The Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, located little more than a mile from the town center, is the pride and joy of Killarney's 14,000 permanent residents for good reason. There's no other golf club on the entire Emerald Isle that can boast three, 18-hole courses and all three are champions -- not just the proverbial, championship quality, but genuine championship courses that have actually hosted important international tournaments.
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Yet for reasons unknown, not too many of the visiting thousands of golfers who base themselves in Killarney for a few nights, seem to know these beauties exist and miss playing them. Bleary eyed from perhaps too much partying the night before, most zip off in their rental cars each morning, to play other layouts, adding more trophy courses (and hours of driving) to their growing collections. With the mission accomplished, they then charge off to the other side of the country in search of more. Pity, if only they knew they had missed the three homegrown trophies, sitting little more than a brisk walk from their hotel.
Mahony's Point, Killeen and Lackabane are three excellent parkland layouts and a welcome break from the non-stop buffeting so generously provided to players by the wind blown links layouts of the region. The famous links at Ballybunion, Waterville and Tralee are among the roughest and toughest and while first-time visitors may have hopes of playing only links courses, a full week of them, can often prove to be very hard work. Including one or two of Killarney's more genteel, though equally testing parkland courses in the middle of a trip, provides a refreshing change from the Atlantic winds. They renew the courage and revive the strength needed to return to those testy links challenges.
Mahony's Point was the original Killarney course, built by the Viscount Castlerosse in 1938 to a design by English architect, Sir Guy Campbell. The initial objective was, "to build for Killarney, the best and most beautiful golf course in the world", a lofty goal that was clearly evident when Mahony's Point first opened for play. To this day, the course remains one of the world's most handsome layouts, with a magnificent lakeside setting against a backdrop of stunning mountains.
Perhaps after 70 years, some of the challenge of the early days has mellowed and softened, but it remains a course to enjoy. Measuring 6,800 yards from the tips, the shortest of the three courses, Mahony's is no longer a contender for International events, such as The European Amateur Team Championships, which it hosted in 1975. But it still carries the glories of its earlier stardom and its closing holes remain as intriguing as they have always been. It was our own Gene Sarazen who described the 18th at Mahony's Point as one of the most memorable holes in the world.
This is a course for those looking to rekindle their golfing spirit and perhaps remind themselves that golf is just a game and games are here to be enjoyed. Sentimentally, Mahony's Point is a layout with an automatic appeal for most mortals and one thing it still manages to do rather well, is provides all with bucket-loads of unadulterated golf pleasure.
Killarney's Killeen Course is probably Nick Faldo's favorite Irish layout, as it was the Killeen that gave him his two Irish Open wins in 1991 and 1992 - these things are inclined to have an endearing effect on even the most famous among us. This superb challenge that certainly gained Faldo's respect 17 years ago, would literally knock his socks off today.
After an extensive refurbishment and updating was undertaken a few years ago, a revitalized Killeen re-opened in June 2006. Its teeth had been sharpened, muscles had been toned and built up, and the bark had been made louder and more threatening - the always tough Killeen has been transformed into a scorecard killer.
Now stretched to a shade over 7,200 yards, this is a big-hitters delight, but only providing accuracy comes along with the power. The greens have been re-worked and are faster than ever -- importantly the greens have all been brought much closer to the water, present and in-play on virtually every hole. For those who have an automatic fear of the wet stuff, best take a drink or two before you set off on an adventure that will likely have your knees knocking more often than they are not.
For any who may have mistakenly thought that Irish parkland courses are little more than a walk in the park, be ready to be surprised and even shocked. Killeen manages to pack every conceivable hazard into its good looks and while water dominates, it's only one defense among many. From the back tees, the trees create the narrowest of fairways, unfortunately for most, this is not quite the optical illusion you may be hoping for -- accuracy off the tees is not requested, it's demanded.
Fairway bunkers are not in short supply, in fact they have been generously thrown down in abundance, but never for decoration, they have only one purpose and they perform it very effectively, sucking up stray balls with the enthusiasm of a new vacuum cleaner.
The Killeen has been elevated to a succession of 18 thriller holes, each with its own unique challenge. Take time to enjoy the beautiful views from many of the early holes, and savor the exhilaration of the 10th, a spectacular par-3, virtually playing onto the lake. Be especially watchful of the appropriately named, Tiger Hole, the 10th and probably the toughest of all. And be ready for the impressive grand finale of the closing sequence.
The Killeen is unquestionably Killarney's star attraction, but a spirited youngster of a course, seems to have every intention of giving the King a run for his money.
The Lackabane Course is Killarney's latest addition, a Donald Steel design, officially opened in 2000. Contrary to the common belief that a new course needs years to mature before it reaches its full potential, the Lackabane hosted the Irish Ladies Open in 2002, at barely two years of age. It impressed The European Tour enough, they used the Lackabane for a European Challenge Tour event in 2005 and there are certainly more important European Tour events ahead - Killarney's tradition of producing only handsome, true championship courses, continues.
The Killarney Golf & Fishing Club is also justly proud of the variety of its courses and with the addition of the Lackabane, has managed to come up with yet another personality packed layout, though quite different to either of the other two. All are aesthetically outstanding, but each offers its own brand of challenge.
In terms of difficulty, the Lackabane fits neatly in between Mahony's Point and Killeen and certainly will test the most accomplished players from the back tees with 7,100 yards of generous, parkland fairways and a large helping of lakes and streams adding interest and danger. Mid to high handicappers will probably endure far less frustration and have a much more enjoyable round, playing from the forward tee positions.
The Lackabane is a course for the thinking golfer, while simultaneously providing an excellent test of the long game, with a number of very worthy, risk/reward holes. But ability with the putter will also be a big help to ending with a respectable score. The greens are fantastic, filled with slopes and undulations, sometimes subtle, often not, comparisons have been made to the greens at Augusta, so be wary.
Three true championship layouts, set out amid some of Ireland's most spectacular scenery is a treat for anyone, whether they are collecting trophy courses or not and a unique pleasure that must not be missed. Of course you have to play the famous links courses that surround Killarney, but include one or two of the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club's gems and you will be savoring another side of Ireland's amazing collection of world-class courses.
For more ideas and suggestions on how to include Killarney's home-grown parkland courses with those might seaside links layouts, [click here.]
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