There’s really only one place I’d like to be this sporting weekend of multiple choice and it’s not Wimbledon, Kazan, Samara or Nizhny Novgorod, Silverstone, Headingley or Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile (there should be a circumflex in there somewhere as befits the start of the Tour de France but my keyboard and I aren’t up to that particular task). Tennis, cricket, cycling, formula one and World Cup football – including England still despite it being the quarter-finals but Sweden loom dangerously large – are just some of the world-class sports on offer and they all have their attractions.No, given the choice, I’d be heading for county Donegal, one of the most beautiful places on earth, where the European Tour are pitching their tents this week at Ballyliffin Golf Club, site of the (deep breath) Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation. It’s one of the tour’s lucrative Rolex Series events, with US$7 million on offer – if you wish to work in pounds sterling or Euros, feel free to make the conversion.
Maureen and I had a ball last year when the Irish Open was at Portstewart (or Royal Portstewart as it appeared in one email communication), revelling in having some of the world’s best players at our home club and I can only imagine the excitement at Ballyliffin. The Glashedy Links, designed by the redoubtable Irish duo of Pat Ruddy and the late Tom Craddock, earned high praise from Padraig Harrington when he said, “It looks like this golf course just came into being rather than being designed. If ever there’s a golf course that sums up the Wild Atlantic Way, this is it.”
As the seagull flies, Ballyliffin isn’t far from Malin Head, the most northerly point on the island of Ireland, which is in the Republic of Ireland, or the South as it’s sometimes known colloquially. Really, there’s no point complaining that the English, say, don’t understand us because, really, we’re a mass of complications and contradictions. It’s wonderful. And so, incontrovertibly, are our golf courses.
I once suggested to Dai that we should tootle round the coast of Ireland playing all the courses, whether 18 holes or 9 holes. “Let’s start at Portstewart,” I said, “and head left (west) and see how long it takes us to work our way back to Portstewart.” We never got started and I suspect it might have taken us years to get out of Donegal. Have a look at the coastline for a start, the nooks and crannies and the inlets (and the roads, which are probably a bit better than they were 30 years ago). The deal would be to play every course properly, not just to pitch up and play a designated hole as some guy did at Portrush once. The 14th, Calamity, was on his wish list, his world’s top 18 or something, so he flew in, played that one hole and buggered off, happy. What a waste of a golf course. What a waste of a visit. Talk about missing the point.
Still, each to his (it’s nearly always his, isn’t it?) own.
How on earth could you stick rigidly to your schedule and ignore the invitations to “stay for a bite to eat; just have another jar; another few holes; a walk on the beach; relax in a seaweed bath; my mother would love to meet you; the fish and chips are to die for……” Estimates please, for how long it might take to play every course around the coast of Ireland. We’ll venture inland in the next lifetime or two!
Anyway, Maureen’s not in Donegal this weekend, she’s keeping an eye on Brian, who was out cycling when he hit a pothole and ended up with a split helmet, a broken collarbone and a broken elbow and is awaiting surgery; less dramatically, I’m playing in ladies’ captain’s day at Whittington Heath tomorrow, hoping to get in in time to watch the second half of the England match against Sweden.
Whittington is at its summer best now, fast and hard-running, with the only green on the greens. A few of us went on a course walk the other day and Trevor, the head greenkeeper, who’s been here for more than 50 years, man and boy, was explaining that the grasses we want on the fairways, the fine bents and fescues, were loving the weather, saved by their long roots and the meadow grass was breathing its last. That’s my understanding of what he was saying, anyway.
Here, as promised last week is the triumphant Sue Spencer, heading for the England seniors team and as an added bonus Eileen Beresford, heading for retirement after 15 years of looking after us all at WHGC. Well done and good luck to both.