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The Irish Air Force

IRELAND COVERS ABOUT 32,500 square miles. One-seventh of that isn't green, but brown—wild, damp bogs, the source of peat, used by the Irish as fuel and fertilizer. The sheer scale of industrial peat cutting—broad black endless lines of perfect yet brutal geometric scarring—is striking from the air. So as we flew from Lahinch to Mount Juliet, the return of traditional farms, with their small neat fields of cows and sheep, seemed welcome.

We swooped down by the River Nore and landed near the ivy-clad grandeur of the main house. Built by the Earl of Carrick more than two hundred years ago, Mount Juliet is now one of Ireland's premier resorts. After a Jameson's Irish whiskey in the bar of the main house, sleep came easily. The morning brought the sun and the arrival of Michael Bowe, the fast-talking boss of Irish Golf Tours, the company that had masterminded this trip. A former banker, he'd noticed the growing international demand for golf in Ireland and begun using his wide contacts to steer groups of American pilgrims around the sacred shrines.

On the third hole he recalled a recent tour: "D'you know, Jim, they wanted to play two courses a day for nearly two weeks. I thought, How old are they?But I couldn't ask, could I?When they began dropping like flies after the first few days, I knew."

The sun and the open spaces of the design were a relief. Only ideological purists would want to stay on the coast and ignore such beautiful places. At the end of the round there was time only for a Guinness and a sandwich. Bravo-kilo-tango took off and we headed north to County Kildare.

In three days I'd not walked in through a clubhouse gate, never driven on a main road. Helicoptering was not new to me. Skiing in the Alps, I'd been flown to the top of mountains on exhilarating rides, and those in Ireland were no less so. I'd missed drinking dark porter in Irish pubs, often flown past the best restaurants, and never got close to the scenery beyond the links. But flying toward Dublin, I acknowledged the compensation—excitement that never eased up.

And the memories would endure. For instance, the main house of The K Club (formerly the Kildare Hotel & Country Club) looks from above like a chateau. There was a helipad, but John thought it too near the crowded car park, so instead we landed in—and I mean in—the sculpted front gardens.

The site of the 2005 Ryder Cup, The K Club's course is beautiful and tough and . . . American, not Irish. Still, the players will have the benefit of being in one of Ireland's finest hotels. And the finishing holes, all water and knife-edge drama, will be perfect for the event—though Ron and I, behind an outing, played them in the dark.

Late that night I looked out to the manicured lawn. It was empty. The bird had flown. I would miss her whirring blades in the morning. But just when I needed Yeats the most, he came through: "While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray, I hear it in the deep heart's core." Good-bye, Bravo-kilo-tango. Roger and out.


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