Many American majors are played at sumptuous country clubs boasting an eye-watering array of facilities from tennis courts to swimming pools that complement their magnificent championship layouts.
Ireland would appear to have few to match them, but only at first glance.
The next time you are dashing between the hedgerows as you ascend from the Liffey and head towards Clonsilla in west Dublin, keep a weather eye out for a once modest Dublin club that now boasts some of the finest sports facilities in the country — Westmanstown Golf Club.
Founded by the Garda in 1988 as an additional a sports complex and nine-hole golf facility for members of the force — an alternative to Stackstown on the south side — it is now a well-established community club that’s now very much open to non-Garda members.
Following a change to its constitution which once required at least 50 percent of its membership to come from within the force, the changing landscape in Irish golf has persuaded the club to throw its doors open to all.
And with membership packages starting at €545 for lady associates and going up to €1,065 for full, seven-day membership, it’s an attractive prospect for golfers living in its catchment area between Leixlip and the Phoenix Park.
With its verdant green fairways among the most magnificently manicured in the capital not to mention its wide array of facilities from the vast conference centre to sports fields for its GAA, rugby and bowls clubs, Westmanstown has everything one could ask for in a club, including a state of the art gym, currently leased to Crunch Fitness.
More importantly, the club has a true community spirit.
Roll up there on a cold, damp January Monday, and there are veterans queuing up on the first tee for their weekly outing, students heading out with pencil bags for a quiet game at midday and knots of people in the clubhouse, simply enjoying their elevenses.
“The biggest thing Westmanstown has in its favour is that sense of community,” says Cathal O’Reilly, who has been a member since the beginning. “It’s its strongest point, for sure.
“My brother was on the force and as I worked at ReadyMix and Tom Craddock was my boss, he was anxious for us to get out and play golf. So it turned out to be tremendous for me.
“I was one of the first civilians to join, and I have so many friends here now. It’s a brilliant club. And to think it all started with nine holes and a small shed.”
Far from modest these days, Westmanstown now boasts one of the biggest clubhouses in the country.
In fact, it’s so big that there are an array of function rooms, making it a popular wedding venue but also the centre of operations the various sports clubs that have their facilities there, including bowls and bridge as well as GAA, rugby and golf.
In common with many Irish clubs, its membership is ageing and while attracting younger people to golf is now a challenge for the game in an era when people have less free time and many financial obligations, Westmanstown is prepared to do its bit.
Edward Doyle, the Director of Golf, knows the club well have spent many days coaching the juniors there during his seven-year attachment to neighbouring Luttrellstown Castle.
He’s been on board at Westmanstown Golf Club since 2009, and while many clubs were battening down the hatches to get through those turbulent economic times, he oversaw a €350,000 investment in the golf course and its machinery.
The original Eddie Hackett course, which had already been expanded from nine to 18 holes, underwent a major drainage upgrade through DAR Golf Constructions with SportsBond drainage in bunkers and new tees and fairway bunkering upgrades transforming an ordinary course into an excellent test.
“It began as a social club with an athletics side to it and a very simple nine-hole course,” Edward explains. “Interest grew over the years, and it became an 18 hole course with more adjoining pitches, including all-weather pitches.
“There was a big extension made to the clubhouse around 12 years ago with the addition of the gymnasium and the tennis courts; it has become one of the premier all-sport venues in the country.
“But with the economic downturn, all those sports became less appealing with people working an extra job or simply deciding that it wasn’t worth the economic cost. So that was a challenge but Westmanstown has addressed the challenge the golf club has never been through any difficulty.”
Westmanstown lost around 230 members during the downturn, and now has just under 800 members in all categories.
The game had simply become too expensive and time-consuming for a shrinking Garda membership at a time when there were salaries were capped, and recruitment to the force was halted.
“The biggest diminishing category was the younger Garda. So we weren’t getting members in their 20s, and we are now in a position to attract more golfers in that category again.”
As things stand, Gardai now make up just 20 percent of the club membership.
“There was always a perception that you can’t join unless you are a guard or the relative of a guard,” Doyle says. “And it was true that until this year.
“The club’s constitution limited the number of non-Garda members, but now there are no restrictions.”
The reason for the change is simple. Given the rate of depletion of the Garda categories and the limitations imposed by the club’s constitution, Westmanstown’s days might be numbered.
Like many other progressive thinking golf club managers, Doyle is keen to attract a younger membership and provide alternative forms of the game, such as nine-hole golf.
“Every golf club has the responsibility to speed up the game,” he says. “If you are a 25 or 28-year-old guy heading off to play golf at 9 o’clock, the reality is that you are not going to be back before three. That’s just impossible for people with children. You can’t give six hours to golf.
“So golf has a big responsibility to become more flexible and offer the chance to play nine holes or to play shorter formats. That’s up to the governing bodies and the tours and the players on TV to promote.
“But in domestic golf, the Get Into Golf schemes promoted by the CGI have encouraged people to become nine-hole players. It would be great if one of the tours were brave enough to hold a nine-hole tournament. Then golf clubs can offer nine-hole memberships for less than 18-hole membership.”
Westmanstown Golf Club is compact by modern standards, covering just over 100 acres. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in terms of quality.
Built by Hackett on just 54 acres in 1988, the course opened in 1991 with greenkeeper Gerry Byrne the first man charged with maintaining its fairways and greens.
Golf became so popular that an additional 47 acres of land was purchased and the 18 hole course was specified and constructed to USGA Standards, stretching it to just under 6,400 yards.
While Byrne went on to work at Luttrellstown Castle and The K Club, he was succeeded by another highly regarded professional in Michael McFeely, the immediate past President of Golf Course Superintendents Association of Ireland.
“The course started with humble beginnings, but it has evolved into a championship standard test from a very basic nine-hole design by Eddie Hackett into the course we have today,” Edward explains.
“One of the upsides of Eddie Hackett courses is that they were built on smaller sites and are easier to maintain compared to many of the contemporary courses that are vast and very costly. Plus you can get around in three hours and 20 minutes.”
With water coming into play on seven holes and with many oaks and poplars lining its fairways, Westmanstown an aesthetically pleasing course on the edge of the city that appears lost in the middle of the countryside.
More than 40,000 rounds are played each year, and with a top golf team in place in Doyle and assistant PGA professional Mark Peat, they are ready for all comers.
Westmanstown Golf Club
Westmanstown, Clonsilla, Dublin 15, D15 Y2DH
Midweek; High Season €32, Low Season €25.
Weekend: High Season €37.
Midweek, High Season €25 to €27; Low Season €15 to €20. Weekend, High Season €27 to €32.
17th, Par 5 470 yards (Blues) 466 (Whites) Index 13 - A classic risk-reward par 5. This hole is a strong dogleg left to right, so it requires a clever strategy depending on the tee shot. If you find the narrow fairway, guarded by fairway bunkers on the left and tall spruce on the right, you must consider a second shot over water, to a shallow three-tiered green bordered by three bunkers. If you lay up, don’t make the mistake of leaving an awkward yardage for your third.
If you have any chance of reaching in two, you must find the left side of the fairway. The second shot is fraught with danger, water to the front and three bunkers to the rear of the shallow green, so lay up to a good yardage unless you are feeling very confident, this hole really teases you and forces mental errors.
Subscription rates 2017
- Seven-day membership €1065
- Intermediate €492 (24- 26 years)
- Student €185 (18 - 23 years)
- Juvenile €185 (11 - 17 years)
- Lady Associate €526
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This piece in first appeared in the Irish Independent's Tee to Green golf supplement on 19 January, 2017. Tee to Green appears every Thursday.