AT Cork Golf Club, the course superintendent, Simon O’Hara, and the course team are 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 is different and the new views give golfers a glimpse of how the course might have looked early in the last century.
This is the latest series of changes introduced by Simon O’Hara at Little Island.
O’Hara moved from Fota Island to Cork 18 months ago, and the transformation began.
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 the installation of its replacement.
While the course was busy with golfers over summer, 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.
A large proportion of gorse, trees, and shrubs has 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, after the coronavirus outbreak has subsided.
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 vegetation — the shrubs, the gorse, and the trees — has been removed.
While the changes shouldn’t have any impact on the difficulty of the hole, they do 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.
The long par-five is now less intimidating, from the tee at least. The fairway rises to the left, moving slightly inland, before it rolls 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 the 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 Scots pine trees, which, in time, will reframe the fairways.
O’Hara is very happy with the progress and appreciates the natural elements he has around the course.
“Opening up the views to the estuary was common sense,” Simon O’Hara said.
“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 Scots 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,” Simon O’Hara said.
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,” Simon O’Hara said.
“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.”