Royal Tara offers mental and physical test for All Ireland Cups and Shields
Co Meath venue is ready to welcome 18 clubs and 20 teams for club finals
The Newcastle West team celebrate their victory in last year’s Pierce Purcell Shield at the All-Ireland cups and shields national finals at Kinsale Golf Club, Cork.
It’s perhaps apposite that a golf club situated less than a kilometre from the seat of the former High Kings of Ireland should provide the backdrop to the pinnacle of club golf in Ireland. This week Royal Tara will welcome 18 clubs and 20 teams – Cork and Co Sligo are doubly engaged – to the AIG-sponsored GUI All Ireland Cups and Shields.
The club is situated in the old lands of the Bellinter House estate and is enjoying something of a third incarnation so to speak, at least in naming rights. Royal Tara began in 1906 as Navan Golf Club and was situated at Balreask, now home to the rugby club and the Ardboyne Hotel. In 1923, according to anecdotal evidence, the club was renting from a Mrs Swan, and she indicated after raising the rental charge she intended to return the land to agricultural use. Cecil Briscoe, who owned the Bellinter estate was a keen golfer, and he agreed to lease 54 acres an agreement that was extended into the 1960s.
He became the first captain of the new Bellinteer Golf Club, a nine-hole layout. In September 1965 the name of the club was changed for a third time to Royal Tara, following an egm a few months earlier. Since then it’s blossomed into a 27-hole, mature parkland layout, bearing the design stamp of Des Smyth and Declan Branigan.
There are three nines, Cluidne, Tara – they will be used for the cups and shields – and Bellinter and each hole is named after a myth, legend or personality associated with the Hill of Tara and its special place in Irish history.
Royal Tara has already hosted the Youths Home Internationals – Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry were part of the Ireland team – the Irish Youths Championship and the Senior Ladies Home internationals amongst other tournaments. Pádraig Harrington won his first “major”, his words, the Leinster Boys Championship at Royal Tara in July, 1988.
The gale force winds of Sunday night may have abated but it was still blustery yesterday as the green-keeping staff, assisted by members were diligently offering the layout a final manicure. It is picture postcard perfect from the verdant fairways to the pristine flowerbeds that surround the new clubhouse built in 2000.
In the company of club secretary Chris Farrell – in a previous life he was a long standing co-driver to Austin McHale in Rallying – a tour of the course provides an insight into the challenges that the club golfers will face when they dispute the Senior Cup, Barton Shield, Junior Cup, Pierce Purcell Shield and Jimmy Bruen Shield. Given the disparity in ability depending on the competition in question, the club, under the direction of the GUI, will have to set up a course that is challenging to the scratch golfer and playable for someone with a handicap in the mid teens. The greens will be running at about nine and a half on the Stimpmeter.
The finalists have been doing their reconnaissance, playing the course on several occasions over the past four or five weeks. Some courses lend themselves to matchplay on the basis of the way the holes are laid out and Royal Tara is a classic case in point. Unusually there are five par threes, five par fives and some driveable, conditions permitting, par fours that will provide irresistible “risk and reward” opportunities. There is a premium on accuracy off the tee, especially for those who reach for the driver and look to take a chunk out of some subtle doglegs.
On occasion there is a claustrophobic feel on a tee box as 80-foot trees encroach on sight lines, while the greens are gently undulating for the most part but a few are tiered and getting above the hole, down-wind, down-grain is both a test of nerve and feel. Fortune may favour the brave or the cautious; both options are offered on nearly every hole and that’s why Royal Tara will present such an intriguing mental and physical examination this week.