The K Club Golf Course - An Irish Golf Adventure

By Alan B. Nichols

The K Club

Mark this American-style parkland course down; it is absolutely magnificent.

The Kildare Hotel & Country Club, popularly known as The K Club, offers superb accommodations and another magnificent American style parkland course. The K Club is the fulfilled vision of one man, Dr. Michael J. Smurfit, an Irishman of impeccable business credentials. Smurfit is very rich on paper and because of paper. Starting as a boy selling paper on his motor scooter, he began to buy up foundering paper companies and now is the chairman of the Jefferson Smurfit Group with huge paper holdings worldwide.

His vision for the K Club was no less ambitious. He simply wanted to create a world class hotel and golf club. Most Irish would agree the club is elegant; but several golfers told me, "It's not Ireland". Yes and no. The course's features are definitely American, but the hotel is unmistakably European.

The K Club is located in the little village of Straffan, a few miles off N4, the national highway connecting Dublin to points northwest. About 20 miles west of Dublin, Straffan is in County Kildare in horse and farm country where the land is flat and the air fresh and the mountains quite a distance off.

Smurfit bought Straffan House and the surrounding gardens and grounds in 1988 and immediately began to enlarge and restore the manor, sparing no expense to replicate the historic house's original glory. Straffan house dates back to feudal times and over the centuries it has passed through the hands of English dukes and earls, Anglo Norman military leaders and, more recently, prominent Irish families. Most notable of these were the Bartons who owned extensive wineries in Bordeaux and redesigned the house after a French chateau. A campanile tower, still a prominent feature of the house, revealed an Italian influence as well. The tower stands between the original wing and an exact duplicate west wing which was added in the conversion.

The K Club No. 16

Ireland's only Grade AA 5 Red Star hotel, the K Club hotel is a masterwork of grand style, featuring English hand made wall paper, French weave rugs, Waterford chandeliers, Georgian fireplaces, reproduction Chippendale furniture, and some 600 paintings including a sizeable collection of Jack B. Yeats, the poet's brother. All 45 bedrooms are individually appointed and some include bathrooms with Jacuzzi baths.

In back, the hotel looks out over gardens, a pond, cypress and copper beach trees, majestic oaks and the Liffey River, a pastoral stream at this point that serpentines through the estate. The view from the river back up to the hotel would make a perfect cover for an Irish romance novel.

The golf course was designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, his lead architect. Opened in 1990, the course suffered heavy damage from the frequent rains. To correct the problem a state of the art drainage system was installed. Also, the greens were completely rebuilt. Today, the course is in mint condition, drawing raves from many European Tour pros who can be seen here frequently practicing or playing. U.S. and European golf officials, having received a lot of heavy lobbying from many clubs, clearly agreed, designating The K Club to host the 2005 Ryder Cup.

Like Druids Glen, the golf course, which also hosts the Smurfit European Open, is terrific. At 6,776 yards from the whites (7,159 from the back), this par 72 jewel is arguably Palmer's best design, featuring wide, flat bunkers; water everywhere; modest elevation changes on the back 9; and beautiful vistas of the hotel and grounds, particularly at the signature 7th hole, a magnificent 600 yard hole that winds along the Liffey to a green situated on a small island in the river. A 19th century iron bridge crosses one branch of the river and connects the fairway to the green.

The K Club No. 7

Meticulously landscaped, the course is served by a modern clubhouse that includes a cozy 19th hole (the scene of much beer hoisting and round rehashing) and a balcony overlooking the 518 yard 18th hole that is sure to provide memorable theater during the Ryder Cup. A shower of bunkers guards the landing area at the crest of a hill, from where players are enticed to go for the green flanked by another bunker shower and a steep bank on the right and by a lake on the left that cuts well in front of the green.

By the end of 2000, a second Palmer design will open across the Liffey on what is now treeless pasture land. The finished blueprints call for a links-like layout. A second clubhouse will serve the course.