The Gathering Ireland 2013 aims to entice you, me and everybody we know to visit the Emerald Isle this year.
The Gathering -- a yearlong celebration of all things Irish -- is an initiative with everyday Irish people doing extraordinary things to make this a year we'll all remember. More than 70 million people claim Irish ancestry, so isn't it about time they all came home and brought a few friends?
The Gathering kicked off in spectacular style at the New Year's Eve Festival in Dublin and will continue to be celebrated with gatherings both big and small, including Ireland's major festivals and special events created just to attract new visitors. Of course, golf would not dare miss the party.
Carr Golf, Ireland's leading golf tour operator, will host the first Invitational Pro-Am in Dublin Oct. 21-25. Roughly 20 teams from North America and Canada will compete over four days for a prize purse of $10,000. The event, which hopes to become an annual tradition, will be contested on four of the world's most celebrated links, Portmarnock, Royal County Down, Royal Dublin Golf Club and County Louth Golf Club (called Baltray by the locals).
The tournament is being promoted through the PGA Metropolitan Section in New York, and the Northern California PGA. The $3,000 cost per amateur includes four rounds of golf, four nights at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin, two receptions, a gala dinner, local transportation and gifts. Each team will be comprised of three paying amateurs with the pro competing free of charge.
Even golfers who finish last are sure to have a great time. Dublin is home to some of the best bars in the world (check out the Temple Bar south of the River Liffey) and the Guinness Storehouse.
Both Royal County Down (No. 1) and Portmarnock (No. 12) rank among the top courses in the world outside of the United States by Golf Digest. County Louth (No. 7 in Ireland) and Royal Dublin (No. 16 in Ireland) are highly regarded by the magazine's raters as well.
Royal County Down, host of the 2007 Walker Cup featuring Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson, sits in an intoxicating setting of natural dunes in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne. The club dates to 1889. Old Tom Morris expanded the first course to 18 holes before legends Harry Vardon, James Braid and Harry S. Colt all had a hand in configuring its narrow fairways.
In more modern times, British architect Donald Steele added extensive bunkering to make the par-5 finishing hole more formidable and created the new 16th hole -- a short, drivable par 4 specifically made for match play. Portmarnock, which dates to 1894, doesn't have the blind shots or incredible duneland of RCD but plays just as demanding. It has hosted 13 Irish Opens in the modern era of the European Tour.
Royal Dublin, set near a neighborhood in the city center, is accessible only by a narrow, one-lane wooden bridge built back in 1819 out to Bull Island in Dublin Bay. A sea wall helped form the Bull Island Natural Reserve as sandy soil and dunes slowly built up over time. This sandy spot turned out to be ideal for links golf.
The historic club celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2010. A Martin Hawtree redesign in 2006 added more than 450 yards in length, including 70 yards on the par-5 14th alone. Hawtree raised all 18 greens and crafted two new holes, the 592-yard, par-5 sixth and the 215-yard, par-3 seventh.
County Louth dates to 1892 at the mouth of the River Boyne near Drogheda north of Dublin. It wasn't until 1938 that architect Tom Simpson performed his best magic as an architect, although tinkering by Steele and later Tom MacKenzie left Baltray with a peculiar oddity, three par 5s on the front nine. The finest dunes come to a head at holes 12-15. The new 18th hole by MacKenzie stretches to 559 yards for the pros. The course relinquished surprise winners at the 2004 and 2009 Irish Opens -- Brad Rumford (2004) and amateur Shane Lowry (2009).
Gary Murphy, a Drogheda resident who plays on the European Tour, praised Baltray as "a true links” and a "historic place."
"Baltray is famous for being kind to amateurs, but it's very demanding off the back tees," Murphy said. "From a tourist point of view, it is the East Coast Ballybunion. Stewart Cink played here before he won the British Open (in 2009). It is steeped in tradition. The course matches up with any."
April 26, 2013