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Golfing County Kerry

You've doubtless heard that old saw, which is always delivered with an appropriate Scottish burr: "Aye, laddie, if there's nae wind, there's nae golf." Less frequently voiced, however, is the measured impact of wind on the golf ball. According to studies performed by Titleist, the carry of a ball struck by a driver will be reduced by 1.3 yards for every mile per hour of headwind, but increased only by .95 yards for every m.p.h. of tailwind. So that 10 m.p.h. breeze will cost thirteen yards on a shot hit straight into it, but we don't regain the equivalent distance when we change direction. Just another of golf's mysteries, I suppose, a curio with a hint of cruelty about it. . . .

In my experience, wind is at its most bedeviling on the seaside courses of Ireland, specifically at Portmarnock (check the anemometer on your way to the first tee), Ballybunion (I've seen blasts threaten to uproot the flagpole from its setting in concrete) and Waterville, far out on the Inveragh Peninsula in County Kerry.

Not everyone makes it a point to get down to Waterville Golf Links, possibly because it's a ninety-minute drive southwest of Killarney, but we've been doing this run on the scenic Ring of Kerry from time to time for nearly thirty years. (My wife is a long-suffering golf widow who has never struck a ball.) Our destination is well worth the journey—the beguiling land's-end remoteness, the liveliness of a holiday village by the sea (even one that is not especially picturesque) and the sublime links itself. In addition, the golf club's general manager, Noel Cronin, extends a heartfelt welcome to all visitors to this rewarding course, which is made particularly so today thanks in considerable measure to the efforts of a leading American golf architect.

The game was played on a makeshift nine here beginning in the 1880s, but the Waterville holes we enjoy today are not old. John A. Mulcahy, a successful New York businessman who had emigrated from Ireland to America in 1924 at the age of eighteen, returned to his native land in the 1960s to acquire the sandhills-dotted tract bound by Ballinskelligs Bay and the River Inny. He hired Eddie Hackett (Enniscrone, Carne, Connemara, Murvagh) to collaborate with him in laying out the course. Almost 7,200 yards long from the championship tees, this rugged and exacting links could challenge the game's best players, and it promptly took its place among Ireland's half-dozen finest courses.

In 2002, with Mulcahy having passed away, the New York syndicate that had bought the course decided to add more contouring to the relatively flat first nine. Tom Fazio, who apprenticed in the 1960s under the stern eye of his uncle, George Fazio, and subsequently rose to the top of his profession, was chosen to handle the job. He is especially admired for the sheer beauty of his courses (one thinks instinctively of Black Diamond Ranch, Wade Hampton and Shadow Creek). In fact, it is this aspect of his work that raised eyebrows when he accepted the assignment. Fazio's golf holes are often little short of luscious. Some observers worried that he would beautify Waterville, and that the raw, natural charm of this classic links would give way to an artificial prettiness. The concern turned out to be unwarranted. Fazio's alterations are sensitive, tasteful, wonderfully right. He created two entirely new holes and radically revamped thirteen others. Today there is not a weak or prosaic moment on the course. Said the architect when he was finished: "The overriding objective was to enhance all the areas of the golf course that were not visually strong or dramatic in order to blend them into the natural dune settings. Now emotions will run high, and you'll get that rush you expect from a great links on every hole."

Fazio's handiwork is evident from the outset. The once dull first and second holes, a pair of long par fours, now sparkle. The burn and the boundary are now in play on the first; on the second a series of low dunes has materialized to line the left side, and the green has been recontoured and shifted to the right to bring the Inny Estuary into play.

As for the two new holes, they too are superb. The sixth is a downhill 194-yarder through the sandhills, a burn menacing on the right; and the seventh, 424 yards long, bends smoothly right as it rises, perfectly framed by dunes left and, once again, a burn on the right. Both holes fit seamlessly into the layout.

Waterville's second nine has no fewer than six indisputably great holes—two one-shotters, two par fours and two par fives—culminating with the majestic seventeenth and eighteenth.


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