As a student of the game, Tokatee golf pro Dan King knew all about the famous golf courses in Northern Ireland and Ireland — courses like Royal Portrush, Ballybunion and Royal County Down.
But they existed only in film clips from the Golf Channel, or photos in books until earlier this summer, when King and his son Casey, who recently completed his collegiate golf career at Oregon State, made a first-ever trip overseas with Trysting Tree golf pro Sean Arey, a longtime friend, and his son, Hogan, a senior-to-be and a golfer at Corvallis High School.
The experience was all that King had expected and more.
They played demanding links-style golf on 10 courses in sometimes blustery (and worse) conditions, sometimes with caddies (ranging in age from about 13 to 75, the latter pulling clubs on a trolley) whose Irish brogues described a good shot as “a peach.” They took aim at unseen greens, guided only by white aiming rocks, and searched for wind-blown balls in the rough. They had the often-harrowing experience of driving on narrow roads through a countryside replete with cattle, sheep and rock fences, and they saw buildings often older than the United States itself.
And there was this, too: In recent years, Dan and Casey King hadn’t spent that much time golfing together, as Casey played collegiately; now, their golf time together in the future is uncertain, as Casey finishes his degree at OSU, his direction after that undecided.
“It was almost like one last hurrah before we might not get to play very much together at all,” Casey King said. “What better of an opportunity or place to do that than 10 rounds in Ireland.”
Said Dan King: “I don’t care if it was in Roseburg, if I could play 10 rounds with Casey in a row I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
The trip to Ireland was made possible through the inspiration and, substantially, the generosity of Larry Giustina, owner of Tokatee, whose late father, Nat Giustina, built that golf course.
He also was involved in the construction of Trysting Tree, which is owned by Oregon State University and overseen by a foundation, of which Larry Giustina is the chairman of the board.
Noting how special golf is in Ireland — “it’s a different game over there,” the courses shaped by “Mother Nature” — Larry Giustina had regretted never being able to play there with his father, and had made sure he and his son, Mark, had that experience back when Mark turned 18. Now, he wanted the Kings and Areys, the fathers longtime pros at their respective courses — King has been at Tokatee for 17 years, Arey at Trysting Tree for 20 — to share that same adventure.
The golfers left the United States on the Fourth of July, arrived in Dublin and began play July 6 at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, the only course outside of Great Britain to host a British Open, that in 1951.
The course reminded them of Bandon Dunes, a theme to be repeated more than once and reflecting both the scenery and strategies of playing off tight lies on fescue in windy conditions. That meant leaving the lob wedge in the bag and chipping from off the green with anything from a putter to a 5-iron.
In their round-a-day itinerary, they next went to Portstewart, known for its dramatic dunes, and saw Dunluce Castle and toured the Old Bushmills Distillery, and then went on to County Sligo Golf Club and Enniscrone, billed as one of Ireland’s “finest hidden gems.”
It was a course where Casey King had his roughest round — on a trip on which he shot par or better more often than not — but a course he’d gladly play again. By then, they were dealing with rain as well as wind.
“It was cut into the dunes, and the dunes were so high and so close it made it really hard,” Casey King said. “Unless you were hitting it perfect, and flighting your ball with the wind, you were going to lose a ton of balls, especially after it started raining. … The ball was going into the dunes and it wasn’t coming out.”
Next came Lahinch, the “St. Andrews of Ireland,” another demanding links course with huge dunes and blind shots. The rest of the tour took them through Ballybunion, considered one of the best courses in the world — albeit, Casey said, with “some of the weirdest holes I’ve ever seen,” including a short par 3 with a dune in front of the green; the K Club, most like an American golf course; County Louth, where the best caddie of their trip ensured that they never lost a ball; Portmarnock, another tough links course, and finally another world-renowned course, Royal County Down.
“The courses were a lot harder than I thought they would be, but not so hard you couldn’t play it,” Dan King said. “Over here, most of the courses you play, you see where you’re going to hit your ball. There, everything’s on lines. … You’re either going for the white stones, or the towers in the background. They play a little differently over there, because they have to.”
And in the end, the trip, for which the golfers were profoundly grateful, was about a lot more than the scorecards.
“You want to appreciate it,” said Dan King, who clearly did, “because you may never see anything like this again in your life.”