Search icon


Subscribe to the Marginal Prophet.


Ireland 2017: Simply the Best

Ay Lee, the grass over there is so thick I wouldn’t even go in it to look for me children.

My caddie at Portmarnock Golf Club

Eight bedraggled golfers stumble into The Old Spot, a lively gastropub in Dublin’s Sandymount neighborhood. It’s a rollicking Friday night, and the place is stuffed with people. We’re seated in a corner of the restaurant, surrounded by stacks of dusty books and bygone pictures of funny old men wearing tall hats. With cocktails in hand and hearty food on the way, the flock of weary hacks get down to the delightful task at hand; downloading the glorious memories of what can best be described as the trip of a lifetime.

Seven rounds in seven days is a lot to ask of a weekend golfer, especially to duffers carrying an AARP card. Throw in a steady gale from the Irish Sea, random sheets of cold rain, legions of sand dunes covered in fiendishly thick grass, and penal bunkers accented with steep walls and heavy sand sharing the same consistency as a cold bowl of oatmeal, and you’ve got the makings of a struggle worthy of a Hemingway novel. It’s called links golf, and the fact this Irish crusade was shared by eight middle-aged (most of us, anyway) band of brothers from California, Hong Kong and London helped make this endeavor as rich as a pint of Guinness.

At the conclusion of every round, either at dinner or while cruising on the bus, each of us had to share our answers to the following questions;

  • What was your most memorable shot of the day?
  • What was your most memorable hole of the day?
  • What golf story will you take from today?
  • What are the three most memorable shots you’ve hit on the trip so far?
  • What are the three most memorable holes you’ve played on the trip so far?

The purpose of the questions was twofold; to highlight the round just played, and to weave a memorable narrative inclusive of our previous rounds. On this Friday night at The Old Spot, an appropriately named joint for our proverbial Last Supper, two other inquiries were added;

  • Rank the courses we played.
  • What is your favorite memory from the trip?

Eight golfers drafted eight completely different rankings, and judgements appeared to shift during the evening with every new bottle of wine. Though it’s ticklish to judge a links golf course based solely on one round, with daily (heck, hourly) shifts in weather conditions dictating an entirely new tract, below is my personal top-Seven list from the courses we played;

  1. Royal County Down (a.k.a., the single most enjoyable round of my life)
  2. Portstewart
  3. Portmarnock
  4. The Island Club
  5. The European Club
  6. County Louth (Baltray)
  7. Royal Portrush

By the way, just because Royal Portrush, site of the 2019 Open Championship, ranked last on my list doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It’s like going to the Napa Wine Auction and trying to decide which award-winning cabernet you liked least. The fact I forgot how to play golf that day had absolutely nothing to do with my decision (though I did lip out for birdie on #16, which will play as #18 during the Open Championship…I’m just saying).

With that as a backdrop, let’s go around the dinner table and sample some of the fabled remembrances served up by our venerable crew.

The Mayor

Seven of our eight brethren are residents of Moraga, CA, with one member presently taking a leave of absence in Hong Kong. In desperate need of an eighth to fill out our foursomes, he recruited an Ireland native, The Mayor, a slight, well-spoken dynamo of a chap with a penchant for wearing colorful clothes tighter than Amy Shumar in spandex. Not only that, but in 1999, at the ripe old age of 22, he became the youngest politician to be elected to the Fingal County Council. Raised in Malahide, a picturesque coastal village just outside of Dublin, The Mayor served as our de facto tour guide and interpreter, an indispensable necessity when a bartender’s Irish brogue came off heavier than Chris Farley’s casket.

The Dance

My answer to “what was your most memorable shot you hit on the trip?” came early. On our first round, at County Louth (Baltry), my 8-iron approach to the par-5 sixth hole came flush with the Irish jet stream and drifted left like a wounded duck, finishing thirty yards wide of green, my ball buried deep in a thicket of twisted, gnarly grass. Describing my lie as “bad” was an understatement; I was dead, in jail, sentenced to triple bogey purgatory. Undeterred, I grabbed wedges from my bag. After surmising that even Phil Mickelson couldn’t flop a sand wedge from this lie into the air onto a landing area the size of a mouse pad, I went with the easier “bump and run” approach using a pitching wedge. While the rest of my foursome admired the scenery along with their upcoming birdie putts, I took a violent swing at a clump of Irish hay. My ball popped out and proceeded to rumble, bumble and stumble along the ground, traversing a winding trail of valleys and hills, when out of nowhere it majestically rolled onto the green and disappeared into the bottom of the cup. Birdie!!! I dropped my club, raised my arms in triumph, and started dancing a jig while singing, “I’m not leaving here!” It was the signature moment of the trip, and I could buy a condo in Cork if I had a euro for every time a member of our crew, whether they were in a bar, on the bus or on the course, raised their arms above their heads and began singing, “I’m not leaving here.” Jealousy never looked better.

Ukulele Night

Our first night in beautiful downtown Dublin took us to The Stag’s Head pub, an intimate, cozy tavern opened when Lincoln was president. Dr. Six Iron, a learned scientist with a regal bearing who has spent enough time in Ireland to have a potato named after him, and who could split a fairway and the atom using only his six-iron, led the way, and his research confirmed that Ukulele Tuesday, a communal jam session where everyone in Dublin owning a ukulele is invited to drop by, is a must-see event. And boy, was he right. The pub’s upstairs’ “studio” was crammed with an army of short-armed jammers, and their full-throated rendition of “Psycho Killer” by The Talking Heads rivals anything cooked up by The Boss (okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit…shoot me). When God decides to call my name, I can proudly stroll through the pearly gates knowing I heard Dr. Six Iron, bred to sit on a bar stool as well as a board of directors, take an early morning shower while belting “AYE-YI-YI-YI” at the top of his lungs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Mr. Two Ball

For grins and giggles, I kept track of how many golf balls we deposited across the Emerald Isle for future generations of archeologists to discover. The final tally was 116, which averages out to roughly 16 balls per round, or two balls per man/per round. Not bad, especially when you consider a ball landing one-yard off the fairway could find its way onto a milk carton. The only reason the final count wasn’t demonstrably higher was due to the fact we had caddies for six of our seven rounds. For example, of the 116 donations, FORTY-THREE (over a third) were lost at the European Club, which doesn’t provide caddies. Shockingly, The Mayor, a single-digit handicapper with a swing sweeter than a Baby Guinness (Google it), led the field with NINE lost balls. Despite his directional miscues, he kept a stiff upper-lip and never lost his sense of humor. If everyone in Ireland is even half as cool as The Mayor, sign me up. Now.

However.

One of our prodigious hacks, a charismatic diamond-in-the-rough who bears a striking resemblance to a dashing, silver-haired Cary Granite (a Flintstone’s reference…we’re going DEEP old school, here), and who was playing to a 20-handicap, played with the same ball over 18 holes at County Louth…and Royal County Down…and Royal Portrush…and Portstewart..AND THE CURSED EUROPEAN CLUB (which included 20 holes)!!! Finally, on the 10th hole at Portmarnock, his golf ball finally found the dreaded Irish Twilight Zone. That’s over 100 HOLES WITH THE SAME…DAMN…BALL. Neither wind nor rain nor gloom of rough stayed his dimpled mass from its appointed round. This guy’s guy, who everyone he meets refers to him as a great friend, lost one more ball during our last round at the Island Club, forever earning him the well-earned moniker of Mr. Two Ball. (insert joke here)

The Shot

The European Club, located amongst tumbling dunes just south of Dublin and featuring sweeping ocean views from nineteen of twenty holes (yes, 20), has bunkers whose walls are lined with brown railway ties, giving golfers fair warning of the diabolical hazard that awaits them. Mr. Golden Bear, a distinguished wisp of a man who learned early on this trip that the key to his success was to leave his driver in the bag, knocked his approach shot on the opening hole into a cavernous greenside bunker. Because his ball was incarcerated in a filthy dungeon of grass and sand, nestled against the base of a railroad tie, he was forced to create a bizarre stance requiring him to literally take a seat atop the rim of the bunker. With the ball located two feet below his spikes, if he was lucky his next swing might advance the ball six inches. If he was unlucky, he would break his ankle. Yet despite the odds, and the pressure of having every member of his foursome recording his shot for posterity, Mr. Golden Bear not only managed to avoid a trip to the ER, he nearly knocked the ball onto the green. Even a Stanford man would have had to tip his cap.

The Bus

The single best decision made by our top-notch tour organizer, Sir Lag-A-Lot, the greatest next-door neighbor on the planet and appropriately named because of his innate ability to leave a crucial ten-foot putt a jaw-dropping five feet shy of the cup, was to hire a luxurious 12-passenger bus and driver. Equipped with reclining leather captain’s chairs, huge windows, tables, a refrigerator and plenty of overhead storage space, the hours spent on the bus provided the perfect opportunity to relax and unwind in comfort and style. The bus is where we shared laughs and lies, beers and naps, and the occasional dispersal of natural gas. The bus is also where we held kangaroo court and levied idiotic fines based on bad taste, bad behavior, or worst, bad golf. Needless to say, after eight days of serving as a combination bus, bar, and locker room, the stench emanating from inside our vehicle could have leveled Manhattan.

Extraordinary Shots, but for the wrong reason

With over 5,000 shots struck over seven rounds, the odds are good that a handful would be made memorable for reasons having nothing to do with skill. They include, but are not limited to, the following;

  • Three shots traveled backward, usually after violent swings into grass thicker than our president’s skull.
  • A drive by The Beard, a jovial, Santa Clausian-throwback to Berkeley in the 60’s and 70’s, and who had the foresight to wear an Allman Brothers t-shirt to dinner on the day Greg Allman passed, eviscerated a wooden tee marker located only ten yards in front of him. The fact the ball never got higher than half-an-inch off the ground is a sign of his impeccable skill.
  • The Beard, whose bullet-like ball flight was tailor made for links golf, hit an approach shot at the European club that miraculously squeezed untouched between the wheels of my pull cart (called a “trolley” in Ireland) which was located a hundred yards in front of him, before rolling onto the green. He subsequently made the putt and won a skin. Brilliance.
  • Two Ball hit two drives that clobbered golf bags stationed 100+ yards directly in front of him, further proof that in a previous life he was a sniper.
  • The 14th hole at The Island Club purportedly features the narrowest fairway in Europe, measuring a scant 20 yards with a yawning lateral water hazard on the right. After the first three members of my foursome (Mr. Golden Bear, Dr. Six Iron, and Sir Lag-A-Lot) capably nailed their drives within three yards of each other onto this grass-lined bikini strip, I stepped up, made some sort of proclamation about my golfing prowess, and promptly snapped-hooked my drive toward Iceland. The most priceless photo of the trip may have been The Three Amigos standing next to their balls in the fairway, grinning like Kardashian Sisters, while pointing at me a football field away in grass up to my ankles. I felt like a lonesome Kevin Costner in “Dances with Wolves,” waiting anxiously for the Sioux nation to come storming over the ridge.
  • Sir Lag-A-Lot, deluded by the fog of war while getting dope-slapped in a match against his next-door neighbor, absentmindedly steered his golf cart (The Irish call it a “buggy”) directly between my skulled pitching wedge and the green, knocking my ball 90 degrees and 30 yards left of its intended target. Had my ball, traveling at light speed, brained his noggin, we would felt obligated to bury him right then and there, his grave blending perfectly with the rolling topography. Yet despite this obvious attempt to distract me from my mission, I went on to win the hole, the match, and the deed to his house.

The Competition

The Commissioner, a lanky two-handicapper with a silky-smooth swing whose steady gait and easy smile belies the temperament of a skilled assassin, and who along with Mr. Golden Bear was the trip’s designated chaperone, and I were assigned the task of creating a competitive format worthy of a horde of hacks. Normally, playing for money is a non-starter for this group. However, we decided to throw $20 into a weeklong Skins game. What we didn’t foresee was that the $160 kitty would end up being split amongst 62 skins (roughly nine/day), with no one winning more than ten or less than six. I won eight, which means nothing except Sir Lag-A-Lot won only six. For that he gets to mow my lawn. For life.

During the first four rounds, players were paired to play standard two-man games such as best ball, stableford and hi-low, with players receiving one point each for the front and back nine, and two points for the 18. Afterwards, they were seeded based on their accumulated points and single elimination match play ensured. After dismantling Sir Lag-A-Lot with a resounding 4 and 2 beatdown in the quarterfinals at The European Club, I was paired in a semifinal match against The Commissioner at Portmarnock. My two-up lead with eight holes remaining disappeared faster than Sinéad O’Connor’s music career, as The Commissioner shot 2-under par over the next seven holes to win 3 and 2 and eviscerate my dreams of glory. The final match, played on our last day at The Island Club, pitted The Commissioner vs. The Beard, with The Beard receiving ten handicap strokes. He used them wisely, and when it was all over The Beard walked away with a 2 and 1 victory. Not a bad way to celebrate, at age sixty-something, The Beard’s VERY FIRST TRIP outside the United States. And trust me; now that The Beard’s passport has lost its virginity, it won’t be his last.

The Food

Any which way sliced, spooned or stabbed it, the food in Ireland was fantastic. No doubt our lunch at Portstewart Golf Club (especially the tasty seafood chowder–so thick you could walk across it) will go down in the culinary hall of fame. Yet despite the absence of anything remotely green, the ubiquitous “full Irish” breakfast buffet, and “chips” being served with every meal, several members of our clan dubiously claimed to have lost weight while on the trip. Like their inflated handicaps, my money says they’re talking net, not gross.

Willie

After a gorgeous Sunday afternoon playing Royal County Down, the #1 ranked Golf Course on the planet (per Golf Digest), our bus glided into Portrush, Northern Ireland shortly before midnight and, because we had nothing better to do, we decided to make our way to the nearby Harbour Bar for a nightcap. Because Sunday is a day that ends in “y,” the pub was crawling with rowdy Portrushers, most of whom were at least two standard deviations younger than us. While standing outside the bar nursing a Guinness and minding my own business, a rail-thin, greasy-haired version of Charles Manson, wearing a dirty tank top and shorts and who went by the name of Willie, decided it was high time to get up close and personal in my American face. “DID YOU F-ING VOTE FOR TRUMP?” he screamed at me in an Irish accent only his mother could understand, his flesh-eating bacteria-laced breath singeing the hairs in my nose. His next response, uttered even closer, “THEN YOU MUST HAVE VOTED FOR THAT BLEEDIN’ BITCH!” scared me half-to-death and caused me to drop my beer. Reeking of sensimilla and vodka, Willie’s political commentary on all things wrong with America was just getting started. “THREE HUNDRED MILLION F-ING PEOPLE, AND THAT’S THE BEST YOU BLOODY AMERICANS CAN COME UP WITH? WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YA’S.” This Irish-filtered rant went on for another twenty minutes or so, and only stopped because he either ran out of breath or material. At some point Willie claimed to not only own the bar, but half the town of Portrush as well. He later articulated (and I’m using that term loosely) in a hushed tone, “I’ll take good care of ya’s, me boys. Anything you need, you come see ol’ Willie.” Will do, Willie. Next time.

The Fumble Recovery

On a blustery Thursday afternoon at Portmarnock Golf Club, while retrieving my phone to snap a photo of the breathtaking 15th hole, a short par-3 hugging the coastline, a handful of Euro currency bills flew out of my golf bag and beat a path toward the Irish Sea. “That’s my fee!” cried my caddy, who saw the rewards for his efforts scamper across the tee box like a frenzied carload of monkeys in the 25 mile-per-hour wind. Each member of my foursome gave chase, but just as all looked lost, and the bills were about to ascend across the dunes to the sandy beach below, the other caddy in our group, a rotund, bespeckled weeble of a man borne of too many helpings of fish and chips, and who may have been the worst caddie in Ireland, came out of nowhere and adroitly dove onto the blue 50 euro bill like Michael Strahan cradling a fumble in his own end zone. It was a marvelous save, and without question his best read of the day. I managed to chase down the lesser-denominated bills, assuring my caddy that he’d take with him that day more than just memories of my charm and good looks.

The Joke

The second-best decision made by Sir Lag-A-Lot was to bring along a book of dirty jokes. Every morning while riding to our designated course, I would flip through the pages to find a particularly salacious one to awaken the crew and get our day off to a rip-roaring start. Day One featured a hilarious pun about a cowboy and a woman sharing a conversation in a bar, and I could barely finish the reading because tears of laughter were streaming down my face. To make conversation, I proceeded to tell the joke every day to our caddies. Needless to say, by Day Eight both me and the joke had become more than a little stale. But damn, it sure was funny the first time.

“Rip up the playbook.”

When it comes to appreciating whiskey, a Wednesday night at The Dingle Whiskey Bar, located a sand wedge from Dublin’s Trinity College, will forever be my tipping point. Sir Lag-A-Lot turned me on to Green Spot Irish Whiskey, an amber-colored liqueur that went down smooth and steady. Previous attempts at drinking whiskey didn’t end well for me, but I’ve got a feeling Sir Lag-A-Lot and I will be spending many nights together savoring glasses of Green Spot as we age into obscurity.

But, as is usually the case with me, there’s more to the story.

Upon entering the Dingle, we noticed the place was virtually empty save for an attractive young couple knoodling at a table next to the bar. Upon discovering that they were in the middle of their second date, we felt compelled to surround them like a pack of hungry hyenas. A lively conversation ensued about famous figures in history, and when the twenty-something dude tried to impress his dazzling date with a lame tale about his undying respect for Helen of Troy, we knew the odds of a third date were as long as Sir Lag-A-Lot hitting a putt past the hole. “We just ripped up the guy’s playbook!” chimed The Mayor as we walked back to hotel, acknowledging the fact that, despite our relentless march toward geezer-dom, we old dudes still had game.

Weather

All in all, the weather turned out to be more than manageable. Just bring plenty of rain gear and sun screen and leave the umbrella at home. The only real deluge occurred during the last two holes on our first full day at County Louth. We then wore shirtsleeves at Royal County Down, experienced all four seasons during our rounds at Royal Portrush and Portstewart, got fogged in at the European Club, were blown off the tees at Portmarnock, and wore shorts at the Island Club. If you don’t like the weather in Ireland, just wait ten minutes.

Caddies

You haven’t lived until you’ve played a round of golf in Ireland with a caddie whose accent reminds you of a pickled version of Colin Farrell. Every caddie I had possessed most of their teeth along with a terrific sense of humor, with many of their corny witticisms deemed too indecent for public consumption. But since you asked, try this one on for size. “That shot was as ugly as my mother-in-law,” quipped Mr. Two Ball’s caddie after a particularly nasty shot, “and she looks like a bulldog chewing on a wasp.”

But when it came to caddie camaraderie, no one was better than Tony, my all-knowing soothsayer at The Island Club, who not only reads putts but has been an Island Club member for decades. Not only that, but in his spare time Tony volunteers 20 hours a week to work with mentally-challenged children, a calling he absolutely, positively loves. Knowledge like that allowed me to forgive Tony for what he said to me the first time we met. “Good to meet ‘cha, Lee,” he said while handing me my driver on the opening hole. “And jest so ya’ knows, it’s okay for ya’ to stand up while we talk.” Bleedin’ Muppet.

“Close the casket!”

Prior to our trip, I prepared a list of eight thought provoking questions that would be discussed over dinner (it turns out I presented some of these same questions during a prior trip to Bandon Dunes several years earlier…memo to Lee: the memory is the first thing to go). Each night, the person designated with picking up the check would select one of the eight envelopes at random, read and answer it, and pass it on to whomever he wished. That person would then give his answer, and so on and so on until everyone had answered the question. The ensuring discussions were lively, interesting and, at times, emotional.

One night the question was, “If you could speak at your own funeral, what one golf story would you want to share?” Most shared tales of golf trips with their fathers or sons, heartwarming stories lasting anywhere from two to at most five minutes. I was the last to speak, and as the one who had written the question, I had a particularly compelling story I wanted to share. It involved a match I played several years ago during one of our annual neighborhood Campolindo Cup gatherings at Bandon Dunes. After laying out the dramatic scenario of who I was playing and the stakes involved, I proceeded to give what I thought was an electrifying, blow-by-blow account of every shot and its subsequent consequence, of how I was storming back from the abyss, courageously overcoming seemingly impossible odds. As my story built brick-by-brick towards its mind-blowing conclusion, Dr. Six Iron, who was sentenced to be my roommate for the trip, and who would come to my funeral only if snacks were served, screamed from deep in the cheap seats, “CLOSE THE CASKET, ALREADY!” Howls of laughter ensued, and volleys of derisive darts were hurled in my direction. I looked down at my watch; ten minutes had passed, and there was still plenty of runway to my story. For the balance of the trip, anytime I put together more than two coherent sentences, some over-the-hill mutt from the back of the bus would holler, “Close the casket!” At least now I know what to put on my tombstone.

I hope this lengthy missive convinced you of one thing; that we had a great, great time. We

got along, no one got hurt and, best of all, nobody got arrested. As for me, my expectations were far exceeded, and on the return flight I experienced a warm emotion I didn’t expect to take home with me.

I fell in love with Ireland.

 

One Response to Ireland 2017: Simply the Best

  1. Lisa styles says:

    Hi to you boys. Must have been taken off list. Please add me again. Thanks Lee !!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Lee Geiger: Menu