Long, long ago, a cauldron of breathtaking beauty was carved out of the rock in West Kerry. To the east is Mount Brandon, to the south lies Cruach Mharthain, and out to the west the Blasket Islands sit on the horizon.
It is the towering headland to the south-west, however, which gives Dingle Golf Links its full Irish name and a unique microclimate where fescue, the champion of links grasses, has thrived in abundance at Galf Chumann Ceann Sibéal.
As remote golfing outposts go, Ceann Sibéal lures you across the Dingle Peninsula, displaying its hypnotic beauty on every side.
For mile after mile it feels like a distant, other-worldly landscape and, as you approach the farthest point where the golf course lies, it changes once again with the Three Sisters rising above the ocean at Ballyferriter.
It is little wonder that this wild beauty caught the eye of location scouts for the world’s biggest sci-fi franchise: Star Wars. The eagerly anticipated sequel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, opened in cinemas around the world last week but the work behind the film had been going on for a few years. Those location scouts were only the initial foray. In the spring of 2016, an advance party of scaffolders and stonemasons arrived in Ballyferriter to build a Jedi temple worthy of Luke Skywalker. Inch by inch, a metal road took shape, forcing its way to the summit of Ceann Sibéal, next to those imposing Three Sisters. It was here that a scattering of elaborate beehive huts were constructed. Over a period of three months, the headland was transformed into a massive tented village with tight security shielding the set from the prying eyes of locals and Star Wars fans who were lured to this most westerly point.
The golfers crossing the fairways below were able to watch as the set evolved, as dozens of trucks moved up and down the metal road, and as workers put in the hard graft for a few short days of filming. Many of the crew turned to the clubhouse at Ceann Sibéal Golf Links for nourishment. Breakfast was served daily and the warmth of the clubhouse – and the welcome – was sufficient to tempt some of the crew out onto the course itself. But this golf links is not for the timid and most of the golfers among the Star Wars visitors agreed (over a pint of the dark stuff) that Ceann Sibéal’s position in the Top 10 Hardest courses in Ireland was well deserved. They are not alone.
Ceann Sibéal may not have the massive dunes of Ballybunion, but it has a river which impacts 11 of the 18 holes. Strategy is needed. Choose poorly and you will face the dark side… choose wisely and the course will be with you.
It was in May of this year that news of an imminent Star Wars invasion rippled around the course. Golfers stood to attention as a fleet of 50 blacked-out limos cruised past the 4th fairway on their way to the set. The actors had arrived. Four days later, they were gone - scenes in the can, the actors whisked away to another location. But not before Luke Skywalker had sampled the delights of the club’s award-winning restaurant.
“We looked after Mark Hamill, one day” says restaurant manager, David O’Connor, who remembers serving him the soup of the day at Table 2. A plaque may be imminent.
To mark the global release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the golf club has played its part in Ballyferriter’s ‘Féile Star Wars’ by hosting a community photography exhibition. The four-day festival, organised by the Ballyferriter community alongside Tourism Ireland, also included site visits, pottery Porg-making classes, costume contests and a screening of The Last Jedi.
“With nothing left but a fading footprint of the metal road, it is our pleasure to display the many photographs that the local people took of the events of Spring 2016,” says the club’s Communications Officer, Margaret Power.
With so many people, of all ages, gripped by the Star Wars phenomenon it is little surprise to see photographs of locals and fans dressed in Stormtrooper gear, with the occasional Darth Vader making an appearance. The Quiet Man, filmed in Cong, still attracts tourists 66 years after the film was released. Game of Thrones has boosted tourism in Co. Antrim and Ballyferriter will hope for such trends to continue.
Back down to earth, the golf club is emerging from several years of a tough recession. Despite the hard financial times, Dingle Links at Ceann Sibéal is proud to be ranked in Irish Golfer Magazine’s Top 100 Irish Golf Courses and hopes to improve on its 90th place through a programme of continuous improvement over the next five years. One such improvement is a rough management programme which will create a more player-friendly experience.
Head Greenkeeper, JJ Corduff, through his participation in the Irish Links Initiative, taps into the latest thinking on conserving the heritage of Irish links golf. And his work is not going unnoticed.
The feedback JJ receives from visitors and members alike confirms that the greens at Ceann Sibéal are in the same great condition as those of their more famous neighbours - Tralee, Dooks and Ballybunion.
“That’s what we want to hear,” says JJ.
“We use a similar maintenance programme to all the other great links courses in Kerry and we’re getting better results all the time.”
Standing on the elevated first tee box, the course looks deceptively easy, but don’t be fooled.
You must consider the elements of wind and water before crafting a shot to land safely on the undulating fairway below. From there, the front nine takes you through all four points of the compass before heading back up the 9th to the clubhouse.
The back nine also twists and turns in harmony with the landscape, finishing with an uphill par 5. As with any great links it is playable all year round and you can play it for €30 between January and March. Peak rates next summer are €75. Take a trip, enjoy the beauty, the peace and the quiet of the Dingle Peninsula, and tackle one exceptionally devious and enchanting links. But please avoid hitting the Stormtroopers.
They’re bound to be there, somewhere.