Kevin Markham suggests a few ways to keep your swing in play this winter
Hands up those of you who have already packed away your clubs, preferring an armchair, a roaring fire, and the opportunity to put your feet up instead of facing the bracing chill of winter golf?
October is the start of hibernation for many Irish golfers but there are so many reasons to keep playing. Yes, our health will benefit as our bodies work extra hard to ward off the cold but it is the falling green fees, special competitions, and Winter Series that keep so many of us travelling to different clubs.
The Winter Series are some of the bigger contenders that keep golfers wrapping up and heading for the fairways. They are becoming increasingly popular with many clubs running their own internal winter league versions. Others open the doors for everyone… although handicaps are sometimes capped. The formats vary considerably but the goal is the same: You compete in one or more events over the course of several weeks with the objective of reaching the final at the end of this year or the beginning of the next. Prizes are not to be sniffed at either.
For the more competitively minded, some events also count towards your handicap. Here are a few to consider:
Portmarnock Links, Co. Dublin
The Winter Series has been running on the Bernard Langer-designed course since 2003. It attracts many of the biggest names on both the Irish amateur and professional scene, and the handicap for men and women is limited to 9. Each weekly event is a singles stroke format with scores counting towards a player’s handicap.
This year the event is being sponsored by TaylorMade and the company will be using the series to highlight their latest equipment and newest golf ball, the TP5. You can expect prizes to be generous, with each weekly event offering prizes for the top three nett and top three gross. There will also be an order of merit which will combine a player’s six best scores over the winter months.
The course and hotel have benefitted hugely from the recent multi-million euro investment that has taken the course up a notch, but perhaps of greater interest to the golfer is that there are no ‘winter rules’ in play. And that means no mats.
Cost of entry: €50, €30 for students, juveniles and professionals. Events every Tuesday until 13 March 2018. Contact: 01-8666592
Druids Glen & Druids Heath, Co. Wicklow
The Druids Glen Resort Winter Series is being sponsored by another big name equipment manufacturer. This time it’s Titleist, and the singles Stableford series started yesterday, October 23. It runs for eight weeks pre-Christmas and then a further eight weeks in the new year. Eight of these events will be played on Druids Glen, and eight on Druids Heath.
Amateur weekly winners will receive Titleist prizes while a PGA professional winning an event will receive a cash prize. Each weekly winner also qualifies for the grand final, which will be held in March. As at Portmarnock Links there will be an Order of Merit. The top 20 players from the order of merit will then join the 16 weekly winners in the March grand final.
The Druids Glen course is the one which will prove attractive to many. It possesses the best set of par threes in the country and also boasts the toughest hole… the famous par four 13th, cut around a cliff and requiring golfers to cross a stream and a lake to find the green. The Heath course is a tough proposition at the best of times.
Cost of entry: Weekly fee for Druids Glen: €50 (€30 for Professionals); Weekly fee for Druids Heath: €30 (€25 for Professionals). Order of Merit registration is €30, with reduced entry fees thereafter. Events run on Monday (23 October-11 December; 15 January-2 March), with the Grand Final in March 2018. Contact: 01-2870812
Ballykisteen, Co. Tipperary
Ballykisteen is maturing into an elegant, water-laced course.
It sits alongside a hotel and was recently re-routed… which matters little as the water can still wreak havoc on your scorecard. The club’s Winter Challenge is open to teams of three and is run in a Champagne Scramble format between now and March. The top 20 teams will qualify for a Grand Final in April 2018, with gross and nett prizes on offer.
Cost of entry: Team of three, €20 per visitor. Events run daily with the Grand Finale in April 2018. Contact: 062-32117
Mount Juliet, Co. Kilkenny
Mount Juliet used to run a successful Winter Series several years ago and now it’s back, in partnership with Vega Golf. Now that the course has returned to the type of perfect conditioning it was renowned for — thanks to a €1m investment in machinery — it seems only fair that golfers can play competitively in winter… and do so for the generous entry fee of €40.
Fifteen winners — one from each week — will then go forward to the final with the prize being a set of wedges sponsored by Vega. You won’t be surprised if you discover the pin on the famous par three 3rd pressed up close to the water on the left hand side… or on the long par four 18th either. If you make par on the final hole you’ve done one better than Tiger Woods.
Cost of entry: €40 per visitor. Singles Stableford Events run for 15 Fridays starting 27 October until 16 February, with a break for Christmas and new year. The final will take place on Sunday 25 February. Contact: 056-7773071 (or book online).
Waterford Castle, Co. Waterford
The idyllic island setting of Waterford Castle will host a Winter League Competition across eight weeks between October and December. The competitions vary between 10, 13, and 18 holes. The format, however, remains the same: It is singles Stableford for gents and ladies and each competition takes place on a Saturday, which is a major attraction for weekend golfers.
There are weekly prizes as well as an order of merit (best six cards) prize, which comprises a free membership at Waterford Castle for 2018. All golfers will also be entered into a Christmas Eve prize draw to win memorabilia signed by Justin Rose.
Waterford Castle was designed by Des Smyth and the waters of the River Suir are never far from the course.
Cost of entry: £25 per visitor (18 holes) and €20 for 10 and 13 hole competitions. Visitors can enter all eight competitions for a single fee of €150.
Events run on October 28, November 4, November 18, November 25, December 2, December 9, December 16, December 23. Contact: 051-871633
OTHER WINTER EVENTS
Fota Island, Co. Cork
Fota Island Resort are inviting golfers of all abilities to employ their swing for a chance to win a custom set of Callaway Apex Irons. The ‘Swing into Oktober’ festival will see visitors playing the Deerpark course — host to three Irish Opens — with the golfer who registers the best score at the end of the month receiving the custom fit package. The clubhouse will also have a special Golfest menu in the tradition of Oktoberfest… so expect chicken schnitzel, bratwurst with a sourdough baguette or venison hotpot, all washed down with a pint of Chieftain IPA. There are several dates left to play but please book in advance as tee times are subject to availability.
Cost of entry: €59 per visitor. Remaining events in October are tomorrow (25), 26, 27, and October 30. Contact: 021-4883700 or visit fotaisland.ie.
Co Louth (Baltray), Co. Louth
A four ball can play this former Irish Open venue in October and November for a fee of €200… with no mats in play. Considering the quality of the course, the recent investments made, and the reputation the club has for food, you really can’t argue with that price. Contact: 041-9881530
The European Club, Co. Wicklow
The European Club, the great creation of Pat Ruddy, hosts a series of winter events and you can expect that links turf to be utterly perfect as you work your way out towards the sea. There are singles tournaments as well as a pairs matchplay tournament. Take your pick and experience one of Ireland’s top links and one where the word ‘unique’ means exactly that. Contact: 040447415
Many other clubs run open or special events during these winter months (parklands and links) so look them up on Facebook or Twitter, or visit their websites. You can try Golfnet.ie, too.
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