Ireland – the golf bit

18 07 2011

I got a bit carried away with canal boats, Irish folk music and Guinness in yesterday’s post so, as long as sister-in-law Sue doesn’t mind (or even if she does), here’s the golf bit:

I had problems with the ninth at Castle Barna. Twice.

It started with a mighty leap from the James Gill onto the banks of the Grand Canal at Daingean in the heart of the Bog of Allen. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, that kind of thing. I’d suddenly spotted the Castle Barna golf course as we rounded a bend and, somewhat impetuously, decided to abandon ship by jumping onto the towpath. Anxious not to fall back into the canal, I over-corrected and my momentum took me across the towpath, through a gap in the hedge and on to the fringe of the ninth green. This was somewhat embarrassing, as a couple of lads were lining up their putts at the time. “Pretty impressive, huh?” shouted Sue from the barge. ” Twould have bin more impressive if himself had fallen back in”,  muttered one of the lads. I just mumbled my apologies and asked the way to the pro shop.

So five minutes later, having jumped back on board to grab my golf shoes, tees and a sleeve of balls (all packed with the hope that I might just stumble upon a golf course somewhere in Ireland), as well as the James Gill’s bicycle, there I was in the pro shop, asking if there was any chance of getting a tee time, er, now.

“Certainly, no problem. There’s a couple of fellas just goin’ out. They’ll help you find your way round the course”

And how much are green fees?

“Twenty euros. No, wait, it’s Monday so it’ll be fifteen. Oh, and we’ve got a promotion on, and you get a free sleeve of balls in July.”

You’re kidding, right?

“Absolutely not.”

I’ve got my own golf shoes, but I’ll need to rent some clubs.

“Not a problem. Where are you from? Canada is it? Dat’s nice.”

Is there anywhere I can put my bike so it’ll be safe?

“Sure ting. Wheel her in, and we’ll stick her in the back of the kitchen for you.”

So how much for the club rental?

“Nothing at all. To tell the truth, they’re not the best of clubs.”

Well that’s good, because to tell the truth, I’m not the best of golfers.

And so it proved. In the company of Niall, a local lad, and his cousin Seamus from Dublin, I hacked my way round the course, completely failing to par 14 holes and having the time of my life. Each of my many bogeys was greeted with polite encouragement and when I chipped in for par on the Par 5 16th you’d have thought from their reaction that I’d just won the Irish Open. As we shook hands and walked off the 18th green, it was with the realisation that I was unlikely to shoot a more enjoyable 92 in my life. The pint of Guinness in the club lounge afterwards went down an absolute treat as I tallied up the cost of my golfing odyssey:

Round of golf, club rental, a sleeve of balls, free parking for the bike and a pint of Guinness: 18 euros (about $25 Cdn).

92 shots and all the craic I could handle for three and a half hours: priceless.

And then it was on me bike and off up the towpath in search of the James Gill. At a cruising speed of 3 mph and a couple of locks thrown in to slow them down a bit, it should take me all of half an hour!


Cap’n Dave

Just time for a quick drink when I caught up with the rest of the crew...


The full Irish

17 07 2011

The James Gill narrowly avoids yet another 200 year old bridge.

I spent this week steering a barge around the middle of Ireland, accompanied by Scottish Wife and four other friends, including SW’s sister Sue. At one point, the topic of my golf blog came up. “Ooh. I love reading your blog”, said Sue. ” Except the bits about golf .” So, with a nod to Sue, this post is going to be almost entirely about our canal trip, with maybe just a smidgin of golf snuck in near the end.

You know you’re in Ireland when… you get on the bus outside Dublin Airport and ask if it goes to Kildare. ” So it does”, says the driver. “And is it the town centre you’ll be wanting?” When I said I thought so, he went on ” Dat’s grand, ‘cos that’s the only place we stop.” He then asked if we’d like some diddly diddly music on the radio. When we looked blank, he continued. ” You know, the Michael Flatley fella, Riverdance an’ all dat stuff.”  “That’ll be grand then,” I said, immediately falling prey to bad Irish accent disease. And so diddly diddly music it was, all the way to Kildare.

After a quick pub lunch (Irish roast beef and Guinness, natch) we took a taxi to the village of Rathangan, where we were picking up the canal boat. Now is as good a time as any to introduce this week’s quiz: how do you pronounce the following towns, villages and counties? We passed through all of them over the course of the week. Say them out loud now, in your best Irish accent:

a) Rathangan

b) Daingean

c) Laois

d) Monasterevin

e) Athy

After a ten minute refresher course on how to start, steer and – most important of all – stop a canal boat, we were off and running, taking our 50 foot barge, the ‘James Gill’, through the first set of locks and on up the Barrow Navigation (a branch of the Grand Canal) until we reached our first pub, the Traveller’s Rest at Ballyteague. This seemed an excellent time to a) hone our oral comprehension skills in Irish and b) get to grips with Gaelic football on the big screen TV (Kildare were busy laying a whupping on County Wexlow or somebody). Not that I could really understand the finer points: when I asked the guy next to me if what appeared to be an attempted on field mugging was a fair challenge or not, he laughed and said “If the ref’s not looking, just about everything is legal.” A bit like hockey, then. Unfortunately, the combination of a) and b) led inexorably to c): the continuation of the downward spiral that is the inevitable result of Guinness suddenly becoming your staple diet.

And so it went. The beautiful Irish countryside flashed by, insofar as anything can be said to flash by when you’re travelling at three miles per hour. We would spend all day progressing about 10 or 12 miles and find ourselves in a different town or village, having spent hours pootling along drinking endless cups of tea, admiring the wildlife (it’s surprising how excited you can get about seeing a heron or a perch or, to be honest,  a donkey or a cow when the world is moving at such a slow pace that even old men with walking sticks are overtaking you). Every now and then we’d arrive at what looked like an impossibly narrow bridge or a large, looming lock and then we’d REALLY slow down so that the only damage caused was to my pride, at being such a terrible driver. Funny really, when I’ve always considered driving to be the best part of my golf game.

We had great food everywhere we went. Roast beef and Guinness (again) in Edenderry, a barbecue on the banks of the canal near Vicarstown, lamb and pork and whatever else Phil (a sort of poor man’s Jamie Oliver) could find in the butchers that are to be found everywhere in this part of Ireland and, finally, in the unlikeliest of settings – a supermarket in Monasterevin – we had the full Irish breakfast. For just 7 euros (under $10) you got two eggs, three sausages, two huge rashers of back bacon, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, black pudding and as much (sliced white) toast as you could eat, all washed down with the sort of tea my Nan used to make : stick-to-your-ribs tea that you could stand your spoon straight up in. ‘Heaven in Monasterevin’ was how I put it and surely one of  the highlights of the tour.

But not THE highlight. That honour has to go to Thursday night at Clancy’s Bar in Athy. Karin, the lovely owner of  Canalways, had told us that this was an evening not to be missed – there’s been music sessions here every Thursday night for the last 45 years!  Imagine, if you can, somebody’s front room connected by a small hatch to a bar. Then put in 21 musicians, playing everything from a squeeze box, a flute and a tin whistle to a banjo, a guitar, a fiddle and a couple of drums and then throw in some Irish bagpipes and a couple of singers who literally made you shed tears of emotion, and you’ve got two thirds of the room filled. Now squeeze in a dozen or so eager onlookers (and sometime participants) and a few more crammed into the hallway and you get something like this:

The back room at Clancy’s Bar, Athy, County Kildare

And then, a little later, through a glass darkly, this:

The sort of picture you probably won’t take until you’re on your fifth pint of Guinness…

Words can’t describe how great an evening it was. Suffice it to say that Phil’s wife Jan was wiping away the tears before the notes from the first song had died away, Julie and John had huge grins fixed to their faces all evening long and I, for reasons that are still not completely clear to me but may not be entirely unrelated to the aforementioned five pints of Guinness, answered the call for a ‘song from the visitors’ with an emotional if not exactly note-perfect rendition of  ‘O, Canada’. What a brilliant evening! It was a privilege to be there…

Anyway, that’s all for this week. The golf bit will have to wait for another time. In the meantime here’s the answers to the quiz:

a) Rathangan is pronounced ‘Rattangan’. ( Easy eh?)

b) Daingean = Dangan

c) Laois = Leash

d) Monasterevin = Monster Evan

e) Athy = A Tie

If you got them all right – you’re the full Irish!

All da best (and mile Failte),

Cap’n Dave

Himself, trying to strike a nautical pose…

Legends of the links (part 1)

23 05 2010

O.K., lets be perfectly clear about one thing. When I use the expression ‘legends’ in relation to the golfing exploits of Glenny, Robin, Adrian or myself thus far on the trip I am using the word in the sense of ‘legends in our own minds’. To be honest, our golf to this point has not been stellar. The courses –  Lahinch and Doonbeg – have been fantastic; the weather – wonderful. Ireland is in the grip of a heatwave right now and Robin has the sunburn to prove it. Our play, however,  has not really come up to scratch – in fact, if anybody asked me what my handicap is right now my answer would be that I’m an 11 at Glacier Greens and about a 21 on a links course. Blind tee shots to tiny fairways, par 3 holes where you can’t even see the green from the tee (#6 at Lahinch), tricky sidehill lies everywhere and massive greens (#12 at Doonbeg even has a bunker in the middle of it!). There’s golf and then there’s links golf…

With the honourable exception of Robin, no one has yet broken 90 – and this in conditions that are so benign that the starter today said “Gentlemen, da course is at your mercy. Do with her what you will”. After three holes  I was seven over par (yup, seven) and trying to find a pot bunker to bury myself in. Obviously I have excuses. In hindsight, the consumption of six Guinness last night followed by an extremely generous measure of  Balvinie whiskey may not have been ideal preparation. Possibly, too, the choice of the full Irish breakfast (black pudding included) on both mornings may have been a tad unwise. In the end, though, my inability to steer the little white thing  over the mounds of marram grass and onto a safe haven has to be my responsibility and mine alone. (By the way, the course marshall told us today that the marram is known locally as ‘love grass’ – once you’re in it, you’re f*cked…)

Not that there hasn’t been the occasional moment of success: Robin has had a birdie in each round so far, Glenny finished with a sixty foot par saving putt on #18 at Doonbeg today and I myself made a birdie on #14, the par three signature hole perched on the dunes a hundred feet above  the Atlantic Ocean. The Chief has not been at his best to this point but, hopefully, better days are yet to come. Although he did finish with an eye catching 300 yard drive at Doonbeg today, the rest of us appreciated it more for the fact that for once it finished on the fairway and not some distant spot in the love grass. He’s my partner tomorrow, so I’m hoping that this a harbinger of good things. Less impressive, though, were Adrian’s efforts to extricate himself from a cunningly placed pot bunker on #2 today: five attempts with his sand wedge failed to do the trick and he only stopped flailing away when we agreed to give him a berger double. I’d only just finished laughing at his misfortune when I sliced my approach shot on the very next hole and hit a picturesque whitewashed cottage. I mean, really, what were they thinking building it right alongside the golf course? (Actually the cottage looked about 500 years old and the course was opened in 2002). Robin’s ball finished up alongside the dry stone boundary wall and his attempt to play a carom onto the green was spectacularly unsuccessful. Glenny, in the meantime, was waiting patiently to hit a fifteen foot birdie putt which he duly converted and then lectured the rest of us about our pace of play.

A quick word about the accommodation so far. Doonbeg was five star all the way. Glenny fit in as we knew he would – totally at ease, dispensing generous tips (on our behalf) wherever he went; Adrian, the seasoned traveller, was also very comfortable in a pretty luxurious environment and full of laughs and jokes along the way. The surprise package has been Robin – his Clem Kadiddlehopper persona is already changing and I fear that Sandy may not recognise the debonair figure he cut around the hotel. Now we’ve arrived at Ballybunion, a short drive and a twenty minute ferry ride across the Shannon estuary. This is more obviously a golf town. We have 36 holes to play tomorrow and Glen and I have decided to hire caddies, in an attempt to gain an advantage and cut into Robin’s lead in our nine round competition, the Celtic Challenge. I’ve decided upon an alcohol free evening – desperate measures, I know – but I’ll not be abandoning the full Irish breakfast just yet. Will the tactic work? I’ll keep you posted…

All da best.

Dave B.

The art of caddying (theory and practice)

17 03 2010

I played 18 holes at Glacier this morning with Robin, el Bandito Juan and The Chief. My game was – to put it mildly – slightly off, but somehow I didn’t seem to mind as much as usual. I found myself thinking about what I would be doing if I was caddying this round instead of playing. As a matter of fact, Robin and John had pointed out early on in the round that I had been behaving rather oddly, when I had refused to give John a yardage on #3 or tend the flagstick for Robin on #4. My point was that, now that I’m a professional caddie (gross earnings to date in 2010, after four rounds: $100 US, 4 pints of Guinness and a ticket to the Champions Tour event in Newport Beach, California), they shouldn’t expect me to work for free. Their point was that if I’m as crappy a caddie as I am a golfer I shouldn’t be charging at all. The debate continues…

However, it does bring up an interesting point: just how good or bad a caddie am I? After my very first day as a looper I emailed my future employer, Brian Benedictson, to tell him that I’d found work and gave him a brief summary of how I thought it had gone. Ever the pro, Brian replied with a list of helpful caddie tips which I thought I would share with you, and attempt to analyse my strong and weak points:

1. Show up. Definite success, seeing as I’d travelled all the way from Comox to San Diego, walked the course the day before the tournament and waited five hours until I was finally taken on as a caddie.  Score: 10/10

2. Keep up. Not as easy as you might think. I’m pretty fit for my age (honest) but cleaning a club before putting it back in the bag, scurrying down the fairway after your player and having the next club to hand without making him wait is surprisingly tricky to do. Score: 6/10

3. Shut up. Anyone who knows me would have guessed that this would not be easy for me. Stan birdied the very first hole he played with me as his caddie, draining a 30 foot putt. I must have been nervous, because I found myself saying: “A birdie. Is that the best you can do?” The look on Stan’s face, not to mention his playing partners, was a strong reminder that it was best to keep my funny comments to myself if I wanted to keep my job. It definitely helped two holes later, when Stan hooked his tee shot out of bounds. I handed him a new ball, tried not to make eye contact, and walked up the other side of the fairway for a couple of hundred yards. Score (by my standards): 5/10. By anyone else’s standards: 2/10

4. Don’t let clubs rattle while walking: successful for the most part, except when I dropped my towel (aka club quietener) half way down the 5th fairway but didn’t notice until we’d arrived at the green and I was supposed to clean the ball. Oops. Score: 6/10

5. Be relaxed. I was amazed to see how nervous I was the first day, absolutely dreading that Stan might ask me what club to use for an approach shot, or how much break there was in a putt. I used the ploy of asking what he thought and then agreeing with whatever he said – maybe not that useful, but at least I avoided putting doubt in his mind. By the second round I felt a lot better. Score: 5/10

6. Build my player’s confidence up quietly. I think I was pretty good in this area, in that although I honestly thought just about every shot Stan played was well struck I kept my comments low key. The idea was to act as if I expected all his shots to be good. I think it worked, but you’d have to ask Stan what he thought. Score: 8/10

7. Stand in the same spot every time he’s hitting (i.e. 10 – 12 feet to one side). I did ok with this, mostly by standing wherever the other players stood. They were scrupulous about not standing in eachothers’ line of sight. Score: 8/10

8. Wear flat sole runners rather than golf shoes. Luckily I’d read about this in the Canadian Tour caddies’ manual, so it wasn’t an issue. Score: 10/10

9. Be helpful to all players, but remember my first loyalty is to my player. I tried to help out by raking bunkers for all the players and offering to attend the flag whenever anyone was about to putt. I think my gestures were appreciated, but I also think the players were used to having to do it for themselves usually, so we sometimes got our lines crossed. I might get bonus points here for bringing some fruit, granola bars and water for Stan and reminding him to rehydrate every few holes. Of course, I might have just sounded like his Mum nagging him, but my intentions were certainly good. Score: 9/10

10. Finally, concentrate for the entire duration of the round. I was determined to really concentrate hard for all 18 holes (just as I try to do when playing), but it’s easy to let your guard drop. My low point was walking off the 15th green, congratulating one of Stan’s partners, who’d just made a good par saving putt. We’d got half way to the next tee, when he looked at me kind of funnily and said ” How far are you gonna carry that thing?” I still had the flagstick in my hands! Score: 5/10  Must try harder…

So I make my total 72%, which is a C+/B grade. What do you guys think? Any comments, either on my self assessment or on what you think a good caddie would do?

BTW: many thanks to Brian Benedictson for taking the trouble to send me his caddie tips. With any luck it will make me slightly less of a liability at the Times Colonist Open in Victoria, the first week of June, when I get my first chance to caddie on the Canadian Tour. I can’t wait!

All da best!

Dave B.