The Smurfit course at The K Club (formerly known as the South course) has already received more accolades than the latest American blockbuster. Arnold Palmer's chief designer, Harrison Minchew, was charged with creating a layout which would contrast with the existing tree-lined Palmer course, and he's come up with a sculptured brute.
More than 200 acres of flat and featureless farmland were transformed into a course which features mounding, clever bunkering, amazing water hazards and huge sloping greens. The Smurfit was designed as a stadium course and the mounds provided ideal vantage points for the many spectators who watched Retief Goosen win the 2004 Smurfit European Open. Not bad for a course that opened for play just 12 months earlier. The course is named after the man behind the K Club - Dr Michael Smurfit – formerly a principle sponsor of the European Open.
For the handicap golfer, judicious use of the numerous tee boxes will make the difference between an enjoyable round and a painful slog. The Smurfit measures a monstrous 7,300 yards - factor in the wind and you've got a serious challenge. In fact, the par 72 Smurfit course is currently the longest on the European Tour circuit.
Clearly the Smurfit is a manufactured course, though not one single new tree was planted. However, 14 acres of water makes life very interesting and the 7th, the signature hole, called "Swallow Quarry", is a unique example. Measuring 606 yards, this par five demands respect, not only because it's tough, but also because it cost a king's ransom to build. The fairway was lowered by about 60 feet and a large rock-faced water feature was constructed along the full length of the hole. (The American company used is generally involved in manufacturing water features for Disney.) Seven holes on the back nine are protected by water and the 18th, called "Swan Island", has an island green. Make sure you take plenty of balls.
If you are a traditionalist, then the Smurfit is probably not up your street. If you are seeking thrills and excitement, then you're at the right place. The Smurfit may have become one of the most famous courses in Ireland, as it was rumoured that the 2006 Ryder Cup might be switched from the Palmer course to the outrageous Smurfit. It didn't happen, but if it had, we reckon that the 18th would have generated just as much excitement as that seen at the Belfry's famous closing hole.
This is one seriously tough golf course and it's not for the feint hearted. First of all, it's long. Secondly the rough is brutal. Thirdly the greens are slick with wicked borrows and tough to read (at least they were for me). Played here on windy day and I came away battered and bruised. The Smurfit needs time to mature into what I am sure will be a great tournament course. The land is flat and boring, but they've really worked wonders to provide a decent golf course. It's a bit too Americanised for my liking, I'd like it to feel more authentically Irish. Not really my cup of tea but I do appreciate this is one heck of a golf course. Can't believe they spent so much money on that water feature... the money would perhaps have been better spent planting some big mature trees to provide some form and definition to what should be a parkland course.