My golf mate John McLaughlin and I had big plans for 2020, and they revolved around a trip to Ireland he was organizing in his role as chief executive officer of North & West Coast Links Golf, a tour operator and marketing outfit based in Galway. He’s done that for me before, putting together itineraries that feature the finest links layouts in that country. And John wouldn’t be doing his job if he did not join me for portions of those expeditions. An exemplary host, he has taken me to his favorite haunts in his homeland and regaled me with stories of golf in the Emerald Isle.
Not surprisingly a friendship developed during our rounds – and over pints of Guinness and drams of Bushmills in local pubs afterward. It was renewed each January with meetings at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida, and furthered during the jaunts I made to Ireland every few years to report travel features for GGP.
Thanks to COVID-19, however, there was no trip to Ireland this year. No treks in and around the gnarly dunes on the seaside links that Dubliner Eddie Hackett designed at Carne and Enniscrone, Donegal and Ballyliffin. Or rounds on the links at Narin & Portnoo that American architect Gil Hanse recently revamped.
I also had planned to visit Royal Portrush to see what the R&A had done with the Dunluce Course in preparation for the 2019 Open Championship, and to be sure that the superb yet vastly underrated Valley Course that abuts it was not harmed by the renovations in any way. And to stop by Mount Falcon in County Mayo to see its owner, Alan Maloney, and spend an afternoon or two after golf prowling the River Moy with our fly rods for Atlantic salmon.
Céide Fields also was on my agenda, for the vertigo-inducing cliffs that loom some 400 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and also for its archeology. Regarded as the most extensive Neolithic site in Ireland, it dates back some 5,500 years – making it roughly 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.
So, I stayed home, and John and I could do little more than exchange the occasional e-mail. We lamented what might have been as we reflected on the many ways the pandemic has upended our lives.
But we also assured each other that things would be better next year – and that I will be able to take that trip to Ireland in 2021.
Oh, to be in Éire once again.