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|Druids Glen Resort is more than just a haven for golfers seeking an Irish getaway. (Courtesy of Druids Glen Resort)|
COUNTY WICKLOW, Ireland -- Druids Glen Resort, best known for its Druids Glen and Druids Heath golf courses, is hardly just a haven for golfers.
A quick scan of the resort's gathering spaces on a summer weekend night during a recent visit showcased the versatility of this five-star escape 30 minutes south of Dublin in the region called "the Garden of Ireland."
The crowd at the Thirteenth Bar was buzzing with conversation and laughter. In a separate sitting room just off the bar, two foreigners -- no doubt golfers on a buddy's trip -- were sitting on the couches, watching the soccer, er, football, match on the flat screen TV. A couple sat close at a nearby small table, enjoying a late meal.
A large family of several generations in for a wedding chatted while sitting in the center of the room. Out in the hotel lobby, a husband and wife, silent and cozy next to a fireplace, watched their toddler play.
The 145-room resort hotel, which opened in 2002, is coming of age under the watchful eye of its original investors. After several years operating under the Marriott flagship, the Druids Glen Resort broke away to refurbish rooms and make other improvements. A spa, a full health club with a pool and a range of dining options now attract vacationers of all types.
"We have completed our transition from a golf club to a full-functioning resort," said Barry Dowling, the resort's director of golf. "We are looking to stage major events (again). We feel both courses are good enough to host" a major tournament.
The assumption is that Druids Glen is the course most worthy of an Irish Open, which it hosted from 1996-99. But Pat Ruddy -- who co-designed the Glen with Tom Craddock and Druids Heath on his own -- considers Druids Heath "the stronger" of the two. The Heath hosted the 2006 Irish PGA Championship, attracting Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter.
"The fact that The Glen hosted the Irish Open Championship four times before The Heath was built has caused it to be overshadowed. But it is equally capable of hosting the biggest events," said Ruddy, who owns The European Club, a great links course about 30 minutes from the resort.
The 7,046-yard, par-71 Druids Glen Golf Course, the older of the two courses, opening in 1995, remains the resort's beauty queen.
They don't call it the "Augusta National of Europe" for nothing. The Glen delivers immaculate playing conditions and well-kept flora and fauna. Colin Montgomerie won the Irish Opens in 1996 and 1997. Garcia, a teenager, won his first pro event here in 1999.
Leo Hayden, visiting from Great Britain, said the mature trees and shrubs give the course its striking good looks. "It is typical Irish countryside. There's plenty of green," he said. "The water features make it beautiful, but they also make it challenging."
The 491-yard 13th hole is a monster disguised. It's a beautiful setting from the elevated tee, although the valley below is fraught with trouble. Clearing a stream meandering up the right side off the tee sets up an even tougher carry over the water to reach the green. An island green at the par-3 No. 17 and a cascading waterfall and stream at the 18th green complete the round.
"It's been one picturesque spot after another," said Nick Ivemy, visiting with Hayden from Great Britain.
Dowling, who has worked 14 years at the resort, believes the 7,434-yard, par-71 Druids Heath Golf Course is at least three shots harder than The Glen. He said the 6,560-yard white tees at Glen are comparable to the 6,054 green tees at the Heath.
Ruddy describes Druids Heath as a "walk on the wild side."
"The Heath course is more of a shot-makers course," Dowling said. "The Glen can be protected with the trees, while The Heath plays like a links (in the wind). You might lose more balls on The Glen, but you'll have a higher score on The Heath."
The Heath, which opened in 2003, rolls along on exposed land high above Druids Glen with sweeping views of the Wicklow Mountains and the Irish Sea. Like The Glen, the course's signature stretch comes at holes 12-14.
Flat lies are hard to find at the par-4 12th or 13th fairways. The par-4 12th matches the 13th at The Glen for difficulty by bending right and dropping downhill to a green protected by water. A layup is suggested off the tee at No. 13 to stay short of the pond fronting the green. The 14th green, a 171-yard par 3, rests in a bowl of rock and gorse.
The resort hotel, understated in its luxuries, has all the modern comforts and a staff that delivers on the promise of good service.
The Druids Glen clubhouse provides a trip back in time. The refurbished Woodstock house dates to the 17th century. The dining room inside serves lunch and dinner. The hotel's Druids Brasserie serves bistro food in a relaxed, fine-dining setting.
"People can have the combination of the old world or the new world (at the resort)," Dowling said. "It is popular for people to experience both."
Away from golf, guests can explore the striking countryside where "Braveheart" was filmed by hiking, horseback riding or taking a scenic drive. Visiting the gardens of the nearby Powerscourt Estate is another recommended day trip.
October 24, 2011
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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