When the USA Curtis Cup Team members arrived at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in Dublin for this weekend’s Match, they wondered if they had actually crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
The parkland course – Dun Laoghaire was founded in 1909 but relocated in 2007 – they encountered had an American feel. It was green and lush. There was thick rough and plenty of trees.
It wasn’t the pure links layout most Americans are accustomed to seeing during the Open Championship, conducted by The R&A. It wasn’t firm with fescue framing tinted brown fairways and featuring deep pot bunkers.
“I think it’s nice to come here and have a familiar course to play on,” said Sierra Brooks, the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up. “We know how to hit all of the shots out here.”
Added USA captain Robin Burke: “We’re fortunate to be on a parkland-style golf course because the weather has been perfect and I know this isn’t typical weather for Ireland. If we were [competing] on a links course with this calm weather and then if we ran into a lot of wind and rain, we wouldn’t be probably as prepared.”
The Curtis Cup and Walker Cup matches contested in Europe are usually played on classic links courses that often require an adjustment. Those seaside venues demand more of a ground game and lower-trajectory shots to keep the ball from ballooning in the wind.
The USA competitors got a taste of that on Sunday when they played Portmarnock, a classic links venue in Dublin that hosted the 1991 Walker Cup Match. It was a much different experience once they arrived at Dun Laoghaire on Monday to begin preparing for the three-day Match that starts Friday with three foursomes (alternate shot) and three four-ball (best ball) matches. The same format is used on Saturday followed by eight singles matches on Sunday. The USA needs 10 points to retain the Cup, while Great Britain and Ireland needs 10.5 to reclaim it.
“My caddie (Michael Keenan) was like, ‘How do you like it?’ said USA competitor Bailey Tardy, 19, of Peachtree Corners, Ga. “I feel like I am in America. I feel like I am not in Ireland. The fairways and greens are soft. The rough is super thick. It plays like a northern [U.S.] course. There are a lot of hidden breaks in these greens than other greens that I have played.”
So who does the 6,603-yard, par-72 course favor? Many of the GB&I golfers are familiar with American courses as six of the eight currently play or previously played college golf in the U.S.
“The best players are going to win at the end of the day,” said GB&I Team member Olivia Mehaffey, 18, of Northern Ireland, who will play at Arizona State University in the fall. “It’s not a course you can say it came down to luck. It’s the golfer who hits the best shots. You will be rewarded for good shots.”
Added GB&I captain Elaine Farquharson-Black: “You’ve got to hit it straight. You’ve got to hit it long and around the greens, you’ve got to putt well. You need the whole package on this golf course.”
The forecast is calling for a 40 percent chance of light rain on Friday and 40 percent chance of showers on Saturday with winds out of the southeast between 11 and 18 mph.
But as anyone who has played golf in Ireland or Great Britain knows, conditions can change multiple times during a round.
Burke also knows in these competitions, the winner generally is the team that produces better on the green.
Like one wise man once said, “The trophy is given away on the putting green and not in the fairway,” said Burke, who played on the victorious 1998 USA Team. “It comes down to who makes the putt. That’s a quote from Jackie Burke,” a two-time major champion who happens to be Robin’s husband.
It also can come down to unlocking the right combinations in foursomes and four-balls. Experience doesn’t hurt, either. GB&I has two players – Bronte Law (No. 4 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™) and Leona Maguire (No. 2 in the WAGR) – competing in their third Curtis Cup and another (Charlotte Thomas) playing her second. The USA features world No. 1 Hannah O’Sullivan, the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, and three others in the top 10 of the WAGR, but doesn’t have anyone with previous Curtis Cup experience.
Farquharson-Black has leaned on her veterans to provide advice as well as her own past experience as a two-time GB&I competitor (1990 and 1992). Asked what her biggest objective this week has been, she replied: “I’m trying to have a happy team because a happy team can relax and go out and play their best golf. We’ve been very relaxed.”
The next three days will decide if that formula was the right one.
Mehaffey has fully recovered from a bout of glandular fever or what some would call infectious mononucleosis. The 2015 Junior Solheim Cup competitor was sidelined for a month earlier this year, but returned strong by winning the Irish Women’s Open Stroke Play by eight strokes. She followed with a second-place finish in her defense of the Helen Holm Scottish Women's Open Championship, and then won the Welsh Open Stroke Play and Irish Closed Championship. … Seven of Robin Burke’s eight players are teenagers, including four 17-year-olds. Burke didn’t take up golf until she was 17 and played her lone Curtis Cup Match at 36. “I guess it took me 17 years,” she said, drawing a laugh from the assembled media. … There are several college connections to both teams. Bronte Law plays at UCLA with the USA’s Bethany Wu, and if she returns for her senior year, she’ll also be a teammate of incoming freshman Mariel Galdiano. Mehaffey will be teammates in the fall at Arizona State with the USA’s Monica Vaughn.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.