Enjoy four green fees for the price of two at Laytown & Bettystown Golf Club:
IRISH golf is studded with hidden gems, but it’s one thing to be regarded by the golfing cognoscenti as one of golf ’s special places and quite another to be unknown. And so the denizens of the links at Laytown and Bettystown Golf Club, which was carved out of bent and sand 109 years ago, are on a mission to make their charming, traditional links known to the rest of Ireland, Europe and the wider golfing world.
After all, W.C. Pickeman of Portmarnock fame and Cecil Barcroft – designer of courses such as Carlow, Castle and Skerries – had a hand in its creation.
And having produced some of the finest golfers to tackle a links course in the history of the Irish game in the likes of Ryder Cup player Des Smyth and multiple championship winner Declan Branigan, it’s only fitting that links lovers everywhere should get to know this County Meath treasure.
Situated just 30 minutes from Dublin airport on the south side of the Boyne estuary outside Drogheda, just a few miles south of their better known neighbours across the river at Baltray, the club was a popular summer holiday spot for families from all over Ireland for years.
The great Joe Carr and his family, the Fanagan siblings Jody and Suzie, future tour star Philip Walton and more recently, Paul Dunne, all took early steps on its links turf.
Its fame was not just derived from the convivial family atmosphere but its great tradition in Junior golf, with events like the Pee Wee Trophy and the Sinalco Trophy once bywords for underage golf among great golfing dynasties such as the Gannons, the Carrs, the Smyths, the Reddans and the Wickhams.
Even with 1,000 members in all categories, green fee revenue is key for a links course like Laytown and Bettystown, which is ideally situated on the main route from Dublin to Baltray, Royal County Down and the great links of the north coast.
While the great PGA professional Bobby Browne passed away a few years ago after 48 years at the helm, the club now boasts the services of Co Down native Scott Kirkpatrick – a former Ulster and Ireland A rugby No 8 – who grew up watching Rory McIlroy put the rest of the members to shame at Holywood.
The club’s decision to replace the old committee system with a streamlined management board is already bearing fruit and while it will soon be reporting back to the members with its findings regarding the feasibility of a plan to revamp the links, its big goal is to make itself more widely known.
Just as The Island struggled for over a decade to emerge from the long shadow of Portmarnock, the club is keen to blow its own trumpet and recently visited the PGA Show in Orlando to meet with tour operators there.
“They didn’t even know we were there,” said Kirkpatrick who travelled to Florida. “They knew of Baltray and they even knew Bobby Browne, but they didn’t know us.
“I spoke to Premier Golf, which is a major international golf travel company and Chip Beck is one of their ambassadors.
“He comes to play golf in Ireland quite frequently and when he asked where we were in relation to County Louth and I said just below it, he said, ‘So are you just slightly above Corballis? ’
“I told him he’d played on the Champions Tour with one of our members, Des Smyth. He was really taken aback just as I was surprised that he knew about Corballis and County Louth and didn’t know about us. So he is coming over in the summer to play the links.”
The American and Scandinavian markets are obvious key growth areas but drumming up more golf society business locally is another goal and the revived Senior Scratch Cup, which is scheduled to be played on March 25 next, is set to be another big success.
“We are not Portmarnock or Royal Portrush but we have a golf course that can stand up against many,” Kirkpatrick said. “One of the big plus points is that it’s a traditional links course – nine holes out and nine holes back – which is the way so many great links were designed.
“It’s like North Berwick and St Andrews – it doesn’t go all over the place – and that’s part of its charm.
“Until I came to work here, I hadn’t played it as often as I might have liked. But there are a lot more rises and falls than you might think and the dunes are far bigger than you realise.”
A par-71, measuring just under 6,600 yards, it’s far tougher than its
modest yardage might suggest, especially when the wind blows.
“The cut off for the scratch cup last year was 0.2 or 0.3 with 50 players off plus one or better and the winner only shot two under par while the best round was just four-under,” Scott explained.
“We measure just 6,600 yards but the breeze makes it a demanding course with a lovely mixture of long and short par fours.
“Guys feel that have to pick up shots on the shorter par fours and if they don’t, they are under pressure. The par-four 12th, for example, measures is closer to 500 yards than 400 while the driveable 17th was the toughest hole in the Scratch Cup.
“It’s just over 300 yards from the very back tee so we pushed it up to 260 yards to the centre, 280 to the back, and it was the hardest hole on the day, even playing downwind.
“Guys were going over the back or failing to pitch close. We had so many double bogeys because they didn’t work out that a six iron and a pitching wedge was the smartest way to play it.”
With open weeks in early June and late August, it is becoming more popular all the time and with the wispy grasses now prevalent in the rough thanks to a thorough links management programme by superintendent Stephen Hoey, it is playing the way true links should.
“The golf course is a gem and the more people we get to visit, the more we will have coming back,” Kirkpatrick said.
Eight-time European Tour winner Smyth honed his tremendous links game on the course and wouldn’t change those happy childhood memories for all the money in the world. “Money wasn’t an issue because nobody had any,” he recalled during the club’s centenary year in 2009. “We were down to pennies but it was tremendous, especially in the summer. People would come from all over the place to spend their summer holidays and we all became great friends.” If Laytown and Bettstown succeeds in spreading the word, many more friends will be made and, perhaps, a few more pennies too.
Nine out and nine back with a lovely mix of long and short holes make for an enjoyable round of golf