IRISH GOLF AUTHOR AND BLOGGER KEVIN MARKHAM went on an 11,000 kilometer golf odyssey in a questionable camper van. His goal? Play every 18-hole golf course in Ireland. There was no shortage of adventures. With quirky characters, a wealth of Irish golf and ample wit, Markham makes DRIVING THE GREEN a highly satisfying trip.
Recently, Markham answered questions about the book, his adventures, favorite golf courses and more.
Kevin Markham: It began when a friend mentioned an Irish golf course I’d never heard of. I went digging but couldn’t find any information, so this idea started to form: why not write a book reviewing every 18-hole golf course on the island, which, of course, would require me to play them. It was a mad idea but it had legs, and once I got the RV there was no turning back.
As it turned out, my 14 months of driving around the country inspired two books. The book reviewing every course is called HOOKED, while the second book, DRIVING THE GREEN, tells the stories of my time on the road.
I hadn’t planned to write it but so much was happening that I quickly realized a second book would focus on the people I met, the bizarre incidents and friendly encounters that took place, the fractious relationship I had with the RV and the beauty of Ireland. Oh, and the weather; no book about Ireland is complete without discussing the weather.
Q: What were your favorite golf courses, including any new ones you discovered.
Kevin Markham: There’s nothing quite like discovering a course you’ve never heard of. Places like Scrabo, Strandhill, Portumna, Narin & Portnoo and Portsalon spring to mind. So, too, Royal Curragh, which is the island’s oldest course, dating back to the 1850s. Having zero expectations when you arrive and then being amazed when you walk off the 18th.
Links golf is my passion, and the revered courses of Royal County Down, Ballybunion and County Sligo certainly lived up to the hype. Not all of them did, it has to be said, but my favorites also include Carne, Enniscrone, Waterville and The Island. Beautiful coastal settings aside, links golf demands the best of your game and your resolve.
Considering this island’s size we are lucky to have 350 courses, so picking favorites is always tough. I will say this, however: if I was only allowed to play one more round of golf in my life, I’d choose Carne. You will not find bigger dunes, drama or thrills anywhere. But if you said I was only allowed to play one more golf course for the rest of my life, I’d pick Druid’s Glen, a parkland course that hosted the Irish Open four times in the 1990s. It’s known as Ireland’s Augusta.
Q: If you could play any golf course outside of Ireland, which would it be and why?
Kevin Markham: Augusta, no question! I know Pine Valley and Cypress Point get ranked above it, and you have the likes of the mystical St Andrew’s, Royal Dornoch and Muirfield in Scotland, but Augusta is something you see year after year, in all its perfect, manicured glory. How could you not want to play a course that looks so sublime, and where the greatest golfers have played and won? Plus, knowing that you’ll never be allowed to play it just makes it all the more desirable.
Q: How did you go about reporting the adventure? Was it difficult to recall conversations? Did you journal most days along the way, which served as your notes and reporting?
Kevin Markham: I was playing 10 courses a week. After each round I’d write up the review and course rating, and then blog about the day’s events. The more I traveled, the more I realized that the stories could be used for something bigger than a blog.
And believe me, when you have a conversation with Born Again Christians where you fear for your life, you tend to remember every word.
Q: On what was obviously a very memorable jaunt around Ireland, what were a few of the most indelible memories?
Kevin Markham: That’s a tough question – there are so many. Being stuck overnight in an RV with no heating when it was 5 degrees below freezing is something I won’t forget, nor will my fingers. The Born Again Christians encounter was surreal, as was almost knocking down an old lady on a country road. The night in Castlerock Golf Club’s bar was the epitome of our acclaimed Irish hospitality, while the amount of money I could have lost in a ‘friendly game’ at Mount Wolseley still makes my eyes water. The Irish like a gamble, but we’re talking thousands here!
Golf-wise, there were special moments all round, none more so than on the 8th tee box at Narin & Portnoo – if there’s a better place to stand on an Irish golf course and enjoy the beauty of Ireland, I don’t know where it is. At Royal Curragh I hit my drive and then had to disperse a flock of sheep to play my second, and my ball was on the fairway. And then there’s Galgorm Castle, where I finally achieved a long-held ambition to break par. I’d also hoped to record my first hole-in-one but I never came close, despite 350 rounds of golf.
Q: How did the journey and writing the book affect your relationship to the ancient game?
Kevin Markham: To be honest, I don’t think my relationship with the game changed very much at all. It’s a sport that can never be beaten and whether you’re hacking the ball around after sunrise or belting drives down the middle on a cold, wet afternoon, it is a game that always inspires you to do better.
On the other hand, my appreciation for the game did change, and that came down to playing golf with Geoff, in Charleville. He hit a woeful drive, chastised himself for hitting a terrible shot and then corrected himself, saying it was a brilliant shot.
When I asked him what he was talking about he told me the story of a local farmer who had been paralyzed by a bull and would never play golf again. I remember that story every time I start getting angry on the golf course. As golfers, we are all very privileged to play the game.
Q: What’s next?
Kevin Markham: I still write about Irish golf, trying to show people that there’s a lot more to our courses than the world-famous names that everyone recognizes. We have a tremendous ‘product’ over here and while those big-named courses will always prove alluring, you might find a much more wholesome experience if you venture off the beaten path.
I’m also getting into golf course photography: it’s not easy walking around taking photographs when you’d rather be hitting shots, but it certainly gives you a different viewpoint on the shapes and intricacies of each hole.
I’m thinking about a similar adventure around Scotland, but I have yet to run that idea past my wife.
Kevin Markham also writes about Irish golf at his blog.