The K Club, or to give it its full title, the Kildare Country Club, is located in 550 acres of rolling County Kildare countryside. It’s the most renowned golf resort in Ireland.
The North course, or the Palmer Ryder Cup course, or rather "Palmer North" as it is now called, was of course designed by Arnold Palmer, opening for play in 1991. The River Liffey meanders through the property and becomes hazardous on a number of holes, especially the 8th, where it runs all the way down the left hand side of the fairway.
There are four teeing areas to choose from and we recommend that you select the right one carefully because the Palmer North course measures a whopping 7,337 yards from the blues, a par of 72. The SSS of 76 tells the story. The blues should really be left for the very best golfers, the likes of Phillip Price, Michael Campbell, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. The aforementioned gentlemen are the most recent winners of the European Open, held at the K Club.
In October 2006, the K Club played host to the biggest golfing event in Irish history, the 36th Ryder Cup. The Palmer North course proved to be a worthy venue and millions of people witnessed an emotionally charged European Team romp to a record equalling victory – 18½ points to 9½.
You will either love the North course or hate it; you might hate it if you are off your game because it will beat you up viciously, and you’ll love it if your game is on song. Either way, no one could dispute that it’s a challenging test of golf and it certainly provided plenty of entertainment during the Ryder Cup.
The 16th is a monster par five, measuring nearly 600 yards from the blue tees; the hole double doglegs past all types of hazards, including trees, water, bunkers and punishing rough, and then you have to have to find the green, fiercely protected on both sides by the River Liffey. Even more difficult than the 16th is the stroke index one par four 7th measuring 430 yards from the tips. It’s a potential card wrecker that requires an accurate approach shot to another green guarded by water. These are just two examples of what to expect during your adventure round the Palmer North course.
In many ways, the K Club is reminiscent of the Belfry. Firstly it’s a tournament course. Secondly, it’s a resort course. Thirdly it’s dominated by water. Fourth and finally, it is tough, and so is the second course, formerly known as the Smurfit and now called Palmer South.
This Arnold Palmer and Ed Ault designed golf course is a prime example of all that is wrong with the venues chosen when Europe hosts the Ryder Cup. The European-hosted Ryder Cup now seems to be located at a large first-class resort hotel with an above-average golf course, but not a good/great golf course. Take your pick of Celtic Manor, Gleneagles Centenary, Le Golf National, The Belfry Brabazon, or The K Club; these courses are not even close to the best golf courses in their country, or even in the area. I understand the rationale behind it as these courses can host professional events, however, they are almost always a long golf course with a few difficult or dramatic holes while the rest of the golf course from a layout perspective is pretty ho-hum. These courses are rarely “natural” and are often contrived. On the positive side, these courses are typically maintained to a high standard and they easily accommodate dignitaries, sponsors, the press and the teams. Of the ones I listed, I played the Centenary course three times, the Belfry twice and the K Club once. I am still amazed that the Belfry hosted three Ryder Cups on the strength of two good holes. I would not go back to any of them if golf alone was the reason and would not visit the other two unless I was chasing a “Ryder Cup” bucket list.
I have posted my review of the Centenary course and the Belfry will follow at some point.
Make no mistake, the K Club is a resort golf course, albeit one with members as well. But it is different from most resort courses in that it does not need the wind to be difficult. It is also designed by Arnold Palmer, who is not known for designing terrific golf courses other than Bay Hill, Tralee (back nine) and perhaps Half Moon Bay. Mr. Palmer typically designed his golf courses to be straightforward and he did the same here, although he did manage to incorporate the River LIffey quite often. The difference in the K Club versus his other designs is this was designed to be difficult. To be fair, it is a challenge for an architect to design a really good and interesting golf course on a flat piece of land and rarely is it achieved with the biggest successes being in the Sandbelt near Melbourne and a few courses such as Chicago GC, Shoreacres, etc.
I did not play well when I played here. I tend to not play well when I am playing a course such as the K Club Palmer for the first time and I am unsure whether I will ever get back. This is because I am busy taking notes so that I can properly rate it on my own personal rating system. Then add in the difficulty of the K Club and that is why I did not play well. But when evaluating a golf course my score never factors into what I think about a course. I also think about the course for 4-7 days before I make my rating.
In summary, unless you are staying at the hotel or nearby, I would not go out of my way to play the K Club as I think the routing and interest level is average. In addition, it is an artificially created difficult course with the challenge compounded if players choose the wrong tee. There is so much water and trees that the high index player will find them often, or even worse, be a cause of slow play for everyone else. However, I would stress that I do think a good player who hits it long and is less than a 3 index should play here. It’s up to them whether they want to go all the way back to the 7337 yard tees or play one set of tees forward at 6856.
The tees probably most often used by guests are 6327 yards.
The first hole, a par 4 of 418/401/361 immediately starts the challenge as it is heavily treed down the right side and water is all down the left, crossing in front of the green although well in front of it so that it should not come into play. The tee box seems to aim the player towards the water; just ask Tiger Woods! The tee shot requires either a slight draw or a very courageous fade for the perfect drive. There is a hump on the left/center side near the green blocking the view of the green if you are on the left side of the fairway or left rough. The green is tilted right to left.
The second is a par 4 of 413/399/370 which is pretty straight with a lot of trees on both sides and a single greenside bunker. If you find the trees, the tree limbs are cut high up enough so that you can either get back to the fairway or even try to advance it a bit down the fairway. The green has a fall-off in the back right. Pretty ho-hum.
The third is a par 3 of 170/157/120 with a small manufactured pond crossing on the left front of the green. The tee boxes seemed to aim you right of the green itself. There are two good bunkers either side of the large green. The land falls off to the left of the green ultimately ending in a wetland that should not be in play. The hole felt contrived to me perhaps due to the position of the tee boxes.
Four is a long par 5 of 568/545/518 and is the best bunkered hole on the golf course along with sixteen. Six bunkers are raised on the left side of a gentle dogleg left set in a series to create an almost continuous large bunker. The miss on the tee shot is to the right, even if in the trees you are likely to be able to advance your ball down the fairway. The second shot requires you to go left of three bunkers fronted by a pond of which one bunker is very large situated on the right edge to create the second small dogleg in the hole. Seven bunkers surround the green. This was my favorite hole on the front nine.
The fifth is a par 4 of 440/402/363 that goes slightly left the entire length of the hole. Like all of the other holes it is treed on both sides but they are thinned out on the left. However, there are no bunkers on the hole which I found to be odd. The green falls off to the left and right.
The #3 handicap is the sixth hole at 478/412/376. I wonder why the back tees were 66 yards farther than the next set of tees. The hole appears to be a double dogleg but actually just goes to the right. A small creek crosses the fairway about 50 yards short of the green then continues down the left side. The fairway tilts left to right. It is another hole with no bunkers and there is a fall off behind the green which is slightly downhill from the fairway. It’s an okay hole.
I thought the #1 handicap seventh at 430/395/371 is too difficult. This hole doglegs to the right and a long pond that goes about halfway up the fairway pinches into it from the right. A well struck drive can take you beyond the pond but for the average player the trees come in from the left making the fairway too narrow. Another pond is fronting the green and goes right against it with a small bunker on the left front corner. The hole is one-dimensional as it is too difficult with no real strategy involved in the hole.
A nice par 3 of 173/155 follows with a snake-like bunker fronting from the right side eating into the middle of the green. Complicating the hole is the river down the right side of the hole and green. I liked the hole because it was challenging, fair and interesting.
Unfortunately, nine has little of the character of the previous holes as this hole has fewer trees lining he fariway due to multiple parking lots and a helipad. It is a par 4 of 430/427/402 with good bunkering on this double dogleg beginning with two bunkers on the left side and two right of the green and one left of the green. The green itself opens up as well to the parking lot and the left side of the clubhouse. I think the hole is the third hardest so the index is correct and it is a fine hole, but visually it is disappointing.
Starting the back nine (which years ago most was the front nine), ten is the longest par 5 at 584/561/501 with out of bounds down the left side and the tree line thicker on the left than the right. There is a raised horseshoe shaped bunker to catch the tee shot and then three very large, long bunkers fronting the green and the right side of it. It did not have much character to it, merely length.
Eleven is a par 4 of 423/382/358 and is a sharp dogleg left with two large bunkers awaiting the tee shot on the right side of the fairway. There are no bunkers at the green but a pond on the left at the green. The land in front of the green slopes towards the green and the greens continues that slope front to back. I found the hole to be difficult but not interesting.
Twelve is a par 3 of 182/173/150 with a greenside bunker to the right and back left. A pond eats into the front left and continues to that bunker. The green slopes right to left. This is my second favorite par 3 on the golf course.
Thirteen is a par 4 of 428/386/346 that is a dogleg left with a pond down the left side and a forest of trees on the right. The trees end at the green and are replaced by another pond against the right side of the green with a bunker short left and left side. The green has multiple slopes to it and is one of the better greens. I like this hole and cannot figure out why the index was not higher.
The last par 3 is the fourteenth which is the longest at 213/197/179 which feels to me like it comes too early in the round. It is not much of a hole other than playing to the corner of the property to transition you back towards the clubhouse.
The number four index is the fifteenth, a par 4 of 446/407/382 and you can see houses here off to your left which thinned out the trees on the left. There are a lot of trees, just not as much as a “forest” such as on many of the previous holes. Water goes down the left side much of the length of the tee shot and there is one bunker well short of the green on the left but no greenside bunkers. This is the second hardest hole on the back nine but I honestly thought thirteen was harder. I also wonder why once again there are no greenside bunkers.
Sixteen is the second longest par 5 and the number two index at 580/575/570 and is perhaps the most memorable as a dogleg right with fairway bunkers on the right to consider. This is followed by a decision to either go at this green which sits behind the river off to the left or lay up either well short or try to get directly across from the green which means carrying the end of the fairway and a bunker. The river comes into play on the second shot down the left side. There are two bunkers tilted behind the green so a recovery shot from there is very difficult. I hit the first two shots exactly where I wanted them but found the water trying to get to a back right pin placement. That river is right against the green so there is no room to leave it short. I thought the hole was grand but fits my theme of European selection of courses for hosting the Ryder Cup – one or two very dramatic holes and a big resort hotel.
There is a long walk or cart ride to get to the seventeenth which is a par 4 of 424/364/327. You cross in front of the hotel and a garden area. Much like the sixth hole I wondered why the back tees were so far behind the next two sets. The differences in tee yards from back tees to the next set on the par 4’s are 17, 14, 38, 66, 35, 3, 41, 42, 39, and 60. 66 and 60 seems to be too much. This is a dogleg left with out of bounds down the entire left side due to the river while the right side is open. Two bunkers are behind the green which tilts strongly to the left. I disliked the hole due to the right side being too wide open.
The finishing hole is too easy, a par 5 of 537, 518 and 478 despite the fourteen bunkers. This is a dogleg right with the green situated to take the largest pond into account for the approach shot. The pond sits on the right side of the fairway for the approach shot and continues right against the green and beyond nearly to the clubhouse. On the tee shot, five small bunkers and a large one followed by three smaller ones defend the right corner of the fairway so it is nearly impossible to cut the corner to shorten the hole. There is another large bunker on the right side to catch those trying their hardest not to hit their second shot into the water. This is followed by four large bunkers on the right front side of the green. Water left – bunkers right. For me there is not enough strategy as I am an average length hitter with no designs of going for the green in two. Obviously this hole is meant for the longer hitter although they likely play down to the right side of the green.
Overall the greens were good but not particularly difficult to determine the pace or line. The challenge in the course is getting to the green, the challenge is not the greens themselves. There are too many greens that have no bunkers or inadequate bunkers. Perhaps thin out some tree lines a bit more but strengthen the green complexes.
I am glad I played it once. If for some reason something brought to the hotel I would play it again. It is challenging and I would be motivated to erase a high score, but it is not a golf course that really catches my eye for either beauty, a natural use of the land, or enjoyment.
Water hazards obviously bring excitement to the game but too much of them make it tedious. Notwithstanding this, the K Club Palmer is a decent course with some excellent holes - par 4s, 7th, 9th and 15th. The well known par 5, 16th is a great hole and visually impressive. Apart from the 10th hole, the par 5s are strong and well designed. The par 3s all looked the same with water at the front of the green. I know pace of play is not necessarily the clubs fault but I have not seen so many novice golfers on a course at any one time (no-one minds novice golfers playing but it is frustrating when they mess about, take several balls off the tee, are not ready to play when it's their turn, and take more than 3 minutes to look for balls.). Taking to a member of staff, 5 hour plus rounds are normal (because the course is tough with numerous water hazards!). Unfortunately it does spoil the experience.
I believe crticism should ilicit a positive result leading to learning and improvement rather than simply disenchantment. Some may argue or be surprised by my 1-Ball assessment so herewith, I qualify that. There are few 5-ball courses and that should be so. 4-Ball should signify excellence. The K-Club is a potential 3-Ball course which if not in poor condition with years of neglect could be a memorable and worthwhile golfing experience. However, the resort itself bears no relationship to the glowing description above. It lost its’ premier designation as both the hotel and clubhouses need major refurbishment. It has been suplanted by other truly premier resorts in Ireland. As to the golf course itself, while the design is very good and on par with many top quality parkland resorts in other countries and the United States it is in poor condition. Sand traps are filled with numerous stones some up to 1/3 the size of a golf ball. Tee boxes are far from the expected condition of a top quality resort especially in this price range. The K-club remains the most expensive membership based golf club in Ireland and much more than double in price compared to its’ far more meticulously maintained rivals. A key factor is a groundkeeping staff of about 10 for 2 golf courses compared to 40 greenskeepers at other top quality resorts. The lakes desperately need attention, the rough is often unevenly cut leaving some fareway adjacent semirough much longer than appropriate nor aesthetically pleasing given multiple patches of varying height. Holes and bare areas extend to the semirough and portions of the fairways. Actual fairway condition is fairly good except drainage was not buried deeply enough and in the 2018 Summer drought this left a crisscrossing of dead grass across multiple areas of every fairway, a condition sure to repeat and which will be costly to remedy. Tree roots growing at or within millimeters of the surface are generally normal but have become excessive due to a number of horticultural reasons with the end result potentially a danger such as a wrist fracture by an enthusiastic golfer. Ball washers are sometimes empty or absent and practice balls often forgotten to be collected and replaced. Much of the planting is overgrown and has lost its’ intended design element. The practice green is rather poor in design and often not reflective of the actual course greens. In short this is a maintenance and investment issue. Insufficient staff and a decision not to restore the golf course to its’ once heralded condition is for management to remedy. As of now, I would give this course a pass and focus on the unforgetable links courses or the several truly remarkable recently refurbished parkland courses in Ireland of which the K-club is no longer one.
While at risk of not seeing the wood for the trees here, the rating system suggested by this website is that a 6-ball value should convey “excellence”, 5-ball “very good”, 4-ball merely “good”.
Assuming your feedback is justified, let’s hope it does get a response
The cherry on top of Michael Smurfit's legacy is currently up for sale for approximately €80 million. I suspect that the conditioning of the course or lack thereof is driven by this.
The head green keeper Gerry Byrne has been in situ for many years and is one of the best around so it may be a case of loaves and fishes until a new owner comes on board.
Being honest, I'm not a huge fan of the layout. There are undoubtedly some truly great holes (8 and the finishing stretch from 15 to 18, however, there are too many holes which are there to get you from A to B as it were particularly the insipid run amongst the houses before the finishing stretch.
It's a pity that things seem to have taken a downward turn (I dont think the rack green fee has though). I can recall the first time I cast my eyes on the venue for the European Open back in the early noughties when Messers Campbell and Harrington went head to head on the final day..... the condition of the fairways and tee boxes that day were better than many clubs greens.
Lets hope for a sale to a real golf connoisseur who can polish a tired grand damme of Irish and European golf.
I agree with BB and Shane Derby. Even with some conditioning issues the course has not been rated fairly by Mr Desmond. I’ve played both courses at the K Club and I’m not a fan of either, but that is also true of every modern era European Ryder Cup course since the Belfry lurched into the scene in the mid 1980s. A 2 star rating would be the lowest fair rating for this course even though Mr Palmer’s course (GRHS) is architecturally uninspiring. I can’t help but feel that the original review is ill considered eschewing reaction for unspecified personal reasons.
Just read this... and the three or four comments. I accompanied a group of American golfers to Ireland three years back. After playing the K Club the consensus was “why did we bother?”. Apart from the final four holes, the course is pretty bland to be honest and it was already showing signs that the ownership might be losing interest. There are several courses in Ireland which merit a higher rating that that awarded to the K-Club.
Played it for the first time in August. Now don't get me wrong, I love Arnold Palmer -- but I'm not a big fan of his golf courses. Hole designs are somewhat redundant -- rare uniqueness is somewhat forced -- leading to, unfortunately, a forgettable round. I can see why the layout, routing and location would support an important event like The Ryder Cup; however, if it were not for the history of that event, the course is generally indistinguishable from other high-end parkland settings.
The K Club is a memorable place to visit and brought back happy memories of one of Europe's most emotional Ryder Cup victories. The whole resort oozes 5-star quality and the Palmer Course green fee certainly reflects the fact that you are at one of Ireland's iconic luxury destinations. The 7,350 yard Palmer Course might best be described as a rolling parkland layout which is heavily bunkered and extremely tough. The 1st is a gentle opener from the regular tees but the water running up the left must be avoided. In fact it soon becomes apparent that water is a constant threat throughout the round, playing its part on no less than 14 holes in total. Both short holes on the front nine have water coming into play, the 3rd also having a large front bunker to contend with and the River Liffey runs from tee to green alongside the 8th which is a very good hole indeed.
Of the longer holes the 4th is a well bunkered double dogleg par-5 and was said to be Arnold Palmer's favourite. The 6th and 7th are both picturesque and demanding, the approach shot on the 7th in particular has to be well struck to clear the substantial pond. The theme continues throughout the 11th, 12th and 13th, a lovely trio of holes which all have water close to the green. The 11th and short 12th are both very attractive and the 13th very tough with the well protected green biting into the lake. The 16th, a strong par-5, is certainly one of my favourite holes. The tee shot is relatively comfortable but the second shot must be played into a narrowing fairway before finally attacking a green positioned on a small island in the River Liffey. Big hitters may be tempted to go for it in two but a precise shot is required to hit this narrow and well defended target. The memorable finishing stretch concludes with the exciting 18th, it's huge green cutting into the lake providing a fitting conclusion to the most challenging of courses. Brian W
My experience of the course? Well the negatives are… very little elevation change and…. well that’s about it. I am stumped to think of anything else. Playing the course early in September after a dry spell certainly helped as the turf was superb. The course has matured well and initially I was surprised at the tightness of line off the tee. The risk reward factor is evident on every hole, leading to an exciting round with many heart in mouth moments reliving Ryder cup glory (or too often failures). Overall condition of bunkering, greens, rough and attention to detail was the best of any course I have played in the world and I say this through gritted teeth for the reasons stated at the top of the article. The best way to summarise my experience is to explain that my wife decided to take up the game four years ago and now plays golf to a good standard. Come January and she no longer looks to the thought of Caribbean beaches to see her through the cold dark months, but plans for the summer months around Carnoustie, St Andrews, Royal Birkdale, Woodhall Spa, etc…This years first trip is to be the K club and I can’t wait even though I’m paying for it out of my own pocket. Praise indeed!