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"Goat Tracking Between Pints" (report filed by Sherpa [and foreign correspondent] JB January, 2008)

On a July, 2007 trip to the "old sod" of Ireland, I dedicated myself along with my two sons to Goat Track research.  Although the trip was a family reunion with full itineraries carefully planned by the wives each day, I knew from the time our flight landed that I would blow off a few activities to "give back" to my fellow Trackers.  I was answering to a higher authority and felt a responsibility to determine whether Goat Track golf exists in Ireland.  My conclusion is affirmative.  I have two examples in Killarney that I would like to share with my fellow Trackers, Dunloe GC and Castle Rosse GC.

Those of us that consider ourselves GT aficionados know that 9 hole courses are prime "fishing holes" for GT conditions.  Seeking out a 9 hole course is a fundamental tactic used by Trackers to "weed out" the "nice" courses.  I am uncomfortable with well-maintained, pretty courses with their pruned trees and flower beds; manicured golf courses are for guys with manicures and that's just not me.  I prefer a pale yellow fairway that's as hard as a freeway.  You will find none of those "yardage boosters" in Ireland though.  It rains constantly and the temperature rarely approaches 70, so even the greens keeper at Long Hill CC (f/k/a  East Hartford Public) would be challenged to kill the grass over there.  Price is another important consideration in Track selection.  No disappointments here; golf is cheap and cash transactions are preferred.  There's a lot to love about Ireland, including these two venerable Goat Tracks:


Dunloe GC, Killarney - 9 holes.  This was my first experience digging up turf on the old continent.  The thing about golf in Ireland...forget about calling ahead for tee times, just show up between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m and it's "off you go!"  We took a cab out of our hotel in Killarney to the course.  Jimmy, our driver, said the course was a 10 minute drive.  In 5 minutes, Jimmy locked 'em up in the gravel parking lot and we were on the first tee 2 minutes and 12 euros (each) later.

The pro shop attendant frowns on credit cards and did a jig when I broke out a wad of euros.  The three of us wandered over to #1 and waited for the group ahead  to clear.  We were hoping a local would join us to give our experience more of an Irish flavor, but instead we were joined by a guy from Austin, Texas.  We told him how disappointed we were to be joined by a fellow Yank and he seemed equally disappointed with us, but we pressed on anyway.

There were wonderful views of lakes and mountains and not a condo in sight, which was refreshing.  What wasn't refreshing was the distinct and powerful odor of natural fertilizer which, combined with a "soft rain", may have helped keep the fairways lush and green, but also inspired us to leave our shoes outside that night.  In true Goat form, Dunloe's greens keeper must have attended the same turf management seminar as the guy from Copper Hill (a/k/a "The Goat Track"); the mower was locked on one setting, with only the greens cut to a different height.  The course was soggy and fat shots accompanied by large divots were the technique of the day.  The layout is short, 5,000 yards because of the par 3's, but overall I felt the course's best feature was its unkempt, low-maintenance characteristics.  We teed off around 3 p.m. and were back in the parking lot calling Jimmy by 5:00.  We shared the cab with our new friend from Austin, whom we saw later that night in a pub.  Nice guy, he bout us a round of drinks and picked up the cab fare.  He probably felt sorry for us because we told him we planned on playing Castle Rosse the following afternoon.  He refused our generous invitation to join us.  We soon found out why.

Castle Rosse GC, Killarney - 9 holes.  This course was an adventure from the moment we called for Jimmy, our cab driver.  Again, he figured the course was 10 minute drive, but we careened sideways into the lot in less than 5 minutes.  Travel with Jimmy at the helm is not as much a cab ride as it is a Formula One experience.  As our adrenaline rush subsided, we wandered around looking for a pro shop.  There is a hotel on site, so after a 1/2 mile walk around, we asked for help.  The Irish are overly friendly and helpful.  A maid and hotel clerk immediately dropped what they were doing and dashed to our aid.  Out came keys, doors were flung open, and rental clubs, score cards, pencils and the mandatory umbrellas were all efficiently distributed.  Upon asking "how much?" we were told to check in after the round and if the pro shop attendant was back from lunch, we could pay then.  Our helpers vanished and we started off for the first tee and found ourselves lost again.  Folks can usually count on the #1 tee being close to the pro shop; well, not at Castle Rosse, where part of the charm is its haphazard design.  Again the plea for help was sounded and in typical Irish fashion we were promptly escorted to the tee.  Finally, after handshakes and the standard 30 "your welcomes", we were off on a magical tour of a cow pasture surrounded by hedgerows.

This place is not a golf course as much as it is an adventure in the Irish countryside.  Early in the round four locals on horseback thundered across the 4th fairway, followed by a number of other horses without riders.  I thought we were closing in on either a fox hunt or the stretch run at Saratoga.  Time after time, we putted out, looked around, and had no clue where we might find the next tee; no signs, no paths, not even a trail of beer cans to follow.  On the 1/2 mile march between the 5th green and 6th tee, there was a house with a family sitting out front who offered us directions and lunch.  The Irish are unusually keen about making new friends.  We did our best impression of "the ungrateful Americans", as we waved them off before someone knitted us a sweater.  Back to the golf, we liked the fact that nothing was marked; no yardage markers anywhere, the tees were visible only because of the white and blue rocks, and were otherwise indistinguishable from the fairways.  The grass was emerald green and the scenery truly stunning, but it's the unmanicured conditions that all Goat Trackers truly appreciate and Castle Rosse delivers.  The silly layout was just a bonus.

The highlight of the day came between the 8th and 9th holes as we came upon a leprechaun who was selling golf balls out of a pillow case.  Though we couldn't understand a word he said, we loved the smell of the weed he had stuffed in his pipe and bought 2 dozen balls for 10 euros.  I wanted to pay more, but the Irish do not negotiate, they probably sell used cars over there for what they are truly worth.  Quite an unusual concept.  Anyway upon finishing our round, we found the pro shop open and squared up with the attendant after a truly unique Goat Tracking experience.