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We caught up with famous golf course architect Ron Kirby to find out more about his spectacular handiwork at Old Head in Kinsale…
The spectacular clifftop course at Old Head in Kinsale is currently ranked 39th in our biennial rankings of the Top 100 Courses in the UK & Ireland.
Here, we chat to Ron Kirby, Old Head’s famous designer, who has worked with Robert Trent Jones Senior, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus in his long and distinguished design career.
He, along with a number of other co-designers originally, was the man enlisted with turning the dream into reality on this stunning headland setting in County Cork…
Related: Win an Old Head Golf Club print signed by Ron Kirby!
How often do you get to work with such a spectacular plot as Old Head?
This is a one-off. When you first drive in here you just say, ‘Wow. What a wow factor this place has!’ I got the assignment to do the strategy and the final design, and we went from there. I got a lot of input from Joe Carr.
He said, ‘The wind is going to blow in here so you’ve got to keep the greens very gentle – don’t make them too busy.’ You’ll see with all the greens here, there’s very little contouring so you won’t get the ball moving on you in the wind.
How much did the design change from the first proposed layout?
Probably the biggest adjustment was getting the correct routing on the 12th and 15th – they were going round the hill the wrong way, and I said they’ve got to go round it the other way. Since then, any time we can get the course closer to the edge, get a better feature on the hole or get a better vista, they’ll spend the money to do it.
Which is your favourite hole and why?
The 4th hole has now been recognised as one of the top 18 holes in the world. It has the green right on the cliff edge. Other than that, I’d say the 12th and the 2nd, which is probably the most natural hole out here.
Liam Higgins, who also worked on the Old Head design, can almost hit that 2nd green! All the par 3s are fantastic too and on the cliff edge - the one that everybody really likes is the 16th.
What’s the most daunting shot on the course?
The tee shot at 12. You’re aiming at a standing stone in the fairway and the caddie will either say play right of the stone in a strong wind or left of it in a soft wind. From those back tees it’s a serious spot where you’re looking down the massive cliffs.
What about the very back tee on 18?
When we had six big-name pros here I said don’t use that real back tee, but Tiger Woods heard there was this very back tee, and they took them back there.
Tiger hit a perfect tee shot and just made the fairway by about a yard. He then hit a 4-iron and hit the stick! I lost it on the second argument but won it on the first argument – there was only one guy in the world who could hit the fairway from there that day!
Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and even instruction despite his own somewhat iffy swing (he knows how to do it, but just can't do it himself). He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 89 of the Next 100. He has played well over 900 courses worldwide in 35 countries, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content. On his first trip to Abu Dhabi a decade ago he foolishly asked Paul Casey what sort of a record he had around the course there. "Well, I've won it twice if that's what you mean!" came the reply...
Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf
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