The Changing Face of Cork Golf Club

The limestone walls and Cork harbour feature prominently at Cork Golf Club.
Picture: Niall O’Shea

There’s a change taking place on the course in Cork Golf Club, and in some senses it could be viewed as going back to the origins of the course.  Course Superintendent Simon O’Hara and the course team have set about clearing gorse, trees, shrubs and vegetation to reveal stunning views of the water and the quarry.  The changes don’t affect the tees, fairways or greens, but the vista around the quarry holes has changed and the new views may give golfers a glimpse into the course as it might have looked early in the last century.  This is the latest series of changes that Simon O’Hara has brought to Little Island.  O’Hara moved from Fota Island to Cork around 18 months ago, and soon after he arrived he started to make a few changes.  He reinstated the practice chipping green which is adjacent to the 18th fairway and last spring he oversaw the removal of the large putting green and replacing it with a brand new one.  While the course had a busy summer and it was business as usual, once the autumn came, Simon set about a major project to improve the views of both the water and the quarry.  After months of hard work by the team, the vision is now nearly complete.

Cork Golf Club’s Simon O’Hara.  Picture: Niall O’Shea

A large proportion of gorse, trees and shrubs have been removed in the selected areas and while the grow-in of new grass will take a few more weeks, golfers will be pleasantly surprised when they get back onto the course.  The first of the big changes is evident on the third hole, as you approach the green you’ll notice the water on the right hand side.  Known locally as the Guileen, the area of tidal water is now in clear view as all of the shrubs, gorse and trees have been removed.  While the changes shouldn’t have any impact on the difficulty of the hole, it does add an impressive visual aspect to the short par four.  The 4th and 5th holes in Cork have long been viewed as the signature holes and here again substantial clearing has taken place to bring the water into view.  All of the gorse on the right-hand side has been removed, including the large green-side bushes.  The water is definitely in the eye-line from the tee and anyone with a slice or fade will be more aware of the hazard facing them.  The clearance has continued beyond the 4th green giving golfers a clean look out at the 5th fairway from the elevated tee which is perched above the shore.

As well as clearing vegetation, natural wetlands are also being promoted like this area under the 8th tee at Cork Golf Club.

The long par five is now less intimidating, from the tee at least.  The fairway rises to the left moving slightly inland, before it moves back towards the water with the green in the distance.  While the green itself hasn’t changed, the mound behind the green is being removed to add to the challenge of the 578 yard par five.  O’Hara now describes this as an infinity green, with the mound removed golfers no longer have a backstop for any approaches that go through the green.  While the water is more than 30 yards from the back of the green, the eyes will be drawn to the water adding to the challenge of hitting the green in two or three.  Further clearing work has taken place on the 7th, 8th and 9th to expose more of quarry limestone.  While the team in Cork have cleared quite a bit of vegetation, they have also had an eye on the ecology of the course.  The traditional wetlands in the quarry section have been retained and two new areas have been created in the 7th and 8th holes.

Many lodgepole pines have been removed over the last few years but the team has planted thousands of immature scotts pine trees which in time will reframe the fairways.  O’Hara is very happy with the progress so far, and appreciates the natural elements he has around the course.  “Opening up the views to the Estuary was common sense” explained Simon.  “This is a hugely valuable piece of land, in terms of views, interaction with nature and the extra physical piece of land on a very tight golf course.  We are planting thousands of immature Scott’s Pine trees on the right of 2 and left of 17 that will in the long run, provide fantastic definition for each of these holes.  I believe that there remain very exciting opportunities to make better use of this land in the future. It would be great to bring the water more into play on holes 3 and 4.”  Having made a big impression in his first year and a half, O’Hara feels at home in Cork Golf Club.  “I feel incredibly fortunate to be working at Cork Golf Club, for a variety of reasons. Cork possesses many unique elements that individually would be a treasure on most courses, but to have the Quarry rock faces, the wetlands, the estuary, the MacKenzie design and Cork harbour is remarkable.  Additionally I am blessed with an amazing crew who bring great ideas, passion and commitment to the job. I am equally fortunate to closely work with Matt Sands, the green’s committee and chairman, and board of management.  They provide great energy, enthusiasm, practicality and support.  Collectively we all share the same ambition, to continually refine the golf course, to improve its ranking, playing condition and aesthetics.”