Golf Punk TV
Feb 17th, 2017
We're Not Worthy: No1: Old Head Of Kinsale, Ireland
Enter Dream World
Words: Tim Southwell Photography: Tim & Shaun
Above: The adventure begins... (video)
The full, amazing story below...
The reception area of Old Head of Kinsale's majestic clubhouse is awe-inspiring. Trust me, we’ve just walked in. We find Jim, the Director Of Golf who had so generously offered to host our trip to this golfing mecca. Jim is in the clubhouse bar. Somewhat unconvincingly, we this time, we open the glass door and step gingerly into the inner sanctum….
It went like this...
Tim, gesturing with a copy of GP in his hand: "Jim, is this cool?"
Jim: "Yeah, come on in!"
Tim: "Sorry to bother you but we had to come and tell you how much we really enjoyed the golf course,... didn't we Shaun?"
Tim: "We're not mental or anything,.. so don't be afraid…my name is Tim and this is Garth, .. I mean … Shaun…"
Jim: "Nice to meet you guys…"
Tim: "So, ermm,… do you… ermm, come to Old Head often…?"
Jim: "Well, I'm a regular visitor here but Old Head has certainly had its share of visitors. The Romans were coming here as early as AD 82 when General Agricola headed an expedition, bringing various new wildlife to the island."
Danny (The Head pro who has just walked in): "In fact, isn't Old Head a Roman name?"
Jim: "Yes Danny it is. Actually it's pronounced 'Auld Headio' which is Roman for 'Island of extremes'…
Tim: "I was not aware of that."
Jim: "I think one of the most interesting factors about Old Head is it's the only golf course situated on an island with an Isthmus attached to the mainland. And it's the only golf course to have smugglers steps leading up the sides of one of its cliffs."
Tim: "Do these guys know how to party or what??!!! .. Huh?! HUH???!…. Oh…."
Silence descends the clubhouse bar as everyone stops what they're doing and stares at Tim... nonplussed.
Tim: "OK, … well, we gotta get going…"
Jim: "No, no, no, stick around – hang out with us!"
Shaun: "Cool,.. yeah… we'll stick around and hang out.. with yus…. with Jim and… Danny… at Old Head of … Kinsale…"
"WE'RE NOT WORTHY, WE'RE NOT WORTHY, WE'RE NOT WORTHY!!!!!!"
Well, that's sort of how it went anyway. The thing is, we'd been hearing stories about Old Head for so long now that the place had taken on mythical status. And whenever people started talking about it they all wore the same dopey expression on their faces. Lost.
TWO DAYS EARLIER...
We'd been told to expect a big, jaw-dropping entrance but when we arrived at 10pm we were greeted by a blanket of thick fog. We only just made out the sign for the golf course and followed it. But half an hour later we were none the wiser. We'd followed the road at all times but still no sign of any clubhouse lights whichever way we turned.
Not an excellent time for The Brigadier to parp up that he probably should get his eyes checked. That information, combined with the fact that he was driving in the thickest fog any of us had ever seen, had us shifting like worms in box.
"There," shouts Shaun. "I think I see something."
He sees something alright. It's the 15th tee box. We've been driving around the cart path for the last 30 minutes.
"Blimey," I venture. "This can't be good. Didn't you say that the course is on a headland?"
Tim: "With 300 foot drops straight down into the ocean all over the place?"
Shaun: "Yes. But, theoretically, if we follow the cart path, it should lead us to the 18th green and the clubhouse.”
Then the fog started to glow slightly. Or was it our eyes playing tricks with us?
Shaun: "There! A light again."
Then more darkness.
"Did you hear that?" says The Brig.
Brig: "That howling sound."
Us: "It's the fucking wind, you muppet!"
"Listen, LISTEN!" implores the Brig.
We listened. Nothing. Just a strange feint howling sound.
Shaun: "So, we're sitting here in this hire car on the edge of a fucking cliff and you've just heard a wolf!"
"Shall I turn the engine off?" asks Keg.
Suddenly Shaun eyes widen.
"What's that?" he screams. "A BISON! What the f*&^'s a Bison doing here?"
"It's a ram," shouts the Brig. "IT'S NOT A WOLF IT'S A RAM."
Me: "Maybe it's a wild Irish Wolfhound. They say that at this time of year they…"
Then the murky light glows again. And disappears.
"It's a friggin’ lighthouse! Must be…" exclaims the Brig.
"Look," sighs Shaun with relief. "The 18th tee box! Follow the road. Ignore the fucking lighthouse, if that's what it is. Howling lighthouse bad. Road good."
Ten minutes of nursing our way up the cart path and the fog started to glow again. This time it didn't disappear. It was the clubhouse and salvation. That journey, which we zipped around in less than five minutes in a buggy, had taken us over an hour.
We unloaded ourselves directly into the bar and instructed the barman to keep them coming. Then sat transfixed by the feint glow in the fog. The Old Head Lighthouse. Miles out at sea.
The following morning I woke and opened my curtains and couldn't quite believe what I was looking at. The sun shone out of a perfect blue sky. The flag on 18th green was dancing about like crazy. It looked close enough to touch. And there was the lighthouse, perched on the cliff edge, no more than 300-yards away.
It’s been parked there since 1853 and originally had to be wound up manually every 40 minutes 24/7 for 119 years. That bloke must have been knackered. In 1972 they got some electricity in there and he had a good sit down. In 1987 it became automatic. Turns out that, one way or another, there's been a light on this headland for over 3000 years.
Legend has it, medieval entrepreneurs used to attach a light to a cow so it kept moving about. Which caused a lot of ships to sink. Other people's cargo was good business back in the day. Oh, and the bison Shaun saw was actually a directional marker for buggies. Bison. In Ireland. Of course.
Excitement fills you as soon as you drive over the crest of the Lispatrick Road and the vast headland of Old Head appears like a giant grassy spaceship. It's obvious that you are entering somewhere mythical.
Except, of course, it's real. Otherwise I suppose I'd just be making all this up. And that's all you see. The golf course, the lighthouse. And the Atlantic Sea. Miles and miles of Atlantic Sea.
The ambition is to have all 18 holes on the cliff edge, but for now the 1st hole heads, surprisingly, inland. Our caddie, Little John, weighs us up in an instant. You can almost hear him thinking: 'This'll be good for a laugh.’ Something confirmed when the Brig foozles one straight into the caddie masters hut.
We tee off in sunshine but by the time we get to the first green it's chucking down. On the second tee it's sunny again. Little John points out to sea and tells us you can pretty much see what's coming 90% of the time but even though you can see it coming there's nothing you can do about it. You can run but you can never hide.
The second tee is where Old Head properly introduces herself. Immediately to your left the ocean smashes at the foot of a 300-yard cliff drop. A pulled tee shot will be very wet. And only a severely troubled mountain goat would go looking for it. The third and fourth follow a similar pattern and you get a real rush out of being so tuned into such a dramatic place. No wonder it’s known as 'Pebble Beach on steroids'.
By the time you walk off the 11th green you think you've pretty much seen it all. And then you walk onto the 12th tee. And everything changes.
Everything you've ever thought constitutes an 'interesting', 'daunting', 'exciting' tee shot gets shot out the window by a grenade launcher. It's amazing. If you can make the 240-yard carry up the cliff face onto the fairway, you're then faced with either a miracle shot second to a tiny green some 260 yards away, or a lay up. "Kinsale Cabs is what they call it!" laughs Little John. "I call it the 'Holy Shit' hole because every time anyone comes up here for the first time they say "Holy shit!
And the lay up's not simple. The wind guns in off the sea so hard that Little John was actually using it as a seat over the edge of the cliff on the tee box. You can lean your whole body forward off the edge of the cliff and the wind will hold you exactly where you are. Phil Mickelson took a 12 first time he played this. It’s a 100% Hell Hole.
The 15th is a gem. A short 260-yard, par four and downhill. Too inviting not to go for the green. And today, a three-wood will suffice according to Little John. I hit mine to five feet. I've never been so happy. Even after missing eagle putt. I still think about that shot. The three-wood, not the putt. The 16th is as seductive a HILF as you'll find. Ocean on the right, it's 160 yards and, like every hole here, can be a wedge or a driver, depending on the weather. The 18th tee is, well, just awesome. It's also completely mental. I won't try to describe it - just look at the pic/vid right there…
After a good hosing down in Old Head's luxurious spa, and a quick kip in our luxury suites we were ready for Kinsale. We'd been tipped the wink by Little John that The White Lady pub was where the craic is. It didn't disappoint. The White Lady is a haven for golfers and the owner, Anthony, is about as enthusiastic for the game as anyone I've ever met. A few Guinness's in and we were old friends, pulling pints and swapping stories. But Tony's was the best.
He told us about his astronaut friend from Canada who phoned him up at the pub from space. Put on speaker phone, the astronaut proceeded to announce that he could actually see the Old Head of Kinsale from space!
The rest of the day fades into a happy smile. (True – I’ve seen the receipts – Ed) And that's always a good sign.
The next day we reluctantly packed our bags for home. But not before saying our goodbyes and signing the guestbook. Walking into the reception area of Old Head of Kinsale's majestic clubhouse, we see Jim the man who had so generously delivered on every promise: fine cuisine, fine wine, TV sets in the urinals that showed the football, magical stories and the golf. Jim is in the clubhouse bar. Less nervously this time, we open the glass door and step into the inner sanctum.
If you ever make this trip – and you definitely should – look us up in the guestbook. It reads: “We came expecting a good time. Instead we found heaven on earth.” Back up the Lispatrick Road to Cork Airport, I take a last lingering look over my shoulder as Old Head disappears from view.
We are quiet. We are still not worthy. And we never will be.
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