Golf is a family game on is the Boyne Valley as children follow in their parents’ footsteps and take to those century-old links at Laytown and Bettystown and County Louth.
At Baltray, the club is in the midst of its 125th-anniversary celebrations while north of the river, Laytown and Bettystown is a mere 17 years away from reaching that historic milestone.
In that context, Seapoint Golf Links, which sits next door to its venerable older sister in Termonkefeckin, is a mere baby in golfing terms.
But as the club prepares to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its founding next year, there is huge pride in what has been achieved in a relatively short space of time.
Owned by its members — new recruits pay a €1,000 share on top of their dues — this hugely popular links has already achieved more in its first 24 years than many clubs do in their entire history.
Founded in 1993, the club hosted the 1995 Glen Dimplex Irish Matchplay Championship, the 2002 Irish Senior Ladies, the Irish Professional Championship in 2010 and 2011 and the 2014 Irish Amateur Close Championship.
That legacy is testament to the quality of the test and a nod to the design skills of boyhood friends Des Smyth, Declan Branigan and Barry Reddan, who put over 150 years of combined golfing experience to good use as they created a beguiling challenge on a spectacular 260-acre site that takes you to all points of the compass.
Measuring just over 7,000 yards from the championship tees, Seapoint is a mesmerising and much-underrated par-72 featuring half a dozen strong par fours of more than 400 yards and a quartet of tantalising par-threes, leaving you to make up your score on the par-fives, two of which are amongst the toughest holes on the course.
“The challenge is that every hole tests something or other — courage, intelligence, touch,” Branigan said.
In truth, the course is a reflection of the skills and personalities of all three men.
An international amateur golfer who represented Ireland at home and abroad on 56 occasions, both in the Home Internationals and European Championships, Branigan won the Irish Close and the East and West of Ireland titles not once but twice.
As for Smyth, the golfing pedigree of the two-time Ryder Cup player is unquestioned while Reddan — himself a former West, East and South of Ireland champion — is steeped in the game.
Little wonder then that Seapoint is very much a golfer’s club with play going on 12 months of the year and nary a mat or temporary green in sight in the winter months.
It’s no surprise then to learn that the majority of club’s 530 full members (not including its 120 juniors) played at least ten official rounds of golf each over the past 12 months, not to mention countless casual rounds.
Branigan remains very much at the coalface when it comes to the day-to-day care lavished on the links. But he’s made way for his son Ronan, who holds a Masters Degree in Course Architecture from Herriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, to carry out the fine-tuning.
Faced with ten changes in direction during your round — the par fives and par threes are all played to different points of the compass — wind plays a major part in the challenge.
When the course first opened, Branigan admits there was so much rough, you could put a donkey out to graze and risk never seeing him again.
But that’s no longer the case, and as the course matures, a rough management and fescue encouragement programme has made the course a hugely enjoyable test for the purist.
Branigan Jnr also spent time at East Lake in Atlanta, the home of Bobby Jones.
And his love of the game has prompted him to concentrate on improving different aspects of the design and strengthen the definition of many of the holes.
He has also introduced gradual run-off swales around greens which offer the golfer a head-spinning array of potential recovery shots.
Don’t think this has been done to make the course easier. Faced with a choice between the putter, the pitch and run or the more artistic lob wedge, confusion often reigns, adding to the charm of club that strives to constantly improve rather than rest on its laurels.
That’s what the membership enjoys, and it’s a young membership too, as John Leech, the chairman of the management committee explained.
“Relatively speaking, our membership is a little younger that at our neighbouring clubs and so while it’s a tremendous advantage to have their history and heritage, it also brings its challenges,” he said.
“Our membership is growing nicely — we have 530 members and another 120 juniors. And with 45 members in their 20s and the bulk of them in the 40-50 age group, we have a young, active playing membership.
“We're a young club with a young membership and a friendly atmosphere. We've come through the worst of it economically, and we can see where were want to go. Within three or four years, we believe our membership will be full, and that's something we believe we can celebrate."
Enchanted by the quality of the test and the prospect of year-round golf, 52 people joined the ranks of Seapoint this year alone, many of them attracted by the reduced subscription rates for under the 30s.
With 50 percent of its members aged between 35 and 55, the future looks very encouraging indeed and having come through the worst of the economic downturn by restructuring its debt, there is a palpable air of optimism.
It's all about the golf at Seapoint, and in that regard, the members are fortunate to have such a strong and varied golf course to enjoy, whatever the elements.
“Our main objective when we sat down to design the course was balance,” Branigan Snr explained. “You need balance between the nines and a rhythm to the golf course.”
In that regard, Seapoint hits all the right notes as the two-loop links offers a symphonic challenge that’s in sync with the cadence of the seasons and the sounds of nature.
If your golf is off key, there’s always the beauty of the wildflowers, the song of more than 50 species of birds or the majestic views of the course and the sea from the elevated, par-three 17th — a little taste of heaven should golfing nirvana slip through your fingers.
Fact file — Seapoint Golf Links
Address: Termonfeckin, Co.Louth
Contact manager for rates.
Signature hole: 18th, 555 yards (508m), Par 5
A challenging and well-defended par-five that snakes along the coastline towards a small green that you miss at your peril.
This double dogleg is one of the most difficult par fives in Irish golf as rarely reached in two without the help of strong tailwind. Extreme care must be taken from the tee to avoid the fairway bunker on the left or the beach, which is out of bounds, on the right. If you find the left-half of the fairway and avoid the punishing links vegetation, you are then faced with a difficult lay-up as three fairway bunkers await 80 and 150 yards of the front of a green, leaving a third that requires pinponit accuracy with a short iron to avoid a deep greenside bunker and myriad run-offs.
Laytown and Bettystown
This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's weekly Tee to Green golf supplement on 8 June 2017.