Tralee Golf Club - Par 71 - 6,890 Yards
Tralee Golf Club, on the shores of Barrow Bay and overlooking the magnificent Carrahane and Banna strands, is a links golf course of the highest quality and a very, very good test of golf. If we were asked to combine two nines in Ireland to provide the sternest possible golf examination, then the outward half at Royal County Down and the inward half at Tralee would undoubtedly be a leaading candidate.
The course, designed by Arnold Plamer and the King's first European design, is sandwiched between the clubhouse and the shore meaning that you are never far from the shore. The first hole is a straight-forward par-4 that plays from the clubhouse towards the shore.
The first spectacular view is from the second tee but golfers should quickly focus on the challenge presented by the hole ahead. This par-5 measures almost 600 yards from the back tees and plays along the cliff edge. It also doglegs to the right around an inlet and the corner may look tempting - it cannot be taken on and the intervening terrain is punishing.
The third is one of the most famous par-3s in Ireland, 194 yards from the championship tees but probably a mid-iron from the medals. The shot is played across the cliff face to a green perched perilously close to the edge. An awesome hole and finding the green is a source of great satisfaction on this hole. Don't despair if your ball ends up on the rocks or in the sea to the right, it will not be alone!
Three 400+ yard par-4s follow which brings you to the southernmost part of the course. The loop comprising holes 6-8 were described by Arnold Palmer as his favourite part of the course.
The seventh is a shortish par-3, though if the wind is from the west there is nothing short about it. The narrow green has several tiers and this makes putting extremely difficult if the wrong level is found. The following eighth is one of Tralee's great holes, another par-4 that plays along the shore to the left. Anything pulled will end up on the beach. The approach must be well-judged, the area around the green tends to throw the ball left and the green itself is severley sloping. A straightforward par-5 returns up the hill towards the clubhouse to complete the outward loop.
With luck you will have found your swing and rythm or, if you had it, it is still intact because the second nine at Tralee is a golfing adventure that ranks among the best to be had anywhere.
The tenth is another 400+ yard par-4 that doglegs to the left. Sandhills beckon to the right and a line must be taken over another line of hills on the left hand side. The green is nestled at the foot of the dunes with two nasty pot bunkers to the right of the green.
The 11th is an uphill par-5 with a blind second shot to the highest part of the course and more stunning seascapes. Try and negotiate this hole safely, the twelfth hole is no place for a frayed temper.
The 12th is rated as "one of the premier par-4s on the globe" by some golf writers. We wonder, if the professionals find this hole challenging how are we to fare?! There is no doubt it is an excellent hole, a dog-leg of 440 yards from the medal tees. Reaching the preferred landing area left-centre of the fairway leaves a long-iron/fairway wood approach to a plateau green across a vast grass chasm that eats into the fairway before the green. Whoop and holler if you manage it but please don't three putt. Birdies should be notified to Tailor-Made Golf Tours for inclusion in our Visitor Hall of Fame.
Another chasm lies between the tee and green at the short par-3 13th, though with a shorter iron, the benefit of a peg and the expewrience gained on 12 it should be a snip! The ball must carry all the way to this green that is slightly above tee-level so enough club must be used. The 14th plays away towards the shore at the furthest point from the clubhouse. Beware the deep bunker short and left of the green.
The next three holes play back towards the clubhouse along the shore. The 15th is the shortest par-4 on the course but the landing area is an island of fairway in the midst of dune grasses before a hop to an even smaller island of the green. Sureness of touch of required for the pitch here or for a running shot played through the gap. The par-3 sixteenth is another glorious hole, an elevated tee looks down on a small target with OOB all along the right. The bank on the left sometimes helps feed the ball toward the green but leaves a difficult shot if it gets stuck.
The 17th is our pick as the most memorable hole at Tralee. Having had a chance to recover from the tribulations of the 12th, the 17th is a more friendly 350 yards. The drive from the high tee is played across a gorge to a fairway that rises towards the green perched high on the cliff top. From the fairway an accurate approach is required to clear a collar of dunes that protects the front of the green with the cliff face threatening the right side. A more realistic challenge for us mortals! The mountain backdrop to this hole is stunning and it is here that you get a palpable sense that you are playing one of the best nine holes in the world.
The long 18th plays from the shore back to the clubhouse - all 443 yards of it from the medal tees. Part of golfs challenge is to keep the mental focus and those who have the mental stamina to try and get a closing 4 here deserve full credit.
Tralee is currently undegoing the second phase of an improvement programme (why?) and will reopen to visitors in May 2005.
Tralee Golf Club deserves its place alongside Waterville, Lahinch and Ballybunion as one of the great courses of the world. The second nine might rate as the greatest nine of them all.
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