The second county to be given our best 18-hole treatment is Waterford. With just nine 18-hole courses, compared to Cork’s 24, Waterford doesn’t have the high profile names of its western neighbour - e.g. Old Head, Fota Island, and Cork - nor anything like the quantity, but it still has plenty of strong holes to choose from. Measurements are as the clubs provide them. Oh, and please note that Waterford Golf Club is actually in Co. Kilkenny
1. Faithlegg, par four No 1, 290/280/240(L) yards
This is one of those sweet and gentle opening holes that really welcomes you to a golf course. It’s a right to left dogleg, driving towards a large pond and a hillside backdrop before bending between the oak trees.
From the tee you might be able to see the green and those who like to lash the ball from the get-go will revel at the 290/280 yard distance. There are three bunkers at the green but the approach is straightforward and it can present a very nice opening birdie opportunity.
2. Dungarvan, par four No 2, 365/360/315(L) yards
A sharp dogleg right and a crafty one at that with a sloping fairway.
If you drive over 250 yards you’ll want to leave the driver alone as there are only two ways to play this hole sensibly: a 200-220 yard drive up the left side of the fairway; or a much riskier 240-250 yard drive down the right, where you must hope you find the only small patch of flat land short of the water hazard.
Whichever route you choose it’s a tough ask so early in the round but precision is required if you’re to create the space to play through the gap in the trees to the green beyond.
3. Carrick-on-Suir, par four No 3, 296/283/240(L) metres
It’s all uphill on this hole with a naturally bumpy fairway sweeping around a pine wood to a pin standing on the skyline. It’s a daunting approach shot as the steep fall offs on three sides (left, right and front) make it look like you’re playing to a tiny green. You are.
It’s small and circular but not difficult… assuming you can find it with your approach shot. No bunkers but, given its modest length, it is an exceedingly difficult Index 2.
4. Tramore, par five No 16, 465/455/376(L) metres
If you can’t fade the ball you may well be playing the 16th with your irons. This is one of those doglegs that keeps sweeping right, around trees and down to a green sliced into the slopes beyond a large pond.
It is reachable in two but your tee shot must be brave and avoid the nest of bunkers on the left hand side if you’re to set up an even braver approach. The pond slips under the green front while a large bunker sits behind, waiting to catch those who play the safe, long shot.
The simplest route is to play cautiously and hope to hit a wedge over the pond to set up a birdie putt.
5. Gold Coast, par four No 15, 397/378/300(L) yards
Tee shot of the day? Definitely. You drive over the sea on a straight hole and you need to be in the groove just to clear the water. It’s not far but it is daunting.
The entire fairway leans left, down towards the sea, so the wind is not your only concern when trying to find the short grass. The hole then heads very gently upwards where the green is well fronted by a nest of bunkers – you’ll have to fly it the whole way.
6. West Waterford, par three No 11, 173/161/138(L) yards
No, not long, but it is Index 9 for the men. The hole sits next to the 2nd (see below) and also drops down from a height with a sweet and peaceful Irish landscape beyond.
Trees squeeze in on both sides, making the hole appear tighter than it is and the bunker across the front of the green is a very real threat.
7. Carrick on Suir, par five No 17, 467/458/412(L) metres
A straight par five with a dense flank of pine trees blanketing the right hand side of the fairway all the way to the green.
You don’t want to stray too far left, either, otherwise you’ll end up down the slope on the 11th fairway. Birdie opportunities are there for the taking with only one bunker on each side of the green, but the sharp dip 80 yards short of the green will fool many.
8. Tramore, par four No 17, 344/316/291(L) metres
The tee box is overshadowed by two stands of tall pine trees which makes you feel hemmed in. You drive over a stream and up the slope before the hole swings left.
Favour the right side of the fairway if possible, although with those trees in front of the tee that is easier said than done for golfers with a draw.
The farther right you go the more you’ll see of the green tucked into a nest of trees, and that’s hugely beneficial as the putting surface is not visible. The green will be above you which complicates club selection.
9. Waterford Castle, par four No 12, 415/397/336(L) metres
The 12th is a big hole but at least it all falls away from you, heading slowly down between the trees.
It’s Index 1 so you know you have to get a good drive away and while the two sentinel trees framing the fairway shouldn’t prove a problem they can provide an unnecessary distraction.
The left side of the narrow fairway is a must as it has far more space – the right is clogged with semi-mature trees – and it is the only way to open up the green.
If the pin is on the left it is a straightforward approach shot, but on the right things get trickier with a bunker across the front.
10. Dunmore East, par three No 14, 180/180/160(L) metres
A par three that hits straight out to sea and the Hook Lighthouse across the water. Then it’s a heart-in-the-mouth moment as the ball drops to the green far below, between valley sides painted with gorse.
At 180 metres it’s a serious par three, even if it is downhill, and the thick bushes almost immediately behind the shallow green are not to be trifled with. There’s plenty of room short, so don’t go pin-hunting if you don’t have to.
11. Dunmore East, par four No 15, 390/230/230(L) metres
You’ll want to play this from the back markers despite the additional 160 metres it adds to the hole. Do so and you take advantage of Dunmore East’s best tee setting high on the cliffs above the sea.
From here the water stretches all along the left to the pretty fishing village. That in itself is a nerve-wracking sight but your drive has to make it over the chasm (which holds the 14th green) to a fairway that slopes sharply towards the sea.
Unless you bomb it a mile your approach is blind, over a crest, with the green pushed up to the cliff edge. It’s a high tariff shot but it’s also a beauty when you get over that crest and see the green and the village in the background.
Of course, if you play from the forward tees (230m), the hole’s a doddle.
12. Dungarvan, par five No 12, 502/494/401(L) yards
The 10th begins a strong stretch of holes at Dungarvan, with No 12 shining brightest of all. It’s a big dogleg left, hugging the Dungarvan Bay estuary all the way to the green.
The green is visible across the water, with trees scattered along the bank, which makes it very tempting… especially for big hitters who may be lured into taking on more than they should.
Whatever, it is a big driving hole and the brave will be well rewarded with a shorter route to the green. Most golfers, however, will aim a long way right… just to be sure.
13. Faithlegg, par four No 17, 432/397/353(L) yards
This is a tough hole (Index 1) and a dogleg that moves left to right between heavy oak trees. You tee off with the 18th century house/hotel at your back and your drive must be a perfect fade or stretch to roughly 200 yards (middle tees) to find the dogleg and the
pincer-like trees. Too long or too short and more trees will threaten your approach with a bogey the likely outcome.
One of the many ponds lies short and left of the green while the hole’s solitary bunker protects half the green front and the right hand side. Look to the church spire behind the green for inspiration.
14. Tramore, par four No 4, 350/340/317(L) metres
A shortish par four doglegging quickly to the right. It’s a sneaky hole where common sense must prevail. From the tee you play up to a fairway slightly above you, with a line of pine trees beyond giving you much needed perspective.
Your driver is a foolish choice because not only is it unnecessary it is also a serious threat if you drive too far. And cutting the corner is too much risk for far too little reward.
Play for the middle of the fairway and the green awaits, beyond a chute of trees and over a couple of hefty right hand side bunkers. Without discipline this hole can wreck your card early and that’s before you face a green that will quickly punish poor putts.
15. West Waterford, par five No 12, 475/464/355(L) yards
You’ll look at the hole distance and think you’re shaping up for a birdie and this smooth par five certainly suggests a good score is there for the taking… but let me first introduce you to the River Brickey.
Water runs along the left hand side from tee to green, hidden by trees, but the two ditches which dissect the fairway are far more obvious. And threatening. The first ditch threatens your drive; the second threatens your approach.
Avoid both and you’re on your way although two greenside bunkers and a green squeezed up close to the river will prove intimidating.
16. Gold Coast, par three No 8, 183/171/129(L) yards
Just a touch quirky this one. Not only have you just played the lovely par three 7th – meaning back-to-back par threes – but you’ve also got a long tee shot with a three foot privet hedge right in front of the tee.
Next, you have to cross the beach which bites into the right hand side of the hole from tee to green. It’s a brave shot and the hole is Index 4 for a reason… because there’s little room to bail out which won’t leave you 60 yards short.
17. West Waterford, par four No 2 357/343/260(L) yards
A right to left dogleg, the 2nd is enhanced by the bucolic Irish setting which is summed up perfectly by the backdrop to this hole. It remains with you for the entire round but this is the first time you really use it to frame your shot.
It’s a downhill drive that sweeps left around the trees and, in true Eddie Hackett style, there are no adornments to what is a naturally charming and simply designed hole.
There is a water hazard running along the left, separating the fairway from the wood and a solitary bunker at the front right of the green. Leave the driver in the bag and don’t make trouble for yourself.
18. Waterford Castle, par four No 3, 372/346/295(L) metres
Water appears twice on this dogleg left Index 2 hole. It is draped across your eyeline from the tee and needs a respectable tee shot to clear it but the big threat is the trees which are thick both left and right of the elbow.
The second tranche of water lies invisible beyond the trees and this hole may play easier for big hitters when played from the back tees: the forward tees bring that hidden water into play.
Your approach is tricky with the lake pressing up to the right hand side of the green complex. A par is an exceptional score… a bogey more than acceptable. As well as being tough it is also enchanting.
With your tee shot played over the bridge you then walk over to reach the fairway. Swans and herons are often in residence on both lakes.
Kevin Markham is the author of Hooked, An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland (by Collins Press).
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