To Ireland and Back - Day Six

By: Blaine Newnham

Editor's Note: Cybergolf's Blaine Newnham is in Ireland this week and will be sending daily dispatches. Here's Blaine's sixth installment from the Emerald Isle.

The town of Ardglass is on View from the Course

Ahead of us were two of the world's great golf courses, both across the border in Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down.

Portrush has become the new cradle of golf. U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell lives there and is a member of the club. The prodigious Rory McIlroy, who owns the course record, and unfathomable 61, now plays from Portrush as well.

Royal Portrush is muscle. Royal County Down finesse. The beast and the beauty of Irish golf.

But first, there was the search for this trip's hidden gem. Always the wind, always the search. My new favorite place is Ardglass, a fishing village on the Irish Sea, where herring was the original draw, only to be replaced lately by golf.

Driving through the remains of an 11th Century castle you pull up into a small parking lot. It is Saturday, and there is some kind of competition going on. With no special effort, we do our best imitation of the confused Americans.

One of the Narrow Fairways at Ardglass

The "most recent past captain" is pulling out of his reserved parking stall. He motions us to use his spot. He has no idea who we are.

Nearing the halfway point in our round, the current club captain walks away from his group and to our group to warmly welcome us to Ardglass. He was waiting amongst sheets of rain as we finished, told us we had a designated round of Guinness in the bar, and would happily help us drink it if he didn't have to get home.

Cormac McMullan knows about Seattle, where I live. He told us of the time he was visiting, how much he liked the Pike Place Market and that how his hotel offered him their exclusive suite and all that went with it because his wife took sick and was briefly hospitalized.

There was more to Ardglass than the hospitality. There are some memorable opening tee shots in golf around the world, but no first tee that has the sea to the left, the remains of a castle behind you and the waves and rocks of the Irish Sea in front of you.

A Pot of Gold at the End of this Rainbow?

We teed off into a howling wind and sideways rain. I opted for the 18th fairway, a safe haven in the storm. The next hole is a 165-yard par-3 over more rocks and ocean and no real bailout area, reminding you of the 11th at Pacific Dunes. I hit a driver straight into the wind, bravely caught the right side of the green and made par.

The start is staggering, but the course has other great holes, including one, the 11th, that has everything: a blind drive over the gorse and beach, a second shot if you find the fairway that is bordered by an ancient rock wall and bisected by a burn that has its own rock bridge, just like St. Andrews.

The hole before it is a wonderful, 190-yard par-3 down the hill to a location near the beach with a village in the background. At a couple of different points you have to play around or over small cottages that definitely prove to be obstacles.

The members claim no one anywhere has yet to come up with an older clubhouse than the castle which has mostly given away to new buildings, although even those date back a couple of centuries.

Another Beautiful Hole at Ardglass

Ardglass is about 30 minutes up the coast road from Newcastle and the home of Royal County Down. Green fees are a fourth of what they are at Royal County Down, about $70 during the week.

Any particular time of the day that the members give up use of their course? "We'll have room for you whenever we're not playing," said McMullan.

In my mind, it would be a shame not to take him up on his hospitality if you're in the area, if you're playing County Down and have an extra few hours or days.

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Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He covered five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip dramatically teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods' four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's birdie putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs outnumber the people.