Greystones member Kevin Markham has the credentials to judge the 18 best golf holes in Ireland. Markham is the guy who a few years ago set himself the challenge of playing every 18-hole golf course in Ireland -- and then wrote a book about it.
During that odyssey in a 20-year-old camper van, he travelled almost 11,000km, walked over 3,400km, lost countless golf balls and wore out three pairs of golf shoes.
The outcome of his venture was the book 'Hooked -- an amateur's guide to the golf courses of Ireland' (The Collins Press), which has now been released in its second, updated and revised edition.
Markham has rated every 18-hole layout he played, and given his own report on the courses and facilities.
A mighty undertaking indeed.
Markham's first edition was published when, as he says: "Ireland was, to put it mildly, exuberant, and as any Irish golfer will tell you, the country's green fees were similarly exuberant."
We all know that has changed, and green fees have dropped by over 50pc in some cases, but one piece of good news is that "the courses have changed very little and remain as thrilling and challenging as ever."
The book is a very useful and an informative reference guide, but what caught the eye was a section in which he listed his 'Top 18 holes'.
Markham knows this is a tall order, but said: "the goal was to create a list of the best 18 holes in the correct order and to a par of 72.
"Everybody has their favourites and holes one and 18 may stir people up most. Many believe the first hole at Portstewart is the best opening hole. It is stunning, I agree, but Scrabo's is even better. As for 18, Adare is mesmerising, but the sheer surprise of Carne gets the nod," he concludes.
This is his list (par of hole in brackets): Front 9 -- Hole 1 Scrabo (4); 2 Portsalon (4); 3 Killarney (Killeen, 3); 4 Old Head (4); 5 Royal Portrush (4); 6 Portstewart (Strand, 3); 7 Lahinch (Old, 4); 8 Druid's Glen (3); 9 Royal Co Down (4).
Back 9 -- Hole 10 Mount Juliet (5); 11 Ballybunion (Old,4); 12 Macreddin (4); 13 Naas (5); 14 Portarlington (4); 15 Westport (5); 16 Tralee (3); 17 The European Club (4); 18 Carne (5).
'Muted' response to close format
DID the first Golfsure Irish Amateur Close championship to be played entirely on a stroke-play basis work for the players?
The championship, played at Shannon as a 72-hole event from Friday to Sunday resulted in a win for bookies favourite Paul Cutler of Portstewart.
Cutler (22) has already won the West of Ireland title, which was played on the more traditional GUI format of 36 holes qualifying strokes and then match play, so he has proven successful in the two formats.
The three-day format, with 18 holes on Friday, 18 on Saturday and 36 on Sunday will be retained for next year's Close at Royal Portrush and then the GUI will review their options.
Former Irish champion Pat Murray felt the general view of players was "muted."
"It was a case of get on with it, accept it. My own preference would be for match play and Shannon would have been a great match play course as well.
"We've already had the Munster stroke play, the Irish Amateur Open, which is stroke play, now the Close and in two weeks we'll have the East of Ireland, so that's four stroke-play tournaments in five weeks," said Murray.
Any ambitious player in contention for national teams faces a busy campaign through May, June, and into July.
That's fine for the young full-time amateurs who are chasing a place in the pro ranks, but not so easy for the career amateurs who also have to keep their employers happy.
"Whether changing the format is good for Irish golf or not, I feel that the calendar is wrong for amateur golfers because there's so much congestion and you must work first and play golf second," said Murray.
The elite players who harbour ambitions of playing on the European six-man Walker Cup team or making it on to the Home International side, have to balance home and international events such as the Brabazon Trophy, the St Andrews Links Trophy and the British Amateur championships.
It can all take a toll on the body, and the working amateurs also have to factor in how much holiday time they can take for golf.
Murray and many others have been on the circuit for eight weeks in a row and there is still much to play for over the next two months.
The rewards they chase are trophies and international caps, but they don't come easy given the increasingly intense competition at the top level.