We hopped out of bed, shook our bleary-eyed hangovers away as best we could, and threw on the nicest clothes we had packed—perhaps not behavior typical of a pair of 20-somethings at 9 in the morning following a marathon pub crawl, but we had a big day ahead of us. A very important date waited for us at 1:20 that day: a tee time at Corballis Golf Links in Donabate, Ireland.
When we examined the course online, we hesitated when we saw the scorecard: the whole 18 was barely 5,000 yards long and played to a par of 66. An “executive nine” style of round wasn’t exactly what we had in mind for our Irish golfing experience. However, the course was nearby, accessible, cheap (only 30 euro, including club rental), and on the ocean, so off to Donabate we went.
A 20-minute train ride to Donabate Station and a three-kilometer walk through the Irish countryside, complete with curious horses and sporadic rainfall, brought us to Corballis, situated directly on the Irish Sea. I’m quite certain Corballis doesn’t get many customers showing up to the course with literally no golf equipment on their person, but they still allowed a couple of scrubby golf pilgrims to put their skills to the test in an entirely new sort of challenge.
When I’ve watched the British Open on television, I’m always stunned that golf professionals can’t bring the courses to their knees; many of the par-4s are within driving distance from the tee, and the distances on par-5s should offer no challenge to the booming swings of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and the rest of golf’s best.
As I discovered, distance is just one way to measure difficulty because this course was really freaking hard. The fairways, in many cases no more than 30 yards wide, might as well have been flanked by rivers of magma on both sides; if your ball entered the heather that pervaded the course, it was lost forever. I lost nine (!) balls on the first nine holes, the exact landing points of which I could often see perfectly from where I struck them. There was no hope; they had been claimed by the impenetrable bush as offerings to the golf demons.
It took us about four holes (and a combined six or seven lost balls) for the wisdom of Chi Chi Rodriguez’s famous quote to hit home: “Golf is a thinking man’s game.” The blunt style of golf familiar to us—driver off the tee, choice of iron dictated exclusively by distance—simply wasn’t suited to the links game. The absurdity of our initial strategy was best exemplified by exchanges like this one, on the fourth or fifth tee:
(As I address my ball with a driver):“How many balls do we have left?”
“Three…well, technically four, but…”
(Drive soars hopelessly into the abyss)
We also had to contend with a typically British weather pattern, as a rumbling bank of dark clouds slowly approached from the horizon. Though we were subject to a few sprinkles, the worst of the rain somehow managed to pound every point around us except the golf course, sparing us from a truly Irish round of golf. What little precipitation we dealt with couldn’t dampen our spirits, just like the Irish beachgoers we saw enjoying walks down the wet sand with umbrellas in hand, their prospects of a pleasant outdoor day unmarred by a short spell of showers.
I’d like to tell you that our heroes made a storybook comeback, seamlessly adjusting to the unfamiliar conditions and recording a legendary score on the back nine; but that would be a disservice to the truth. Another way, we found out, to enhance the difficulty of a golf experience is the time-honored excuse of the semi-serious golfer: blame it on the equipment. Our rentals were decidedly well below par, though unfortunately not in the golfing sense. Tim’s three-ball putter may actually have improved his wayward putting stroke, but my ladies’ graphite irons (Mitsushiba brand, with Empress grips) required some adjustment. Ultimately, though, they served our purposes, which was to hack, slash, and chop away at the Irish hills like the shepherds of old, our sticks slapping that little white ball of sheep dung at long last into the rabbit hole.