Waterville Golf Course

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Waterville Golf Course is a mystical experience – the beauty of classic links land, surrounded by the sea, yet forever challenged and shaped by the elements.

Waterville is long and I mean long, 6549yds from the white markers with a par of 72. The back side is simply monstrous, with 3 par-5`s that wind their way among the dunes. 

It is a ruggedly beautiful venue, with the sun dappled water of the great Atlantic Ocean lapping at the shore in the distance with the cottages of herders and fishermen clinging to the Kerry coast. Waterville has hosted some of the top world golf tournaments and justly so.

Rated among the top links in Britain and Ireland, this is the brainchild of Irish-American businessman John A. Mulcahy and the great Eddie Hackett who saw the potential for creating a golfing gem here in the late 1960’s. No two holes are alike and Waterville has truly won its place among the necklace of great links of the west coast of Ireland.

Waterville is home to some interesting and difficult holes. One of the favourites is the 154 yard par-3 twelfth known as the “Mass Hole”. Its name derived from under English rule practising the Roman Catholic religion was against the law and punishable by death. The local people would trek out to a remote location near the coast.

A priest would celebrate mass in a deep hole amongst the hills which the congregants would not be seen from the town. The twelfth plays across this Mass Hole from an elevated tee to a large green. The golf is almost as nifty s the history, as if you happen to drive your tee shot into the Mass Hole, you will struggle to get a good score.  

The par-5 eleventh just prior to the Mass Hole is a tremendous challenge by any standards. It requires a pair of long accurate shots that thread their way through sandy, gorse laden hills that are both sides of the ribbon thin fairway. The green sits elevated on a small hill that requires an approach that is neither too short or too long.

Waterville is the only links course prominently displayed in the Lodge at Pebble Beach. The par 3 17th, know as Mulcahy's Peak, is probably Waterville's feature hole, but most would agree with Gary Player when he described the 11th as "the most beautiful and satisfying par 5 of them all". It runs for almost 500 yards through majestic dunes. You feel almost in a world of your own as you stroll along the fairway reflecting how well the hole merits the name, "Tranquility".

Traveling to play the greatest golf courses in the world is reward enough, but every now and then such a pursuit crosses roads with historic events that are even more important than the here and now.

Waterville's links are as storied and revered as any in Ireland, easily in a class with the likes of Lahinch, Ballybunion Old, the Dunluce at Royal Portrush and Royal County Down as one of the finest on the island.

Perhaps the best example of this is the par-3 12th hole, known as the "Mass Hole."

The par-3 12th hole embodies Waterville's intertwining of the then and now. When Hackett set out to design the hole, he was convinced that a towering tee shot from the top of one of Waterville's many stunning dunes down into the flat protected by the embrace of the dunes would make for the perfect par 3.

Only the Irish laborers tasked with building the course refused to comply, pleading that the location of the intended green was "sacred ground." They were correct.

During a difficult period in Ireland's sometimes-tortured history, British rulers declared a law barring the Irish from practicing Catholicism. Locals refused to comply and they used the low area protected by the dunes to celebrate Mass, baptisms, weddings and the like.

They would post lookouts atop the dunes, and because the British soldiers were the only ones with horses, if they saw a dust cloud rising up, they would disperse in every direction, sometimes remaining hidden in the deep grass and hills until awaiting the safety of the night. Ultimately, the British got wise to the tactic, capturing the Catholic priest and sending him off to a prison ship where ultimately he was beheaded.

Hackett ended up cutting the green atop the opposite dune from the tee, stretching to 210 yards from the tips, protecting nature's church and creating one of the great par 3s in the world of golf.

If you follow the path from the tee box to the green that runs atop of the dunes, you can avoid the steep decent and the sharp rise back up to the putting surface, but I can assure you it is well worth the effort.

I remove my hat when I reach the flat and will admit that I am not immune to getting a wee bit misty eyed just the same, but regardless of your sensibilities, you have to appreciate how golf once again provides an opportunity to both step back while moving forward.