Iain Prime hops over the pond to pay a visit to Lee Valley Golf and Country Club in Ireland
By Iain Prime…
As the winding road climbs steeply towards Lee Valley Golf & Country Club there is not even a hint of what might await you. There is still no clue as you turn in to the entrance and climb to reach the spacious modern clubhouse that sits atop the crest of the hill.
Two things then happen. Initially you get to gaze over an amazing vista. A panorama that stretches across the golf course, over the Lee Valley itself and from there to the Galtee Mountains in the distance. The second thing that happens is the welcome. Generous, friendly and downright refreshing.
Lee Valley Golf & Country Club is family owned and family loved by the Keohane’s. Owner Jerry Keohane opened the Christy O’Connor Jnr design in 1990 with the help of Christy himself playing a match against Freddy Couples.
The match ended with the pair being helicoptered away with a pints of Murphy’s still in hand. It’s a great reflection on the relaxed feel of this venue.
The parkland course has matured since then. It now has a well settled feel with lush, beautifully defined, fairways winding through substantial trees and round the edge of several expanses of water.
It is a championship length course and one on which you have plenty of opportunity to use your driver to shorten approaches. In most cases this can be done without too much fear. This, however, is not a venue where you can use brute strength to score. A decent card will only be achieved by getting your grey matter active.
A perfect example is the beautiful 342 yard steeply downhill 10th hole involves guiding a short iron tee shot down through a narrow channel of mature trees to a 90 degree left hand turn.
Your tee shot only has a landing area of about sixty feet square to leave a view of the flag. It is only about 120 yards away but from the down slope over a left to right running fairway to a semi hidden green, with a steep drop at the back, it is a fearsome approach.
The green is the only place to land the ball. Get a four here and you will walk down the hill to the 11th tee with a jaunty, if relieved, stride.
Water plays a big part at Lee Valley. The signature hole is the 12th, a 179 yard par 3 (right). An elevated tee gives a fine view of the green sitting behind a pond which finishes close to the left hand front edge of the putting surface. There is more space between the water and the green on the right hand side but here you have two greenside bunkers lying in wait for a bale out shot. The prevailing wind is over your left shoulder thus giving only one option to get close to the pin. You have to take on the longest part of the pond and let the wind bring the ball back in to the centre of the green. Not for the faint hearted!
Two of the par fives, the 8th and the 15th (below) have large water hazards around which the fairway hugs the edge approaching the greens.
If you launch a drive you might consider taking on the second shot over the these hazards but even when bravado takes over from sense you have to be long and very accurate to make the ball stick on the putting surface.
The greens at Lee Valley are immaculate. The USPGA construction has created surfaces that will accept a well struck approach but beware they are very quick and very few are flat. Leave yourself above the hole at your peril! Get your putt rolling though and it will stay exactly on the line you hit it. Smooth as silk.
If you’re not totally focused on your golf then this course is a beautiful walk providing changing elevations and spectacular views over County Cork. There’s history and legend here too. Lee Valley’s own ‘Amen Corner’ is ‘Puisheog Corner’.
Puisheog means ‘something thought to have magical powers’. This part of the course includes the 12th, 13th and 14th holes which circumnavigate an ancient Ring Fort. It is from here, fable tells us, that Irish legend Finn MacCool threw a rock four and a half miles in a stone throwing competition. As you do!
So what is not good about this venue? I’m struggling here to be honest. There is a well stocked pro shop which is manned by Paul Coleman who couldn’t be more helpful.
The food in the clubhouse would rate alongside an excellent city restaurant. Head chef Danny Healy has been at the club since the day it opened in 1994 and the clubhouse staff have learned their immaculate customer service from Lisa Sheehan, who has been at the club nearly as long as chef Danny.
Ah I know! The cold drinks machine was faulty in the ‘half-way house’ when we were there. That is as bad as it got!
Lee Valley has deluxe 4 star family homes ‘in situ’ which provide that resort feel. Golf packages can be booked directly through the club. I stayed at the nearby Oriel House Hotel in the village of Ballincollig. It was about five minutes away from the course and provided excellent quality at reasonable prices.
Flights to Cork International Airport from Glasgow or Edinburgh cost from about £250 return.
If groups are staying or playing over a few days at Lee Valley the resort has a small coach that they will provide a local airport pick up and drop off service. The coach is more often than not driven by Jerry Keohane himself. Now that tells a story.