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

Irish Independent - - Tee To Green - Brian Keogh

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

50 ju­niors.

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

Jake Whe­lan

Grange Cas­tle has a flour­ish­ing ju­nior mem­ber­ship pro­gramme (above) and is also home to the East Le­in­ster Special Olympics team (be­low)

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