Selcraig On K Club

The Irish Times web site is for subscribers only, but reader Paddy sent this piece by American writer Bruce Selcraig on a recent Irish golf trip that included a visit to the Ryder Cup host site, K Club. I think it's fair to say he's not a fan.

Oh, and somewhere along the trip, we apparently were anaesthetised and flown George Bush-rendition-style back to Florida or Texas, where we played a thoroughly uninspiring, comically overpriced, Americanised resort course beside some gazillionaire's lovely, green, horsey estate.

They call it - oh, steel my loins - The K Club.

I think you're having a big tournament there in September.

I hate to sound rude to my many wonderful Irish golf friends in your long-overdue time of pride - and please know that I love Irish golf like a vital organ, perhaps a kidney - but the K Club and its major-domo, cardboard-box baron Mike Smurfit, and his regal hosting of the Ryder Cup as a jewel for his crown, symbolise nearly all that is rotten about modern golf. And worse, as many have said before me, the K Club Palmer Course is a relentlessly mundane track that has no business representing Irish golf.


Bringing Ireland's first Ryder Cup to the charmless Palmer course is like having Keira Knightley invite you to her bedroom - to move furniture. It's like going to Rome for dinner and ordering fish and chips.

Yes, America has provided some pretty lacklustre venues for the Ryder Cup - Kentucky's Valhalla in 2008 is a snoozer, too - but American golf is not synonymous with the game's purest ancestral ground.

Dear Ireland, repeat after me: You now possess the finest collection of golf courses in the world. Period. There is no more competition with Scotland, where they're still talking about Old Tom Morris's niblick. You have Ballybunion, Portmarnock, Waterville, the European Club, Carne, Enniscrone, Lahinch and two-dozen more Ballywhotsits. And we'll throw in Royal Portrush and Royal County Down just to irritate the Brits.

In other words, you have Rembrandt, Cezanne, Gauguin and Michelangelo hanging in your kitchen, and in September you're inviting 800 million TV viewers to watch your Disney World home movies.


Frank Hannigan, former director of the United States Golf Association and a spirited columnist, challenged readers to name any Arnold Palmer-designed course that was merely "good, not great". George Peper, formerly the editor of Golf magazine for 25 years, just surveyed the best courses in Scotland and Ireland and put the K Club on his "10 most overrated" list.

"To put it bluntly," Peper wrote, "this was the most disappointing course on my visit."

There are some constructed ponds and hillocks - and the required artificial fountain Yanks adore - but because there's so little natural elevation-change and no sweeping vistas - unlike Druid's Heath, unlike Killarney - your pulse never quickens. On my visit, among journalists everywhere, I rarely saw a camera pulled in delight. Just duty. Trust me - there are 14,000 golf courses in America, and 1,000 of them look like the K Club but cost 300 less to play.


Everyone knows by now the selection of the Ryder Cup venue has nothing to do with quality golf and honouring the home country, and everything to do with maximising profits for the event's biennial owners - this year, the PGA European Tour, the British PGA and the national PGAs on the Continent. Sure, the venue has to be able to handle crowds, and you need good roads and plenty of hotel rooms, but if the golf lords thought they could put everyone in a Beijing car park and make more money we'd all be shopping for chopsticks.

Money dominates this event like few others in golf. Is it really true that the Irish Government contributed €16 million of your tax money just for marketing - 5 million of which went to the European PGA Tour - and that you'll not even be able to watch the thing on free-to-air television?

Even the compliant American masses might not swallow those worms. We may look the other way on torture and global warming, but tamper with our God-given right to fall asleep to golf on TV and you're headed for fist city.

"Let's be clear about this, we're talking commercialism, unashamedly as far as I'm concerned," explained the former European Tour executive director Ken Schofield to author Dermot Gilleece in his book Ryder Cup 2006.

Schofield reportedly said the K Club deal was sealed when Smurfit - oops, that's a mandatory Doctor Smurfit for all his "speak when spoken to" serfs- promised his company (once Jefferson-Smurfit, now absorbed by the US firm Madison Dearborn) would sponsor the European Open from 2005 to 2015. That decision, Gilleece writes, "nailed the widespread, cynical view, certainly among Irish observers, that success for Dr Smurfit was always a foregone conclusion."

They were right. To Smurfit, a Monaco tax-haven resident whose family fortune was recently estimated by the Sunday Times of London at 403 million, the Ryder Cup is just another bauble beside the Italian yacht, Gulfstream jet, helicopter commutes and far-flung mansions from Paris to Acapulco, including what the Independent of London reported in 2002 featured a 40,000 sq ft palace beside the Marbella Club on the Costa del Sol, estimated at $40 million, and an apartment below Donald Trump's in New York City's gauche Trump Towers.

"He is absolutely lost in his own importance," a K Club member told the Independent.

So, Mike Smurfit bought himself the Ryder Cup. Sad, but not a felony. If you had his loot - after giving most of it to Darfur refugees, of course - you'd have bought the Cup too. But that doesn't mean those of us who love Ireland and its incomparable links courses have to applaud the moneychangers as they take over the temple.