The Island; What makes a course beautiful?
In people beauty often requires an absence of perfection. A dissonance. Surgical enhancement does not make perfection. Marianne is the ideal of French perfection. At the other end of the scale character transforms the unattractive Cyrano De Bergerac to a literary ideal of beauty. One classically beautiful the other beautiful but rough hewn. The Island lies in the middle of this spectrum.
It has the looks of a links and the romance of a links course but is a bit rough round the edges and protrudes like Cyrano’s nose over the Malahide inlet. Not quite the Catherine Deneuve we dream of but a character of Cyrano proportions shines through to make this a compelling place to play. I cannot quite define the reason why it is one of my all time favourites but nor could I easily describe the allure of Catherine Deneuve.
I stayed in Malahide, from the Irish Mullach Ide, meaning the sandhills of the Hydes a family traced back to the, possibly golfing, Normans. Big dunes, mountainous rumpled dunes rolling down to the water’s edge. Portmarnock and Royal Dublin only a few miles south are the polished neat and tidy, well scrubbed drinks party girls, this is a bustier wench, with dirty fingernails hovering at the doorway of a straw strewn barn.
I was shown pictures of the course in the midst of this very dry summer and it looked as if it had been covered in a light sprinkling of snow. The day before I arrived Storm Ali had been and blown through and taken out the middle stump of their three flag poles. The wind had whipped the sand out of every bunker and deposited the outside furniture on the bowl of the ninth green. In the circumstances it was in amazing condition. And the only long putt I sank was on the ninth green. Lucky bobble – thanks Ali.
On the day I played, a necessary preface to any description of links golf, it was set up perfectly to admire all the good elements and not be distracted by the wind throwing you 30 yards sideways, long or short. A good tee shot to open and a couple more good ones required to get on the green at this tough opening hole. The slope is 130.
The second is one of my favourites; a dog leg left and not too long. Like various holes on this course it is a contender for most closely resembling my logo. Definitely a links ‘Marianne’ and named after The Island’s most famous Greenkeeper Paddy Caul.
There follow a number of par 4s, two with blind shots that give you no respite until the par 3 ninth. It is fairly unrelenting and the blind shot holes can be forgiven for being shorter than the others. Loads of inviting drives, undulating fairways, generously proportioned, if mischievous, greens and views of Lambay and the sea. On a good day the high banking is an amphitheatre of glories and the scene of epic victories. On another day it must become an operating theatre dissecting your innards with shots leaking, sweat on the brow, alarm bells ringing and only you can save the flagging remains of your card whilst all eyes are upon you.
Ten shakes you out of any par 3 related relaxation with an out of bounds guarded dogleg par 5 and a well angled green but at least you now turn towards Malahide via two good par 4s. And then Broadmeadow, the second par 3. You know it will be trouble when there are no bunkers. This tee shot requires you to be Zen like in your composure whilst whirling dervishes of malignant thoughts swell in your golfing brain. You can’t hold back, you can’t go back. Trust in your God but take an extra club. Par. What was I fussing about. I am brilliant.
We are now above the old clubhouse where ferrymen used to bring golfers across from Malahide. Until 1973. Access was difficult then. In contrast you can now fly into Dublin airport at breakfast time, catch a cab and be at the golf course 30 minutes later, play a round and be back in Paris for a performance of Cyrano de Bergerac or in London in time for tea.
I suppose the rugged nature of the place and the romance of the boat account for some of that allure. It is a gloriously natural place set against so many courses that are manicured, or surgically enhanced with bumps in all the right places and botoxed bunkers and plucked greens. Having said that 14 is the heroin chic hole, a wafer thin waist of a fairway with parched hillocks to the left and marshy shore to the right. 15 is several sizes bigger, buxom even, with room to open the shoulders and enjoy the contours. 16 and 17 are great but you know stroke index 1, number 18, is coming.
A booming drive is required, space aplenty, some space helpful, most not. I had been struggling with my driver all day, and had only used it on the par 5s but, having clear daylight behind me I played it against a three wood second ball. Both boomed and I came away with a bogey and a par. I know there is a release of tension in a replayed shot but it was so gratifying to be able to release the driver when it had been throttled tight all morning. I just wanted to get out there again. But we know what would have happened…
Thank you to the ever hospitable club and for their generosity in allowing me to pay my Green fee to Alzheimer’s Society.