The Dunmore East Golf Classic - Golf, Guinness, and the Craic
With a surname like Murphy it's not right that I had never been to Ireland to play golf, that I had never sat in a local Irish pub and had a few pints of Guinness. Well, this was about to change and I was really going to make up for lost time!
The Dunmore East Golf Classic is an event that has been running 20 years. In 1992 a well known Dunmore East hotelier called Charlie Boland had a vision of bringing golf to this picturesque County Waterford fishing village. Charlie wanted to invite golfers of all levels to the sunny South East to compete on the area's best golf courses, and as is the Irish way to have a great craic every evening!
Charlie's son Tony took over the running of the event in 2010 and after some hard times for mainly economic reasons the tournament is making a great comeback and is as good as ever I was reliably informed.
Tony puts the success of the Classic down to ‘very impressive, challenging, and stunning golf courses and the chance to stay in maybe the most picturesque and tranquil fishing villages on the east coast of Ireland', and I have to agree with him.
Dunmore East is a charming village with a very old world feel, it's how I was hoping it would be on the flight over to Cork. Even the two hour drive from Cork to Dunmore up the coast was a great experience, the coastline is unbelievably beautiful and it really gets you excited about the prospect of playing golf.
Golfers come from all over the UK and Europe to take part in the event and some further than that, and the people are really what make the event truly special. It is like walking into a school reunion when you enter any of the local pubs in the evening after a hard day on the course, friends from years of coming to the event reuniting and recounting victorious rounds and hilarious tales from the course in equal measure.
For each round you are given playing partners from other teams which means you get to meet and enjoy the company of other golfers. On the third day we got to play with a team from Wales that included a Welsh language TV chef, a Cardiff businessman who owns a golf resort, and an ex Welsh rugby player and Bridgend captain who played with the likes of JPR Williams and Steve Fenwick. They were fantastic company and they made the day for me. The event is not just about the golf but who you play golf with, and who you enjoy a few pints of silky Guinness with afterwards back in the village, and this is how it should be!
The Classic is contested over four golf courses, Dunmore East, Faithlegg, Tramore, and Waterford Castle and each provides an interesting and different challenge. The first we played was Dunmore East and it has some of the most incredible views I have ever seen from a golf course. The last five holes at Dunmore are up on the cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea and it is truly stunning. You overlook the village and bay and have views out to Hook lighthouse and the Saltee Islands. The majority of the course is however inland, but you play to tight fairways between glorious yellow gorse looking towards the Commeragh mountains, making it a wonderful place to play golf.
The conditions when we played were some of the worst I have ever seen, but this did bring out the best in my golf. I made two of the best birdies I have ever made. The 7 th and 9 th holes at Dunmore were Par 4s playing back towards the coast and the wind was hard off the sea and probably around 30 mph, on each hole I hit driver down the right side then a hard punched one iron to 10 feet and knocked in each putt. After that I was glad the conditions were bad or I could never have played those holes like that. Every cloud has a sliver lining!
My favourite hole, even though I did not finish it, was the par three 14th. It is the first of the coastal holes you play and again it was directly into the wind, 180 meters from the back elevated tee, and in the wind was unreachable! What we did do however was return to the hole on the evening of day three when the conditions were much better after four pints of Guinness to have another go as we were only staying about 100 meters away. This time I managed a par!
With the weather improving we set out for round two on a lovely inland course called Faithlegg. Designed by Paddy Merrigan in 1993, the course stands in the grounds of Faithlegg House Hotel, formerly both an 18th century mansion and a training centre for novice monks. Set among mature oaks, it carries Merrigan's familiar stamp of undulating greens, water hazards and perfectly placed sand traps to make it a very tough test of golf. It is not a surprise that Faithlegg has staged both European Ladies Tour and EuroPro events.
Faithlegg is most definitely a championship golf course, long and impressive, and the greens are some of the best inland greens I have putted on. I was three over par after 11 holes here and then the course got the better of me. My favourite holes were the two par fives on the back nine down by the lock, which were long and stunningly beautiful.
By the time we reached Tramore golf course for our third round I was starting to feel like I was a tour pro at an event in Ireland, maybe apart from the amount of Guinness and three course meals. I can't see Adam Scott on a diet like that. The practice facilities at Tramore also made me feel like I was on tour, a huge chipping and putting green overlooking the course where we could sharpen our short games before the round.
Tramore probably had the most interesting selection of holes out of the courses I played in Ireland. In 2006 the members engaged internationally renowned golf course designer Jeff Howes to remodel the existing course while preserving its integrity, and also create a new nine holes of similar quality. (Jeff Howes is one of Europe's leading Golf Architects having worked with names such as Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Retief Goosen and Robert Trent Jones Snr) The result is a fantastic blend of “Old and New”. Tramore now boasts 27 holes with sand based greens constructed to USGA standards.
On the last day we travelled the short distance to Waterford Castle. It's a great experience because you have to take a ferry across to the course and I can't say I had ever done that before. On this privately owned 310 acre island, home of the world renowned Waterford Castle Hotel, sits a wonderful parkland golf course. It was designed by Des Smyth, the former Ryder Cup player, and was opened in 1992. This 18-hole par 72 championship golf course leads you through mature and beautiful woodland and parkland and is a must play. After the golf we were invited into the Hotel for an incredible lunch. If you want to stay somewhere very special In Ireland you should seriously consider Waterford Castle Hotel.
Each night after the golf there is a prize giving for those taking part in the Classic. Players will contest a single stableford competition on each course each day for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes and in addition a prize for the best lady and gent performance of the Classic.
The Team event is run on the Stableford points system with the best 3 cards per team to carry forward each day with the best total over the 4 days determining the winners along with best Overseas, Irish, Mixed, Gents and Ladies Team prizes. Stableford is a great way to do it so if you have a bad hole or one of the group has a shocking day then it is not a problem, enjoy the evening and move onto the next day. For those who win however there is around ten thousand euros worth of surplus Waterford crystal for prizes, a generous and really special souvenir of a great time.
Every evening there was a different restaurant to eat at, all included in the price of the event, and I can assure you all are good fun. You could have the seafood chowder at Spinnaker's in the bay, an Irish/Italian feast at Azzurro, black bean muscles and a rib eye steak at the Strand Inn, or even an Irish stew at the Haven Hotel, and at each of them you can wash it down with a pint of Guinness and a song from a local Irish folk band.
You really should get over to Dunmore East for the golf Classic. I can say without a doubt you will have an incredible time, meet some fantastic people, play some great golf, and enjoy some brilliant evenings. And who knows you might even bring back some Waterford crystal!
Next year’s tournament