It is a well-known fact that the Irish love not only the game of golf, they also adore the sport of Kings – horseracing. Combine the two together and you have Gowran Park in County Kilkenny. Unfortunately, when the horses are running – and this occurs around 15 times a year – the golf course is closed, so it is not possible to indulge in both pursuits on the same day!
Horses have raced at Gowran Park – part of the old Annaly Estate – since as far back as 1914 in both steeplechase and flat formats. The golf course is a very recent development, only opened in 2001 and it was the first 18-hole project in Ireland for the Jeff Howes Golf Design team.
They took the ideas of former Irish amateur internationalist, Padraig O’Rourke and fashioned them into a marvelous parkland course with tree-lined fairways, imaginative water hazards, astute bunkering and green velvet putting surfaces.
The first three holes of the course start inside the horse racing circuit, then proceed in an anti-clockwise direction around the track, returning inside at the par three 9th in front of the clubhouse. The back nine are routed in a clockwise direction back outside the rails before the last three are played in the centre arena, with the 18th green positioned in front of the clubhouse – a very clever layout indeed!
Unlike Musselburgh (Old) where the racetrack is an integral part of the course – and GUR is applied to a ball landing in a hoof print! – Gowran Park declare their track as out of bounds so any divot marks on that stretch of grass are entirely due to the horses and not the hackers!
As Dermot Gillece, the Irish golf writer said, “I came to see what I thought was a golf course in a race track and left thinking that they did well to fit a race track into very fine golf course.”
Feature holes are the 444-yard par four 4th, based on “Azalea,” the 13th hole at Augusta and the double dog-legged, 595-yard par five 12th where trees, water and sand must all be avoided to score.
The huge rooftop restaurant overlooking the site is a real feature at Gowran Park and is a much loved facility of both the equine and golfing fraternity who can relax and take in all that is happening out on the courses.