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A Sort of Homecoming

When I Was Last In Ireland, Tralee was a nine-hole town course that had been around since 1896 but wasn't known beyond Ardfert, and Arnold Palmer was at work on a new eighteen. I had heard that Palmer's Tralee was one of the world's great links. It is that, I think, but my rendering of it must be impressionistic because of what happened that day on the course. My notebook blew away on eleven. My scorecard is unreadable. I am left without details, other than those I tell my wife at Dromoland Castle as our trip ends.

Dromoland is the world's most sensational airport hotel. Only ten miles -- really -- from Shannon, it's an honest-to-God majestic castle, a Relais & Chateaux extravaganza.

At dinner I start with a Jameson's eighteen-year-old and follow with another. "So how did it go yesterday?" my wife asks. "Tra-la-la?"

"Tralee," I say, and smile at the memory of the place. "It went ... well. It was weird. It was the whole Irish golf thing in microcosm. We played nine beautiful holes that Arnold Palmer carved from a farmer's field. Lovely stuff, reasonably spacious, very scenic. Arnold used these old stone walls to find his way tee to green. Brilliant, beautiful stuff--ruins everywhere, the sea, the hills beyond.

"So we make the turn, and the sun disappears. Sweeping in off the ocean is this Stephen King cloud. We feel the rain start, then the deluge hit. By the time I thought of putting on my gear, I was already drenched to the bone. On the eleventh green, my ball sailed on the water. It took wing on the wind and sailed across the puddle --heading toward the hole, so I let it go.

"You absolutely couldn't see. Well, you could see that the course was tremendous. The back nine is amazing --up and down hills, into hollows and amphitheaters, then up to grassy peaks where you're exposed to the ocean, king of the world. On the thirteenth, this guy's club goes flying, end over end, into a pit fifty yards deep. The storm is right out of Captains Courageous. We play on. All these other golfers are fleeing up the hills to the clubhouse, but we play on. We reach eighteen, and I tee it up. The hole's a long, uphill par four. The wind's in my face, and the rain's streaming down and I hit an iron low. I get to it and whack again. Then once more. The balls are standing straight up in the gale. I'm a wedge from the pin now -- can barely see it in the dark -- so I take out a seven-iron. I kill it. It rises and settles by the pin. I walk up, striding like Finn MacCool, and sink the putt."

"Is he a golfer?" my wife asks reasonably.

"Not exactly," I say, and I take a sip of whiskey. What I don't mention is that, although wet and tired and cold, I had never felt better or more excited while playing the game, never felt more alive with a stick in my hand.

Irish golf, old or new, wet or dry, mild or wild or woolly -- Irish golf, any way but with a bar cart -- Irish golf, isn't it a grand thing altogether?

'Tis.

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