There are never-ending debates in the golf world about how to get more folk into our sport and about how to make golf more accessible to all.  Back in the day most towns in Ireland had a public putting green, usually alongside a number of tennis courts and a children’s play area.  In the summer, particularly in school holidays, these places were mobbed.  Many of the kids who idled away a few hours on these putting greens moved on to play pitch and putt (a sport in its own right in Ireland) before graduating to the full game.  Scotland had a similar set-up but the putting green in Hamilton, which provided hours of entertainment for my husband and his friends, suffered the same fate as many other facilities and was sold off to developers for houses, shopping centres and the like.  When these putting greens disappeared so too did the opportunity for youngsters from non-golf families to have any experience of the game.

Now comes the welcome news that some in the industry are keen to reverse that trend and provide opportunities to all.

Padraig Harrington (above), one of Ireland’s finest, three-time major champion, Ryder Cup captain and all round top guy,  grew up learning his golf at Stackstown in Dublin.  The course overlooked Marlay Park where there used to be a 9-hole par 3 layout, which was much used by the young Harrington.  That disappeared a number of years ago but Padraig is intent on bringing back a public golf facility to the area and, what’s more, it’ll be free to play.

These projects don’t happen on their own and many big hitters are contributing with time, money and expertise.  Padraig’s own charitable foundation, the R&A, Golf Ireland, Sport Ireland, Turfgrass, Atlantic Construction and the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council all are involved.

Looks innocuous enough on paper but just wait! [Photo from Padraig’s twitter feed]

Padraig’s inspiration for the 3000 square metre putting green he has designed comes from the world-famous Himalayas putting green in St Andrews, home of the St Andrews Ladies’ Putting Club which was founded in 1867.  The club members still play for prizes that were presented at the very first competitions more than 150 years ago.

Consider for a second the name of the putting green and that will tell you all you need to know about the terrain.  It’s terrific fun and good luck in finding a level spot on the whole green!  Weekly competitions are held from spring to autumn and visitors can book tee times and pay £4 to play a round – £2 if you’re a senior or under 16.  If you ever find yourself in the Home of Golf don’t miss this opportunity to test your skills on the Himalayas.

The Himalayas – no ordinary putting green. [Many thanks to Alison White for the pic]

Padraig readily admits his love of the quirky Scottish layout was his inspiration:  “I have always been in awe of the popularity of the Himalayas putting course and wanted to be involved in providing something similar for the people of Ireland, to allow them to experience golf in a fun and family-focused setting.”

George and Lily keeping a keen eye on Jim during a tense match on the Himalayas. [Alison White]

Work is under way in anticipation of a grand opening next spring and I, for one, just love to hear of this kind of golfing environment being created when too many seem to want to annexe their names to yet another so-called “championship course”.  This strikes me as a much more essential and relevant facility.  Good for you, Padraig, for always giving back.

The Himalayas putting green may have been in existence for a century and a half and more but it is only relatively recently that decent practice facilities were deemed essential in St Andrews.  Back in the mid-1970s when I went to university in the old grey toon there was only a short practice area of around 200 yards and it had zero protection from the elements.

As a first year student living in Andrew Melville Hall of residence, my preferred area to hit shots was in the grounds below my own bedroom window.  I had, however, to keep a beady eye out for the groundsmen who were always chasing me off their precious grass, so it wasn’t exactly conducive to a deeply concentrated or focused session.  You always had to be poised to pick up your gear and run!

In those days, we all very much preferred playing to practising and I recall that a student St Andrews’ Links ticket, which allowed me to play on the Old, the New, the Jubilee and the Eden courses, cost the princely sum of £12.  This was for a whole year!  I was trying to remember if I truly appreciated my good fortune at the time but I expect with the insouciance of youth that I took it all for granted.

I certainly regret not playing the Old Course in reverse, which was quite common at that time, thinking I’d have loads of chances.  I never have played it that way round and it’s a rare occurrence now – what an opportunity missed!

All these years later and I’ve still only played the Old the “right” way round!

Hopefully, there’ll be an awful lot of folk wiser than me who’ll take advantage of the opportunity that Padraig’s new putting course will provide.  It may inspire another major champion from Ireland.  Who knows?  But even if it doesn’t, it will afford hours of fun and enjoyment for individuals and families, and that is infinitely more important.