Céad Míle Fáilte
We made our first trip to Ireland in September 2001, less than two weeks after the tragedy of 9/11. The International Terminal at JFK was practically empty that evening, as was our plane. We landed in Shannon with an itinerary familiar to many a golfer: Lahinch, Doonbeg (it was still under construction), Ballybunion, Tralee, Waterville and Old Head. Since that first visit 18 years ago we have crisscrossed the Emerald Isle from Carne to the K Club and Royal County Down to Old Head, photographing so many extraordinary courses in between and making lots of friends along the way.
Maybe it was the lingering shock of 9/11 or the fact this was my first golf trip to Ireland, but my senses were heightened and I remember lots of little details about that 10-day visit so many years ago. It rained so much in Lahinch that our wet clothes and golf bags steamed up our little room on the second floor of the tiny B&B, never really drying out until we returned to the US. We stopped by to check out a new course under construction in County Clare – it was Doonbeg in the making. It was so cold we had to buy wool hats in a yurt serving as their temporary Pro Shop. Onward to Ballybunion, then Tralee (the wind off the Atlantic was so strong I couldn’t keep my balance on the tee box and I became a human ballast for Evan’s tripod positioned high up in the dunes), to Waterville (the ever-welcoming General Manager, Noel Cronin, generously offered us multiple pots of tea to stay warm) and then on to Kinsale and Old Head where I was introduced to my first of many Irish coffees (I don’t drink coffee and I don’t drink whiskey, but what a perfect combination to revive rain-soaked, chilled-to-the-bone photographers). Mostly, I remember feeling warmly embraced by this country and its people.
Waterville – September 2019
We returned this past September to “An Coireán”, or Waterville, as it is known today. The town is situated on a narrow isthmus with the wild Atlantic on one side and Lough (Lake) Currane on the other. The crescent shaped Ballinskelligs Bay serves as a backdrop for two great golf courses: Waterville Golf Links, whose history traces back to 1889, is located at the top of the crescent and Hogs Head Golf Club, built about two years ago, can be found at the crescent’s southern tip. Evan was scheduled to shoot both courses. We thought with nine days on the ground, and a bit of Irish luck, the sun would shine enough for Evan to get the shots he needed. It was not to be. We had only one good morning and afternoon and then a few brief moments around sunset. It was a waiting game, but we were fortunate to be able to wait it out at the magnificent Waterville House owned, in conjunction with Waterville Golf Links, by the same Irish-American investor group since 1987.
The Waterville House
I had admired the Waterville House from outside its locked gate on our first trip 18 years ago, never thinking that one day I would have the honor of being a guest.
Peering over the stone wall down the pebbled drive towards the yellow Georgian manor house you can imagine being taken back in time. The Butler family built the manor in 1790 and called their 50-acre estate “Waterville”. The Currane River flows along the south side of the property into Ballinskelligs Bay. It is along this stretch of the river that an angler or two can usually be seen fly-fishing in Butler’s Pool, the gateway for salmon and sea trout entering Lough Currane.
Black faced sheep graze along the river’s edge. I got what was a probably a bit too close to some roaming rams but had enough sense to back off before their territorial testosterone kicked in. I later learned it was rutting season…
Once inside the property another higher stone wall guards the back of the manor. Easily seven feet high, it encloses a large private garden edged around the inside perimeter and through its center with begonias, hydrangea, rhododendrons, roses, lilies, agapanthus and montbretia, protecting all from the sea spray and prying eyes.
The second floor library is my favorite room in the house where you can sip a cup of tea (or something stronger from the honor bar) and watch the weather shift over the Bay, or in our specific case, watch the heavy cloudbanks roll in and blanket the Waterville Golf Links’ dunes as sunset approached. We also enjoyed time in the downstairs living room with a view of the river and Butler’s Pool. It was here that Evan recorded a podcast for PaddyTalks.
I was invited to listen in but needed to remain very quiet. If I could have made one edit, it would have been during the quick fire session when Evan was asked “what is your favorite song?” Given all the clouds and rain we had endured, it took all the self-control I could muster not to shout, “Here comes the Sun”…
The Waterville House team, lead by Christine Courtney and Michael Fitzgerald made our stay both delightfully interesting and delicious. Always accommodating, they never tired of serving Evan his same breakfast order of fresh scrambled eggs and smoked salmon while making every effort to brew him the strongest coffee possible at all hours of the day.
Waterville Golf Links
In the 18 years since we last stepped foot on the course, a lot has changed and yet a lot has stayed the same (and that is a good thing). Tom Fazio renovated the course over the period 2002-2006 and in 2019 the Clubhouse went through its own renovation. It is bright, open and welcoming. A wide staircase beckons you to the second floor lounge and restaurant with its floor to ceiling windows at dune height, making you feel one with the course.
One thing that had not changed was that Noel Cronin, in his 35th and last year as General Manager, was there to welcome us again. Evan and I felt fortunate to have crossed paths with him after so many years.
Evan and I spent some quality time with Michael Murphy, the course superintendent for the past 24 years and Waterville’s newly named General Manager. Michael’s depth of agronomical knowledge, combined with his management skills and years of service at Waterville should be a recipe for ongoing success. Evan and I enjoy our time with superintendents because we always walk away learning something new. Catching up with Michael on the course he pointed out all the earthworm activity and we learned the team avoids cutting the fairways immediately after a heavy rain because the water brings the earthworms to the surface and the mower blades immediately dull upon contact with worm innards!
“Gulliver’s Travels”-Waterville #1 on this guy’s Bucket List
Within minutes of arriving at the course, we introduced ourselves to Waterville’s longtime Starter, Kevin O’Shea. The plan was to take a buggy out to survey the course. Following Kevin out of the Starter’s Hut was a tiny black kitten, so small we might not have noticed him but for his high-pitched squeaks. Kevin explained that the kitten arrived that morning, jumping out the back of someone’s car trunk when they pulled in to play golf. The driver was unaware of the little hitchhiker. I was beside myself and ran to the halfway house to get the little squeaker some food. Kevin assured me not to worry, they would find the kitten a home. I was already trying to figure out what I would need to do to bring him back to the States. I immediately named the little guy “Gulliver” (for his extraordinary ability to travel). When we returned to the Starter’s hut the next morning I was disappointed not to find Gulliver, but then elated to hear that word had traveled around the small town and the little adventurer had been reunited with his family (which included three very happy little girls). Hopefully Gulliver’s travel escapades are behind him, but it just goes to show that it’s never too early to start making that Bucket List a reality.
And on that happy note, it was time to go home. Ironically, as we left the Waterville House in the predawn hours to make our way back to Shannon, Evan and I looked up to find a star-filled sky – there would be no clouds that morning, a perfect day for photography…
We look forward to returning soon and enjoying “one hundred thousand welcomes”, yet again.
Waterville Golf Links Phone: 353 66 947 4102
Waterville House Phone: 353 66 947 4244