Rathsallagh Golf Course is rebooted and rerouted

Rathsallagh reopened in June of 2016 and, under Bobby’s guidance, the course condition has returned to its best in a short time, writes Kevin Markham.

The signature new par three 11th uses the same green as the old 7th, visible through the trees.

About two feet on the left… what do you think,” Eamonn Darcy asked me as we stood on the par five second green at Rathsallagh Golf Club. I was lining up a 30-foot uphill putt during the official launch event for the newly rerouted course.

Darcy, who needs no introduction, had been invited to give a golf clinic before the round — a shotgun start — and he was being given a tour of the course by the new owner, Robert Neill, and had stopped off to watch our group play. It is never easy trying to hit a shot when an Irish golfing legend is watching your performance.

For those who know Rathsallagh, the par-five second used to be the 11th, coming immediately after one of the great holes in Irish golf, a par four of well over 400 yards teeing off from in front of the clubhouse and dropping quickly to the fairway below. It is index 1 and will now be Rathsallagh’s opening hole.

The old first will be the 10th but it is not a simple case of switching the nines: there is a new hole on the course and the finish to both nines remains the same with holes 16, 17 and 18 remaining unchanged.

Rathsallagh has had a rocky history. The club closed in February 2015 — I remember the day as I was sitting with the head greenkeeper (Bobby Fisher) in Belek, Turkey, when he received the news — but was then purchased later that year. It reopened in June of 2016 and, under Bobby’s guidance, the course condition has returned to its best in a short time. After 13 years working on the course, Bobby knows the place like the back of his hand.

The rerouting was only one aspect of two major changes… the other being the new par-three inserted between the old first and second holes (now holes 10 and 12, respectively). I always found it an odd complaint when people railed against the lengthy walks at Rathsallagh. There was one — between these two holes — and it offered you the chance to absorb the enchanting, natural setting of the course. We push trolleys, not zimmer frames, so the fuss about this walk was always bemusing.

This par-three, however, was something that Christy O’Connor Junior had wanted in the course routing right from the start, when he and Peter McEvoy designed Rathsallagh in the early 1990s. It is not, therefore, a new concept, although today’s par-three is quite different to the one they had in mind. The original owner, Joe Flynn (of Rathsallagh House fame), didn’t approve the hole as trees would have to be felled to create the space… and one of Rathsallagh’s endearing claims to fame is that not one tree was felled during the development of the golf course.

That same claim can still be made today as this new 11th saw the removal of not one tree. It plays over a pond and here’s the most interesting part — to the original seventh green. It plays almost exactly in the opposite direction to the old hole. The green remains unchanged, as does the original bunker, but a small bunker has been added to a new bank on the front left of the green. It is probably one of the simplest ‘new holes’ you will see.

“It took a week,” James Darcy, of DAR Golf, said. “Less than a week.”

DAR Golf Construction has been in the industry since 1973. Run by James and his three sons, the company completed new bunkering at Cork and Douglas Golf Clubs in recent years, and is currently working with the clubs at Athenry and Castlerea, as well as numerous courses around Dublin’s M50. There probably aren’t many courses left that haven’t used DAR Golf’s services at some stage. Their contribution at Rathsallagh may have been relatively small, but it was a vital cog in the course’s overall development.

The reason for the rerouting and the new hole were made clear during the launch.

“The issue was the walk from the first green to the second tee,” captain Paul Mullen explained. As the hole now slots in between the two it was an easy fix to make. “We only had to remove two dead trees.”

Paul, whose father was the legendary Karl Mullen, captain of the Irish team which won the first Grand Slam in 1948, and captain of the British & Irish Lions who travelled to Australia and New Zealand in 1950, has been a member at Rathsallagh since it opened. He was also the club’s captain in 2003.

“The rerouting means that the first hole now starts in front of the clubhouse which gives us a better view of who is playing the course,” Paul continued, acknowledging it will create a better atmosphere around the clubhouse.

It also means that golfers will now start and finish in view of the bar, restaurant and pro shop, which will be relocated shortly.

Further plans are afoot: the driving range will be moved to allow for a new 10th tee to be placed closer to the ninth green. This will shorten the walk to the current tee (the old first) while also turning the 10th into a hefty dogleg right.

The investment by the new owner has been impressive and the course continues to thrive, attracting new members and visitors alike.

As one of Ireland’s most natural and elegant landscapes, it is excellent to see Rathsallagh back in the Irish golfing fold.

During the dinner that followed the golf, Eamonn Darcy described how he had walked Rathsallagh with Christy O’Connor Junior when it was still just fields, and Christy had set out how he was going to turn it into a golf course.

Eamonn had not been back since but he was mightily impressed by what he saw during the launch event… just not by my putt, which I left 10 feet short.

Rathsallagh rebooted and rerouted

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