Golf and the 19th Hole

Waterville Golf Links, County Down

Once upon a time, in a town called Waterville on the Wild Atlantic Way, three Americans, an Australian and what appears to be half the town’s population are living it up in the bar of the Butler Arms Hotel…

The four visitors are golfers, yes, but certainly not your ordinary golfers. US Open champion Payne Stewart is belting out a tune on his harmonica, as fellow major winner Lee Janzen, world number one David Duval and Aussie star Stuart Appleby shake their heads, laugh and sing along.

The pub is heaving, so Stewart jumps behind the counter for a 30-minute shift as guest barman. He isn't taking in any cash, his caddy reminds him. “Drinks are on me!” Stewart yells back.

It’s never all about golf

Having visited Waterville with pals Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara before, Stewart couldn’t resist returning with a few friends. This time he took them to Kerry for a few warm-up rounds at Waterville and Ballybunion in preparation for The Open the following week.

"We get into the pub and get around a piano. I bring out my harmonica and the next thing you know it's about 4am."

Payne Stewart

By the time he leaves the tiny County Kerry village on the Wild Atlantic Way, Stewart is telling people he wants to be the mayor. We don’t have a mayor, they tell him. But being captain of the golf club is a much bigger deal. So they go one better and make him captain that season. Tragically, Payne Stewart lost his life in a plane crash just a few months later. But his memory lives on in Waterville. A bronze statue has been erected in his memory by the many friends he made on those short trips.

Like coming home

Ireland is like that. Casual meetings lead to life-long friendships. Quiet drinks in the pub turn into parties, one-off golf trips become annual pilgrimages. Take the US PGA champion Keegan Bradley, whose auntie Pat Bradley is a Hall of Fame star with close ties to County Cork.

He’d made the trip with his family when he was a child. Years later, after making friends with Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, he was back. “My three uncles – my dad being one of them – played in this tournament called the Three Brothers in Youghal in County Cork,” Bradley said of his Irish connections. 

“Hundreds of people told me, ‘Welcome home’, which gives me chills almost every time they say it. It’s just been a phenomenal experience.”

Keegan Bradley

And while here, he decided to see as much of the island as possible. So much so, he went all the way up to the north Antrim coast to take in the key sights of the Causeway Coastal Route including the Giant’s Causeway and the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery!

Once visited, a return is always on the cards

Aside from the superstars of golf, proficient amateurs from the movie world also make dates to swing into Ireland every so often. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Charlie Chaplin were regular visitors in the 1950s and 1960s, and the stream of stars has not stopped since then.

Actor Bill Murray, loved by golf fans everywhere for his portrayal of the crazy greenskeeper Carl Spackler in the cult classic Caddyshack, is a huge fan of Ireland and Irish golf. "My favourite place to play golf is in Ireland," says the Emmy and Golden Globe winner.

"That's where my ancestors come from, and it's the most beautiful country to play golf in, and when you come as a guest to play golf you are treated like a king."

Bill Murray

The 19th hole is the inevitable ending point to a day's golfing on the island of Ireland. And where better than the confines of a great pub in which to relax after a magical 18 holes at one of our world-class courses – whether you've performed well or not! It's a place where plans are made and myths are born, so pull up a chair and regale the locals with tales of that perfect round!

Whatever has you golfing in Ireland, you'll be following in some famous footsteps. You might not even have any Irish roots, but you'll still be welcomed home like one of the family. Here, on the island of Ireland, we always carry on to the 19th hole.

Time to tee up

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