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Killeen Course at Ireland's Killarney Golf & Fishing Club Deserves Respect

By: Steve Habel


Many American travelers in Ireland lucky enough to play the Killeen Course at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club return with slightly underwhelming reports about the inland, parkland-style course, perhaps because the experience there is akin to those of a great course they're used to playing back home rather than the thrilling Irish links.

Killarney Golf & Fishing Club

But anything less than a fabulous review of the Killarney G&FC course is misguided. It provides a wonderful and demanding round and deserves a heaping helping of respect, even if the wind is whipping down from the nearby MacGillycuddy Reeks - the Emerald Isle's largest mountain range - rather than off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean or the Irish Sea.

It's hard to find a more stunning setting for golf anywhere in the world, so much so that the layout carries the nicknames of "heavens reflex" and the "nearest golf club to Heaven." The backdrop of the course is Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland, and a handful of its holes are played on and over Lough Leane, the largest freshwater lake in the southwest corner of the island nation.

Killarney is a private club - that like most Irish courses, accepts outside tee times - which is set just west of its charming, namesake town in County Kerry. The facility is unique in that it's considered the only true "lakeside" golf club in the country and, with that designation, has attributes of both seaside links and inland courses.

The Killeen Course is the flagship layout of the club's three layouts (the others are Mahony's Point and Lackabane) and is a true gem. Killeen has hosted five Irish Opens, most recently in 2009 and '10. It has also held many major and minor championships as well, including the 1996 Curtis Cup matches.

Golf at the Killarney G&FC dates back to 1893, but the Killeen course was fashioned in 1972 by Billy O'Sullivan and Fred Hawtree and was the second of the three layouts built at the club. David Jones updated the course ahead of the 1991 Irish Open - won by Nick Faldo over Colin Montgomerie, and in 2006 Killeen was again renovated, this time by Tom MacKenzie, who added new tees, bunkers and yardage.

During the redo, the greens on the holes skirting the lake were quickened and moved closer to the water, making Killeen imposing, yet highly enjoyable.

The 1st Green at Killeen Course

The Inland Holes are the Toughest

The Killeen Course plays to a par of 72 with a 35-37 routing; there's one par-5 on the front nine and just one par-3 on the back. It stretches 7,181 yards from the back set of four tees; be forewarned that the stroke-saver "yardage" book is in meters.

Despite its proximity to the mountains, Killeen occupies mostly flat ground with no more than 40 feet of roll on its entire expanse. The lake enters play on Nos. 1, 3 and 4. Then the routing turns inland before skirting the water again on the 10th, which plays straight towards the water.

These tree-lined fairways can seem confining (especially from the tips), but they are actually quite generous. Some of the holes adjacent to the lake are exposed to fickle winds and, when the lake is not in play, ponds and burns often are; water is a factor on 11 of the 18 holes.

The opener is a 378-yard par-4 with a slight dogleg-right fairway that hugs the lake and sports a 100-yard-long bunker between the short grass and the water. The lake and a marsh are worth noting on the testy 200-yard, par-3 third, whose tee box offers a commanding view of the water, mountains and a small island upon which a 17th Century monastery was built.

The 10th on Killeen Course at
Killarney Golf & Fishing Club

The stunning vistas continue at the 417-yard, par-4 fourth, which starts - from the rearmost tee - on a tiny promontory and extends over a marsh to very narrow, rightward-sloping fairway alongside the shores of the lake. A thick tree-line down the left side provides no relief as the approach is to a multi-tiered green that juts into the lake, making this one of Killeen's toughest holes.

The 452-yard par-4, dogleg-right fifth turns sharply to a putting surface virtually hidden behind a cluster of trees and guarded by a large bunker right. A creek runs along the right side of the fairway to about 220 yards, and along the left at about the 270-yard mark is a large tree. If you can avoid these obstacles, you're still left with a second shot considered one of the most bestial in all of Ireland.

The 410-yard, par-4 eighth offers one of Killeen's most scenic tee shots. The elevated block is hidden back in the woods and the drive has to split a narrow chute through trees. The approach must avoid a creek that enters before the green from the left.

Killeen's best holes are found in a stretch beginning with the 485-yard, par-5 11th and extends to the 371-yard par-4 14th. No. 11 (played as a lengthy two-shotter at the Irish Open) is deceptively difficult; it's straight and wide and forgiving until reaching its elevated, three-tiered green, which is protected by a lone bunker at the front-right.

The 18th Hole on Killeen Course at Killarney G&FC

The 12th (a 447-yard par-4) is also wide and enticing, but players must beware of the dual deep bunkers on the left in the prime landing area and three more guarding the front flanks of the green. Arguably the best hole on Killeen is the 500-yard, par-4 13th, where thick rough lines both sides of a runway-like fairway that is flat until it dips into a dale bearing a creek. From there, the hole shoots upward to a green surrounded by trees.

Players that drop a shot on the 13th have a chance to get it right back on the 386-yard, par-4 14th, which moves slightly downhill and rightward around "Turkey Oak," a 200-year-old tree that is the oldest on the course. From the landing area, the fairway rises modestly to an elevated and well-bunkered target.

The closer at Killeen is a 439-yard par-4 that moves slightly to the left from a landing area squeezed on the left by a wide creek and right by three bunkers. A pond impinges the left side of its raised green, further squeezed front-right by a deep bunker, all set in the shade of Killarney's stately clubhouse.

Admittedly, the experience at the Killeen Course does not compare with the one at famed Irish coastal links such as Ballybunion or Lahinch, nor does it try to. Instead, players here can enjoy inland golf at one of Europe's best and most noted venues.

And that's a lot to crow about.

For more info on Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, go to www.killarney-golf.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.