Dingle Trifecta, Part 6
Golf at Cheann Sibéal
March 7 – 15, 2003
By Lewis Nolan
Following yet another sparing but delicious breakfast of Irish bacon with a bit of toast and a Diet Coke, I stopped by the hotel lobby to pick up my voucher for 18 holes of golf at Cheann Sibéal, also known as Dingle Links and sometimes spelled Ceann Sibéal. The price was an amazingly low €22 Euros after the 50 percent discount the hotel arranges for its guests. A course of this quality and fabulous view of the Atlantic breakers crashing against Clogher Head would charge a lot more. In America, golfers would line up for the chance to pay it.
Word about the beauty and charm of Dingle must be getting around. Local real estate prices have ascended steeply since Ireland became a member of the European Union and adopted the Euro as its currency. With that came a flood of government funds available for infrastructure improvement and a surge in tourism. A young manager at the Skellig said a building lot with a view of the sea now goes for €100,000-to-€150,000 Euros. Nice, new houses around the fringe of town sell for €250,000-to-€275,000. But smaller houses without a view can still be had for €80,000.
Cheann Sibéal offers visitors and a cadre of regular locals a traditional links layout, with no trees. Details on the layout and hole-by-hole advice are in an appendix at the end of this section. The club’s website is www.dingle-golf.com. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The wind is slight by Irish standards on this day and the sky is mostly sunny, with a high of 52 in the forecast. A great day on a great
|Lewis at Cheann Sibeal Golf Course|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
There were only a few spots on the course where I was delayed by groups ahead. One twosome, a couple from Cork I later learned were staying at the Skellig, waved me through. As is often the case when extended such courtesy, I hurried my shot and suffered the penalty. They graciously pretended not to notice. Love the Irish!
My game was erratic, which was not surprising since I’ve only played one full round so far this year. Besides, I carried only a half bag of clubs on this trip because of the weight and packing factors dictated by a small car. My longest club was a three metal. Others were a 7 metal; 5, 6 and 8 irons; pitching and sand wedges and a Ping Putter. I had tested various combinations over the last couple of years and found this selection to be optimum for travel under most conditions. In fact, in play back home I learned there was hardly any difference in scores between the half bag and full complement of 14 clubs.
Some shots I hit pretty well. I just hit the ball too many times on too many holes. I was well above my handicap but will say no more for reasons of security. These are perilous times.
It pleased me greatly to be able to walk 18 holes in 3 ½ hours, particularly because the course is hilly and hummocky. There are lots of bumps and lush turf that the rental pull cart (called a trolley cart here) has to be pulled over and through. Last year, when I weighed about 60 pounds more than my current, post-Atkins weight, walking 18 pushed me to the limit. It was only pride and a couple of companionable partners that kept me going after the front 9. But thanks to the success I’ve had on the low-carb diet over the last seven months, it wasn’t until the 15th hole that I got tired this trip. Importantly, I never struggled with the five-mile trek over sometimes-rough ground. Sometimes loss is gain.
The views of most of the tee boxes, fairways and greens are simply magnificent. It’s hard for a visitor to focus on the game in the face of the vistas offered by Brandon Mountain, Clogher Head, Sybil’s Point, Atlantic surf and the green, green slopes of surrounding hills. To seaward is one of the Blasket Islands known variously as “The Corpse,” “The Sleeping Monk” and “The Sleeping Giant.” Its peculiar shape gives it the names.
The wind blowing in from the ocean this afternoon was perhaps a steady
15 mph, with gusts to 20. Not bad for a links course with no tree breaks. Oddly, signs asked players to lift their ball off the fairway and hit from a free placement in the lateral rough no closer to the hole. This was early spring in Ireland and the club wanted to give the fairway grass time to heal itself from last season’s divots.
Since I often hit out of the rough anyway, the temporary rule was not a burden to me and certainly didn’t influence my score. Nonetheless, the local rule surprised me since the course doesn’t get much play from tourists at this time of year. Maybe the locals take bigger divots than do Americans. Or maybe a few of them don’t show the respect a course of this quality deserves by replacing their divots. Or maybe the absence of motorized carts (a few rentals were introduced last season but I saw none in use) equipped with sand buckets is a hindrance to divot repair.
After playing, I had a skimpy but tasty sandwich of ham and cheese, served with a slice of tomato and toasted, brown bread in the club snack bar. I learned at the pro shop that the course rents decent clubs for €20 Euros and motorized carts for €40 (one or two riders). I may opt for renting clubs on my next trip rather than go through the hassle of lugging clubs through airport security and into the tiny trunk of an econobox. The pro shop is small by U.S. club standards but is well equipped with the usual golf merchandise plus a nice array of quality sweaters, caps and shirts emblazoned with the club name.
The course was in good shape and aesthetically improved with the recent addition of several stone bridges over small streams (natives call them drains or burns). The burns crisscross the fairway and pose hidden dangers to first-time players who do not purchase the pocket course guide and map. A veteran of four rounds here, it pleased me greatly that I finished with the same Top Flight ball that I started with. That is entirely due to luckily finding it after a couple of miss-hits that I had feared were goners.
While I played golf, Betty shopped in Dingle. We arrived
|Betty crosses Brandon Point sheep gate|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
We had a fairly good meal of roast beef with potatoes (what else?) in the hotel’s Blasket Bar, then relaxed in the Gallarus Room. The complimentary tea, coffee and tray of chocolate mints put out for self-service to guests was a nice touch by hotel staff.
(Taken from scorecard - printed in both English and Irish languages - and from the course’s pocket Pro-Guide that contains hole maps with distances and playing tips)
Location: Ballyferriter, Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland.
Professional: John ‘Diony’ O’Connor
Distance: Blue Tees, 6,690 meters; White Tees, 6,520 meters; Red Tees, 5,209 meters.
Description: “A golf course with a location like Cheann Sibéal needs little else to make it noteworthy. This is, in fact, the most westerly golf course in Europe and with stunning views of the Blasket Islands to the South and Brandon Mountain to the north it is a place, which rapidly becomes ingrained in the memory. But it is not just the scenery, which is of a high quality. Any of the first four holes could take their place on the great historic links courses. So could the 7th, 8th, 10th, 15th, 16th, 17th and possibly even more! So much so that space prevents us from doing justice to them in detail. We will say though, that the 10th (the most westerly hole in Europe), with its elevated half hidden green carved from the sandy hillside is simply magnificent. It is a hole which is destined to be spoken of. So is the 16th. A delight and a challenge with a daunting, blind tee shot and an approach over the meandering burn, it is then crowned by a green as breathtaking in its appeal as it is in the putts which it requires. This is a piece of land which is virtually untouched by human hand – architecture as heaven sent as Brandon itself. Savor it and you will simply have to return.”
Hole 1, Par 4, 396 yards from Blue Tees - First shot feels almost blind as landing area is hidden. Don’t worry – aim at green or slightly left. Take plenty of club for approach to green (guarded by a hidden burn).
Hole 2, Par 3, 201 yards – Avoid going left. Ideal shape is left-right.
Hole 3, Par 4, 376 yards – Plenty of room on left for drive. This is the safe line away from the stream and sets up an angled approach across the plateau green. Take enough club to carry all the way – the slopes on the right will stop anything big.
Hole 4, Par 4, 378 yards – Nice hole with semi blind approach over stream through an avenue of mounds and bunkers. In trouble off the tee? – Lay up!
Hole 5, Par 3, 202 yards – The layout of this Par 3 makes a left to right shot ideal. Drawers of the ball beware – with wind right to left the hidden pond can easily be reached.
Hole 6, Par 5, 565 yards – Great care required. Maintain accuracy at all times. Slicers go well left!
Hole 7, Par 4, 425 yards – Attractive dogleg right with string of bunkers guarding short line to green (right). Ideal line off tee is center, even right half as ground tends to move the ball left.
Hole 8, Par 4, 370 yards – Short Par 4 requiring accurate tee shot as ground is very hummocky right and left. Line is first of Three Sisters (hills facing the ocean) on left.
Hole 9, Par 4, 427 yards – A tough Par 4. Shorter hitters bear left off tee. Few will reach in two.
Turn at the Clubhouse – Fresh seafood and sandwiches are available for lunch along with complete bar service. Takeout soft drinks and bottled water are available in pro shop.
Hole 10, Par 3, 197 yards – A hole to remember! Most of green is hidden. Take plenty of club and play to back – mound will stop anything too long.
Hole 11, Par 5, 523 yards (downhill) – Follow line of stake markers off tee. This is a real three-shotter – plot your route carefully.
Hole 12, Par 3, 156 yards – Not too much to worry about except the right club and a smooth swing.
Hole 13, Par 5, 479 yards – Leave cutting the corner of the dogleg right to the pros - even they might not bother because of OB risk. Safe carry over first burn that splits the landing area requires 220 yards. Long iron straight away from tee. Second shot must finish on fairway. Treacherous approach over burn guarding front of green – don’t be short.
Hole 14, Par 4, 342 yards – All downhill. Follow stake markers. Ball can be run onto green. Avoid going left.
Hole 15, Par 4, 405 yards – Excellent hole. Stream on right can be carried but keep left if into wind. Two-tier green.
Hole 16, Par 4, 373 yards – Aim tee shot at clubhouse (uphill) or slightly right. Long hitters beware – downwind the stream can be reached. This green is steeply sloping so try to avoid finishing above the hole.
Hole 17, Par 4, 371 yards – Long carry over stream – best to lay up. Unless into wind tee shot is long iron. Leaves a medium to long iron approach to a small green. Tough Par 4.
Hole 18, Par 5, 504 yards – Long finish uphill. Concentrate on accuracy not length. Green has some spectacular putts – take care to finish well!