The most iconic sights in Irish golf

Kevin Markham on the statutes, structures, and settings which focuses a golfer’s mind and lasts long in the memory.

Deer walking on the 13th hole at Mahony's Point in Killarney.

1. Waterville Golf Club: Payne Stewart Bronze Statue

The statue of Payne Stewart in Waterville, Co Kerry. He died in a plane accident in October 1999, before the statue was unveiled.

Payne Stewart visited Waterville twice before the Open of 1998 and 1999. And two visits was all it took for him to become an adopted son of the Waterville community. That was just the way he liked it: He was down to earth.

During his second visit to south Kerry, he played the harmonica, sang songs, and served behind the bar in the Butler Arms Hotel. He could have been Irish the way he carried on… and he mused whether it would be possible to become mayor of this charming Irish village.

No such vacancy existed but there was always the captaincy of the golf club. And that’s how Payne became the honorary captain of Waterville Golf Links for 2000. He never got to enjoy the honour as he died in a plane accident in October 1999. He was 42.

His statue was unveiled in July 2000, at a special ceremony to honour the three-time major winner.

It was designed by Irish sculptor Jim Connolly and sees Payne in his famous plus fours and flat cap. Today, it is a focal point for visitors and a touching memorial to one of the world’s most popular golfers.

2. Rosapenna Golf Club: Old Tom Morris Statue

The statue of Old Tom Morris on the first tee at Rosapenna.

The prolific Old Tom Morris designed or remodelled some 75 golf courses — many of them now rated among the greatest in the world… try Royal Dornoch and Royal County Down for starters.

On that list is the original links at Rosapenna (now called Old Tom Morris), which he visited in the early 1890s.

A statue of Old Tom, setting up to hit a shot, sits beyond the clubhouse overlooking his back nine, which streaks along the edge of Sheephaven Bay. The way Old Tom is setting up to the ball, you get the distinct impression he’s still keen to play.

His visit to Donegal took him past Lough Salt, close to Termon, Co Donegal, where legend says he hit 20 gutta-percha balls into the lough. Their value today is estimated at €25,000. Each.

Other statues include Nick Faldo at Lough Erne, Seve Ballesteros at The Heritage, Jack Nicklaus at Killeen Castle, and Arnold Palmer at Tralee.

3. Old Head of Kinsale: Lighthouse

It is the imposing sight of the Old Head’s lighthouse, which arrives on the acclaimed fourth hole, that really puts a stamp on where you are.

The golf course flows over a cliff-top peninsula and, as one of the most stunning settings for a golf course anywhere in the world, some would say the location alone is iconic.

But it is the imposing sight of the lighthouse, which arrives on the acclaimed fourth hole, that really puts a stamp on where you are. The concentric tower sits at the farthest point, perched above the 18th tee and peering across at the fourth green, wedged on the cliff-tops.

The current lighthouse was built in 1853 (others were positioned elsewhere on the headland, as long ago as the 17th century) and stands 30m tall. Originally painted in red and white stripes, this changed to black and white in 1930.

It became fully automated in 1987. Its light has a range of 20 nautical miles, which means it was within view of the RMS Lusitania when sunk by a German U-Boat, 11 miles off the Cork coast in 1915.

4. Connemara Golf Links: Alcock & Brown Flight Plaque

In 1919, John Alcock and Arthur Brown completed the first non-stop transatlantic flight, landing 3km from Connemara Golf Links.

In 1919, John Alcock and Arthur Brown completed the first-ever non-stop transatlantic flight when they landed on Derrygimla Bog, in Ballyconneely.

They flew for 16 hours in a modified Vickers Vimy bomber. Their landing site is over 3km from the golf course but, in a 2005 re-enactment, Connemara’s eighth fairway was used as a runway when adventurer Steve Fossett flew a replica Vickers Vimy plane on exactly the same route.

Fairway humps and hollows were levelled to ensure a smoother landing and a commemorative plaque can now be found on the fairway, at the spot where they touched down.

Be sure to visit it when you play this wild and entertaining links.

5. Royal Dublin and St Anne’s Golf Clubs: Poolbeg Chimneys

St Anne’s in Dublin, with the Poolbeg chimneys in the distance

The Poolbeg chimneys stand 200m above Dublin City, visible from over a dozen golf courses.

Built in 1971, and de-commissioned in 2010 (they were granted protected structure status in 2014), the two red-and-white-striped towers are eye-catching from miles around… particularly on Bull Island, home to Royal Dublin and St Anne’s golf clubs.

If you play a round at either club and you are accompanied by a member, don’t be surprised if the two towers are suggested as your ideal line, time and again.

It’s also worth mentioning two other sights at Bull Island: One is the island itself, which came about thanks to Captain ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ Bligh who conducted the first full survey of Dublin Bay in 1800; and the wooden bridge (Bull Bridge), which joins the mainland to the island, at Royal Dublin Golf Club.

It was built in 1907 and remains almost entirely in its original state.

6. The European Club: Bunkering

Regarded as one of the best golf links in the world, let alone Ireland, the European Club is also a tough beast of a course.

Never mind the design and shape of holes, it is the mere sight of the bunkers that strikes fear into the heart of every golfer.

This Pat Ruddy masterpiece is renowned for the railway sleepers that line each and every one of the 90 bunkers. It is the only course in Ireland to employ sleepers — to call them intimidating is an understatement.

As Ruddy noted in the past: “The sleeper has, of course, been a part of links design in Britain and Ireland ever since the days that golfers went to the club by train and the railway companies donated their old sleepers to the golfers.”

And, to be frank, a bunker is a hazard to be avoided. Pat has relented in recent years and removed sleepers from the back and sides of many bunkers but your forward progress is never going to be easy.

7. Killarney Golf Club: Deer

There are plenty of golf courses with deer roaming their fairways but only at Killarney do they remain there for the entire day, typically unbothered by golfers and immune to your roars of ‘fore’.

It matters little which of Killarney’s two courses you play because the deer are free to roam through the 26,000-acre Killarney National Park, which butts up to the golf club. And deer pay little heed to boundaries.

“We don’t have specific numbers but certainly the number of deer seems to be ever increasing,” says Cormac Flannery, Killarney’s general manager. “I have pictures on my phone with upwards of 100 deer just sitting on the one hole from this winter!”

Not surprisingly, the animals inflict damage on the course, especially during
rutting season, but the greens are usually safe for the simple reason that the grass is too short to eat.

“The labour cost involved in repairs probably runs around €10-20k annually… but this is a small price to pay to have these regal beasts roaming around the place,” says
Cormac.

And with the backdrop of Lough Leane and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, these deer present many picture-perfect moments.

8. Lahinch Golf Club: Goats

Lahinch’s goats are legendary. They are an essential part of this famous club’s folklore: Not only do they possess weather-forecasting abilities but they are extremely talented in the art of hide and seek.

Many a golfer comes off the links disappointed not to have seen them but, on the plus side, their non-appearance suggests fine weather for golf. And now those golfers can enjoy the company of a new goat beside the first tee.

As part of Lahinch’s 125th-anniversary celebrations, a bronze ‘goat rampant’ sculpture was designed by renowned sculptor Seamus Connolly, and unveiled last summer.

9. Royal County Down: Slieve Donard Tower

Let’s forget that Royal County Down is often rated the best golf course in the world*, and that the backdrop of the Mourne Mountains is one of the most beautiful settings in the world.

Instead, let’s talk about the Slieve Donard Hotel, next door to the golf course and built in 1898 (at a cost of £44,000).

Its striking Victorian red-brick construction makes it stand out in the small town of Newcastle, but it is the tower that rises above the hotel and the trees which cements its iconic status.

And the reason for that is simple: You play the first three holes beside the sea, leading you away from town; and then, when you turn to play the world-class par-three fourth, you’re looking straight back down the course at the tower and the Mourne Mountains.

You get a closer view of it all when you come over the dune-top on the par-four ninth…
another world-class hole.

*The US magazine Golf Digest released its biennial ‘World’s 100 Greatest Courses’ last week and the Northern Irish links is ranked first. Three other courses on this list also make the top 100: Lahinch at 34, Waterville at 55, and Old Head at 83.

10. Ardglass Golf Club: Clubhouse

Ardglass, in Northern Ireland, boasts the oldest clubhouse in the world. I had avoided clubhouses for this article… but this one dates back to 1377.

That is the year that Horn Castle, which sits directly behind the first tee on the water’s edge, was built. It forms part of the club’s facilities and is on full show from the first green and 18th tee.

You’ll also have cannon pointed at you as you try to drive over a rocky shoreline on the opening hole. Try not to be intimidated.

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