En­joy four green fees for the price of two at Lay­town & Bet­tys­town Golf Club:

Irish Independent - - Tee To Green -

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

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