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Like all gracious hosts, the O’Meara course provides a generous welcome writes Fionn Davenport.
Not surprising given the pedigree of the place, though: for nearly 800 years this was the country estate of the mighty FitzGerald family, the earls of Kildare and Dukes of Leinster – one of the main powerbrokers of Irish history. As you tee off – a rewarding par-five up the hill that is kind enough to tease a well-struck drive with the prospect of a birdie – you’re about to set off through the original estate, which meanders across the rolling hillside on both sides of the River Rye and through the forested clumps of ancient specimen trees that provided shelter to the earls and their families since the 13th century – and today add character and colour to the course.
The friends and family of the earls of Kildare never had to contend with the strategically placed bunkers, eager and hungry for stray balls. And not even their most talented gardeners were able to create lawns quite as perfect as these greens, where the lines run true and a mishit putt is just that…no point in looking for imaginary obstructions along the way!
The opening nine works its way up the various hills to Carton House’s distinctive symbol, Tyrconnell Tower, built in the late 17th-century to serve as the mausoleum for Richard Talbot, the 1st earl of Tyrconnell, but it was never finished – and the earl (who was a major player at the Battle of the Boyne and died in 1691) is presumed buried in an old graveyard on the estate. It is in the shadow of such notable history that we drive, chip and putt.
The highlight of the course is O’Meara’s own version of Amen Corner, a stretch of holes in the lush valley of the River Rye made up of two threes bookending a magnificent par-five. Accuracy is everything, beginning with the 175-yard 14th, where you hit from an elevated tee onto a green protected on all sides by water. You’ll need to add length to accuracy if you’ve any thoughts of entertaining the 15th in two: most opt for the lay-up short of the river, where you can watch a well-struck wedge shot arc its way over the water onto the green. A two-putt par is enough to make anyone smile as you amble up the path to the 16th tee, past the distinctive Shell Cottage, built around 1750 for Emily FitzGerald, the great granddaughter of Charles II; over the years it hosted Queen Victoria, Princess Grace of Monaco and Peter Sellers – singer Marianne Faithfull also lived here for a time. The 15th bears some similarity to the 12th at Augusta: a shortish tee shot over water to a green that slopes away – walking off without dropping a shot over the three holes is an accomplishment worthy of acknowledgement.
The final three holes bring you back to the main house, courtesy of a long par-four 18th that demands you split the fairway between two huge trees if you want to give yourself a reasonable chance of making the green in two. Beyond it is the magnificent pile that is Carton House, built by Georgian genius Richard Cassels in the 18th century for the 19th earl, Robert Fitzgerald. Be sure to walk through the original house to appreciate its true grandeur on your way to the wonderful Linden Tree restaurant in the newer wing, or beyond it to the thoroughly contemporary spa: it’s the kind of pampering your golfing efforts deserve.
Photograph shows the 16th green on the O'Meara course. For more details see www.cartonhouse.com
* 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.