PUBLIC GOLF PAR EXCELLENCE
Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a public golf course. Grange Castle is a hugely under-rated gem in the heart of west Dublin, writes
PEBBLE Beach, Bethpage Black, Erin Hills, Whistling Straits and Pinehurst No 2 are some of the jewels of America and world golf.
But they have something in common, apart from hosting majors, that may surprise more than one. They’re public golf courses.
In Ireland, utter the words “public course” and the average golfer immediately conjures up an images of an unwieldy gang-mower trundling over uninspiring terrain.
But nothing could be further from the truth at sensational Grange Castle Golf Club, just off the Outer Ring Road in west Dublin, serving 800 members and thousands of golfing aficionados from Clondalkin, Lucan, Ballyfermot, Tallaght and beyond.
Owned by South Dublin County Council but meticulously maintained and run since 2014 by Synergy Golf — the professional golf course management specialists responsible for the incredible turnaround at St Margaret’s — this 25-hole facility has to be seen to be believed.
While the nearby industrial park at Grange Castle is home to some of the biggest foreign investors in Ireland in pharmaceuticals, IT and research and development, the golf course is an emerald green paradise, studded with lakes, that deserves nothing but praise.
Some of its most challenging holes — the club’s Amen Corner — play along the boundaries of Humphreys Orchard, part of which now forms part of the back nine on this excellent, par-72 design created by the late Patrick Merrigan.
Merrigan is regarded as one of the best golf architects to emerge from this country with his work at Slieve Russell, Tulfarris and Faithlegg, not to mention his collaborations on Waterville and The Old Head of Kinsale, a testament to his talents.
He would certainly have every right to be proud of Grange Castle, which offers a stern 6,800-yard test from the tips (6,400 yards from the whites), as well as a delightful seven-hole course for beginners or people strapped for time.
In fact, the seven-hole course is home to the East Leinster Special Olympics golf team and Synergy Golf is proud to offer them full use of the facilities as well as St Margaret’s for their grand final.
Like some of the best courses in the world, Grange Castle challenges the golfer without destroying their confidence.
After all, this is a public facility and its wide fairways, generous greens and large tees are designed to offer not just perfect playing conditions all year round but an enjoyable test of golf for everyone from single figure golfers to beginners.
Opened in 1998 by World Cup winners Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, the course was redesigned by Merrigan in 2005 when some terrain was lost to the new ring road and new holes were added to the back nine.
That left seven of the holes as a delightful, 1,997-metre,
par-26 course featuring five par-fours and two par-threes.
The little course is ideal, not just for beginners, but for parents of children looking to take up the game or working golfers keen to play for an hour or so after work.
Like its big brother, it’s superbly maintained by the Synergy Golf team of handpicked and highly qualified greenkeepers with “big course” experience.
Head superintendent Patrick Carey is a product of Carton House and Castleknock, working in tandem with Johnny O’Sullivan, the former head greenkeeper at The Island, and Rob McCloskey, who came from The Dutch at the Netherlands, host to this year’s KLM Open.
With the help of Brendan McDonnell, previously Ashbourne, and former Moyvalley man Richie Walsh, they have transformed what was already a solid product into a manicured work of art with firm, fast greens regularly stimping at
10.6 during the summer months. Synergy Golf’s Ronan Branigan, who holds a Master’s Degree in Golf Course Architecture from HeriotWatt University in Scotland, has carried out major improvements to the course over the past four years, putting more meat on an excellent basic design.
Not only have better mowing lines given more definition to the holes, judicious thinning or planting of trees has vastly improved the strategic test, making the course deserving of a place in Ireland’s top 100.
Beginning with the 450-yard, index one, it’s a course that every serious Irish golfer should put on their must-play list.
The dogleg-left fourth hole, 440 yards from the tips, requires a long, powerful drive to avoid out of bounds left and a lake on the right, leaving a six-iron or more to a green fronted by one of the course’s seven lakes.
The par-threes are strong too with the pick of them arguably the 11th, which can play as much as 190 yards to an up-turned saucer green.
But there are concessions too, such as the short, par-five 18th which offers golfers the chance to sign off with a confidence-boosting birdie four, providing they avoid the majestic beech tree on the right.
Synergy Golf successfully tendered for the maintenance contract in early 2014 thanks to the combined talents of Branigan, Garrett Donnery and Andy Kenny.
They have the full confidence of South Dublin County Council to manage everything inside the gates from the small but cleverly designed clubhouse to the maintenance of the course.
“Andy and I grew up a mile away in Clondalkin and Grange Castle is the reason we started playing golf,” Donnery explained. “Myself and Andy are still members and it’s a great introduction to golf for people who sometimes move on to other more established clubs.
“I was 16 when I started playing and it was hard tog eta game anywhere else in Dublin at the time.
“When Grange Castle opened, you could book your tee-time and go off to play your golf at a time when there was lot of snobbery still attached to golf.
“We were here so often that we eventually ended up helping out with odd jobs, keeping the place tidy.
“I then went to college to study Accountancy and Andy was doing Sports Management, and we ended up getting the contract to manage the course for Target Golf.
“We did that for ten years but then formed Synergy Golf with Ronan and it has all snowballed from there with the contract to manage St Margarets too.”
Donnery’s love of the course is obvious from the moment he welcomes you through the door of the small but nicely appointed clubhouse and he explains that “people are blown away with the quality of the course”.
“We play off full tees and greens all year round,” he said with pride.
Branigan admits that while he tried to keep an open mind before seeing the course for the first time, he came with a pre-conceived idea that if it was a public course, it must be an inferior product.
He quickly changed his mind. “I have to be honest and say I probably had a negative expectation driving in there for the first time,” Branigan said. “Once I saw it, I said ‘Wow, this could be one of the top 100 courses in the country.’ And that was even before we won the tender process.
“Public courses in the US are
recognised as serious courses, and there is a positive spin. But in Ireland, people think public golf means 18 pins on a flat rectangular field. We think Grange Castle sets the standard for public golf courses in Ireland.
“The truth is that Patrick Merrigan was an excellent architect and it wasn’t a question here of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The golf course was already very strong and just needed to be brought along.
“The green complexes, in particular, are really good with lots of subtle contours. And they marry in well with all of the surrounding land and they are generous too at around 550 sq.m.”
With myriad membership options available, the club is flourishing and boats more than 800 members
660 male, 140 ladies and more than
A blue Junior Cup runner-up pennant, claimed with pride at Corrstown in 2013, is proudly displayed above the coffee area
“It’s a lovely golf course,” Branigan added. “The moniker of public golf course does it an injustice because it is an awful lot better than that.” Donnery’s parting shot summed it up.
“It’s our Bethpage Black,” he said in reference to the New York course that hosted the US Open in 2009, and will stage the US PGA in 2019 and the Ryder Cup in 2024.
The first tee at Bethpage State Park’s famous Black Course displays a sign bearing the words: “WARNING: The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For
Highly Skilled Golfers.”
Grange Castle is now a beast and not only is it apt for golfers of all abilities, it suits all budgets with green fees costing as little as a sleeve of good balls and a packet of tees.
Public golf courses might get a bad rap but Grange Castle is public golf “par excellence”.
If you hurry, you might even come home with few birdies on your card as well as a juicy apple from Humphreys Orchard in the bag.
Grange Castle should be a ‘must-play’ on every golfer’s list
Grange Castle has a flourishing junior membership programme (above) and is also home to the East Leinster Special Olympics team (below)