Former County Meath Gaelic footballers, Austin and Mick Lyons, are the driving forces behind the Rathcore Golf and Country Club which opened for play in 2004. Mel Flanagan of Irish Golf Design was the person responsible for routing the course, with Ollie Sutton the man who laid out the putting surfaces.
Rathcore is located in rolling parkland with a number of natural springs that bring water into play at no fewer than twelve of the holes. Utterly unique features on this course are the three medieval forts – two ring and one motte – that are integrated into the design of the first three holes. They rather dominate the property and do, indeed, feature in all the branding of the club.
The 6,533 yards of the par 72 Rathcore course are laid out in two loops of nine, with each ending near the clubhouse. The 543-yard par five opening hole is a right dogleg past one of the ring forts to the right of the fairway. The second shot has to avoid a pond on the left then the approach must fly the two bunkers to the front of the green – a tough start, indeed!
The pick of the holes on the back nine is the difficult 406-yard par four 15th, where a natural lake borders the fairway on the right with the green tucked in behind it, forcing the right dogleg shape. Gorse, marsh and a couple of bunkers protect the putting surface so par here will be very well earned.
I finally got to scratch Rathcore off my bucket list after hearing great feedback from friends and journalists about what an under-rated track it is. My overriding thoughts are that the course probably packs more personality and character into 18 holes compared to any other parkland I’ve played in the country.
The first thoughts I had driving in were what a pretty place it was – the entrance & neat clubhouse impress. My next thought was “where is everyone”? There were about a dozen cars in the car park at 1pm on a Sunday. Granted the forecast hadn’t been great, but as it turned out conditions were ok and surely that shouldn’t have prevented members turning out for a game or competition? It is worth pointing out that I played at a time when, as I understand it, the course is up for sale (a snip at €650k if anyone is interested). I’ve no idea what the membership is like or if they are still running it well but hopefully someone will take a punt on this place to take it out of the obvious malaise it is in.
In the context of what is going on with the club it should to be pointed out that this is having a clear effect on the condition of the course. A sign at the first tee noted that all bunkers were out of play and there was placing everywhere. The latter, on the last day of April was no surprise as we have a pretty rough last few weeks of spring so not uncommon. The former we largely ignored – the greenside bunkers were ok and while the fairway bunkers were definitely starting to go to pasture a bit, we still played them if we had a lie or placed in them if not. On the flipside the fairways were definitely overdue a trim and in particular the tee boxes were getting a bit rough – to the point where on one 3 wood tee-off I played off grass rather than a tee.
None of this should take away from the fact that (a) we paid €11 for the round (!) and (b) there is so much to admire about this course. The architecture of the course is genuinely fantastic. Every hole provides a different and memorable challenge. Aesthetically and functionally it is a delight. A lot of people comment that it is short – this really is misleading. Off the greens it is 6300 yards, which is plenty long for your average society golfer. What the course does however is make you think about every one of those yards. This is not the grip it and rip it you will find across the road at Moyvalley for example. You really need to think your way around (not easy if it is the first time you have played), and more than any course I have ever played it is one that you will play much better a second time. On several tees a prudent, but not mandatory, option would be to take a hybrid as opposed to driver. And I’ve never taken as many second shots where I’ve decided to take an 8/9 iron and lay up instead of going for it. The second shots can also be very deceptive – on a couple of holes I decided to trust my eyes as opposed to my GPS watch and paid the price.
Add into all this character and personality the fact that the par 3s are just about as good a set as I’ve played anywhere and you should get a feel for the fact that it offers a unique and fun experience. A week after playing I can remember every shot I played and picture every hole – it is very rare I can say that about a first-time game at a golf course, even the so called great ones. And it’s not that I had a memorable round – I scored 30 points off 12 but would be confident I could do better next time around being familiar with the nuances of the course.
The club is a 45 minute drive for me from North Wicklow so should be readily considered by anyone looking for a challenging game close to Dublin. It is clearly not in the condition it one was, but still value and hopefully can get back to that again.