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A True Golf Road Warrior Does It Behind the Wheel

A True Golf Road Warrior Does It Behind the Wheel

You can’t call yourself a proper Golf Road Warrior, no matter how far you travel from home, if you merely settle in one place and encounter only the courses in that vicinity. You’ve got to cover some ground, laddie, behind the wheel — and that we did over the course of our nine days in Ireland, courtesy of our not-quite-British-racing-green VW Transporter. Reputable tour companies, like our friends at Perry Golf, will hook you up with both car and driver, but you can dispense with the latter. Call me a control freak, but I’d rather our party controlled its own destiny. Highlights and observations from our Irish driving experience include:

• In total, I reckon we spent a full 23 hours driving to, from and between various golf courses. That’s nearly 1/9th of our entire sojourn, or 11 percent of our time here. Too much? Perhaps. I’ll drive an hour to play golf at home, each way. That’s 40 percent of the golf experience, not the day itself… I will say that if you’re playing 36 on a road trip like ours, you can’t afford to be driving any more than 2 hours between them. Even if they are right next to each other, at the same resort, that sort of regimen leaves little time for anything else (like blogging).

• On Day I, we landed in Dublin, secured our van and headed dead north to Ballyliffin, 4 hours away at the very northern tip of the island. That’s serious and immediate motoring immersion, but driving on the other side really isn’t that big a deal. Honestly. It’s disorienting for 10 minutes, and then everything locks in, mirror imaged, and you don’t think about it again — until you pay a toll. The urge to hand money to the person on the left is quite overwhelming…

• The big issue is leftward drift, or the tendency to not hug the centerline on Ireland’s famously ribbon-like roads. I don’t really have that center-line-hugging sensation when I drive at home, on the right side. I must do it instinctually. When that instinct isn’t contrived, in Ireland, you tend to hear it before you see it — either the brush of a hedgerow on your left sideview mirror, or maybe something like, “Curb, CURB, CURB!!” from your co-pilot.

• Our gas station/convenience mart of choice on this trip was the Topaz. We stopped at our first one in Northern Ireland, about 2.5 hours north of Dublin. I’m not sure we realized we had passed over this once dangerous, now fairly workaday border. Later we realized that signs in Northern Ireland no longer featured both English and Gaelic language words, but it certainly became clear exactly where we were when the woman behind the counter explained that we could pay in Euros, but she was obliged to give us change in pounds sterling. Hello, plastic…

• This signage dynamic stood in contrast to that which we discovered in the far west of Ireland, where, in Bellmullet, home to the superb Carne Golf Club, we discovered the signs to be written only in Gaelic.

• My mother’s been complaining for all my years about the poor signage adorning New England roadways. She’s probably right, and the signage in Ireland (like that in her native California, in the 1950s) is extremely detailed, copious and accurate. One can simply follow the various road names (N25, R344), or one can keep onesself headed toward the various cities that form the links in a chosen route’s chain, or one can do both. All in all, it’s difficult to get truly lost. That is, if one can read a map.

• I can read a map, and so can Tom Harack, my co-pilot for the great majority of our odyssey. We split the driving and orienteering. We screwed up only a couple times — mainly missed turns at roundabouts (nothing a quick U-turn won’t solve) or not properly divining the most efficient way around substantial towns, as opposed to through crowded city centres.

• We were provided a Garmin GPS plug-in unit along with the van, courtesy of the rental company. It was never once employed during this trip. It was eschewed in favor of a gigantic fold-out map of Ireland where one side featured the northern half of the island, the other the south. There are, as you know, hazards to map usage. Can’t see the left side-view mirror when someone has it fully unfolded in the passenger seat, for example. But there are comic advantages, such as the times I glanced over to see Tom reading the unfolded map but appearing to be hiding under it, as one might hide under a bedsheet.

• There are three major designations of roadway in Ireland: The M’s, like the M1, denote a motorway, or what we’d call an interstate highway in the U.S.; the N’s designate a “national” roadway, one that is pretty substantial, will provide passing lanes on uphill portions, and will more than likely connect major towns (it seems there are also N roads, like the N59, which seem to imply some kind of scenic byway designation). Then there are the R’s which are basically rural routes. They can range from roads of N-like quality to the most rudimentary country lanes. There are some L-designated roads, usually followed by 4 digits, as in the L2364. From a distance, these looked like deer paths and we never did venture down one, by choice or necessity, thank goodness.

• You really want to minimize your time on the rural routes. They’re often beautiful, no question, but they’re a freakin’ hazard and you generally make poor time. We picked up the R253, for example, on the way to Narin & Portnoo Golf Club on Day III. It was no wider than my driveway at home, questionably asphalted, and we were on that sucker for 38 kilometres! Luckily, it was early on a Saturday morning and we only encountered a handful of cars coming the other way. Each time, however, it was the same drill: See oncoming car, come to a full stop, inch by said car (checking both side mirrors all the while), continue on our way.

• Another disadvantage to the rural routes, and narrow Irish roads in general? Passing. Or, as they say over here, “overtaking” (undertaking on motorways, or passing on the left, is seriously frowned upon in the U.K., I’ve found). As indicated, on N and R routes, there is barely room for two cars to pass each other going in opposite directions. When you finally get some visibility and pull out into the oncoming lane to pass, occupying nearly all of that narrow passage, it’s a leap of faith.

• The one place we avoided a rural route where perhaps we shouldn’t have was some 30 km outside Carne, after our game there. We were headed dead east to Ballina and then took a right turn south to Castlebar, where we planned to pick up good road to Galway, then Limerick, around the River Shannon to Killarney. We had a chance to turn right and angle our way down to Castlebar on the R312 — it was clearly more direct, but we’d have traded an N for an R. So I opted against it. We may never know if this saved or cost us time. It’s a decision that may well haunt me for the rest of my days.

Making room for new memories of Ireland

Making room for new memories of Ireland

The last time I visited Ireland, my brother and I chaperoned the old man around the Southwest, taking in the links at Doonbeg, Lahinch, Tralee and Ballybunion. That was nearly three years ago and our timing couldn’t have been better. I don’t want to go all Jim Dodson on you, but my dad has since been diagnosed with lymphoma. He’s hanging in there, but my brother and I are pretty damned glad we took him to Ireland when we did, because his days of walking 18 on consecutive days are in all likelihood behind him.

I’m turning these things, these most recent memories of Eire, over in my mind here in Dublin Airport, waiting on the rest of my party. A leaden gray sky hangs low over the modernist terminal I spy across the street, through massive picture windows. We have a mighty drive ahead of us, once we’ve all assembled — straight up to the island’s northernmost tip, skirting the new golf capital of the world, Northern Ireland, to the links at Ballyliffin. From there a veritable string of equally hallowed venues await.

There will be plenty to write about in the days to come, plenty of memories to be made. I and my comrades in Gortex will be diligent in relaying them to you via word, sound and image. But for now I’m loathe to shake the memories from last time.

I won’t bore you but one moment stands out: That first day we arrived, in Shannon, the three of us promptly headed straight for Lahinch on a beautiful sunlit morning. There is no better cure for jetlag than a round of golf, first thing, right off the plane. As one enters the tiny beach town of Lahinch, it’s not clear to the novice exactly where to find the golf club. We pulled over and asked directions of an older woman.

“Well, it’s right over there,” she said, gesturing to an intersection where we should’ve gone right. The course lay on the high ground just beyond. It proved pretty difficult to miss, but she didn’t press this point.

“Have you a game today? I see that you have. Well, you’ll love it. Absolutely love it. It’s a wonderful golf course and you’ve got a beautiful day for it. Where are you from?”


“Well, I have several relatives living there. They’re not golfers, sad to say. But that won’t matter to you. Just take that right hand turn and the course is on your left. Can’t miss it. Lovely course, lovely weather. You’ll have wonderful day…”

We thanked her profusely, of course, and, duly bathed in the hospitality for which Ireland is rightly famous, we all turned to each other and smiled. We may have giggled. At which point my brother summed it up: “What a bitch.”

We laughed long and hard, then headed off into the dunes at Lahinch.