Golf: Rough spell ahead for swinging Els

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The Independent Online
If you are not familiar with Druids Glen, the venue for the Murphy's Irish Open, it is because the course has yet to celebrate its first birthday. However, they like to say it has been hundreds of years in the making. The place owes its name to the high priests who worshipped in the thickly forested countryside in the fifth century.

As a reminder of their presence here (the folklore has it that they were such a fearsome bunch they repelled St Patrick) a druid's altar remains near the picturesque 12th, a hole that draws more inspiration from the 12th at Augusta National than from any pagan ritual.

Druids Glen has been built with about pounds 14m of Nigerian money and the brief to the designers, Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock, was to create the finest inland course in Ireland. There are those who think they have pulled it off... and those who don't.

Professional golfers do not refer to what the promoters describe as a "Garden of Eden within the Garden of Ireland" or to the intention to "march them through every emotional vista, from the pathetique associated with the ripples on the water of a lake which has just swallowed another ball to the ultimate appassionata springing from one's tee shot snuggling close to the pin."

No, they harp on about one thing: the rough.

Bernhard Langer, who finished runner up in the French Open last week, said: "It is very long, very narrow, lots of rough. The rough is severe along the fairways and around the edges of the greens. There's lots of water and there are some trees sticking out into where you want to shape your tee shot.

"At 18, I had as good a drive as possible and a three-iron and did not reach the green. When it is calm it is all right but when the wind blows it is going to be extremely difficult. If they play the back tees, two or three under par will win it. They will have to put some of the tees forward."

This is Ernie Els on the same subject: "The rough is tougher than in the US Open in that it is loose here and the ball does not come out the same. At the US Open you could work on a shot and you could bounce the ball out. Here it is very loose and soft. You'll be lucky to get a good shot out of it."

Els, playing in his first tournament since finishing fifth in the US Open at Oakland Hills, Detroit, has been working on his swing with Bob Torrance.

"My game is not what it was a couple of weeks ago," Els said. "My arms and body are not working together at the moment. It is not far off. Just little things."

Bob's son, Sam, thought the course was in excellent condition, but added: "They've tried to do what they did in the English Open and put grass around the greens. It doesn't suit the course. It is horrific to chip it out." Despite the fact that Torrance won the Irish Open at Mount Juliet 12 months ago, he would like to see the championship return to Portmarnock.

It was, in fact, scheduled for the great links course on the outskirts of Dublin but there was a cooling of relations between the club and sponsors, and the official verdict was that Portmarnock was not up to the required standard.

"I thought it was the best venue, a great test of golf and a great seaside course coming up to the Open," Torrance said. "But you have to think of the sponsors. Dublin is not a great place for Murphy's. A lot of the other black stuff is sold there."

Enter Druids Glen with Pat Ruddy in full swing. "The first task," he said, "is to produce excellent and valid golf. This must be fitted into the landscape with sensitivity and delicacy. After that, golf is entertainment and we make every effort to excite the senses with glorious visions of a lovely landscape, offering all the possibilities for golfing elation or deflation. The tiger within every golfer will always respond."

Colin Montgomerie, who gives the impression he would like to play every week in elephant grass, is that tiger providing, of course, that teddy remains in the pram. "This is a great course," Monty said. "The rough is not too severe. There is no gift and there's nothing wrong with that. The more quality courses the tour plays the stronger the tour will become and this is one of the quality courses."

It is also one of the quality clubhouses, once owned, in 1827, by the Bishop of Clogher. The poor man suffered from a skin complaint and was advised to bath in red wine. His butler siphoned off the wine and flogged it to a pub in Kilcoole. The regulars did not complain. Evidently they thought it was full of body...

n The Swede Annika Sorenstam, the United States Open champion, defends her golf title in the strongest field of the season in the Hennessy Cup, which begins at Refrath, near Cologne, tomorrow. Britain's Laura Davies, who won the Evian Masters two weeks ago for her fourth victory of the year, will be chasing an elusive title.