The European Club is located in the garden of Ireland, between the coastal towns of Wicklow and Arklow, about 30 miles south of Dublin. It’s Pat Ruddy’s creation, which opened for play in 1993, and he and his family have stayed here ever since. This was a unique experience, a 20-hole links set amongst rugged dunes, until the 20-hole configuration was replicated down under in 2010 at Barnbougle Lost Farm.
Ruddy’s continued involvement with the European Club will no doubt only improve matters; the course is evolving and he will be there to help it on its way. We are especially pleased to see that a charming burn has replaced the out-of-place lake in front of the 18th green. It’s an old adage to say that many of the holes look so natural that you’d think they’d been there forever, but it’s true. Ruddy has done an equally good job here as that of Kyle Phillips at Kingsbarns.
This is an inspiring place to play golf, huge dunes provide tremendous definition and the Irish Sea is very much a backcloth. It’s a bit of a monster too; the 18-hole layout stretches to more than 7,000 yards, a challenging par 71. Two par 3s (7a & 12a) make up the par 77 20-hole layout and they are definitely worth playing, making a refreshing break from tradition.
There is no doubt that Ruddy has a sense of humour – the scorecard is full of witticisms, even the green on the par four 12th is humorous at over 125 yards long, with any three putt being an achievement. This is an enjoyable and memorable course. Many of the holes are varied and capture one’s attention and there are some great holes too.
The 7th (stroke index 1) is a long 470-yard par four, it's ranked in the world's best 100 holes and it's set on a sandbank that runs through a bed of reeds. A burn runs along the right hand side, beyond which there's a hundred acres of unspoiled land without a building to be seen. On the left are towering dunes, a marsh filled with reeds and more sand dunes by the green. Brittas Bay shimmers behind the green. The 13th – four evil bunkers on the left-hand side and the Irish Sea on the right – amply protect this very long 596-yard par five. The 14th is an arresting par three, measuring 165 yards with a plateau green shielded by huge dunes.
This is an absolute must-play golf course and quite likely one of the last links courses to be built in Ireland.
Pat Ruddy kindly provided the following update at the start of 2017:
At the European Club, I have my notebooks under constant review and there are always things that could be done and things that should be done. Each winter, and on all my review projects, I take and advocate a "steady as it goes" approach for many reasons, including not disrupting the life of a links to an extent that the oldest members will have their final years upset too much. We have a 20-hole course so I can work at two at any time and still have eighteen in play.
We’ve just finishing remodeling greens at holes 9 and 10. The green on the 9th was very nice with swerving, curving mounds eating into the green left and right at mid-point but they’ve been reshaped and softened, with the introduction of several extra small and almost imperceptible swings to add great intrigue to the running approach. The green on the 10th is somewhat the same so I have softened a mound on the right side of the green and enlarged the back right pin position which is the strongest on the green. The pin can now go two club lengths further right and demand a more nuanced approach.
I’m thrilled with these changes as they look great and should play great for the Irish Amateur Close Championship here next year. When we had the Close here in 2006 it produced a great winner in Rory McIlroy, with Shane Lowry caddying for his opponent in the final!”
I loved The European Club. In particular, I loved the wooden sleepers lining the bunkers here - even if some of these railway ties were angled into the ground instead of being piled in straight, allowing golf balls heading for a sandy fate to sometimes ricochet into play or into adjacent rough (as happened to me a couple of times). Then again, I don’t really mind such a capricious bounce as it surely goes with the uneven territory when playing by the seaside.
Before setting out on my round, I was surprised to read Local Rule 5 on the scorecard referring to “Large Greens” (balls on the green must be putted or dropped off the green under penalty as no chipping or pitching is allowed) then I realized the putting surface on the 12th is all of 127 yards from back to front! How could I have previously thought that only a certain Robert Von Hagge was prone to the occasional grand architectural statement on the course? Mercifully, the remaining greens were all of a somewhat more customary proportion, permitting sensible pin placements on every hole.
Although the first half dozen fairways are situated on high ground a good few hundred yards from the Irish Sea - the notes in the “Shot Saving Guide to the Links” describes the course as a “raised links” - they whet the appetite for the real deal to come on the back nine and the stretch of holes from 12 to 15 is very good indeed. And, despite the fact that holes 7, 13 and 14 are said by some to be the best on the property, I actually thought the best holes were the two delightful “extra” par threes at 7a and 12a. It’s not often that uphill par threes can be made interesting but these two certainly were with the former played to a bunkerless green nestled between dunes and the latter played to a green perched on the side of a sand hill with carry all the way from the tee – wonderful!
For those who read such things, the course guide mentions a) how highly ranked the course and some of the holes are, b) the big names that have played here, and c) the golfing greats with particular holes dedicated to them. Now things like that can offend the golfing sensibilities of some - I’m more put out by having the likes of non native vegetation such as palm trees dotted around courses, actually - but I’ve read the owner’s book “50 Years in a Bunker” and fully appreciate that his half century of service to Irish golf earns him the right to spread the golfing plaudits as thick as he likes.
Pat Ruddy’s natural ability to cock a snook at convention is concisely encapsulated within his Mizzen Head property, both on and off the course - and, fair play to him, he has adapted and changed things around over nearly twenty years as the layout has evolved. If you like your golf tough, scenic and totally engaging then this place will give you all of that and a lot more besides. With the new ring road around Dublin bringing Brittas Bay to within one hour of the airport, visiting golfers would be foolish to not include The European Club in their itinerary. Jim McCann