The connection between a musician with more than 40 million Twitter followers and a taciturn five-time Open champion prone to seasickness may not seem obvious.
As the spotlight shone on Mullingar over the first two weekends of the month, Mullingar’s Golf Club design by James Braid once again stood the test of time for the Scratch Cup, while Niall Horan fulfilled the role of unofficial ambassador when the Fleadh Cheoil hit his hometown. .
It’s safe to say that their personalities are chalk and cheese.
Stiff-necked Braid would never have stepped out of a pub window to join in on a music session and enjoy a pint, as Horan did on Fleadh weekend.
Yet just as Braid left a legacy as a gamer and designer, Horan is also committed to developing the game through his company Modest! Golf, which manages stars such as Leona Maguire and Tyrell Hatton and has promoted DP World Tour events, such as the ISPS Handa World Invitational.
The former One Direction singer, who plays with an eight handicap, is an honorary member of Mullingar. But even with the improved equipment these days, he might struggle to give Braid a game on the back tees at the Belvedere.
At the beautifully appointed Mullingar Clubhouse, two tee boxes are side by side.
One offers an inviting descent to a generous fairway. The other requires a long, precise stroke through a narrow avenue of trees to reach the corner of a dog leg.
About 85 years ago, Braid stroked his snow-white mustache and suggested to the members of Mullingar that they better start with the former. It was a cautious call.
To date, there are as many fours on the first hole as there are sixes on the 10th.
It’s very easy to get a six, or worse, in Mullingar. It’s also possible to do it with a smile as the course looks like a postcard with fairways of mature trees and velvet greens.
For handicap golfers, the par three seconds played on an elevated green is beauty and the beast has enveloped it.
Braid’s clever design allows for set-up to the left of the green, which provides a clear path to the pin. There’s nothing wrong with a bogey here.
The fourth is a par five gem, sweeping uphill to another elevated green, with clean clearances to the right and left. A five on the card is worth a cartwheel.
It continues, marvel after marvel. The eighth, which was lengthened by former Tour pro David Jones, would meet with Braid’s approval, as it is played on a new green framed by trees and bunkers.
If the 10th is tough, the back 11th is a knocker with problems on both flanks and barely a view of the fairway.
The uphill 12th is another magnificent one-shotter, protected by bunkers on both sides, while the final five holes consist of three par fives, an inviting par three and a potentially devastating par four.
Nothing is given up easily in Mullingar – especially memories, which will always linger.
Braid designed 10 Irish courses and left a legacy as one of the great architects of all time, not to mention a great golfer with those five Open titles to his name – all won in his native Scotland.
Alongside Mullingar in the Braid group are Tullamore, Waterford, Dundalk, Howth, Grange, Newlands, Bangor, Kirkistown Castle and Bentra, formerly Whitehead.
The discerning golfer could play all ten for the rest of his life and not lack for fun or challenge.
If Carlow stole a march on Mullingar with the first Midland Scratch Cup in 1950, the latter applied the means, the motive and the opportunity to establish its own stroke play event for elite amateurs.
The enlightened folks of Mullingar presented a 72-hole tournament, played over the August bank holiday weekend, with a name change. Rather than “Scratch Cup”, they opted for “Scratch Trophy”.
Build it and they will come, as the saying goes. And they came.
On a recent visit to Mullingar, Tee2Green spied the report in the Irish Independent by NJ Dunne of the inaugural Mullingar Scratch Trophy, under the headline “Carr Gives Mullingar Cup Approval”.
Carr, the Tiger Woods of the amateur era for 30 years, was the first winner in 1963, followed by gentle rocker Tom Craddock.
A young Walker Cup player, Peter Townsend, was next as Mullingar with the cold room Irish Amateur Strokeplay from 1960 to 1994, quickly became the must-attend event.
It was as prestigious as a provincial title and anyone worthy of the name, or with Walker Cup aspirations, was heading to the Belvedere estate in early August.
The honor roll sparkles with Irish greats, whose professional careers were built on the back of Mullingar’s successful ventures.
Des Smyth, Philip Walton, Darren Clarke, Pádraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Peter Lawrie, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry all triumphed in the Scratch Trophy.
It helped that golfers received five-star treatment, as did members of the press who filled extensive columns about the exploits of Carr, Craddock, Townsend and co.
The reception to the golf writers was second to none and Mullingar stalwarts Joe Healy and Albert Lee couldn’t do enough to ensure the hacks were satisfied.
The bank holiday weekend was showbiz time in the Midlands and the hospitality of every visitor was legendary. Pints flowed to Lough Owel and back.
Horan, you think, would have embraced it all. Heck, he would have even jumped out the window of the clubhouse for the caint, ceoil agus craic.
Braid, on the other hand, would probably have just sat quietly in the back of the pro shop sipping a little malt.
Green fees: Midweek/weekend €40/€50 (1 Nov. – 31 March); €60/€80 (April 1 – Oct. 31). Other rates apply to Golf Ireland Members etc.
Company prices: €20/€25 (1 Nov. – 31 March); €35/€45 (April 1 – Oct. 31). Flat rates available.
Buggy rental: €30
Club hire: €30
Electric trolleys: €10
Shooting balls: not available.
Signature hole: 2nd, par 3, 209 yards – An incredible par 3. Missing long and sideways is not an option. Missing short is your best bet, but you’ll have a tough chip on an elevated green.
PGA Professional James Quinlivan says, “One of the toughest par 3s in the country. A good iron shot is needed to reach this green. The safest miss is short, but you’ll still have a tough chip to the elevated green. Missing a right or left can cause a kick and leave an incredibly hard token. Choose your club wisely.
Membership rates: On request.
Nearby clubs: Moyvalley, New Forest, Tullamore, Headfort, Rathcore.