I’ve played the eternally fascinating, stupid golf game since I was a lad. Played to a decent standard & been lucky enough to tee it up at almost all of the courses in the “Top 100” of any golf magazine. These days, however, I’m more attracted to the basic form of the game & look to play where I can experience what really makes golf great without all the contrived glitz and glamour (& expense) of a “top end” course. One such rare gem that refreshes my purist soul is a links course in the West of Ireland. A place where the expected never happens & the unexpected always does.
At Mulranny – a nine hole course perched on the edge of Clew Bay in County Mayo, the facilities are best described as basic. At one time, the club house was a caravan buried in a sand dune. Until, that is, one windy night the caravan blew away. Luckily, no members were inside at the time. But while Mulranny might lack some refinements, it does provide one of golf’s great experiences. Forget sprinklers & azaleas, manufactured fairways & chemically fed greens. This is golf in its original form, the game stripped down to its essentials. If Adam had suggested playing a round to Eve, (geddit?) it would probably have been played at Mulranny.
Tee a ball up on the First & step back to admire the scenery. On one side, across the bay, is the conical shape of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s sacred mountain. On the other are bogs & mountains. Look out to sea & the view goes all the way to America. Paging BaPH………
According to local legend, the bay is where some sailors of the defeated Spanish Armada were washed up. That, say the story tellers, explains all those dark haired women in the area though, as one local puts it, if the sailors really did make it ashore on this rocky, inhospitable coast, they wouldn’t have been in much of a state to go pillaging, or good for much else either. But back to the present & the execution of a beautifully timed, flowing swing à la Gene Littler off the first tee. Observe the ball sailing straight up to the lip of the hill, dissecting the fairway with mathematical precision. See how it keeps its height, hovering in the clear, gentle air. But wait……. what’s that? A cow lumbers into sight. Ball strikes beast & slumps (the ball, that is) like a punctured balloon to the ground. Beast, without a care in the world continues munching the grass. Fortunately the Club rules say balls can be lifted from any “cow track, burrow or rabbit hole”. Whilst some visitors find the menagerie at Mulranny distracting – at times there are donkeys, sheep, horses as well as cows on the course – the fairways are well shorn & naturally fertilised. The greens, moreover, are surrounded by stout wire to keep out the animals & are always in pristine condition. The ground here is spongy, easy to walk on, & absorbs the wet very easily. As John, the groundsman/greenskeeper. says, “There are very few days when the course is unplayable, even though we have more than our share of rain in these parts”. In matters meteorological, John is a master of the understatement. At times, the strength of the wind makes climbing out of a car difficult, let alone standing on the tee. The rain does not merely fall : it hammer drives in sideways, does the tango around your legs & creeps up your trousers. Whilst some people might pay good money for that treatment – or so I’m told – you’re obliged to stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood, lend the eye a terrible aspect whilst gritting your teeth, & stagger around the course, leaning into the gale, whilst the locals – safely perched in the snug on their high stools – say to one another ” A fine soft day, Thank God. A drop of rain never did harm to anyone”
Yet, between hitting a shot off the fairway & then addressing a putt on the green, the weather will miraculously change. What was a rampaging bull of a wind is suddenly transformed into the gentlest of zephyrs. The breeze will caress you. Beams of light will shine on the bog. Basil Fotherington-Tomas would be in his spiritual home as the skylarks trill & waves gently lap on the adjacent shore.
Then play the 4th hole along the ridge of the hill. Your guide line from the tee is the hotel in the far distance, almost hidden by trees. John & Yoko once stayed there, arriving by helicopter, went for a picnic & spent the rest of their visit in bed. The short 6th hole is a favourite with Mulranny aficionados. The tee is slightly elevated, with the sea on your left, & the beach stretches away, seemingly for miles. The green is a generous size, with some teasing undulations. It’s one of those holes that most golfers feel confident they can par – & then walk off the green scratching their heads whilst penciling in a six on their card. (Unless you’re LaDJM, who favours the top off the tee followed by a skinny chip that finds the bottom of the cup)………
As the game progresses & develops not necessarily in your favour, it’s best to soak in the surrounding views, whilst LaDJM (with 2 putts for the match) takes both of them, but fails to hide the smirk of the winner.
Trust me on this Puffins, there are few greater pleasures in life than a round at Mulranny in the dying sweetness of a June or July day followed by a stroll back to the clubhouse 10.30pm and gone as the light gently fades, before sloping off for a few well deserved dark pints..
© DJM 2022