We would describe ourselves as being a hidden gem," smiles Castlegregory Golf club chairman of management, Noel Earlie, as he looks out over the pristine Kerry course, "but I think we would now like to be less hidden."
Though it may not enjoy the same name recognition as the likes of Ballybunion, Dooks or Waterville, golf addicts down Kingdom way rejoice in being amongst the select few that share in the secret of the nine-hole Arthur Spring layout tucked between Lough Gill and Brandon Bay.
But their compliments always carried an asterisk.
None would argue about the merits of the course but many felt that the ramshackle nature of the clubhouse, though quaint and quirky, was too much of a turnoff for many more accustomed to the luxury of the county’s marquee links courses. Club officials felt likewise, and last summer a major fundraising drive commenced to kickstart the process of constructing a structure of bricks and mortar to replace the portable building which had served them well for the last 20 years.
Earlier this month, that dream became a reality with ILGU President Mary McKenna cutting the ribbon at the official opening.
“Our primary focus for the last number of years was to develop another nine holes,” Earlie explained, “but when that didn’t become a reality for a variety of reasons we turned our attention to developing a clubhouse.
“The first challenge was that certain planning regulations had to be met and thankfully we achieved those. We were also fortunate in that we were on a good financial footing thanks to the great support of our members and frugal spending when times were good.”
But Earlie and company weren’t insistent on one thing: “From the outset, we wanted a clubhouse that would be modern and functional. There was no point in building something which would be a drain on finances and resources as has been the case with so many golf clubs over the last 20 years. So we settled on keeping it straightforward and simple with a reception area, tea shop, changing areas and a veranda overlooking the course which can host barbecues and the like. It is not a huge structure, instead it is very specific to our needs and requirements.”
Designed by Warren Reidy and built by David O’Connor, it has already won rave reviews amongst the grassroots. It proved a challenging project as crews had to construct a floating foundation because of the ground conditions so close to the sea, while a large wall had to be added to ensure it couldn’t be seen from the main road. The final bill? €475,000, with Earlie reporting that the club are already “moving in the right direction in terms of the payments”.
With a new home, Earlie and his team have now set new targets and ambitions. First and foremost is to spread the gospel that is Castlegregory Golf Club to the wider golfing world.
“We want more people to discover what we have to offer. And hopefully the new facilities will make us more attractive in that quest.
“We hosted a Barton Shield qualifier a few weeks ago and they were overwhelmed with the quality of the course, while we had some Americans here recently and they were so impressed by the beautiful setting.
“We are not on the circuit with the likes of a Ballybunion and so on but we must rate as one of the best nine-hole golf courses in the country.
“Things look to be working in our favour. We are part of the Great Atlantic Way and are working with tourism bodies to get ourselves on the map.
“In terms or who we attract, obviously we have a lot of Irish holiday makers in theses parts and then you have the American and the continental market. The continental market is something which has been quite impressive. France and Germany in particular have been quite strong for us. Perhaps also people are a bit more time-conscious now, so many are as happy, if not happier, to play just nine holes instead of the full 18.”
Stunning views and testing holes aren’t the only attractions. A growing family of NatterJack Toads have settled in a pond at the front of the 9th.
“Natterjack Toads are quite rare in Ireland but this is one of the few places in the country where they are to be found. They are now part and parcel of the club, in fact we have a trophy named in their honour!
“You can come and hear them here in the evening and it an amazing sound. The golf course hasn’t in any way hindered them, in fact it seems they are even thriving.”
The club currently boasts a membership of 350, a figure that club officials are keen to see grow in the coming years.
“Kerry people are very sensible people,” he laughed.
“We escaped the excesses of the Celtic Tiger years. We run a tight financial ship. Our green fees are €25 and we have different deals for people who may be here for a week or two on holidays. Now we must build on that, grow our visitors and grow our membership.”
* For more details see http://www.castlegregorygolflinks.com/
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