British golfers looking for a short playing break in Ireland might look towards Rosslare, given its location only a short distance from the south of the country's main ferry port.
And now, as the club celebrates its centenary, it is being upgraded with a new irrigation system and enhancements planned to the twelve hole Burrow course, designed originally in 1992 by Christy O'Connor Jr.
The course is situated on a peninsula facing north-north-east, with the sea on the east side, and a large bay on the other. That description may not sound especially familiar, but it is, in fact, exactly the setting of the St Andrews Links. And, according to Kevin Hawthorn of 2ic, the irrigation consultants who have been working at Rosslare, the similarities don't end there. Opened in 1905, and designed by Hawtree and Taylor, the course is a pure links with a traditional out and back routing. The famous Wexford bird sanctuary of North Sloblands is in view from the golf course, and many of the resident birds make their way across the estuary to the course itself.
"It's the most free-draining golf course I have seen in my life," says Kevin Hawthorn. "Rosslare is actually the driest, sunniest place in Ireland." Climate data seems to support his point. The local microclimate shows less rain and more sun than the surrounding areas, and as a result the limited irrigation system installed in the 1970s struggled to keep the course in good condition during the summer. The 1970s system covered only greens and tees, with a single row of sprinklers added later to cover fairways and notable dry patches. But the drying easterly wind that affects the area in summer meant that fairways often became extremely hard, and the greenkeepers found it hard to get the growth they wanted in the rough.
"There are big natural sand dunes on the seaward side of the course," says Hawthorn. "It's very important to keep good growth of grass on those dunes to keep them stable." A three year rolling programme of improvements has seen a new underground irrigation tank installed, and an upgrade to the irrigation system itself, with new pipes and sprinklers, computer controls and an expansion of coverage to the rough areas as well as the fairways.
"All pipes have been installed by moleplough and that the course has remained open throughout," says Hawthorn. "Holes were each closed for less than a day to allow the pipes and sprinklers to go in the greens and fairways. Under the supervision of 2iC, the contractors installed all the pipework and sprinklers to the Old Course in three weeks. It will all be up and functioning this coming spring."
This article first appeared in issue 3 of Golf Course Architecture, published in January 2006.