“I have never come across a piece of land so ideally suited for the building of a golf course," said Arnold Palmer. Tralee Golf Club was his first Irish endeavour and it opened in 1984; it’s a rugged and exhilarating creation. Now, let’s be honest, Kerry is a very special county, the ‘Lake District’ of Ireland, an unspoilt, quiet and romantic place. Surely anybody could design a golf course in these surroundings? Well, first of all we might need to remind ourselves that Palmer wasn’t exactly a run-of-the-mill golfer and when he turned his attention to design, he always wanted to choreograph a links course in Ireland. When the opportunity arose, he wasn’t going to mess it up, was he?
Palmer (and his associate, the late Ed Seay) designed a course that will stimulate the senses every bit as much as the enchanting and breathtaking scenery. According to folklore, Palmer created the first nine and Mother Nature did the rest. The front nine at Tralee Golf Club plays across fairly level links land, but the majority of the holes hug the coastline and the ground is elevated, affording magnificent views from the cliff top across Tralee Bay to the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The back nine plays through mountainous dunes with fearsome carries across ravines to plateau greens.
The combination and variety of the holes make the entire experience captivating and exciting. There are only a few courses that grab your attention from the first tee shot, keeping hold of it until the very last putt drops. The links at Tralee is one of those few captivating courses.
There are so many great holes that it is almost impossible to single one out, although the 3rd, called “The Castle”, is considered to be the signature hole, a par three measuring almost 200 yards from the back tees. Scenically, it is glorious and reminiscent of the 7th at Pebble Beach. Take a line on the ruined castle which stands sentry to the left and behind the green – anything hit to the right of this green will be eaten by the rocks and the sea.
The 17th is called “Ryan’s Daughter” because the landscape was dramatically filmed in the award-winning movie and the hole will stick in the memory for a very long time; an elevated tee shot on this 355-yard par four must carry across a ravine to a craggy fairway, leaving an approach shot to a tiny raised tabletop green.
We always say that the measure of a good golf course is that the holes stay in the memory forever. There are so many memorable holes at Tralee, so much so that you might need to throw away some lesser memories to make room for the experience that is Tralee. But not everyone is a fan.
In The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Tom Doak remarked: “The course suffers from the same general problem as Ballybunion New – spectacular scenery at the expense of good golf – although the terrain itself isn’t as dramatic or as integral to the course. The “signature” holes, the par-3 3rd and 13th and the par-4 12th and 17th, are probably the worst on the course, although there are some dull inland holes as well. Some love the course, but I think some good land was wasted here.”
Married male golfers should be prepared to make space for another love in their life when they first play here as Tralee’s seductive charms will have them falling head over heels in love all over again – I know, as it happened to me, too!
Palmer’s front nine is good, but God’s back nine is great and yes, holes 10 to 18 are right up there with the likes of Hillside as one of the very best that I’ve played.
The lovely “Castle” at hole 3 was off when I was here in April 2008 (head green keeper JJ told me the winter wall of straw bales surrounding the back of the green would be removed soon) and his assertion that the temporary hole around the corner was just as good was not too wide of the mark!
Apart from hole 6, I liked the remainder of the front nine and loved the way the small stone dykes had been incorporated into the design at holes 2 and 4.
The back nine were fantastic and the holes between “Palmer’s Peak” and “Ryan’s Daughter” (11 and 17) just sublime – the peerless James W Finegan describes this stretch of The Barrow in the Warren as “swashbuckling Palmer and the creative Seay at their take-no-prisoners best” and I for one am not going to argue against that astute observation – and my bogey 5 in a strong cross wind from the clubhouse at the notoriously difficult par four 12th with its narrow fairway felt like a birdie!
Sandra at Brook Manor Lodge operates a very comfortable and reasonably priced B&B nearby and this was recommended to me by the club house reception staff for which I thank them and Tralee head man Tony Byrne’s “aide-de-camp” Eugene was all that a visiting golfer could ever hope for when meeting a member of a club that they are visiting for the first time.
Hopefully, it won’t be the last time either.