Courtesy of GolfEurope.com – By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer
The crowds are long gone. The “Celtic Tiger” is dead, replaced by an Irish economy that is wobbling. The world is a different place just a few years removed from the 2006 Ryder Cup Matches at The K Club.
Yet one thing remains constant: the timeless elegance of the Kildare Hotel, Spa & Country Club. The K Club, as it is known around the world, remains an Irish jewel on 550 acres just 30 minutes outside Dublin. Ireland’s “AA Hotel of the Year” for 2011 has lost none of its rock-star appeal. It even hosted The Golf Channel’s “Big Break” series in 2011.
The only difference, perhaps, is that staying and playing here is becoming more accessible to the masses. A “Ryder Cup Experience” package cost 220 Euros (roughly $300) this summer, including a round on both the Palmer and the Smurfit courses and a night’s stay (per double occupancy).
Marvyn Marshall, of Northern Ireland, has been gathering up a group of friends for a golf trip since 1976, but he’s never had a response similar to this fall’s visit to The K Club. “As soon as I said it was The K Club, everybody wanted to come,” he said. “The hotel is fabulous, the service is good and the staff is friendly.”
The 2006 Ryder Cup Matches might be one the Americans want to forget — an 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 drubbing — but it’s one the Europeans, especially the Irish, will always cherish. That keeps The K Club top of mind.
The K Club’s Palmer Course
The Palmer Course will always be the draw. The marketing tool to “play where the pros play” resonates with everyday players. “It is great to play a hole you see on TV,” said William Stewart, a Northern Ireland resident traveling with Marshall’s group. “You can’t go to Wembley Stadium and kick a goal, but you can play a Ryder Cup course.”
The River Liffey creates much of the dramatic theater on the 7,350-yard Palmer Course. Water comes into play on 14 holes. An overriding theme defines every par 4: Your reward for a good drive is a white-knuckle approach. The second shots at No. 1, No. 6 and No. 7 must carry water. More water hazards flank the greens at No. 11 and No. 13. Any par-3 tee shot can get wet.
The finishing stretch snakes along the River Liffey. The river isolates the narrow green from the fairway at the 570-yard 16th, demanding precision on the second or third shot. The shape of the fairway and river creates the “Half Moon” curves of the short, tight, par-4 17th. A lake and four bunkers pinch the 18th green in the shadow of the clubhouse.
Dublin resident Gary McCluskey said it is always a treat to walk these hallowed grounds. “It is a challenging course, but it can be forgiving,” he said. “There is not deep rough, but it gets progressively harder. It is still respected and revered. It still has the same aura of the Ryder Cup.”
The K Club’s Smurfit Course
Most secondary resort courses play second fiddle, but the 7,277-yard Smurfit Course doesn’t taste like leftovers. It hosted 13 Smurfit European Opens from 1995-2007. The pros can attest that the Palmer-designed Smurfit plays several shots tougher than the older Ryder Cup course. Water, gorse and large bunkers with extended fingers can mess up a scorecard, especially on the back nine.
The Smurfit signature is the par 5s. The 603-yard third starts off with a blind tee shot more common on a links than a parkland course. The seventh is the prettiest hole on the property, even if it is a bit manufactured. The “Swallow Quarry,” where 60-foot rock walls rise out of a lake, guards the entire right side. The man-made rock face was conceived by K Club co-owner, Dr. Michael Smurfit, and brought to life by the “Jurassic Park” set designers.
A monster par 5 of 578 yards finishes the round by bending left along a lake toward Swan Island, an island green.
The K Club: The resort
There aren’t many finer historic treasures than the Kildare Hotel, the first place in Ireland to be named a Five Red Star Property by AA. The early origins of the Staffan House date to 550 A.D. The east wing of the hotel, built in 1832, was inspired by a French chateau at Louveciennes west of Paris. The Italian tower was added later.
The house, purchased in 1988 by the Jefferson Smurfit Group, opened as the 36-bedroom K Club in 1991. An additional 33 bedrooms, garden and courtyard suites, conference facilities and the K Spa were constructed later.
The Staffan House doubles as an art gallery. Many of the paintings and statues are Irish classics collected by Smurfit. The Yeats room pays tribute to the work of Irish Expressionist, J.B. Yeats. The River Room, one of several bars and restaurants at the K Club, serves food good enough to match its three exquisite paintings and decor.
The guest rooms in the Staffan House (none of which are the same) have the feel of suites at other resorts. The sheer size and comforts of the marble bathrooms never goes unnoticed by guests. “The size of the room is massive and with beautiful furnishings,” said Norm Marshall, a recent guest from Florida. “It’s rare to have a real oil painting in your room.”
Relaxation comes in the form of fly fishing on the River Liffey or a visit to the 20,000-square-foot K Spa, which has seven treatment rooms and two larger couple’s suites. Guests and members can use the pool and health center. Horseback riding and clay shooting are available as well.
October 7, 2011
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 400 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry’s biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer’s Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Click here to read his golf blog.