Revolutionary plan for Laytown and Bettystown
 The proposed new 18th at Laytown and Bettystown. Graphic by  Spogárd & Van der Vaart

The proposed new 18th at Laytown and Bettystown. Graphic by Spogárd & Van der Vaart

The lovely links at Laytown and Bettystown has undergone many changes over the course of its 108-year history but they pale into insignificance compared to the radical redesign proposed to the members two weeks ago.

Asked by the club to come up with a masterplan for a family club that has produced two top class golfers and links course design experts such as Declan Branigan and Des Smyth, Danish architects Spogárd & Van der Vaart presented around 250 of the 1,000 members with a two-loop design that proposes what Donald Trump might describe as a "blowing up" the course to create something almost completely new.

Should the club overcome what it expects will be considerable planning and environmental obstacles, not to mention potential opposition from local residents who use dunes and the beach, few parts of the old course will be left intact after a redesign that could cost more than €1 million. 

Created by young Danish architect Philip Sogárd, who became known to the club for his recent work at County Louth, what's so arresting about the "conceptual masterplan" is not just the creation of four new finishing holes in the dunes along the seaside or the elimination of such iconic holes as the the third, sixth, seventh and eighth — the first and second are also to be replaced by a practice ground —  but the reasons behind the club's desire to effectively rip up their course.

Add to that the decision not to consult honorary members Branigan and Smyth — albeit two figures who are now well-removed from day to day club affairs compared to their early days — and there is much to ponder.

Why so many changes?

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 The conceptual masterplan for Laytown and Bettystown by  Spogárd & Van der Vaart

The conceptual masterplan for Laytown and Bettystown by Spogárd & Van der Vaart

"We have had a look at the trends for Bettystown over the last number of years and the trends for golfing overall," explained Russell Durnin, Chairman of the Greens Committee.

"And one of the constant feedbacks we are getting is that as people are getting older, they want to have an option to play less than 18 holes and still finish relatively close to the clubhouse. 

 The sixth at Laytown and Bettystown

The sixth at Laytown and Bettystown

"We think that as much as some people are time-rich — the older generation — the younger generation has money but not the time to spend four or five hours playing golf. 

"With the way golf is changing, giving the members the option of playing less than 18 holes and finishing closer to the clubhouse is one of things we think we can achieve with the new layout."

The club has 1,000 members in all categories but fears for the future as its membership ages and few young people are taking up the game.

We have five full members between the ages of 20 and 30. Five in total. 
— Russell Durnin

“Looking at the data for the past ten years, our revenue is decreasing year on year; our membership numbers are decreasing year on year, and we are struggling to maintain our membership at full quotas," Durnin said.

"Like every golf course, we have an ageing membership. And we have a missing generation. We have five full members between the ages of 20 and 30. Five in total.

"Between 30 and 40 we have less than 20 full members. So there is a missing generation, and Bettystown is no different to other clubs. We feel that if we are pro-active, we may be able to offer something to the members in the locality and get people back playing golf.

"If they have two or three hours to play a game of golf, they may be able to come out and do some practice and play nine holes and be happy they are getting a game of golf."

The links at Laytown and Bettystown has many fathers with Cecil Barcroft and W.C. Pickeman of Portmarnock fame creating the first course on land where the Scot Thomas Gilroy built some rudimentary holes before heading across the Boyne to more promising terrain at Baltray.

Since then, many of the club's professionals have left their mark on the links with Danny O'Brien and the late Bobby Browne responsible for many of the major changes.

Impressed by Spogárd's work at County Louth, Laytown and Bettystown engaged the Dane to develop a masterplan for their course, eventually agreeing on a two-loop option which was presented to the members at a preliminary information meeting on January 23.

 Laytown and Bettystown in 1909

Laytown and Bettystown in 1909

Describing the feedback as “very positive," Durnin estimates that the work could be completed in three phases, starting with the four new, finishing holes – a par-three, par-five, par-four, and a par-five — described in the masterplan as "incredible", "awe-inspiring", "world class" and "spectacular".

Currently seeking quotes for a Natura Impact Study and construction costs as well as advice on starting the planning process, the club admits that they face a daunting task for what could mean at least six years of disruption to the membership.

“We are going in with our eyes open, and we are hugely aware that the planning process may be extremely difficult and if we are not successful with it, we know we still have a good golf course,” Durnin said, adding that nothing will happen without approval from the members.

"But we have significant challenges in getting our membership numbers up and our revenue up. And that's ultimately the name of the game. We want to keep Bettystown alive for the next 100 years and hand it over to the next generation."

As for the surprising decision not to consult Smyth and Branigan, creators of a successful links course at Seapoint, Durnin said: “We didn’t want to give any one individual more sway over what was being proposed, and that's why we went for an external architect altogether — so they would have no history in the area and just look at it with fresh eyes."

If they get planning it will take many years before the maturity comes into the swards, so I only hope that the patience will be there with the members. I often say that the biggest hurdle an architect has to overcome is the expectations of the client.
— Declan Branigan
 A gathering at the clubhouse at Laytown and Bettystown in 1921

A gathering at the clubhouse at Laytown and Bettystown in 1921

Branigan wishes Bettystown well and while he would like to think that their ambition will result in an improvement, he has misgivings. 

"I have seen the plans and they are very ambitious. It is a daunting prospect given the scope of the works on such a barren medium as sand," said the six-time championship winner.

"My experiences at Seapoint has given me a great insight into all that can go wrong, so it is a brave decision to go down this road on a links. 

"If they get planning it will take many years before the maturity comes into the swards, so I only hope that the patience will be there with the members. I often say that the biggest hurdle an architect has to overcome is the expectations of the client."

This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's weekly Tee to Green golf supplement on Thursday, 16 February 2017