Saturday, October 23, 2021

Europe’s new golf clubs rekindle links past

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Written by By Max Bradbury, CNN

A 17th century manor house in rural England, a cheery crowd of schoolchildren and, most importantly, golf clubs are preparing to take over Belfry Golf Club in Warwickshire on Thursday, June 28.

“The final day of the Ryder Cup in 2016 was at Newport … of course there is lots of history here,” Kayo Gavin, the course’s second-in-command, tells me when we meet in the clubhouse. “We are the stewards of it and we want to try and bring back a little bit of that atmosphere.”

For the latest in a series of CNN visits to newly minted golf destinations — from Ireland’s K Club to Scotland’s Old Course — we take a stroll through the golf hall of fame, which sits in the little lounge of the clubhouse, where breakfast is served each morning.

Originally built in the 1400s to provide shelter for cannon-firing the Garrison of Trevose, the large round turrets that nestle into the side of the mansion make it a great venue for ambling along the course or swapping memories with the locals — and the crowds.

It is a passion that seems to run deep. People weave through the ancient trees to hold their pitch-and-putt competitions, but there is also a relaxed sense of community too, a feeling that links courses can bring people together in a way that others cannot.

The legendary links in County Louth, Northern Ireland Credit: Getty Images North America/Getty Images

When the Celtic Tiger went into hibernation, links courses were left with a dilemma. While you might not have to buy new clubs (or lobby hard to be included on a European VIP mailing list), you might struggle to fill them when the very sports that once made you rich began to shrivel in the wake of the financial crisis.

Thankfully, an upturn has since arrived and links courses across the United Kingdom have sprung back to life. This summer, they are working hard to meet demand with regular events and welcoming tournaments that draw out their biggest names for a taste of the great outdoors.

We enter these clubs from the front door of the Old Course Hotel, a converted traditional farmhouse between St Andrews and Largs on Scotland’s west coast. It has served as a host hotel for courses across the country, and a thriving village tavern and cafe here is testament to the area’s long-standing links tradition.

Steve Bell is a long-serving member of the Old Course Hotel Credit: Mark Calcote/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

Now the Old Course Hotel is committed to this increasingly popular resort location, converting and expanding its small restaurant into an ambitious five-star venue. But even though every room has sea views, it remains friendly and welcoming. It’s not much of a departure from the ordinary course experience.

The Irish course in Mayo, Tully Credit: Mark Calcote/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

Taking us on a tour of the hotel ahead of their grand reopening in time for the Celtic Manor World Team Cup later this year, Shaun McKerry, the executive director of the Celtic Manor Resort, says that the intent here is to “keep golfing and village together”.

“You have golfers going to Celtic Manor and staying in the hotel while playing golf,” he explains. “You have farmers going to Celtic Manor and picking up a caddy for the night.”

And this isn’t just an Irish tradition — the Gateway Course in Padstow, Cornwall is also planning an ambitious redevelopment this summer, shortly after the Somerset course was awarded a dedicated TV course.

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