A round with Rory McIlroy (kind of) in beautiful Killarney

Killarney Golf Club
The setting at Killarney is spectacular. Credit: Killarney Golf & Fishing Club

The voice on the other end of the line went quiet while I took it all in – “we want you to come and play in the Irish Open Pro-Am at Killarney Golf Club.”

“Some big names are playing this year and if you’re open to it, we’ll try and get you a round with Rory.” The words wouldn’t come. How do you respond? How could any golfer refuse the chance to play alongside the best players in the world on the Killeen Course at Killarney Golf Club – truly the stuff of dreams. 

The flight into Shannon was straightforward. As was the journey to Killarney, my base for the coming week. I tossed and turned in my hotel bedroom – no wonder:  tomorrow would be a day for dreams of the waking kind.

Killarney Ireland
The beauty of Killarney speaks for itself. Credit: Mark Lawson


There are not many days when you walk onto a practice putting green to find Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell putting next to you. You feel every fibre in your body retract with the tension. That goes to a whole new level when you step onto the range.

We have all watched that scene in Tin Cup when Kevin Costner gets a sudden dose of the s-word on the range at the US Open. Every amateur’s nightmare. Thankfully it wasn’t something I had to live out but hitting balls while sandwiched between Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els is both an extraordinary privilege and thrill but also the scariest thing you can possibly do as a golfer. Having survived the range, the next challenge was the first tee. Or the 10th in my case. The promise of being paired with Mr McIlroy had gone, sadly. In McIlroy’s place the less well know Richard Bland, currently world 425. The four-ball was made up of two well-known Irish hoteliers.

Killarney Golf Club
A view across Killarney Lake


McIlroy was, however, in the group just one hole behind me. What I soon realised was that meant the crowds who wanted to catch a glimpse of the biggest star in Irish golf, ran ahead to get their spot and ended up watching yours truly and his four-ball. The galleries were ten deep around most greens. As if the pressure wasn’t intense enough … 

In my naivety, I’d planned to put my bag on a trolley. Everyone else had a caddie. And within one hole, so did I. A youngster, no more than 14, came up to the ropes and asked if he could caddy for me. How could I refuse? For him, it was the chance to briefly taste some of the limelight. For me, perhaps a better chance to concentrate on my golf, rather than pulling along my trolley. What could possibly go wrong? On we went.

I played solidly, to my surprise. And even got a warm round of applause from the throngs of McIlroy fans around the 12th green (my 3rd hole) for a chip that almost dropped in. The trust golf galleries have in the tour pros’ ability to consistently find the middle of the clubface is extraordinary and based on years of evidence. When the amateurs get involved, the risk goes to a much higher level. The irony was that the only injury on the day was caused by McIlroy himself in the group behind – one of his 350 yard drives landing square on the head on one of the crowd behind me. Ouch. As we approached the final stretch of holes the atmosphere built, the galleries grew.

The opening hole at Killarney Golf Club
The opening hole at Killarney Golf Club


The 18th at Killarney is a magnificent hole – a 440 yard par-4. A tough drive with water left, three bunkers at driving distance to the right – a gentle dog-leg left. My drive flirted with the stream on the left but landed safely, leaving me 165yds to the centre of the green, over a pond. A big pond. To a green that was surrounded by not one but three grandstands, all packed in anticipation of Rory McIlroy. Of course. My 7-iron looked dead on line all the way. It was struck well. The flight was perfect. The distance, however, was not. It hit the bank just in front of the green and plunged into the pond with a resounding plop, much to the amusement of the crowd.

That was the signal for a change of fortunes. As we headed for our 10th tee, (the 1st on the card), the crowds had long gone, following the big names who were all on the homeward nine now. My young caddy sensed this pretty quickly. And as I pushed my tee into the ground at the 1st tee, he shouted something about his mum needing him back for his tea and ran off in the opposite direction with all the conviction of an Olympic sprinter.  Who can blame him? I’d have done the same thing.

The remainder of the round was delightful, actually. Without the crowds and the razmataz, it was easier to see the mesmeric beauty of this resort, sitting as it does on the banks of Lough Leane, surrounded by mountains. The Killeen course was set up for the pros on that day. It is long and challenging but it is beautifully laid out. And perfectly presented. A true test of every shot you have. And I couldn’t recommend it more highly. And so, that was it. I shot a round of 81. Which, on the day, wasn’t the worst. It was, in fact, better that one professional on the day, who will remain nameless.


Address: Mahony’s Point, Killarney, County Kerry, V93 ND72, Ireland.
Phone number: +353 64 6631034
Email: [email protected]
Website: KillarneyGolfClub.ie


Killarney Golf Club
The scorecard for the Killeen course


Killarney Golf Club Killeen Course map
Map of the Killeen Course at Killarney


The founder of The Wandering Golfers, Ben grew up on the links of Scotland learning the game from his beloved Grandpa. Previously a writer and broadcaster for The Times and BBC


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