If you have never heard of the K Club, you’ve probably never picked up a golf club. Also known as the Kildare Club, the K Club was home to the 2006 Ryder Cup Challenge during which the European team gave a good thrashing to the U.S. team. And it was the first time in Ryder Cup history the tournament was played on Irish soil.
Opened in 1991, the K Club is the brainchild of Irish multimillionaire Dr. Michael Smurfit who engaged legendary golf pro and course designer Arnold Palmer as architect and creator. The K Club consists of two courses — the Palmer Course, designed by Palmer, and the Smurfit Course, a collaborative design created by Palmer and Smurfit. Both are American-designed courses, meaning they play like traditional American courses rather than the links course prevalent throughout Ireland.
The facility boasts a magnificent five-star hotel, a spa and several wonderful restaurants. Just about every imaginable activity is available right outside your door from fly-fishing in the Liffey River to clay-pigeon shooting and horseback riding. But golf is king at the K Club and playing the two courses can make for a great day if you tee off early.
The Palmer Course saw changes in preparation for the Ryder Club last September. Avid golfers will note the hole-by-hole descriptions posted on the K Club Web site do not reflect the current layout. For example, what is now the second hole was originally part of the back nine. The parkland-style course measures 7,350 yards and plays as a par 72. Changes to the original design included adjusting bunker placements, redesigning the greens, adding trees and lengthening eight holes. The course is known as one of the most spectacular in Europe. From the first drive from the elevated tee box on No. 1 to the glorious holes that play along the Liffey River, it’s full of challenges.
No. 16, where any approach shot from the left of the fairway has a good chance of finding the Liffey, is of particular note. I played the week after the Ryder Cup. Greens keepers were hard at work restoring the course to its usually pristine condition, as spectators had done a number on the rough and cross walks.
The Smurfit Course, on the other hand, was in prime condition, having only seen non-spectator play. Although Smurfit worked with Palmer on the design of both courses, he had a heavier hand in the creation of his namesake course. The result is a layout in which the two courses complement one another. Both show Palmer’s influence — No. 7 on each requires skill to make the green, for instance. The Smurfit Course boasts 30-foot elevation changes, bentgrass greens and lakes with extensive plantings.
After our game, my group and I stopped by the clubhouse for a pint. We bypassed the visitors’ bar in favor of the members’ bar where we chatted with some locals who were impressed with the hole-in-one (See Smurfit Course, Hole 2) and listened enthusiastically as we revisited the ups and downs of our game. I felt the courses played slowly by Ireland’s standards. Members told me this is one of the biggest issues and a serious subject. I think you’ll see it addressed in the months to come.
THE SMURFIT COURSE
(7,277 yards, par 72)
Hole 1 (449 yards, par 4)
Imagine yourself at the first tee of the famed K Club. You’re warming up on the Smurfit Course before you do battle with the Palmer Course. This is a great beginning hole. A powerful straight drive is in order to avoid the trees on the right side of the course. Landing there will make hitting the green in two a near impossibility. Make sure you take sufficient club (more than you might think) to clear the bunkers in front of the green and, if the pin is in the back of this two-tiered green, to carry the front shelf of the green.
Hole 2 (163 yards, par 3)
I always like to include a par 3 in the front and in the back. Although they’re not my cup of tea, they are for Bobby Hancock (part of our three-ball) who got a hole-in-one on this hole during our second round in Ireland. First up, Bobby nailed his seven-iron stiff to the front center left of the green, clearing the enormous bunker in the front — and our jaws dropped as the ball fell into the cup.
Hole 3 (603 yards, par 5)
The first three holes follow the format of 4-3-5 (par 4, par 3 and par 5) — a wonderful combination. This par 5 hole offers the player the excitement of a blind tee shot to the fairway. Water far right should not come into play, but poorly aimed shots easily can reach the two fairway bunkers — right and left — or worse, the high grass and brush to the left. A second large bunker located left of the fairway, as the fairway turns left down to the green, will catch errant shots.
Hole 7 (600 yards, par 5)
Water, water everywhere — on the right and out of bounds on the left — makes for a “shot makers” hole. Three perfectly placed shots are necessary to avoid the fairway bunker on your drive (left) and right of the fairway on your second shot. This hole is considered one of the best and most beautiful on the course.
Hole 10 (551 yards, par 5)
From the tee box, nail a drive avoiding the twin fairway bunkers on each side. Then big hitters can try for the green, but be forewarned the bunkers in front are surrounded by heavy, disheveled rough. The smart play is to take your second shot aiming for the fairway just over the bunkers, then pitch your shot to the large green.
Hole 11 (365 yards, par 4)
This hole climbs uphill to the green, which lies considerably higher than the fairway. A good drive off the tee should set you up for a mid-iron shot to the green as long as you can avoid the high grass on each side and the four spider-shaped bunkers waiting to catch your drive and errant shots. Make sure you take sufficient club to reach the green and avoid the bunker, which lies in front.
Hole 12 (214 yards, par 3)
This hole has one of the widest greens you will see anywhere, measuring nearly 70 yards across. If you don’t hit your ball toward the flat, you’re left with an extremely long and difficult putt. A large bunker on the right will catch any drifting shots and additional bunkers lay in front of and directly behind the green.
Hole 16 (457 yards, par 4)
Little Grebe Dive
I feel compelled to include the No. 1 handicapped hole on the course — and this hole lives up to it reputation. Driving the left side of the fairway is the best play if you can do so without getting wet. Water runs along the entire left side of the fairway and then cuts in front of the green. Five bunkers protect the green from every angle, making your shot to the green a challenge. Any shot right may drift to the water as well.
THE PALMER COURSE
(7,350 yards, par 72)
Hole 1 (418 yards par 4),
This is not necessarily a great hole, but it is the starting hole for the Palmer Course and the 2006 Ryder Cup Challenge. I played a week after the Ryder Cup. The gallery stands and temporary venues were being dismantled, but I could sense the energy of the challenge. Palmer suggests you drive your tee shot short of the fairway bunker on the left for a clean approach to the green. Errant shots left of the fairway may make the water, which lines the left side, but there is plenty of rough there and chances are you will not lose your ball. Avoid the trees to the right, which will cause you to punch your ball out of harm’s way and lose a stroke. Take enough club for your second shot to the green to be sure you clear a hump on the left center which makes the green appear closer than it really is.
Hole 4 (568 yards par 5),
This is Arnie’s favorite hole on the front nine — and who can blame him? It has a double dogleg to the green. Long hitters can aim for the left side of the fairway and try to make the green in two. Mere mortals among us will do our best to avoid the many hazards and trees, which can turn this glorious hole into a disaster. Your second shot needs to stay clear of a large bunker and water on the right and your approach to the green must clear the most bunkered hole on the course. Shots to the right near the green will fall into a grouping of trees, making par a near impossibility.
Hole 6 (478 yards, par 4)
Your drive is crucial on this hole as a stream lies along the left side on the fairway — and cuts across the fairway about 75 yards from the green. From your drive, a mid- to low-iron will get you to the green, clearing the stream. Be sure to consider the prevailing winds, which will add an additional club to this shot. Drives pushed to the right rough will have a difficult time finding par on this hole.
Hole 8 (173 yards, par 3)
Fresh off a difficult experience on No. 7, I marched up to the tee box and aggressively nailed a shot to the green on this par 3. Sometimes an adrenaline lift is a good thing in golf. This hole is simple enough if you avoid the large bunker in front and the Liffey River on the right. Prevailing winds off the river help drifting shots stay on course. Making birdie is a real possibility on this hole.
Hole 10 (584 yards, par 5)
This hole is named for a founding member and general contractor of the hotel and the Palmer Course. Big hitters might be able to reach this slight dogleg in two, but be warned the hole has several very large bunkers guarding it. Those laying up need to stay clear of the trees that are left and right of the landing area on this narrow part of the fairway. Your pitch to the green must take into consideration the pin placement in relation to two raised areas on the green.
Hole 12 (182 yards, par 3)
This Palmer Course hole was completely redesigned for Ryder Cup play. The lake comes into play more now, making this a far more difficult par 3. The lake, directly in front of the left side of the green, is bulkheaded with a stone wall. “Sucker pin placement” behind this wall can make for some frustrating shots. Two bunkers, one left to catch those overshooting in fear of the water and one right to catch drifters, add to the challenge.
Hole 16 (570 yards, par 5)
This hole is a difficult and long par 5 with an abundance of places to get into trouble. The No. 2 handicapped hole on the course, it is all about the placement of your second shot. Your drive does not need to be too aggressive and can land on either side of the fairway. Your second shot must land to the right, so you have a clean shot to the island green that slopes to the left of the hole. The Liffey River runs alongside and a quaint bridge provides passage to the green.
Hole 18 (537 yards, par 5)
As Arnie says, “This is an exciting finishing hole!” I attempted to clear the large fairway bunker on my drive, but caught it on the fly. It’s best to aim slightly left of the bunker to the open fairway. The hole is a dogleg right, so your second shot is clean and open to the landing area as long as you avoid the pond that runs along the left side of the fairway starting about 150 yards from the green. The green actually juts out left into the pond and is bulkheaded by a stone wall. Four bunkers are on the right side of the green and will probably only come into play for those trying to reach the green in two. The green slopes to the left toward the water, making this hole a challenging and fantastic finishing hole.
THE K CLUB, STRAFFAN
Co. Kildare, Ireland
tel 353 0 1 6017 200, fax 353 0 1 6017 297
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