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Irish Golf Tidbits: Stouts, Control, Separated at Birth

Irish Golf Tidbits: Stouts, Control, Separated at Birth

Still emptying the suitcase of the golfing mind, fresh off the Golf Road Warriors’ late-July tour of Ireland. Several matters remain unaddressed, and so they are tackled here. I reserve the right to keep this tab running indefinitely. Even so…

• Guinness Lite. Honestly — We had wonderful couple of days (less than 24 hours, actually, now that I think about it) in the very north of Ireland at Ballyliffin Golf Club. General Manager John Farren was our host, and he could not have been a better one. He looked the other way when we arrived looking like death warmed over (straight from a transatlantic flight and 4-hour drive from Dublin). He personally delivered Peter Kessler’s set of Adams clubs on the 8th hole of our round on the Glashedy Links. He even joined us in the bar for a podcast when all 36 holes had been completed. Somewhere in this blitz of activity, he made what I thought was a joke about offering us a Guinness Lite. I assumed he was joking; I mean, really… But lo and behold he mentioned it again during the pod, and upon drawing him out, it became clear he was perfectly serious. Guinness Mid-Strength is in fact the centerpiece of a “responsible drinking” campaign being waged by Diageo Ireland, Guinness’ current owner. Unlike American light beers that are marketed as being “less filling,” Guinness Mid-Strength was created to offer an unchanged taste experience without getting people so loaded. It weighs in at 2.8% alcohol, compared with the 4.2% we expect from the world’s most recognizable stout. I expressed mild shock and dismay at this development, but John urged me to try one. He even ordered me one from the bar, after the pod, but it was ultimately delivered to someone else — at which point I accused him of taking the joke a bit far. Still, I promised him I’d try one and report back. I did just that during our stay in Killarney and let me say I was impressed. Depending on how cold it’s served, a reasonable person might have trouble telling a Mid-Strength from the original. Indeed, because I’ve gone dozens of Irish posts and thousands of words without saying it, I’m obliged share the sentiment here: Guinness Mid-Strength. It’s magically delicious.

Beamish, where art thou? — I love my Guinness. I’m no fool. But I do enjoy a wide variety of stouts. Why limit one’s self? The American craft brew renaissance, which pretty much coincided with my coming of age, has exposed me to just how many ways one can creatively brew a stout, the thickest and “stoutest” porter-style beer a brewery might produce. Gritty McDuff’s Black Fly Stout is one I enjoy regularly, as it’s brewed just down the road from my home in Maine. I like a Murphy’s every once in a while, and one thing I was dearly hoping to do in Ireland during this GRW trip was down a few Beamish, a lovely stout that I’d quaffed on previous trips to the U.K. Well, I wasn’t really expecting to find it up north in Ireland; Beamish was originally brewed in the south, in Cork, and folks up north don’t demand it. But I was dismayed to see it nowhere on tap in Killarney or any of the clubs we frequented in the southwest. Apparently Heineken International owns it now. There was a brief dalliance with international distribution, in 2009, but that’s been halted and it’s nowhere to be found on the streets of Killarney. What a shame.

Eat, Pray, Love = Control, Feel, Trust? — So, each of the Golf Road Warriors was provided two golf gloves for our trip, courtesy of our friends at Hirzl. We received the Trust Control model, and the Trust Feel model. I can honestly speak only to the Control, which I donned at Ballyliffin’s Old Links and used throughout the trip. Great glove. No stretching, easy on and off, and the palm material (kangaroo leather apparently) was super grippy, without being tacky. I went for the Control because I reckoned we’d be playing multiple rounds in the rain (at which time, I would break out the Trust Feel model). But, as luck would have it, we played only one real wet round (at Carne GC), the Control provided just that, and it dried out in plenty of time for the next day’s round. I’ll report on the Trust Feel when the Control wears out, but don’t hold your breath. I’m thinking this could take some time.

Time-Honored Tracks Enter Digital Age — Failte Ireland, the very capable promoters of Irish tourism (Failte, roughly translated from the Gaelic, means Welcome to), launched during the Irish Open an online search capability that allows visiting golfers to book tee times, in real time. Go to the Search and Plan section at www.discoverireland.ie/golf and you’ll see how it works. Many of the fine old links are represented among participating clubs, in addition to a bunch of top parkland tracks, including Open host Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. 

“If you want to play a number of courses over a few days, you can now make the most of your holiday by checking tee time availability at golf courses online in advance,” explained Keith McCormack, Failte Ireland’s Head of Golf. 

“Our tee time availability search facility will tell you exactly what slots are free. You can then book the tee time that fits your itinerary with your chosen golf course. All you have to do is decide where you want to go and what type of golf course you’d like to play on.”

English pro Chris Wood

Chris Wood, Separated at Birth — As you may recall, I played in the pro-am on Wednesday of last week’s Irish Open at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. Thankfully, no one was hurt. My pro was Englishman Chris Wood and the whole time around I’m thinking to myself, “This guy reminds me of someone. Not someone I know, but a public figure…” Couldn’t nail it down during the 18, but I did upon returning home. Indeed, I realized it was two guys who both reminded me the 6’6” Bristol native: NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Robin Lopez, center for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. See the evidence below. Actually, Robin has a twin in the NBA, Brook, of the New Jersey Nets. But I’m going with Robin because 1) he dated fellow Stanford product Michelle Wie for a time, 2) he was on my fantasy team a couple years back, and 3) his flyaway, corkscrew hair is more reminiscent of Wood’s trademark, wind-blown, nest-like coiffure.

Robin Lopez

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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.