Golf: Irish American

The 2006 Ryder Cup teams will play on a meticulously manicured course that is punctuated by 11 artificial lakes and ponds, and stands of Douglas firs, redwoods, and other trees native to the western United States. But despite its characteristically American landscaping—and its American creator—the layout will not offer home-field advantage to the U.S. team: The Palmer Course, named for its designer, Arnold Palmer, meanders through the horse and farm country just west of Dublin at the unmistakably Irish K Club resort.


In preparation for the Ryder Cup (September 22 through 24), the K Club, under the direction of European team captain Ian Woosnam, is making alterations to the Palmer, one of two courses on the 550-acre property. “Ian has been working on the doglegs, and he’s added new fairway bunkers on 18, which make the bend more pronounced,” says John McHenry, the resort’s director of golf. “The basic idea is to make the player think more.”

The changes may make the U.S. players think that Woosnam wants them to feel less at home on the course. But even with new bends and bunkering, the 7,337-yard, par-72 layout remains recognizable as the work of Palmer. The course’s man-made lakes and the River Liffey, which meanders through the property for a mile on its journey to the Irish Sea, come into play on 15 holes. Palmer’s affinity for water and Woosnam’s for sand culminate on the 537-yard 18th hole. Having navigated the new fairway bunkers, golfers must decide whether to lay up or attempt to carry the water in front of the par 5’s green. The hole is known as the Hooker’s Graveyard because of the extensive collection of balls at the bottom of the lake, which runs up the left side of the fairway to the green. Another par 5, the 606-yard seventh hole, follows a double-dogleg route over water and sand on its way to a hilltop green surrounded by trees.

For a completely different golf experience, guests at the K Club can cross the Liffey to the resort’s Smurfit Course. Named after the K Club’s owner, Irish industrialist Michael Smurfit, the inland links-style layout features one of Ireland’s most spectacular holes: a 606-yard par 5 lined its entire length by a rock face and a series of waterfalls.

Golf may be the K Club’s main attraction, but its centerpiece, the Straffan House, is a worthy destination in its own right. The structure, which dates to the year 550 but has been rebuilt many times, incorporates a range of architectural elements, including a 19th-century, Italian-style campanile. During that era, the building assumed its present form as a gracious Georgian country house, where Waterford crystal chandeliers illuminate a perfectly symmetrical entrance hall.

Suites at the K Club provide views of the grounds and the nearby Liffey, where anglers of all stripes bait their hooks. These can include, according to McHenry, guests who will be doing their utmost to avoid the river during the tournament. “Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara come over the week before the British Open,” says McHenry. “They might hit a few balls during the evening, but they’ll spend their days fishing for brown trout, just to get a little downtime.”

Just how much time Woods spends in the water in September may determine where the Ryder Cup resides for the next two years.

The K Club



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