Oct. 15, 2015

By Curt Rallo

Editor’s note: The Notre Dame men’s golf team will take a fall break trip to Ireland and will play in the Jerry Murray/Waterville Invitational hosted by Notre Dame at the famed Waterville Golf Links in Waterville, Ireland. The three-day tournament will be played on Oct. 22-24 and in addition to the Irish, Texas A&M and UNC Wilmington as well as three Irish universities will comprise the field. Notre Dame will also play rounds at Tralee Golf Club, Trump International and Lahinch Golf Club.Liam Cox, a junior on the University of Notre Dame men’s golf team, is looking forward to playing on storied links golf courses when the Fighting Irish take a trip to Ireland Oct. 17-25. He’s looking forward to the scenic Irish landscape of coastlines and mountains. He’s also looking forward to his Fighting Irish teammates taking on a typical Irish breakfast.

“The bacon in Ireland is worlds apart from American bacon,” Cox explained. “Here, it’s thin, crispy, almost sweet. In Ireland, it’s thick cut, more meaty and more salty. The sausages are never like patties. They’re tubular. The baked beans aren’t sweet like they are here.

“We’ll try some black-and-white pudding with breakfast,” Cox continued. “It’s not a dessert. It’s a patty-shape, and it’s made from sheep’s guts, oats and blood. It’s actually delicious. I’m really looking forward to seeing them eat that.”

Cox and the Notre Dame golf team will play three of the top courses in the world–Tralee, Lahinch and Waterville during their overseas tour. The Irish will take on Texas A&M and North Carolina-Wilmington as well as several teams from Ireland.

Fighting Irish coach Jim Kubinski has his team lined up to play a practice round at 12:36 a.m. Eastern Time, just a few hours after the Notre Dame golf team touches down at Shannon Airport. “We’ll get some breakfast, and then we hop on a tour bus and go right to the first course,” Kubinski said.

“It keeps the guys moving. That first day is really the toughest day. I’ve found that if you can just work through the day, you’ll get on a normal sleep schedule. There’s no doubt that first day you’re exhausted.

“We went in 2008. By the afternoon, we got on the golf course, the fresh air, everybody felt great, played, had dinner–and then everybody went to sleep at a normal hour. We acclimated pretty quickly.”

Cox is from England, and he is quite familiar with the area.

“My family is actually from this area,” Cox said of where the fingers of the southwest corner of the Irish island stretch out and touch the Atlantic Ocean. “We have a bungalow about an hour away from one of the courses.

“I’ll be able to tell my teammates about the food and the drink–and how to play the links courses,” Cox said. “I think one thing everything is looking forward to is definitely the Irish food, and maybe see some live music and dancing.”

Cox said that having the entire team travel for an international experience will be a tremendous opportunity.

“Having the whole team travel is going to be very important, because then everyone is going to get to experience what it’s like to travel and play in a tournament away, which not everyone has had the chance to do. That will be invaluable when we get to the NCAAs,” Cox said. “We’re going to be spending a solid week together, which we never get to do, so in terms of bonding, that will be really good fun.

“I think playing internationally is a different challenge. There are lot of guys on the team who may want to turn pro. If they do, they will play internationally. Dealing with cultural differences and time chances will be important.”

Blake Barens, a junior on the Fighting Irish golf team, said he’s excited about playing on Irish links courses.

“All of the golf courses that we get to play are going to be spectacular,” Barens said. “All three are in the top 100 in the world as far as ratings go. Being able to experience that with the entire team is going to be really special. Most of the time, we just travel five guys, but having all 10 there will be really special. “The Irish courses are links style, and it’s so rare for us to play a links-style course in college golf. We played the ocean course in Kiawah Island (South Carolina) my freshman year, so that’s the only links course we’ve played.”

Barens, who is from California, said an international trip, which the NCAA allows once every four years, is a huge recruiting asset.

“Trips like this definitely mean a lot to a player,” Barens said. “To be able to tell a recruit you’ll be going to Ireland at some point, people will definitely take that into consideration when choosing a school.” Kubinski agreed that the trips the Fighting Irish take in their golf season are meaningful to players.

“I think a lot of players we’ve spoken to in the recruiting process are really intrigued about this process to play a schedule where we’re not confined to one region,” Kubinski said. “We’ll go to California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida … wherever we’ve gone over the last several years. But Ireland, to be able to go overseas, it really can fit into the recruiting cycle for that player.

“We can only take an overseas trip once every four years, but that trip to Ireland or Scotland or another great golfing destination can fit into a player’s four years here. I think there is a lot of excitement that way. The prospects I’ve talked to think that’s a really neat and unique experience because not every school does that.”

Kubinski also sees great value in the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“To provide the experience to these boys, this team, that’s what I’m looking for,” Kubinski said. “You can travel your whole life, but to go to a place like Ireland, to compete and be with your college teammates, that’s a lifelong memory to me. That’s the most fun part of it.

“I’m actually looking forward to the competition. Waterville is a fantastic course. Several players, whether Tom Watson or Payne Stewart, would go over and practice there before the (British) Open championship. We played it in 2008 as part of our foreign tour.

“The courses we’re playing on in Ireland are very good tests. They’re strong golf courses. Waterville is a championship-caliber course. The course record is 71, which is the highest you’d ever hear of. The other courses are all unique in their own ways, their subtleties, their differences, but they are all championship courses. This will be a good test for our guys, and I think they’re really excited about it.” Notre Dame’s players can expect a warm welcome for the Irish in Ireland.

“We are recognized at the golf courses,” Kubinski said. “That’s been fun. In general, there’s a recognition of Notre Dame, but not necessarily an understanding. When they see Fighting Irish on the golf bag, they get a kick out of that, and they’re going to root for us, for sure. That’s nice–a little home-field advantage.”

— Curt Rallo is a special correspondent for Fighting Irish Media