The Staffran Estate in County Kildare had a history dating back almost 1,500 years prior to paper and packaging magnate Dr Michael Smurfit purchasing it in 1988 with a view to creating a luxury golf and hotel destination. Located less than twenty miles from the center of Dublin, the Kildare Hotel and Country Club, or ‘K Club’, was opened in 1991 and is now home to a superb five-star hotel and two contrasting, but distinctly American style, resort courses built on either side of the famous Liffey River.
Routed through more established park grounds, the original Palmer Course is the pick of the golf and despite water coming into play on fourteen holes is less tricked up than the over-the-top Smurfit Course. While sculptured water hazards are the central feature of the layout, the better holes are those close to the river and include the fine three-shot 7th requiring a bold drive and a precise lay-up into the narrowing fairway to set up a pitch across the Liffey to a tight target. The short par four 8th and riverside par three 17th are both noteworthy, while away from the river the dangerous par four 15th and all-water 16th, with its island fairway and island green, are also very good.
The Palmer Course is an especially effective matchplay venue as it oozes drama and has countless places for matches to swing. Aggressive risk-taking golfers will almost certainly love its many gambling opportunities, the mix of small built up greens and tempting tee shots surrounded by water likely to leave you dipping regularly into the bag for new balls if your game is not ‘on’. Though well below the class of Ireland’s best links, the K Club is nevertheless great fun to play socially and clearly the best of Ireland’s inland resort courses.
The Arnold Palmer-designed Palmer Course was the venue for the 2006 Ryder Cup, the first ever Ryder Cup staged in Ireland and won by a strong European Team. The course also hosted the European Open several times between 1995 and 2005, with the Smurfit Course hosting the event in 2004, 2006 and 2007.