Aug. 13, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame men’s golf team recently returned from a unique week-long trip (Aug. 9-16) to Ireland, where the nine returning players, along with the coaches and several guests, enjoyed wonderful hospitality and the chance to play on some of the best links courses in the world. The Irish also played several dual matches during the tour, squaring off with members from some of the premier golf clubs in Ireland.
Over the course of the week-long excursion, Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski checked in with updates on the team’s progress on the course, as well as the tremendous cultural experiences the Irish players and coaches enjoyed overseas.
Kubinski’s blog entries are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent at the top, so read on to learn more about Notre Dame’s historic trip to the Emerald Isle!
Saturday, August 16th
Breakfast in Ireland and dinner in South Bend, Indiana. It’s a bit surreal to awake in Ireland and turn out the lights in America. The flight home though offered a chance for each of us to look back on what will surely become a lifelong memory. We’re thankful for the support of so many kind and generous donors who helped sponsor our trip. It was an incredible week in so many ways. We ate well, stayed comfortably, were treated exceptionally well and played some of the greatest courses in the world. We were truly blessed to have experienced a week of golf in Ireland.
As I thought about the week and in the spirit of a certain Mr. Letterman’s “Top 10 List,” I came up with a short list of my 10 favorite impressions. Without further adieu, here’s what made the cut…
10. Warren Golf Course GM John Foster hitting a par-5 in two!
9. ND alum Tim Geddes marking my ball on #14 at Ballybunion, just a pace from the hole, thinking it was his!
8. ND Associate Athletics Director Mike Karwoski running in back-to-back birds at Killarney and lipping out a third!
7. Dustin Zhang’s eagle on the closing 18th at Tralee!
6. My own birdie on the 12th at Tralee after my caddy called it the toughest par-4 in the world!
5. Caddy vernacular. To hear, “We better find the first one,” a mere second after impact on a provisional headed for trouble, is an experience!
4. Playing in every condition within the same round, while actually enjoying the challenge of the wind and rain and every bounce of the ball.
3. The wide array of both excited and astonished faces as our team bus pulled into the various golf courses each morning. There’s something inspiring about playing on an area of ground that links the ocean to the land. “Links golf,” as it’s termed, conjures something words may not properly describe from the golfer’s soul.
2. Doug (Fortner)’s 67 at Ballybunion.
1. A week we’ll always remember.
Friday, August 15th
We enjoyed a fantastic farewell brunch with our alumni group on Friday at Doonbeg before traveling up to Lahinch for our final day of golf.
Lahinch opened in 1893. It was first laid out by a group of original members before Old Tom Morris refined it. Eventually, though, famed Alister MacKenzie came in and routed the course which stands today, with one or two holes remaining from Old Tom’s work. It’s a classic. The views would rate very highly here in the States but, given our week’s spectacular vistas, I felt Lahinch was just a notch below in that way. I must say, a notch below heavenly is still quite impressive! It was first-rate, but not quite spectacular. The holes themselves, the shot values and layout, were an absolute pleasure to play. I thought the finish, beginning with the long par-4 14th, was as good as any I’ve played … anywhere. I might be mistaken but I believe Davis Love III has the course record at Lahinch (66).
As with our first day out, we experienced rain on and off throughout the round, even fairly heavy in short intervals. The winds, as with all the courses we visited, were a factor. Scores on the week were well above our averages at home, even though I felt our guys were playing pretty well throughout. Most casual observers and many amateur players often fail to realize the impact substantial winds can have on scoring. I’d say the wind during our trip probably added four to six shots per round on average. Some of those 76’s and 77’s (even 78’s) were solid scores given the conditions. Doug (Fortner)’s 67 at Ballybunion was pretty special.
Thursday, August 14th
On to Tralee! We arrived at the Arnold Palmer gem just after breakfast for an early round as a tune-up for our afternoon match against the Tralee Junior Club team. Yet again and at the risk of blog redundancy, the ocean backdrop of the Tralee course was as breathtaking a setting as any. While Tralee did not have the amazing cliffs or lighthouse of Old Head, it did span entirely across oceanfront property, wound through magnificent sand dunes on the back nine and had its entire caddy pool made up of club members. As with Old Head, the sun welcomed us with its presence and actually had me down to merely a golf shirt midway on that first nine. It was gorgeous!
While we very much enjoyed playing the opening nine, especially ocean side holes like the spectacular par-5 second and par-3 third, the back nine is truly “one to write home about.” Of course, I’m now doing so! It had exceptional shot values, stunning views — STUNNING — great (and natural) elevation changes and required a fantastic mix of club selection. I would rank that last nine as highly as any nine I’ve played. Course designer (and golf legend) Arnold Palmer mused, “I created the front nine and God created the second nine.” I agree!
Doug Fortner once again posted an excellent round in firing a 70 (-2). He is really playing some great golf. Dustin Zhang edged out a group for second on our team at 74. Dustin’s round included a short putt for eagle at the finishing hole.
Our afternoon match with Tralee once again saw our guys pull out a victory for the Irish against, well, the Irish! The Tralee group did manage to post a win, but our two-of-three result moved our trip record to 6-1 overall. Tyler Hock and Jeff Chen paired well, as did Olavo Batista and Dustin Zhang.
Wednesday, August 13th
Wednesday was another truly spectacular day for our boys! We ventured down from Killarney, our “home base” for much of the trip, to Old Head. Our bus made the winding run along narrow Irish roads in about two hours. Of course, with Tim driving along and keeping us fascinated by tales of Irish lore, the time passed as easily as we did from County Kerry to County Cork.
Ominously, it seemed the rain that hung over us throughout the morning commute and even through our warm up, would continue to be our staunchest rival as we set off to play. Yet, as if we’d found a pot of gold beneath an Irish rainbow, the skies over Old Head magically transformed from a murky and hopeless gray to the most brilliantly sunny blue we had seen to date.
The course itself can be described as good golf with the most spectacular sights in all the world as a backdrop. From the magnificent lighthouse serving as not only a course marker but actually backing a teeing ground to the many tee boxes set upon surrounding cliffs…with the bright blue ocean as much as three and four hundred feet below to the rolling sand dunes and views of the links all around, Old Head was a golf experience simply unmatched — anywhere.
Of course, as with any links worth its salt (no ocean pun intended), the wind became our biggest challenge. With gusts over 40 mph at times and the ocean awaiting most any errant shot, the course we thought of as warm and brilliant and inviting suddenly had teeth to defend itself. Certainly there were times when, with wind at our back, a hole could play far shorter than its yardage (as evidenced by Doug Fortner’s reaching of a 600-yard par-5 with a drive and four-iron). Yet, whether in assailing you face on or from side to side, the difficulty of controlling the golf ball far outweighed any occasional hole played with a wind aided yardage gain.
Connor Alan-Lee led the way in scoring at Old Head but no one was able to match par given a wind more powerful than seen at last month’s challenging Open Championship. My thoughts on this day were not consumed by scores though. What this day was about far outweighed pencil and card. Our team had come together on the most beautiful of days to enjoy each other’s company and play a game amidst golf’s greatest setting.
Tuesday, August 12th
Today offered us another spectacular golf experience. I wasn’t quite sure how any course would fare following amazing Waterville but famed Ballybunion sure quenched our thirst for more classic links golf. The weather was generally kind to us today. We experienced a couple of brief showers — no more than 15-20 minutes in duration — but mainly enjoyed of day of partially sunny skies and winds of 15-25 mph, which is fairly reasonable for links courses. As with Waterville, a light sweater and rain suit only when showers passed was perfectly suitable. There were a couple of times when I considered playing in only a long sleeve golf shirt.
Our boys played a number of very solid rounds. Junior Doug Fortner led the way with a sparkling 67 (-4). Doug had played an excellent final 9 at Waterville the day before and continued his impressive form. He has worked quite hard on flighting his shots to a more suitable trajectory over the past couple of years and this trip, in particular, is showing the benefits. I know we also had several rounds just over the par of 71, which is not bad at all given today was our first look at this storied links. Josh Sandman, Dustin Zhang, Olavo Batista, Tyler Hock and Connor Alan-Lee all played solidly.
Certainly, it’s very easy to see why Hall of Famer (and 5-time British Open Champion) Tom Watson calls Ballybunion his favorite course. It offered a great variety of shots but, for me, also allowed us literally dozens of breathtaking views during the round. Whether looking out from a tee box set on a dune over the town of Ballybunion or gazing upon the sparkling Atlantic, Ballybunion truly validates all you may have heard. I might give an edge in shot values to Waterville and then a slight edge to Ballybunion in scenic viewing. Regardless, we are thrilled to have the opportunities we’ve had these last couple of days. Both courses are very, very special.
My one “tip from the pro (or coach?)” … listen to your caddy! Our caddies thus far have been first rate. They know the game. They assess and manage their player’s games very quickly. Most interesting though, they add a bit of flavor to the overall experience. They’re a necessity on any trip to Ireland.
Monday, August 11th
We ventured down to beautiful Waterville Golf Club. Our travel guide and skilled tour bus operator, Tim, offered several great bits of Irish history en route as well as a few very funny anecdotes and a brief history of Leprechauns. I never realized they actually existed. Apparently, on the quietest and darkest of nights … off the beaten path … you’re most likely to encounter one. Think good thoughts.
Waterville’s layout and vistas make it an absolute gem. Most of the greats have played Waterville. There’s a nice statue of Payne Stewart erected in tribute to the fallen champion behind the clubhouse. We again encountered very challenging weather. The rain and wind hit us particularly hard near the end of our morning 18. There weren’t too many scores below 80 that morning given the conditions and difficulty of the layout. Jeff Chen led the way for us but, overall, the course was the winner.
Our afternoon saw us play the Waterville club team and post a resounding 4-0 match victory over the host team. Tiger Woods, a Waterville member, did not compete on this day. Again, scores were higher on average, as we again faced winds between 20-30 mph and on and off rain — sometimes heavy — throughout the first nine. By the end of round though, we saw brilliantly sunny skies and breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. In particular, the closing holes (#17 and #18) have to be two of the best in the world when considering the need for quality shot making and sights as beautiful as the eye can possibly witness.
We thoroughly enjoyed Waterville. Course owner and Notre Dame alum Jerry Murray (’66) was on hand throughout the day and served as not only a most gracious host but also as a gritty competitor in the afternoon round. Mr. Murray was also kind enough to share some of the subtle design elements of the layout. I would offer that Waterville is one of the greatest courses in the world. It was truly a pleasure and blessing to enjoy a day at Waterville … and certainly fun to pick up a “W” in our first match of the tour!
Saturday, August 9th … and Sunday, August 10th!
We got to O’Hare (Airport) by 4pm (Central time) and were up into the wild blue yonder on time at 6:50pm. By 7:30am Ireland time, our team had landed in Dublin. Not even a cancelled connection into Shannon prevented the team from teeing off that afternoon in Killarney! We shook out some of the travel cobwebs and managed to get around the course, in between a few rain drops and underneath a steady 20-25 mph wind (gusting beyond 35mph by nightfall). The travel day ended with coaches and players happily tucked into comfortable beds in downtown Killarney.