2006: Ryder Cup At K Club
Monday, July 11, 2011
Apparently, all of the classic Irish courses were booked the week of the Ryder Cup.
Or perhaps they just didn’t ante up enough money and promote themselves as brazenly, or have as much parking or spectator area, as The K Club’s Palmer Course. This most un-Irish layout will be the setting for the first Ryder Cup held on the Emerald Isle.
Midway through my round at the Palmer Course this spring, my thought was that it was a very gracious gesture on the part of the British PGA and European Tour officials to have airlifted over The Belfry, the much maligned former potato field that has been a four-time Ryder Cup venue. After the round, I realized that the impression was unfair to The Belfry.
The K Club, 17 miles southwest of Dublin, is a 36-hole, 600-acre five-star resort developed by businessman Michael Smurfit. Its championship course, designed by Arnold Palmer, opened in 1991.
At 7,335 yards, the par-72 course seemingly has it all: tree-lined fairways; beach bunkers; mostly man-made water hazards in play on a dozen holes; an artificial waterfall; and an island green. It even has real estate crowding a tee. Perhaps they ought to rename it the TPC of County Kildare.
The only thing The K Club doesn’t have is a sense of identity or place. At 350 euros ($425) per round, it is, if not the most expensive public access golf in Great Britain and Ireland, probably the most over-priced.
The course has its virtues, including spacious grounds for 40,000 spectators – more room than any other course in Ireland. It also has some intriguing risk/reward holes. As longtime home to the European Tour’s Smurfit European Open, the course is a fixture on the championship circuit.
Not that the European team’s familiarity with the layout will provide any home-field advantage (though it must be noted, the captain’s picks both won at The K Club – Lee Westwood in 1999-2000 and Darren Clarke in 2001). Still, The K Club is prototypical of the modern, lush, inland venues that prevail at tournament circuits on both sides of the Atlantic. After their practice session in late August and a few more sessions leading to the matches, the Americans will feel quite at home.
For the Ryder Cup, the Palmer Course will deploy a routing sequence used in the Smurfit European Open since 2000, with play proceeding on what resort guests know as the back nine, that is: Nos. 10-17, then 9, 1-8 and 18.
The par-4, 461-yard ninth hole will get a lot of attention, mainly because of a massive tree that sits smack in the middle of the fairway, 305 yards from the tee. The tree and its island of rough definitely force a player to choose one side of the fairway; the ideal line is to attack from the side opposite that day’s hole location, which is no easy feat when the effective fairway is 15 yards wide.
The 555-yard, par-5 16th, which can play as long as 606 yards for championships, tempts heroic play with a narrow green perched on an island squeezed by two arms of the River Liffey. The long green is well bunkered left with water on the right, and requires a booming high approach shot that parachutes in softly.
The wind prevails left-to-right and against, which most likely will have officials moving the tees up in order to induce the players to go for the green in two.
If matches make it to the 18th, the crowd will see some wild play. The 537-yard par 5 is easily reachable in two by a bold tee shot that cuts off the inside corner of the dogleg and carries 280 yards (into the prevailing breeze) over deep bunkering. The amphitheatre green, seemingly hanging out over the water on the left, has so much pitch that even short putts break sharply. It’s an aggressively designed hole that promises lots of drama.
In match play, simply hitting fairways and greens goes a long way – more than trying to force birdies. At the same time, layups off the tees will prove overly cautious and self-defeating, since (unlike a British Open links set up), these well-defended, sectioned-off greens require high approach shots. Forget about run up golf or pitching on from the rough. And with two of the par 5s among the last three holes, the advantage to the long bombers will come too late in most matches to make a difference. The winning team will be the one that drives the ball far and sure down the middle. And makes a few putts, of course.