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INTRODUCTION +++++++++++++ ~ ~ This is a review I have been looking forward to writing, as this little Co. Wicklow course is one of my favourites within easy striking distance of Dublin, being 45 miles from the capital Dublin, on the main Rosslare road. ~ ~ A par 69 of around 6,700 yards in length, it is often said in golf circles that “if you can play to your handicap at Arklow, you can break par anywhere else”. In other words, it is no “pushover”. ~ ~ Now, I might as well come clean up-front, and tell you that I was a member of this Golf Club from 1980 to 1998, so it will always have a special place in my memories. I joined Arklow, “sight unseen”. I had only just arrived on the shores of the “Emerald Isle”, and was actively looking for somewhere to “make my home”. I played a round of golf with the then Captain of the club at a course in Dublin, and it was mentioned that I was looking for membership of a club. A cheque for £90 (for the year) changed hands, and the deal was done. Now there is a waiting list of around three years, a £1,000 entrance fee, and an annual subscription of £300, (still cheap by modern standards) such is the popularity of this club today. Let me tell you about this “peach” of a golf course. FACILITIES ++++++++++ ~ ~ When I first joined Arklow in 1980, there was little more than a glorified tin hut that served as a clubhouse, with no shower facilities, and the most basic of amenities. If you came of the course cold, wet and miserable, then that’s the way you stayed until you got home. In fact, had I known when I took membership that it was so “primitive”, I most likely would never have joined. ~ ~ How things have changed. Today Arklow boasts a brand spanking new clubhouse, with great changing rooms, and showers to warm the coldest of bones. It is perched on a hilltop overlooking the course, and with a fine view out over the adjoining Irish Sea. There is a modern bar and lounge, with a first class dining room, noted for its plain but exceptionally good food. A good three-course meal here will still cost you under a tenner! ~ ~ One drawback is the lack of a professionals shop, but the club runs a little outlet of its own from the club “office”, where you can buy anything from balls and tees upwards, and rent a caddy-cart if required. ~ ~ In common with most Irish golf clubs, you can be assured of the warmest of welcomes. Look out for “Mr. Arklow”, Paddy Lipsett, an octogenarian of nearly seventy years who has played this course almost daily, man and boy, since it first opened in 1927. He will regale you with stories that will have you in tears of laughter, such is his “blarney”, and a finer gentleman and golfer you could never wish to meet. Incidentally, he still plays to a handicap of six!! So if he gets you on the golf course, watch your wallet closely, it could easily lose some weight. THE COURSE +++++++++++ ~ ~ When Arklow first opened its doors in 1927, it was a simple nine hole layout, and it was to remain this way until the mid-1970’s when it finally became eighteen holes. ~ ~ It has five par-3’s and only two par-5’s, that explains its par of 69. In fact, up until 1997, it was a par-68, but two outstanding new holes have now been opened for play. (more on these later) It is a links golf course, but with a difference, as about five of the holes on the back nine sweep inland, and are more “parkland” in character, but still retaining the fine links “turf”. ~ ~ I would love to give you a hole by hole breakdown of the course, but I doubt it would ever be read except by the most ardent golf addict, so instead let me tell you about just four of my favou rite holes. ~ ~ The fourth hole is a par-4 of only 330 yards, and in dry summer conditions is driveable for big hitters. But only if you are brave! It is bounded on the right hand side of the fairway by a road and the beach, and the slightest push or slice with your tee-shot will see you “reloading”. Hook or pull the ball and you are either in a wicked bunker or hacking out of a bank with knee high rough. Even if you hit it straight and long, the green is fronted by two large bunkers, which you must “get lucky” to bypass and reach the putting surface. The green itself is on two tiers, with a wicked drop of around three feet between the levels. Get on the “wrong” level for the pin, and you are faced with either a treacherous downhill putt, or an equally treacherous one up the slope. I have driven this green myself in “friendly” play, but in a serious match I usually hit a gentle draw with a five wood, which will leave you short of all the trouble greenside, and with a relatively straightforward nine iron or wedge to the green. Par is always acceptable here! ~ ~ The eighth is a tiny par-3 of only 130 yards, but there are as many fives and worse scored here as birdies. This hole was remodelled in the early 1990’s, and you now play to a plateau green, fronted by a small drainage ditch. The right hand side of the green is well bunkered, and at the back is an enormous bank covered in treacherous rough. You will only be playing anything from an eight iron to a sand wedge on this hole, but you better be sure to get your distance right. Short and you’re in the drain, and long and you usually have an “impossible” hack out of the rough on the bank, which could very easily still see you back in the water. Looks easy, but take care. ~ ~ Onto the back nine, and the two holes I will feature here are the newest on the course, the fifteenth and sixteent h, only open for play for three years, but of such outstanding quality that they are talked about whenever the course is mentioned in casual conversation. ~ ~ The fifteenth is a par-4 of around 440 yards. The drive is relatively straightforward (provided you hit it) with the main trouble being a series of bunkers up the right hand side of the fairway. Get in these sand traps, and a bogey-5 is almost guaranteed. So, if you can, keep your tee shot up the left-hand side. Now the hole gets interesting. Depending on the wind direction, you can be hitting anything from a driver to a nine iron for your second. But whatever you hit, you better hit it well if you want to “reach the lawn”. At the back of the steeply contoured two-tier green is a new man-made waterfall falling down from a steep bank. This feeds into a small stream all the way along the left-hand side of the green, which in turn feeds a huge lake which guards, the front. Bunkers on the right complete the difficulty. So the only “safe” shot is a cracker hit right into the heart of the putting surface, otherwise you are in serious trouble. My advice on this hole is simple. If you are any way dubious about your ability to “make” the green with your second shot, then lay up short of the lake, and try to pitch and putt for your par four. There is no disgrace in a one over par five at this monster. ~ ~ Catch your breath quickly. Now you come to the second of the “new” holes, the par-5 sixteenth. At 520 yards, it is out of reach in two for all but the biggest of hitters. You must try and hit a good drive up the right hand side here, as the left of the fairway is a mass of thick rough, bunkers, and a stream. (As if one of the three wouldn’t be enough!) The green is fronted by yet another stream, so unless your surname happens to be Woods or Daly, you are laying up short of this with your second, leaving you a relatively simple pitch into the steeply contoured green. But yet again, you cannot afford to get this shot wrong. The green has been cut into the side of what was once a steep incline, and is surrounded on all sides by steep rock strewn banks, round which the rough has been allowed to grow virtually unchecked. Come up short, and you’re in that stream. Miss on any side, and your ball could end up anywhere, but almost certainly virtually unplayable. You’ll love this one. The course ends with a long par-4 followed immediately by the last, the second of the par-5’s. Both are long and difficult, and Arklow has the reputation for now having the most difficult last four holes in Irish golf. I wouldn’t be convinced on that score, but certainly they are extremely hard, especially coming right at the end of the round, when your energy levels are beginning to wane just a little. CONCLUSION ++++++++++++ ~ ~ To find Arklow is simple. Take the main road south to Rosslare, and turn of at the Arklow signpost. Drive straight into the town, where you will cross a bridge over a river. Swing an immediate left, and just follow the “golf club” signs. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes drive from Dublin. Now for the really good news. How much will all this cost you? Try only £20 (Irish) per round. This is quality golf at bargain basement prices; do give it a go if you get the chance.