Beautiful Baltinglass a Wicklow wonder
A rich history and pristine course awaits in the Garden of Ireland, writes Brian Keogh
The great Pat Ruddy knows a thing or two about golf and he can still remember his earliest days in Ballymote more than 60 years ago.
If you wanted to play golf, you talked to the farmer, made a deal, cut the grass, planted a flag and away you went.
He is now the owner of one of the best links courses in the world at The European Club in Co Wicklow. But he's not far from a club that boasts a pristine parkland course and members that would have fitted in well in Co Sligo golfing life in the early 1950s.
They have two greenkeepers at Baltinglass Golf Club in west Wicklow, overlooking the River Slaney. But like many clubs that do not have the means to employ more staff to tend their tees and greens, a small coterie of members goes the extra yard to make sure that the course that gave Irish golf the great Mary Gorry remains in tip-top shape.
As you look out at Mount Leinster, you may be too distracted by the view to notice the retirees who volunteer to cut fairways and rough or rake bunkers.
But this band of brothers - this happy few - makes Baltinglass one of Irish golf's historic clubs and one of the most beautiful.
Founded in 1928, it's a traditional, member-run club boasting a relaxed and convivial atmosphere - perfect for that away day where a visitor can make friends easily, play a great course and enjoy food and refreshments after their game before heading for home.
The club added nine new holes in 2002 and was fortunate that Dar Golf Construction's James D'Arcy is a prominent member who is always ready to offer good advice.
The course is playable all year round but really comes into its own in the summer months where the expertise and hard work of course superintendents Martin Donegan, Eamon Doherty and the many volunteers is showcased.
No two holes are alike and visitors come from near and far to enjoy the mature, tree-lined fairways, the wandering deer and the par three second, which is one of the pretties short holes around.
The club is extremely popular with societies and casual green fees, their return business speaks volumes about the quality of the course and the friendliness of the welcome.
Given its modest green fee rates - just €20 midweek and after 1pm at weekend - it would be difficult to find a course that offers better value for your hard-earned cash.
The committee and members are constantly reinvesting and improving the facilities and recently completed an impressive drainage project thanks to funding from the Sports Capital Programme grant scheme.
The team from Dar Golf Construction came in to do the work and the 3rd, 6th, 7th and 10th fairways are now draining perfectly and ready for visitors.
With just 300 members - well down on the highs of the Celtic Tiger years - the club is keen to attract new blood and Juniors and juveniles are welcome with PGA professional Tom O'Neill producing a host of good players.
If Esker Hills has Shane Lowry, Baltinglass may soon find fame thanks to Joseph Byrne, who is now a Boys international and regarded as one of the best prospects in the country.
There also TJ Deering, who played for Leinster in this week's Boys Interprovincials.
Of course, Baltinglass is synonymous with Mary Gorry, the former Irish Close and European Team Championship winner who was one of the leading amateurs in Great Britain & Ireland in the mid 70's through to the early 80's.
Sean Hunt retired PGA Professional in Thurles, was the first home grown player to make an impact at national level. He was a regular competitor on the British and South African circuit in the 60's and was a regular player in The Open, recording a hole in one in 1967 at Hoylake.
Violet Tynte, who played for Ireland from 1905 to 1914, was a founding member of the club in1928, even serving as Lady Captain of Royal Portrush in 1913.
With such a rich history and a pristine course, a visit to the Garden of Ireland and lovely Baltinglass awaits.
Par 71, 5,951 metres (White); 5,750m (Green); 5,563m (Yellow); 4,795 m (Red).
Green Fees: Mon-Fri €20; Sat-Sun €25 (€20 after 1 pm)
Buggy Hire: €25
Electric trolley: €10
Societies: Always welcome. Competitive rates.
Membership offer: Until December 2020, Male & Female €650; Under 35's, €450 plus GUI/ILGU fees.
Membership fees: Full €750; Pay & Play €220 (plus GUI/ILGU fee). Join Baltinglass and play free casual fourball golf at Callan & Roscrea. Member's rates in open competitions.
Open Singles, Sunday from 12 pm and all day on Monday & Tuesday. Entry €10 for visitors.
Featured hole: 2nd, Par 3, 152m (137m, 112m, 91m)
Captain Martin Hennessy says: "This is a beautiful par three, played from an elevated tee over water with trees protecting the green on either side."
Lady Captain Lil Flynn says, "Accuracy is key on this tricky short hole. Make sure you take enough club to clear the water short of this two-tiered green."
Nearby clubs: Carlow, Coollattin, Blessington Lakes, Killerig, Tulfarris, Mount Wolseley.