We are currently performing routine maintenance, some functionality may be temporarily unavailable.
Jack Nicklaus never does things by halves. He played brilliantly, won in dominating style and designs golf courses that are meant to challenge and impress - writes Fionn Davenport.
Killeen Castle, which has watched over this 600-acre estate since 1181, is a fitting venue for Nicklaus’ grand vision of a resort-style championship course that would linger long in the memory. From the moment you drive through the gates, sweep past the castle and into the car park by the stunningly modern clubhouse, you a get a sense of how special this place was built to be.
To this end, almost 500 miles of underground drainage was laid and capped by 40,000 tonnes of sand; 7000 mature trees were transplanted during construction and placed to properly frame the fairways. The result is one of the most impressive parkland courses in the country that will challenge all levels of golfer: it plays every inch of its 7,677 yards off the championship tees, which will test the mettle of most scratch players.
For the rest of us mortals, the regular tees are challenging enough, and the course lays out its intent from the very first, a superb par four that demands you split a fairway between two sets of bunkers before setting up solid shot into an undulating, bunker-protected green. A par here is always well-earned.
The rest of the course follows in similar style, and while every hole is distinctive, they all have the Nicklaus imprimatur, which is all about risk-reward: hit your drive on the appropriate line (usually over a set of well-positioned bunkers) and you’ll gain maximum distance and the easier second shot: less adventurous souls can aim for any part of the generous fairways but they’ll have plenty to do if they want to get on in regulation.
The greens are large, which makes them easy to find but tricky to negotiate, especially if you’ve found a less than ideal spot away from the flag. Between it and the ball are the subtle breaks and undulations that will reward a good putt but leave anything less in three-putt territory. Nicklaus makes you work for par.
Like all great performances, Killeen builds to a dramatic crescendo that reveals itself in the closing holes. The final three make a credible case for best finishing holes in Ireland. A par three and a par four, both over water, set up the finale, which is more than reminiscent of the finishing hole at Jack’s home course at Memorial, a dogleg right protected by high trees and a hungry little creek that insist you hit a good drive if you want any chance of making the green in two. Just like Memorial, the green has a false front that requires you take an extra iron, but here the backdrop is the stunning castle, which served as the seat of the Plunkett family, the earls of Fingall, from 1403 until 1951. It’s as grand a finish as you could possibly imagine in Ireland.
The beautiful clubhouse, a contemporary single-story building to the left of the castle, is home to a terrific restaurant and some of the best changing rooms in the country, a reflection of Jack’s ambition to offer golfers an experience akin to that you’d find in the best country clubs of the United States.
Photograph is the second hole at Killeen Castle.See http://www.killeencastle.com/ for more.
* Fionn Davenport is a leading travel writer, currently the Travel Editor with The Irish Times. He is a regular contributor on RTE & Newstalk radio, The Lonely Planet travel guide and is a keen single-figure golfer. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.