The Kildare Hotel And Country Club
Designers: Ed Seay & Arnold Palmer
The ‘K’ Club is an opulent resort in the small village of Straffan, near Naas, about 40 minutes from Dublin. The prime mover behind this grandiose development is Michael Smurfit, Chairman of the Smurfit Group (a large conglomerate whose core business is packaging), whose dream was to create a luxury hotel of the highest caliber and accompany that with a world-class golf course. There is no question about the hotel but the status of the course will be determined in time. Its entrance exam to the list of great courses was in 2006 when it played host to the Ryder Cup.
The property itself is rather flat and is spread over 380 acres along the River Liffey. Straffan House-the original estate on the property and now the east wing of the hotel-has a long and colorful history. No expense has been spared to create an instant five star hotel. The furnishings throughout are elegant and plenty, and the staff hat is most hospitable and attentive. One of the best hotel art collections anywhere exists here, featuring the works of Jack B. Yeats, brother of the great poet, and a very fine painter.
Besides golf and every conceivable amenity, the hotel offers fishing, tennis, squash, shooting, archery, riding and so forth. For the equestrians, there is the National Stud and the famous Curraugh Race Course (home of Irish Derby) just down the road.
As for the course, the design called for the creation of fourteen lakes and innumerable valleys and hills so a monumental one million tonnes or so of earth was moved about. When it first opened in 1991, severe drainage problems were at once apparent and much work was done to correct this. The existing trees (those that were left after a hurricane type blow in 1989) were allowed to remain, and an aggressive tree planting program will give the course added character in years to come. (To illustrate Smurfit’s style, new trees are not saplings but in the 30 foot range.)
I must say that this course is not precisely my cup of tea. I much prefer the natural, somewhat wild terrain of links courses and am a staunch supporter of the minimalist school of earth moving. On the other hand, one must credit Palmer and Seay for utilizing as best they could the flat lush bottomland they had to work with. In order to create an interesting course, they literally had to move mountains-and there are some lovely holes. I especially like 7 and 8 that amble gently along the Liffey. Seven is a big par five, weighing in at over 600 yards, that requires a longish third shot across the Liffey to the green. Eight is a short par four with the river in play all along the left. And I like the finishing holes. Sixteen is a strong par four finishing over water. Seventeen is a wonderful little par three hard by the Liffey. Eighteen is a double dogleg par five of just over 500 yards with a green cut close to the largest of the manufactured ponds. A hooked approach here is absolutely fatal.
The course from the championship markers exceeds 7000 yards which is fine for some of my adjutants, who, besides being young, strong, and flat of belly, are former golf professionals. (I exclude Baker from this group as he is neither young nor flat of belly, though he is a seasoned campaigner and a wily veteran of links play.) I prefer one of the other sets set of tees (there are four), I won’t say which.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
Your guide to the greatest golf holidays in Ireland
Directions for Independent Travelers: From Dublin, take the ring road to the N4. At Lucan take the R403. As you approach Straffan on the R403, follow the signposts for the Kildare Golf and Country Club.