Hosting the 2006 Ryder Cup will secure for the K Club's Arnold Palmer course its place in golf history. For its second layout, the resort wanted a rival, not a consolation prize. When K Club South—or, as we prefer, K2—opens for play this summer, there will be an army of envious stares across the pair's dividing line, the River Liffey. Palmer's design is unashamedly American. One of the King's longtime collaborators, Harrison Minchew from Palmer Course Design, was briefed to deliver a more traditional architecture. The result, as T&L Golf saw in a sneak peek at the end of last year, is a grand-scale 7,300-yard modern inland links: Rolling fairways imprisoned by high, fescue-strewn dunes. Exacting bunkering. A quarry hole that could become as photographed as the Blarney Stone. And a finishing stretch of six tear-inducing card destroyers that intersect snaking lakes, culminating in a fortress-hole par-five finisher complete with an island green.
Carton House Golf Club is the other Dublin comer. A ten-minute drive from the K Club past Maynooth, this thousand-acre estate was formerly the ancestral home of the FitzGeralds Earls of Kildare, later to become the Dukes of Leinster. Impressed?You will be when you see the main house. (Plans for its conversion into a luxury hotel were postponed after 9/11; a revised date has yet to emerge.)
The first of Carton House's two courses, designed by and named for Mark O'Meara, opened quietly last year. The 7,006-yard, wide parkland layout is tranquil and pretty through the first dozen holes. Then comes as fine a trinity as is found anywhere in Ireland. From on high, the thirteenth's tee shot is down and over the broad River Rye, which the par-five fourteenth then crosses twice. Again from on high, next to an eighteenth-century cottage whose inside walls are covered with a treasure trove of shells from across the world, the par-three fifteenth demands resolve to ignore an old wooden bridge, the fast-flowing Rye and a 180-yard carry to the green. It's absolutely beautiful.
Carton House is sure to increase O'Meara's profile as a designer, as it will Colin Montgomerie's when his eponymous course opens to the public this summer. Like K2, it's an inland links. Heavily contoured, long from the back tees at 7,245 yards and with enormous greens, this will be the estate's championship eighteen. Our preview round showed it already looking like a pedigree product patiently awaiting ennoblement. The course will be for the brave; no less an authority than Padraig Harrington says that the Irish Open or another European Tour event should be headed this way soon. As James Joyce proclaims in Finnegans Wake: "Coming, far! End here."