardt Jr., hits the ball a bleedin’ mile, and comes off as a genuinely nice lad. I’m rooting for him this week, though as I sit here in the media centre, I see on the big board that he’s 3-over through his first 11 holes. He’ll need to pick things up to make the cut.
At first blush, it might seem odd that an Irish Open would be played over a parkland track like Killarney. This is Ireland, after all, home to so many stunning links. But, as we’ve learned, many of those links are stupendously remote, while others don’t have the facilities to handle the huge crowds. With the exception of Dublin, there are more hotel beds in Killarney than in any other Irish city. That would include, I presume, the 14 rooms at Killeen House, a B&B where we dined in admirable style and substance our second night here.
Our group is about 11 media strong, and the Killeen had us at a long table occupying half of a private room. After our appetizers arrived, the other party arrived: 12 dudes on golfing holiday from St. Louis. We recognized them immediately from Ballybunion earlier that day — these were the guys whooping it up on the clubhouse balcony when were putting out on 18. We had seen them at Carne, as well. They were soused at Ballybunion 2 hours prior, so they were predictably boisterous and even more lit by the time they sat down for dinner. Ah, the joys of being an American abroad…
Thankfully, we took our desert in the bar, where the spirits flowed with more decorum and the walls are bedecked in golf balls (the barman here will readily trade you a logoed ball for a pint). The sun was all the way down when we stepped outside. It was quiet and still, and the gloaming made our deep green surroundings that much deeper. A thunder clap of laughter, surely emanating from our original dining room, breaks the silence and continues — ebbing and flowing but remaining constant — for a minute or more until, again, it’s quiet and all we can hear as we approach our bus is the muted crunch of gravel beneath our feet.