Druids Glen No. 8
Mark this American style parkland course down; it is absolutely magnificent.
Druids Glen Golf Club lies in County Wicklow 20 miles south of Dublin in the tiny village of Newtown Mt. Kennedy. It is less than one mile from the Irish Sea and within shouting distance of the towering Wicklow Mountains.
It is appropriate that Druids Glen is in County Wicklow. The county is known as The Garden of Ireland. Consider Druids Glen the Tuilleries of Irish Golf. It is as breathtaking visually as any parkland course you will play, a course that has been landscaped so lavishly and beautifully you will constantly be turning your head as you negotiate some wonderfully designed holes, such as the 8th hole above.
The name, Druids Glen, originates from the Druids altar, a preserved stone located on a hillside to the right of the magnificent par 3 12th hole (below). The 12th Hole at Druids GlenDruids were pagan priests who were alleged to have repelled Welsh missionary Patrick's attempts to convert them to Christianity. As a result, Patrick was forced to move his Irish base of operations to Drogheda. He later became Ireland's patron saint. On the grass bank directly below the tee box at No. 12 is the Druidical symbol of the circle overlain by the Christian Cross.
The majestic clubhouse is the former manor house, called Woodstock House, which was built in 1760 by an Irish earl. Later, a local bishop took over and enlarged the house. Restored to its original architectural elegance, the clubhouse now includes an exquisitely appointed small dining room overlooking the 18th green. The course is laid out over the original estate that features ponds, high banks planted with trees and shrubs, a walled garden, and low lying areas where streams meander over rocks. The course of bent grass greens is impeccably landscaped with all kinds of trees, shrubs and flowering plants.
Opened in 1995 and host to the last three Irish Opens, the course was designed by Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock, veteran Irish designers who were heavily influenced by both St. Andrews (the par 3 2nd in the walled garden mimics No. 17 of the Old Course) and Augusta National (the 12th and adjacent par 3 8th, both of which lie in the glen).
Colin Montgomerie is among a group of players who have privately criticized the course for its unfairness, and it is true several holes could be improved. However, the course couldn't be too unfair. Sergio Garcia blistered it in the 1999 Open (just a week after I was there). The 19-year-old Spaniard, in only his sixth tournament as a professional and fourth on the PGA European Tour, shot a 16 under that included a final round 64.
Overall, the design makes masterful use of the natural contours and elevation changes. For example, the 461 yard (from the whites) 120 degree dogleg right 13th (below) is THE best parkland par 4 that I have ever seen. The tee box is enclosed in woods and sits high above a stream that zigzags the entire length of the hole, emptying into a pond that guards the green left and features a tiny island, allegedly used by the Earl's family as a place to swim and sunbath. From the high tee box, the fairway looks impossibly narrow. It is tightly framed by high mounds on both sides that are thickly planted with trees and plants. In addition, on the right side 200 yards out is a granite outcropping 60 feet high that looks like a miniature El Capitain. This natural framing gives the hole a valley-like feel. It's as if you are golfing 13th Hole at Druids Glenin a miniature Khyber Pass. Once you've cleared the crossing stream some 40 yards in front of the green with your very long approach shot, you cross over a stone bridge reminiscent of the bridge at the 18th at St. Andrews.
In several years, Druids Glen will expand to include a medium sized hotel and second golf course to be designed by Tom Craddock. Like the existing course, it will feature panoramic views of the sea and the spectacular Wicklow Mountains including Sugarloaf Mt., a towering conically shaped mountain to the northwest.
An Irish Golf Adventure