Thinking big in the Wee County
Ardee course re-development plan a huge hit
If it's true that good things come in small packages, then Ardee Golf Club is well on its way to becoming a little gem in the heart of the Wee County.
The Co Louth club was founded as a nine-hole course in 1911 but having expanded to 18 holes in 1985 and then asked Declan Branigan to enhance the club further by building five new holes in the early 1990s, the club is now in the midst of taking another giant step towards its ultimate goal of 18 sand-based greens.
While it measures just 6,449 yards from the tips, the tight, tree-lined course is far from a pushover, and it is now improving in leaps and bounds after the members agreed to a development plan to created six new, sand-based greens under the watchful eye of architect Ken Kearney.
With six sand-based greens on its back nine, the members are keen to bring all 18 up to USGA specifications, and after redeveloping four holes over the past three years, they plan to re-do two more this winter.
It's a major undertaking for a small club, but the €330,000 project has proved hugely popular with the members, who now enjoy a far more playable golfing test, especially in the winter months.
"It's massive for the club," said the club's PGA professional Brian Kerley, who along with Development Committee members Brendan Farrell and Eric McKeever, has been one of the main movers behind the project.
"Our old greens were small and just cut out of the soil, and when it rained, it just became too wet."
Eagle-eyed golf fans will have noticed the presence of Ardee's Evan Farrell in the last 16 of the AIG Irish Amateur Close at Ballybunion, eliminating international Peter O'Keeffe and North of Ireland semi-finalist Liam Grehan along the way.
But Kerley believes that the course changes will soon result in a more appropriate standard scratch than 70 for Ardee and lower handicaps for the club's young guns, who are struggling to qualify for championships.
Kerley is speaking from experience, having faced a similar problem as a youngster at Nuremore in his youth.
"I could only get down to three and while I knew I was better than that," he said.
As a result, he played little amateur golf and decided to turn professional, completing his apprenticeship under Leslie Walker at Dundalk before moving to Ardee four years ago.
He achieved the rare feat of shooting 59 in an Assistants' event, carding the magic number on the par-65 Lakes Course at Citywest in 2004, and he's keen to see Ardee's young talent spread their wings.
Making Ardee a better course is the first step, and he's found the perfect foil in former international Kearney, whose cachet as an imaginative and innovative designer is growing yearly.
The Roscommon man has created superb short game facilities for Portmarnock Links, Donabate, Glasson and Mullingar and worked on projects big and small for the likes of Ardglass, Dundalk, Foxrock, Athenry, Killarney, Bandon and Grange to name but a few.
His work at Ardee has already received rave reviews from the members after they agreed to Phase One of a three-year a re-development plan in 2017.
"We are putting in sand-based green, two holes a year, for the next three years," Kerley explained. "In essence, we are building two brand new holes each year by putting in fairway and greenside bunkers and new green complexes."
It took several attempts to get the members to agree to a redevelopment plan, but as they see each phase completed, their enthusiasm has grown exponentially.
The members pay a €100 levy on top of their subscription and another €50 from the bar levy is also invested in the course.
The first and 11th were redesigned in 2017, opening for play last year with the second and eighth remodelled last winter.
"We are spending a total of €110,00 each year - an average of €55,000 per hole - and we are very pleased with how it has gone so far," said Brian. "The members are over the moon with the changes."
The new holes have certainly pleased the club's leading player Farrell, who beat O'Keeffe 5&4 in the first round of the "Close" at Ballybunion and Grehan 6&5 before falling to Leinster interprovincial Alan Fahy on the 18th.
"It is a massive change, and it is great to see the club moving forward and putting money into developing the course," Evan said.
"The four new greens are great, not just for a lower handicap golfer but for golfers of all levels, so hopefully we can keep moving forward to get the course to an even better standard and eventually have 18 sand-based greens."
Societies: Midweek €25, weekend €35. Complimentary fourball for groups of 24 players or more.
Buggy hire: €25
Club Hire: €15
Electric trolley: €7
Range balls: Token €2
Signature hole: 4th, 541 yards, Par 5
A dog-leg left that challenges players of all skill levels, the two-tiered green at this testing par-five is protected by a large bunker at the front and trees left and right.
Pro tip: PGA professional Brian Kerley says: "With a narrow entrance to this well-protected green, play this as a three-shot hole. As the green slopes from back to front, try to keep the ball below the hole."
Membership rates (excluding levies): Full €699; Under 30's €550; Student €160.
Membership Special: Join from September 2019 until end of January 2021 for just €699 (excluding levies).
Nearby courses: Seapoint, County Louth, Nuremore, Dundalk and Headfort.