As soon as I heard of the plot in August to blow several American passenger aircraft out of the skies, I offered my three traveling companions from Maryland the opportunity to opt out of our Irish trip to begin the next day. Thankfully all three chose to go, like myself imagining we were probably flying on the safest day in the history of aviation. It probably was, but for us began the journey from hell.
The British government’s reaction involved stuffing every passenger’s hand-carried bags in the hold, after taking away all liquids, gels, toothpaste, makeup and the like. A smarter governing body might have realized that by taking these Draconian steps, every aircraft’s cargo compartment would be filled to overflowing, causing thousands of suitcases to go into limbo, failing to reach their destinations.
When we finally reached Belfast hours late, our foursome had three golf bags but only one suitcase. Peter, Steve and I did not see our luggage until five days later in Dublin, courtesy of an intrepid concierge at the Conrad Hotel. But the unkindest cut of all befell your correspondent. Most of the contents of my suitcase were soaking wet. We had heard that our bags had been ferried to Belfast, but mine had obviously been towed across the Irish Sea!
All this time I never heard a cross word from my long-suffering friends. I had known Richard for years, Steve only slightly, and had never met Peter, our heroic details man whose clubs arrived the day before our luggage. He also had provided a beautiful stemless wine glass made of Waterford crystal we competed for during the trip. The winner for the day was accorded the privilege of drinking from the “Irish Cup 2006.”
I have always regarded Ireland as the best country in the world for golf, mainly because of the warmth of the people, allied to the splendor of the links courses. I was more than ever impressed by our welcomes at Baltray, Royal Dublin, Portmarnock and even once-stuffy Royal County Down.
But the K Club was a profound disappointment, as I knew it would be. I can’t blame Dr. Michael Smurfit, its owner, for “buying” the first Ryder Cup ever to be played on Irish soil. But I think it is a travesty that the event—so special to the Irish—was not played at Portmarnock, a far more suitable venue.
The Old Head at Kinsale may not be the best course in the world, but it is certainly the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. How fitting, then, that I should take the most spectacular of falls on my old head. In my hurry to get down from the back of the 2nd green I caught the soft spikes of my right shoe between stones on the steep pathway, took a header to the bottom, and knocked myself cold on the hard ground. When I was dragged to my feet I insisted on resuming, and all but holed in one at the par-3 3rd, finishing five feet from the hole. But my birdie putt did not threaten the hole, and I was conceded the next so as to avoid losing my “greenie” with a three-putt!
My doctor discovered a cracked rib and torn cartilage in due course. But this could not detract from my utter delight when my three companions awarded me the Irish Cup 2006 on our final evening in Cork before the awful haul home. Not for the low net, I hasten to add, but for being Most Valuable Partner. I don’t know how they dreamed up that one. But I do know that golf is indeed the greatest game of all. For me, four guys thrown together in such adverse circumstances who had a thousand laughs and never a cross word typifies the spirit of golf.
As the filling station owner said to Richard after he had filled our diesel-powered van with unleaded gasoline: “I did the very same thing, and it never ran better!” Ours did, too. It was that kind of trip.