It's a testament to an unshakeable club spirit that the economic downturn that rocked Irish golf was no more than a shudder for Naas Golf Club and its stunning parkland course.
The vibrant club membership of over 1,200 that the club enjoyed almost a decade ago remains steady and the future looks very bright indeed with some 200 juniors eager to follow in the footsteps of Walker Cup winner Jack Hume and new amateur hotshots in West of Ireland winner Jonathan Yates and St Andrews Links Trophy holder Conor O'Rourke.
Founded in 1896, Naas is a club accustomed change but since it moved to the old Kerdiffstown Estate in 1941, its story has been one of growth, good management and an admirable competitive spirit, culminating last week in the opening of its stunningly redesigned front nine.
The club's upward curve is reflected in the development of what is a much-underrated course, which began as a nine-hole affair before being extended to 18 holes in 1991 when the club acquired 45 acres from the neighbouring Society of St Vincent De Paul.
The expanded facilities allowed the club to increase its membership from three hundred to today's thousand-strong cohort.
And with their numbers swollen by the arrival of a small army of juniors attracted by the excellence of the coaching programmes offered by top PGA professional Gavin Lunny, the future looks very bright indeed.
The development of the youth programmes, facilitated by Naas' decision to allow youngsters to join in their tenth year, owes much to junior convenors such as Brendan Ryan and the late Monica O’Connor, whose work has been carried on by Brian Cagney and Mary Flahavan.
Since 1991, improvements have been made to the course, some of which were made possible through improved methods in land drainage, allowing the club to reclaim an area of the course previously considered unsuitable for development.
The fearsome par-three 17th hole now stands on this reclaimed ground, and the result is a parkland layout to rival the best in Leinster.
However, even the Mona Lisa needs an occasional facelift and two years ago the club decided to undertake a major redevelopment of the course at a cost of €500,000 —a courageous decision given the challenges that many clubs were facing at that time, particularly in recruiting and retaining members.
Golf course design specialists re(GOLF) were engaged to design the new layout and the execution was entrusted to DAR Golf Construction with the back-up of Course Manager David Behan and his staff.
What has been achieved is a magnificent layout which will seriously challenge golfers of all abilities as we witnessed during the official opening last Friday, when Walker Cup hopeful O'Rourke immaculately plotted his way around a 6,326-yard test that rewards skill and precision above power.
"It's a great club and it's been a huge influence on me — both the course and the members," said O'Rourke, the leading qualifier in the West of Ireland at Easter and a potential Walker Cup player.
"The course is a great challenge for anybody and it's always in great condition. It's not the longest but it's a really great test."
As the club's Chairperson Richard Hayden explained at the official opening, the expansion from nine to 18 holes led to the christening of the nines as the "old and the new", the "outside and inside nines" and more recently, the "west and east course."
"In 2002, when Jeff Howes redesigned the inside nine, the club recognised that the outside nine suffered by comparison," Mr Hayden said. "So the Executive made a major decision under my predecessor, Clive Brownlee and in 2015 a detailed proposal was put forward to do a major redesign.
"Thankfully the project has been delivered on time and on budget—an outstanding example of teamwork at its best— and we are looking forward to the future and the enjoyment our members and visitors will get from the course."
Changes, major and minor, were carried out to ten holes from the first to the 10th with new greens constructed for the second, sixth and ninth and modifications made to the putting surfaces or surrounds of the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth and tenth.
Only 34 yards was added to the overall yardage of this 6,300 yard, par-71 test. But with many obsolete bunkers removed or replaced with grass alternatives and others reduced in size, the course is now considered a fairer and more enjoyable and demanding test.
"I love the fifth hole," said O'Rourke of a gorgeous, 381-yard par-four that requires a perfect drive between stands of mature trees and a solid approach to a green now protected by a new pot bunker.
The 396-yard sixth is another beauty, requiring a good drive past a specimen oak guarding the left side of the fairway followed by a demanding approach to a redesigned green where a new lake eats into the right-hand side, fraying the nerves.
The creation of a horizon-style green greatly improves the seventh while the 132-yard eighth is now a true gem with its redesigned putting surface jealously defended by penal bunkers and challenging run-offs.
The ninth has been reduced by ten yards to 305 yards but while it was once easy meat for the young gunslingers, they must now think twice before pulling the trigger.
Cross bunkers at 208 yards pinch into the fairway while a deep pot bunker stands guard 30 yards short of a redesigned green that you miss at your peril.
The back nine remains as impressive as ever with the index-one 16th quickly followed by the terrifying, 178-yard par-three 17th, where out of bounds left and a lake on the right leave you with no option but to hit a perfect tee shot.
It would be impossible to make Naas a more welcoming club but the newly redesign course has turned a gem into a true treasure.
State-of-the-art at Naas
Naas Golf Club boasts over 200 juniors but it's not just the young guns who reap the rewards of the state-of-the-art, 800 sq. ft. swing studio set up by the club's PGA professional Gavin Lunny in February.
The club teams use the purpose-built building to prepare for inter-club competitions or undergo intensive swing analysis in a studio that boasts every mod-con from Trackman and the SAM putting lab to specialised club fitting for brands such as PING, Mizuno, Callaway, Titleist and Srixon.
"We have every shaft under the sun," explained assistant professional Brian Sweeney, who has become a go-to man for putting analysis.
"We have just introduced SAM putt lab, which is like Trackman for putting. We've a lot of software and the great thing is we can put up the video analysis on the TV monitor and have the Trackman data on the computer and the screen and see what's happening.
"It's great for feedback. We are going to start pushing the biomechanics part of things now and get our clients used to it."
Appointed as a Provincial Coach for South Leinster last year, Lunny is one of the most progressive and innovative PGA professionals in the country, helping the likes of Jack Hume (now a pro) make the Walker Cup team.
Jonathan Yates and Conor O'Rourke respectively won the West of Ireland Championship and St Andrews Links Trophy last year.
Now a new generation of youngsters is hoping to follow in their footsteps.
“When I started the lowest handicapper in the club was off 1.7 and there weren’t a huge number of category 1 golfers,” Lunny explained.
“That’s now grown ten-fold and we now have over 200 junior players in Naas and 50 of those are girls who now have official handicaps.
“To grow that from a low base was a great achievement but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the club.
"I was one of the first coaches in Ireland to use Trackman, but I wanted to be able to teach people in the right environment and have my own space to do that.
“Last winter, as part of a long-term development plan at the club, we went into a mutual arrangement whereby the club built an 800 sq ft coaching studio, which opened on 25 February this year.
“We have had a great reaction to it and it allows me to interact with people the way I want, offering a full fitting service, Trackman and HD video analysis. We also have 3D bio-mechanical software and a simulator."
- Club: Naas Golf Club
- Address: Kerdiffstown, Naas, Co. Kildare.
- Tel: 045 874644 or 045 897509
- Web: www.naasgolfclub.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Green fees: €30 Midweek; €35 Weekends
- Society rates: As Above
- Buggy hire: €30
- Club hire: €30
- Electric trolleys: €10
- Range Balls: Adjoining driving range privately owned
17th, 180 yards, Par 3. A testing par-three protected by water on the right and bunkers and out of bounds on the left
Try not to think about the trouble and commit to your shot.
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This piece first appeared in the Irish Independent's Tee to Green golf supplement on 25 May, 2017