Sport Golf

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Killeen layout evolves with the times

Changes at Killarney have been beneficial, says Dermot Gilleece

This time four years ago, a major upgrading of Killarney's Killeen Course was unveiled at a cost of €2.1m. The figure was especially interesting when set against the €100,000 which it cost to build the entire course, back in 1969.

Overseen by Tom Mackenzie, formerly of the Donald Steel organisation which was responsible for the Lackabane Course, the work was certainly timely in the context of events this week. All 18 greens and tees were reconstructed to the highest USGA standards, along with some adjustments to the layout where appropriate.

For instance, the fourth green was moved more towards the lake and extensive drainage work was also undertaken. The end product is a course which will measure 7,161 yards for the Irish Open, compared with 7,071 yards on the last occasion the event was there in 1992.

There is also a change in the overall par, from 72 to 71. This can be explained by the fact that the 11th, which was a 511-yard par five in 1992, is now a 486-yard par four. Even at that, it remains statistically only the third most difficult hole on the course, though not for the members, who play it as a par five.

All of which is normal when a European Tour event is staged at a members' club. For instance, Royal Dublin was reduced from par 73 to 72 when the Irish Open came there in 1983 and it was further reduced to a 71 in 1985 when the long 14th was re-configured with the 18th as a par four.

In 1991 and '92, the most troublesome hole for the professionals on the Killeen Course was unquestionably the 17th, a par four which has since been shortened slightly to 389 yards. With a very shallow, elevated green, it was seen as an attempt by Dr Billy O'Sullivan, an influential figure in the course's design, at replicating an aspect of the notorious 17th at St Andrews.

Originally known as the Doctor's Revenge, it was later dubbed the Doctor's Folly, because of the grief it caused. Interestingly, while

his tournament colleagues were roundly slating it, Faldo took an entirely passive view. "It's difficult, but it's playable and it's there," he said simply. Which might explain why he generally managed to get his par.

The 18th, a 439-yard par four, is a very different challenge, characterised by an elevated tee-shot with a water hazard on the left and a well-bunkered green, severely angled from the back. As the first hole of a sudden-death play-off with Wayne Westner for the title in 1992, Faldo found the hazard off the tee but still managed to halve the hole in bogey despite a penalty drop.

At 454 yards, the par four fifth is Killeen's strongest hole, largely because of the difficulty of a drive which has to be guided between two trees and then kept clear of further wood on the left. Meanwhile, the right-hand side is protected by a drain and strategic bunkering.

There is the feeling that competitors will create plenty of birdie opportunities on a course which is no more than moderate in length by modern standards. Still, there is always the risk of being distracted by the stunning scenery, especially over opening holes dominated by Lough Leane.

Sunday Independent

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