New holes at The Island can take it to the next level

New Par 3 fourth could well become one of the great short links holes anywhere

A greenkeeper cuts a newly-laid putting surface.

A greenkeeper cuts a newly-laid putting surface.

 

As you stand on the tip of a sand hill, on what will be the new fourth tee when all the work is completed come early May at The Island Golf Club in north Co Dublin, it is possible to get a little insight into how the mind of the great golf architects work.

The vista, to be sure, is dramatic: apart from releasing a view out to Lambay Island and the waters of the Irish Sea, the new teeing ground is the starting point on a Par 3 played from a height to an enticing green fashioned into dunes below that could, in time, prove to be one of the great links short holes anywhere.

Martin Ebert, of Mackenzie & Ebert, is the man tasked with the renovations which have been under way throughout the winter months. His work, you might recall, include Royal Portrush ahead of the 148th British Open – which involved the creation of two new holes among other changes – and on other links courses on the Open rota, among them Royal St Georges and Royal Liverpool.

Ebert’s design work takes him all over the globe, with projects ongoing in Canada and Japan apart from his links works. What is unfolding before our eyes has him captivated, though. “There is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the premier links we’ve worked on. We are very luck with the client list that we have, but this is right up there in terms of landscape, it really is,” says the designer.

What is happening at The Island is the transformation of its front nine. Although the course received rave reviews from players who competed in the strokeplay qualifying of the British Amateur Championship there last year, the intention from the members was for further course improvements and Ebert’s eye and creativity was called on to advance the project.

The upshot is that the run of eight successive Par 4s to start the round has been consigned to history. As quirky as that historic stretch of holes may have seemed, the new routing will provide for the third hole to become a Par 5 and for the fourth hole to become that dramatic Par 3 before moving on to a stretch that will take in a number of new holes, what will be the eighth and ninth.

The eighth is a Par 4 on what was the old seventh, while the ninth is a Par 4 that returns the front nine loop back to the clubhouse. “There’s always the question when you are changing great old courses with the heritage of The Island and making sure people are comfortable and confident that what we are going to end up with is an improvement on what they have. As it has become reality, people becoming more and more confident of the project,” admits Ebert, who is full of praise for the shaping and construction work of Wicklow-based Dar Golf Construction who have carried out the work.

The new holes are due to be ready for play in May.
The new holes are due to be ready for play in May.

“You don’t want people to think they are the two new holes, a little bit like Portrush I suppose, where most people are comfortable seven and eight there fit in as if they have always been there, that’s our hope, our dream,” he adds.

The ninth hole was one of those which involved engineering a way through the dunes. “It was a little bit of an imagination challenge perhaps with the big dune across it. If we could just drop holes on and not move any earth, that would be our dream . . . but if we are going to move earth, a bit like the two holes at Portrush, we want people to go there and not realise we have moved earth so that it does look like we have just dropped those holes on the landscape.”

In carrying out the project, the club – aware of the ecological aspect of the project – employed the hugely respected ecologist Bob Taylor to advise on identifying areas which shouldn’t be touched and on other aspects such as creating dune slacks that are valuable for wildlife, flora and fauna.

“I have so much respect for the old architects, Harry Colt, Charles Alison, Tom Simpson, all those golden ages architects,” says Ebert, “and the attention to detail that they applied to their designs in terms of the greens surface shapes, the green surrounds shapes, that is what marks those courses out. You can apply that sort of quality of detail, whether it is a links course or a parkland course, and the basis of that really is the running game, the ability to play the ball along the ground as well as through the air.”

Come May, with its new look front nine, The Island will return to a full 18 holes – different but not different, as if the new holes had always been there – and will further elevate its status as a great golfing test.

And back to that new Par 3 fourth. “I think it will be one of the most talked about Par 3s in the world of golf,” says Ebert.

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