Wow, what a Ryder Cup that was at the K Club in Ireland. But other than the rain, could you tell the event took place in Ireland? Of course not, it took place on a parkland course. It’s probably the greatest missed opportunity of missed opportunities that this prestigious competition wasn’t contested on one of Ireland’s famed links courses.
What is a links course? The definitions are myriad, go ahead and google them, but here’s mine: you’ll know when you’ve played one.

And having just returned from the Emerald Isle myself, where I played Ballybunion and The European Club – both links, both rated in the top twenty of best courses in the world – I couldn’t be more disappointed that the Ryder Cup was played on a course that looks like any upscale course right here at home and not on what many consider Ireland’s greatest tourist draw, their famed links courses.

For me it all began because Montreal is home to one of the finest golf courses you’ll ever play and it’s a links to boot. Kudos to my pal Denis Roy, director of golf at The Montreal Island Golf Club for having the vision to bring links golf to Montreal. Spend any time with Denis and you’ll find he’s played probably every course in Great Britain and Ireland. But it was after playing some of the courses designed by Ireland’s own Pat Ruddy that Denis endeavoured to bring Pat here to Montreal to work some of his magic. And if you’ve ever played the South course at the Montreal Island Golf Club I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s one of the finest tracks around. In fact, according to Mr. Ruddy himself, “If you’re a single digit (handicap) on the South Course…you’re a player.” No argument here Mr. Ruddy.

Inspired by the links in our midst I headed across the pond this August, with my pal Sean Manley (yes, of Golf Town), for a week of golf and Guinness and to get up close and personal with the “real” stuff. Five rounds in five days, from Dublin to Ballybunion to Cork and back to Dublin again. We played Druid’s Glen (a Pat Ruddy design) and Fremoy Golf Club, one of Ireland’s oldest and where Sean’s uncle Pat is club captain. But it’s the two rounds at Ballybunion and The European Club that really made the trip.

Upon arriving at Ballybunion we got the weather we anticipated. Everybody says to expect weather most foul in Ireland. Bring rain gear, wool socks, a bunch of umbrellas, five pairs of shoes, etc. We got out of the car in the parking lot and it was plain miserable. Howling winds, driving rain, freezing cold. Perfect! I was ready. But the Irish saying is true: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” And by the time we reached the first green the weather blew over, the sun came out and, although it remained unbelievably windy all day, I actually came away from Ballybunion with sun burn!

So much has been written and said about The Old Course at Ballybunion that I won’t go into why this was practically a religious experience for me except to say that I got everything out of it I felt one should get. Some highlights:

I could barely stand upright on the first tee because of the wind whipping off the Atlantic. I aimed 40 yards left of the first fairway in order not to have the wind blow my ball into the ancient graveyard out of bounds on the right hand side; my par on the first whole is the greatest feeling I think I’ve ever had on a golf course; Sean striped his drive down the middle of the first fairway only to have it land in pot bunker that, needless to say, didn’t help his overall score; I now know from first hand experience why Tom Watson’s favourite whole in golf is number 11; I’ll never forget watching Sean’s caddy take his hybrid out of his hands at the 190 yard par 3 15th , that plays dead into the wind, only to give him a driver and tell him to hit it. We all took the same advice and were barely pin high. They say the dunes at Ballybunion are the highest on any golf course in the world. I believe them. What did I shoot? I stopped counting after my fifth try at extricating a ball sitting above my feet (chin high) on the par five 16th. However, I parred the home hole and I’ve never been more excited over the fact that I played one ball for a whole round.

Located just south of Dublin in County Wicklow on Brittas Bay is the course designed and owned by Pat Ruddy, The European Club. It’s considered one of the top courses in the world, where Denis Roy held the course record of 68 until one Tiger Woods beat it by one stroke.

One arrives at The European Club and beholds a most unassuming place. There is very little to suggest that you’re about to have one of the finest and most difficult golf experiences of your life.

On the day Sean and I arrived Mr. Ruddy happened to be at the clubhouse. What a treat to actually meet the man who designed our favourite course in Montreal and to talk to him about “his baby,” the South Course at Montreal Island Golf Club. To this day he remains in touch with Denis about the state of the South course and he couldn’t be more delighted that his original routing is now being used again. That is to say that holes 10, 11, 12 on the scorecard are the real numbers 1, 2, 3. If you’ve played them you know that they’re arguably the hardest three starting holes you’ll ever encounter. Good reason for that too. That’s how Pat wanted it. Get through them at three over par and you have a chance the rest of the day. If not….He’s got quite a sense of humour, Pat does, and when you play The European Club you get the full effect. In fact, just this year the Irish Amateur was played there and the qualifying score just to get to the match play round was twenty four over par. “We killed ‘em,” his son said proudly.

It’s a beast of a course really. The par 4 7th alone measures 470 yards. And it’s always played into the prevailing wind. According to the granite marker near the tee box, it’s ranked one of the 100 greatest holes in the world. If you discount your score and appreciate the beauty all around you’re likely to agree. There are a number of these granite markers among the 18 holes, heightening the experience that much more.

The wind was down the day we played, rare for a links course hard on the sea. Nevertheless, this quintessential links course demands concentration from your first drive to your last putt. You’ll be dumfounded by where your ball ends up sometimes, even when you think you’ve struck it perfectly. How’d I shoot? Let’s just say I didn’t play with one ball this time around.

No matter, just imagine what the experience is like playing a course owned by the man who designed it. In fact, Pat just put in a few dozen new bunkers recently because he felt the course wasn’t playing hard enough! The bunkers are so penal in fact that you actually find yourself asking to have your picture taken in them. Get this, the par four 12th (one of the most beautiful holes you’ll ever see, think 18 at Pebble Beach but water on the right, not the left) has a green that’s 120 yards in length. Why? Because he wanted to have a green 120 yards in length! The course also has twenty holes. There’s two practice par threes that are arguably two of the nicest par threes you’ll ever see in you life. And they’re there just for fun! Just imagine what it must be like to play a course like this, where the designer is on hand every day making sure everything is as perfect as can be. In fact, the fairways were the most incredible I’ve ever played. Dry, hard and fast like the best conditioned greens you’ve ever putted on. I’ll never forget them.

From Ballybunion and The European Club to Portmarnock, Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, Lahinch, Waterville and Old Head Ireland’s links courses are the envy of the golf world. And still the Ryder Cup was played at The K Club. It was a great event, but it simply wasn’t golf in Ireland as it really should be played.

For that experience you can hop onto the 40 east to the South Course at the Montreal Island Golf Club. Sean and I recently played it again on an absolutely miserable rainy day. We smiled from ear to ear the whole day through. Links golf in Montreal. Cherish it.

Ben Gonshor is Director of Marketing and Communications at The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre and was a single digit handicap prior to his trip to Ireland. There are a variety of reputable companies offering tours in Ireland, including Transat Holidays, Trafalgar Tours, Globus Tours. Speak to your travel agent about special golf packages. For more information about Ireland, call TOLL FREE: 1-800-223-6470 or visit:

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