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How to train for playing golf in Ireland

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Ireland is a fantastic golfing location with an abundance of great links courses, steeped in history and beauty. For those lucky enough to make the pilgrimage, I have some thoughts and advice. You don’t just turn up; you need to go into training.

Playing in wind and rain

golfirelandwind

Unless you are exceptionally lucky, the odds are that you will play at least some of your golf in strong wind and rain. Get into training by standing in a cold shower in your wet gear and then filling your suit with ice cubes to get a feel for swinging a club while you are in the early stages of hypothermia.

Tight lies

So one of the virtues of links golf are the tight lies. It feels like you are trying to pick the ball off the car park, in fact you should start by trying to play shots off asphalt. The ball doesn’t tend to sit up on the closely cropped ground, but the good news is that the ball runs for miles. Expect to land the ball short of the green and watch it run up. Greens can get pretty firm in the summer, so the chances of holding a green us slim, especially downwind. You are bound to get a few ‘Irish stingers’ where you hit it thin and your hands sting like they have been slapped hard!

Rough

Oh and did I mention the rough? I guess it depends on how the weather has been. A wet Spring and early Summer (the norm) can leave rough like lush green cabbage. A dry and hot summer (more unusual) will leave the rough playing like burned hay. Either way the advice is to keep out of it. And I’m not even going to talk about the gorse and buckthorn! The more it looks like an artist’s pallet the more you have to fear!

Flight it low

Learn how to keep the ball down by playing half shots and punch shots. Keeping the ball close to the ground is a distinct advantage on a windy hard course. Just ask the Texans!

Long-range putting

If there is one piece of advice I can impart, it’s keeping the ball close to the ground around the green. Play your putter where you can. Lob wedges are more of a hindrance than a help off deadpan. You can be 50 yards from the green, and as long as there is no trouble in your way, the best shot choice is a putt. Sure, you may look incompetent, but just watch the locals — especially the older guys. What they lack in power they make up for in guile.

Visualization

One of the biggest issues facing golfers playing links golf for the first time is relativity. With virtually no trees, it’s hard to follow your ball into the rough and dunes. I once played with an American golfer who never watched where his ball went. I got upset quickly, as I spent the whole round guiding him to his ball. Soon enough, I asked him why he didn’t bother looking. His response was he felt lost. The course seemed liked a sea of nothing, and he couldn’t judge depth or distance. It does take a bit of getting used to. So get into practice with a few Where’s Wally books.

Understanding the language

The Irish talk quick and generally tend to use 30 more words than needed to answer a question. Watch episodes of Father Ted, The Field or The Guard to get acquainted. Here’s a few wee expressions to give you a flavor:

  • Pishing it down the day: Some rain is forecast
  • Wee bit gusty: The wind is blowing at gale force
  • Brass monkeys: A little chilly
  • Sweltered: Quite warm
  • Aye: Yes
  • Nah: No
  • Whataboutye: How are you doing?
  • It was some craic: It was a fun time!

Playing with a hangover

golfirelandguinness

One of the things Ireland is known for is its warm hospitality. And with that comes alcohol in the form of Guinness and Whiskey. Both are extremely easy to drink, but the problem is that they tend to lead to late nights followed by shocking hangovers the next morning. Unless you have the willpower of a Saint, the chances are that at least one of your rounds will be played with a pounding head, dizzy spells, nausea and trembling hands. Advil helps, but sometimes the only way to get through it is to sweat it out. The good news? You could train for this in advance to build up tolerance.

Money

You will need two currencies visiting Ireland. The North uses £ sterling, the Queens money. The South uses Euro, as they do across the rest of Europe. Don’t sweat it, as most places will convert and you can always use your card as well.

Pack for every conceivable weather condition

golfirelandweatherchange

Even during the course of a round, you may find yourself getting sunburned at one point and then a few minutes later getting pelted with hailstones. There’s a great expression in Ireland. “If you don’t like the weather, just give it 10 minutes.” This means packing your bag with extra stuff, and it’s worth it. In Ireland, there’s no such thing as bad weather; only the wrong clothes.

Get a caddy

Most of the top courses have caddies. And it’s worth the money for an experienced guide to shepherd you round. You may find them hard to understand and at times a little uncouth, but you’ll enjoy the “craic” and they will make it easier especially when the weather is bad. Like everything in life you get what you pay for and you will get everything from the Old Tom Morris type right through to the young school kid who doesn’t really look old enough to be out on his own or strong enough to lift that behemoth golf bag and its 48 things in it.

Enjoy!

This is a different type of game than the one you are probably used to. You’ll likely experience hitting 170-yard 9 irons downwind and 140-yard 3 woods into par 3s. You’ll suffer horrendous bounces, but you’ll probably also get your fair share of ‘”members nudges.” You’ll watch in horror as the wind catches your putt and sends it off the green 30 yards away, or face a lie in a pothole bunker that will have your chiropractor rubbing his hands in glee. But it’s been played like this for hundreds of years. You’ll get a better feel and understanding for the pros the next time you watch the Open on TV. Just remember one thing to look forward is the reflection that this is how golf was originally meant to be played. No matter how bad it is you will feel a sense of exhilaration having made the journey over!

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Patrick

    Mar 17, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Good info for my upcoming May trip! Starting playing golf 9 years ago and have been to Ireland many times prior to picking it up. I’ve been dying to play there every since. Playing Lahinch Old Course, Old Course at Ballybunion, Tralee Golf Club, Waterville Golf Links and Old Head. I can only hope and pray for good weather. Need to hit the treadmill hard!

  2. Derek

    Mar 17, 2016 at 12:01 am

    I would also add the value of perfecting a low punch shot/ tiger’s stinger shot. You will find a new found love for your 3 iron.

  3. Jim H

    Mar 14, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Wonderful article Mark! I’ve been to the “old sod” twice and enjoyed every minute of both trips. You are so right about the changing weather though. It may be just fine in the early morning, perfect for a simple polo shirt and sunscreen, but by the time you make the turn, you’ll wish you had purchased several Irish woolen sweaters to stuff under your rain/wind jacket.

    I believe our last trip was in 2007, and our final four days were spent at the Adare Manor Castle and Golf Resort (about 45 minutes south of the Shannon Airport) over the New Year holiday. The castle was exquisite, the food was exceptional and the golf was perfect…for awhile. On our final day, we were greeted by a chilly grey sky and gusting winds. The range was closed due to the wind, and after we teed off, the temperature began dropping by the minute.

    By the fourth or fifth hole, snow flurries arrived (for those unfamiliar, it seldom snows in Ireland). By the seventh hole, the swirling wind made all shots impossible to gauge for distance, and the snow intensified to the point we couldn’t follow each others drives. The ninth hole was a long Par-5 that looked more like a cross-country ski run, as approximately two inches of snow had accumulated and it continued with relentless abandon. My son lost his ball in the middle of the fairway and I only found mine because it landed in a bunker. They closed the course at the turn and refunded our greens fees.

    Smartly, they took several photos of the old castle next to the course, and to this day they send out “White Christmas” cards from that snow-drenched holiday.

  4. Fran

    Mar 14, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Humorous but sound advice. I played Portstewart when I was Ireland for a golf trip. Maybe the two best opening holes I’ve ever played. I thought hole 8 was the best hole on our visit.
    Funny thing, when I was there it didn’t rain for the entire week! We had some drizzle on the ride to our hotel. The rest of the week was like May in the US. My face was sunburned and peeled for a week after I returned. I had read all of the weather warnings for travelers and had warm sweaters, wool hats, a complete rainproof outfit with rain gloves. I could have packed my shorts and sunscreen and saved myself the aching back from hauling all my foul weather gear around. I hope everyone enjoys the weather I had but I still wish I would have played one round in typical Irish weather.

    • Mark Donaghy

      Mar 14, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      Glad you enjoyed Portstewart Fran. Like I said the weather is variable, sunburned one minute and frozen the next. Best come prepared!

  5. doesnotno

    Mar 14, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Heh heh, brings back good memories of a few years spent in Portstewart and Portrush, having golf lessons in keeping the bal low dished out by the senior ladies 🙂 There’s nowhere finer.

  6. David

    Mar 13, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Ermmm don’t the ball sit up on tight lies?

    That apart good to see a reasonably accurate article, I knew it was a fellow Norn Ironer when I saw the Whataboutye!

  7. golfraven

    Mar 13, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Lived and played golf in Ireland and fully agree. Same would apply for most parts of Scotland. Have your waterproofs with you at any time and a flask with Rusty Nail (also to share) and you will be fine.

  8. don d.

    Mar 13, 2016 at 1:20 am

    Learn how to walk , no cart ballers here. Links golf will wear you down and beat you up. The majority of American golfers who show up do not have a chance of shooting anything close to their handicaps. Their scores are terrible. The comments by golfers are even more laughable than the scores. They blame it on the weather , the course , jet lag , and hangovers. Meanwhile, that 90 year old local is kicking your butt out there.

    • Mat

      Mar 13, 2016 at 6:15 am

      This is the best advice of all. Americans will be most pressed to actually walk 18. It sounds like not a big deal, but it’s a lot harder on Day 2, 3, and 4.

    • SV

      Mar 14, 2016 at 3:05 pm

      Walk. Walk Walk. You are correct, there are no buggies. Also, if you are playing 36 try to schedule the “flatter” course second. If not the second 18 becomes much longer than the card indicates.

    • Mark Donaghy

      Mar 14, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      Don you are correct about the walking. You Americans and your carts! It’s not so bad when you have a caddy, but the dunes and hills can make for a lengthy stroll and if you are not used to that sort of exertion it can catch up on you over a week. Best get on the treadmill in advance and clock up a few hundred miles!

    • Chris

      Mar 22, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      What a ridiculous stereotype. A lot of Americans walk as well.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What we can learn from tour stats

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Today’s post was inspired by a conversation one of the Edison Golf customer service team had with a follower/challenger on Facebook. The skeptical golfer claimed that he could “hit it to 12 feet from 85 yards anytime he wanted.” His claim drove our rep to the PGA Tour website just to compare this golfer’s claim to PGA Tour reality.

His relating of this conversation and my subsequent research into tour stats inspired me to share how actual PGA Tour players’ performance might be used to help you understand your own game and how to get better, no matter whether you are a low single-digit player or still working to break 80, 90, or even 100.

The “entry point” for the research was to see how this golfer’s claims of “hitting it to 12 feet” from 85 yards would stack up to tour-level performance. Turns out this guy would be the best on tour by far if he can really do that.

INSIGHT #1: Through the entire 2021 season, only ONE tour professional averaged less than 12’ from 75-100 yards, and the tour average is almost 18 feet from that range. Now we all know that they hit it to three feet or less reasonably often, so that must mean that it is just as “normal” for tour players to hit a 75- to 100-yard wedge shot to 20-25 feet or further. In fact, just this past weekend, I saw a number of wedge shots of that distance end up 40-50 feet from the hole. It happens, even to these guys.

This revelation inspired me to dive a bit deeper into PGA Tour stats to understand the difference between hitting approach shots from the fairway and from the rough. I’ve done this deep dive periodically through my twenty years of writing this blog as “The Wedge Guy,” and the data revealed is amazing — and very enlightening.

The PGA Tour “strokes gained” analysis over the years has implied that hitting it far is much more important than hitting it straight. I won’t argue that this approach to statistics must show that, or it wouldn’t be published.

But I’ve long been an advocate for recreational golfers to find a way to get their drives in the fairway, even if it means sacrificing a few yards. There are few courses that play as easy from the rough as the fairway, and PGA Tour statistics seem to support that hypothesis, even for these guys, who have extraordinary skills and strength to gouge shots from the rough. The rest of us just do not have either.
But what is the difference — for them — between hitting approach shots from the rough and the fairway? Here is a look at the entire 2021 season stats for proximity to the hole from both, from various distances:

These figures illustrate that, on average across all approach shot distances from 5-6 iron (200-225) or less, hitting their approach from the rough will increase the length of the resulting putt or chip by about 60 percent or more. The only takeaway you can make from this is that it is extremely important to these guys to be able to hit approaches from the fairway rather than the rough, regardless of what the “strokes gained” numbers seem to imply.

Even more glaring is that the average approach from 150-175 yards in 2021 ended up closer to the hole than one from the rough from only 75-100 yards from the rough! This means that tour professionals are more accurate from the fairway with a 7- or 8-iron than they are from the rough with a sand wedge.
If the rough is that penalizing for them, maybe you should re-think what it does to your scoring.

I’m just sayin’…

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