New golfing heaven in Kingdom

Charlie Mulqueen enjoys the challenges at Castleisland,

The sceptics who doubted Castleisland would ever have a golf course were put firmly in their place with the opening on June 1 of the excellent Dr Arthur Spring-designed layout at Tulligibeen on the main Limerick-Tralee road.

Already it is doing a huge amount of business and on my recent visit 100 golfers from the Knocknagoshel area were enjoying an outing there in delightful weather conditions in an ambience ideally suited to their requirements.

The advent of the golf course is doing great things not only for the sporting but also the social life of Castleisland and its environs.

The idea of a golf course in Castleisland was first mooted towards the end of 1999 when a 200 acre site was secured by the Castleisland Development Association. A number of distinguished architects were asked to look over the property and without exception were impressed by its potential. Michael Coote, a prominent low handicap golfer and a former captain of Tralee, was elected chairman of a 20-strong committee which was formed after a public meeting. But before going any further, it was considered necessary to raise 1 million euro.

The committee’s plans were outlined in an imaginative brochure and called for the sale of 200 shares at 5, 000 each. The response was extremely positive.

“The enthusiasm for the project is most encouraging,” said Coote in the autumn of 1999. “Golfers and non golfers alike are behind us because they are keen to invest in the area and to have an outstanding facility for their children in the future. Castleisland is the perfect location for a golf course. Everybody coming to Killarney, Tralee or further south to play golf, must come through Castleisland. We are only four miles from the airport, Tralee is just 10 minutes away and remember, too, the membership of every club in the county is full.”

Coote’s ambitions and those of his supporters weren’t long in coming to fruition. Arthur Spring from Tralee was appointed architect and, given his affinity with the area, it was little surprise that he should treat his role with tender loving care and a great deal of time and attention. He has every reason to be satisfied with his efforts and the golfing world is amazed that everything has happened in such a short space of time.

“What’s been achieved here is fantastic for the entire area,” says Spring. “I’m very pleased with the way the course has worked out. Most architects are unhappy with one or two holes on most courses they build, perhaps they’ve had to be squeezed into a corner or whatever, but I don’t think there’s a weak hole at Castleisland. It may appear to be a hilly site but there are no major climbs and we have managed this by creating terraced fairways. I am particularly pleased about that. I can’t believe how well it has developed in such a short space of time. The fairways are fantastic, the policy of putting in the drainage and sanding before seeding has worked perfectly.”

The 200 shares were sold within 11 weeks and so the clay pigeon shooting site was acquired from Richard Walsh on lease with an option to purchase. The progress since has been nothing short of staggering. Fifty more shareholdings were sold and money wasn’t a problem. Spring’s plan was implemented by Walsh and his brother Liam, who looked after the contracting while Phil Standing and Michael O’Leary of the SOL company were hired to look after the tees and greens. All have succeeded admirably.

The opening holes are relatively gentle and after a few weeks the consensus is that a good start is absolutely essential if one is to build a decent score by the end of the day. The first is a reachable par five and if the second requires an accurate tee shot to allow for the most advantageous attack on the flag, the third, at 274 metres, is driveable, although the wiser play is an iron off the tee and a little pitch to the green.

The fourth is a fine one shotter where landing the ball on the correct tier is all important. In fact, that’s a remark that applies to the majority of the greens at Castleisland where there are very few if any straight putts and the many contours will test even the best of short games.

Because they are still so young, the greens have not yet been cut very tight but when they run at something like nine or ten on the stimpmeter, there should be some fun and games.

“The course really starts here” is a common observation when one stands on the seventh tee which, incidentally, is located alongside the clubhouse. This is a cracking par four of 404 metres and an example of how Spring has made a blessing out of a potential problem.

“There are many natural features to the site and the most apparent, I suppose, is a deep ravine that originally threatened to be a serious difficulty but which has been worked into the plan so effectively that it is now a feature of two of the best holes, the seventh. and the 18th,” says Spring.

The ravine is now known by the members as The Glen and certainly presents a formidable sight from the seventh tee. A big drive is required to allow for any chance of reaching a green fronted by a ditch some 20 yards out in two shots.

A lovely par three which has the Gap of Dunloe away in the distance as the ideal line, brings the outward nine of 2,911 metres, par 35, to an end. We are now into some great golfing terrain and also some picturesque territory.

The views of the surrounding countryside and the mountains further in the distance are quite magnificent, adding another dimension to the enjoyment of the golf. The 12th is another fine par three played from an elevated tee and is followed by a trio of outstanding par fours where some strategically placed water hazards come very much into play.

I really liked the long 16th which has ponds to the right of the landing area and out of bounds to the left. An iron from the tee seemed the best option and Arthur Spring wouldn’t disagree.

“This is a course where I would advise everybody to use their handicap wisely,” he stresses. And so to the 388 metres 18th, a superb hole played across The Glen, from the tee to a fairway with jungle country on the right and a high bank on the left. The drive must be straight to allow for a reasonable chance of hitting the green in two.

The back nine stretches to 3,130 metres, par 36. While it presents a strong challenge, it also lives up to the architect’s claim of being “player friendly”.

The Kingdom of Kerry has long been endowed with many fine golf courses; the arrival of Castleisland has strengthened the county’s hand still further.

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