Waterville; curious that water is in the title, I should have known
A beautiful weekend gave way to one of those wet Mondays when if it wasn’t coming down it was going up. Rain everywhere. We had the course to ourselves and several hares and not a few greenkeepers. This is one of those mystical course people whisper ‘but have you played Waterville’. I can say I have, or it played me. I am told the setting is spectacular but there was even rain on the sat nav so I can’t really say.
It is a very good cross between a modern, ie awkwardly long, course and a traditional links. I might be being slightly heretical here but there were some moments where you could almost be forgiven for thinking you were on an American course. Outstandingly well manicured lush turf and then you get swallowed by some genuinely wild banks of sand and marram grass. Like a pepperami it is a bit of a monster.
I try not to read too much about a club until I have played it but I now find that the American-ess is not unexpected given it’s ownership and membership. No surprise that they display ‘The slope’ on the card. 134 since you ask, against 121 at Dooks. This is a fair reflection of it’s relative difficulty.
Once you get the long straight driving bit out of the way the holes become really interesting. I suppose if I could ‘shape’ it 280 yards plus with ease I would have a different attitude. But I can’t so you have rounds where, if the driver, isn’t doing what it can you are hitting 3 and 4 irons when you should be hitting a 7 or 8. Or, more correctly, should be using a wedge to retrieve something invisible out of the unplayable gorse or bank 10 yards above the fairway. A mid teens handicapper is going to need all his reserves of strength in mind and limb to keep everything under control and look like a golfer and record a score which fits in the box of what was once a card and is now a soggy record of the annual rainfall conveniently delivered in one morning.
Rudyard Kipling hadn’t tackled Waterville before he wrote IF because he wouldn’t have been so smug, or maybe he just didn’t care enough. You have got to get mad occasionally, haven’t you?
So apart from being a bit of a monster it is bloody marvellous and there are some of the best holes you could want to stand and contemplate from the tee and remember them afterwards and what you have might have done but didn’t. The Last Easy is not the wrong name for the first hole, the second is a pearler with the sea cutting in just enough, [fortunately for me the tide was out] the third is similar to the opener at Portmarnock, ie a belter , 4 is a classic nasty par 3, 5 and 6 give you a chance to breath, 7 just keeps on winding up the hill, 8 is the same length but somehow seems longer to a well protected green and 9 should have a bar selling Guinness and dry socks. If like me you are huffing and blowing at this point go in and have lunch before striding confidently towards the tenth tee.
Resolve to play the par fours as fives and you may settle the nerves and embrace the beautiful links to follow. 11 is well known as a classic helter skelter par 5 and worth the entrance money alone. 12 is one of those holes that probably gets into your head before you know the right club to take, after which it is probably a lot of fun [memo to self bring extra balls and don’t bother looking for strays]. 13 is a beautifully laid out par 5 with bunkers protecting the green. It was also witness to a great birdie from one of my boys who wasn’t missing anything on the green.
16, 17 and 18 are great closing holes. We could hear the sea more than see it. But what a finish You cannot protect your card here you have to really commit to each shot and find the hole in the wind.
I didn’t mean to get despondent in the middle of this piece but that is kind of what happened in the middle of this round when I realised I was unlikely to record a lifetime best score, or indeed a par 4 in regulation. But the course kind of gets to you. It is a really splendid course, a modern links, that deserves a better appraisal from your correspondent on a more clement day, which might take quite a few visits to find. And I can always play Dooks to soothe the soul.