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Busman's Holiday Tour pros seldom take golf vacations, but I fell in love with the game again in Ireland

July 17, 2000
July 17, 2000

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July 17, 2000

Baseball Midseason Report

Busman's Holiday Tour pros seldom take golf vacations, but I fell in love with the game again in Ireland

Scott Hoch, Davis Love III and I were shooting the breeze at
Hilton Head the week after the 1999 Masters when Scott asked me
what I was doing the next week.

This is an article from the July 17, 2000 issue

"Going to Ireland," I said.

"Ireland?" he asked. "For what?"

"To play golf," I said.

He looked at me as if I had two heads. "You mean you actually
like this game?" he asked, incredulous.

"Well, yeah, I do," I said. "Don't you?"

"I hate this game," he said, grumbling.

I explained to Scott that a buddy of mine had been bugging me to
go to Ireland for years. Lately this same friend had been telling
me that I was getting way too serious about golf, that I needed
to fall in love with the game again. The trip was supposed to be
a second honeymoon.

Not surprisingly, word of my plans spread through the locker room
faster than a good joke. I should've worn a flak jacket. "You're
going to Ireland in the middle of the season just for fun?" one
player asked. "Man, I wouldn't go there for a hundred grand to
play in a tournament!"

I admit, it is unusual for a Tour pro to go on a golf vacation,
but I thought, Maybe this was just another first in a year of
firsts: The previous August I had gotten my first--and up to this
point, my only--Tour victory, and I had just played in my first
Masters, where I was the first-round leader.

The trip was organized by my aforementioned pal, Jack Harden, a
former golf pro who deals real estate in San Antonio. After
hounding me with tales of Ballybunion and Irish caddies and
Guinness stout and how far right you have to aim a sand wedge
shot in a 50-mile-an-hour, right-to-left wind, he finally talked
me into going, which led to another first. Jack was talking to an
Irish travel agent, and she said, "This Brandel Chamblee you're
traveling with, that wouldn't happen to be the Brandel Chamblee
who's leading the Masters, now would it?" Why? Jack wondered.
"Well," she said, "I need to know if you want to travel as a
celebrity or as a regular person." Jack had no idea what that
meant. "What the hell," he told her, "we'll travel as
celebrities." I'm a celebrity? Get serious.

Jack's wife, Nancy, is also a pretty fair golfer, and she thought
the trip sounded like too much fun to let us boys go by
ourselves. She was in. That convinced my wife, Karen, who's
pretty and fair but not a golfer, to tag along, too. This gave
Jack an excuse to upgrade our entire itinerary. The taxi he had
hired to drive us around grew into a 12-passenger Mercedes
limousine, which, of course, I would be paying for.

Jack and Nancy flew to Ireland a day before we did. We arrived at
the hotel in Shannon in time for breakfast. They had taken the
honeymoon suite, which had full-length mirrors on the walls.
Ordinarily that would have prompted a risque joke or two, but I
knew Jack too well. "You worked on your backswing all night,
didn't you?" I said. He laughed, but Nancy nodded. "All morning,
too," she said.

After a fine Irish breakfast, which is usually good for about
2,000 calories with all the fresh bread and butter and bacon, our
limo took us to Killarney, in southwestern Ireland, where we
checked into the Killarney Park Hotel. Jack had booked Karen and
me into the presidential suite. It was the best set of rooms I've
ever seen. It had a library, a sitting room, a fireplace, a
living room and lovely beamed ceilings--magnificent. I didn't want
to leave the suite. Plus, I was dead tired. Jack, however, had
made a noon tee time, so I tucked Karen in and put on my Irish
golf uniform: a T-shirt, a turtleneck, a sweater vest, a sweater
and a rain jacket.

At the Killarney Park course, I was greeted as if I were a head
of state. The club secretary, the captain, the pro and the pro's
son were lined up waiting for us. I felt like Tiger Woods. "Did I
win two majors last year and forget about it?" I asked Jack. They
were the nicest people, they love golf, and they know all the
players from the States--even me. All they wanted me to do was go
into the golf shop and pick out any cashmere sweater I wanted,
any shirt, any hat, anything, and wear it. So I took off all the
stuff I had just put on and picked out new stuff. I looked like
the Killarney Park mascot.

The greeting took 30 minutes and included a pint of Guinness.
Jack, Nancy and I were to play with the pro's son, Keith Coveney,
who was a hell of a player. I was jet-lagged, falling asleep, a
little buzzed and wearing enough clothes to fetch the morning
paper in Nome. We didn't warm up, not even a single ball, and I
suddenly realized, Hey, I could top this shot or even whiff it. I
was more nervous than I ever am on the 1st tee of a Tour event.
So I left the driver in the bag and used my Zoom, a driving iron
that's easy to hit.

We had a great day, but in Ireland the day doesn't really start
until you finish your golf. We went straight to the pub after we
putted out. The secretary and the manager were there, and I swear
they were smoking three cigarettes apiece. I sat down with the
club captain, who was gobbling handfuls of peanuts and telling
stories at the same time. Every time he spoke, he peppered me
with peanuts. He didn't seem to notice, since he'd had 10 pints
if he'd had one. I would just smile and nod and wipe off the
peanut bits.

It seemed as if the captain intended to introduce me to every
member of the club. At one point he pulled me over to meet
someone and said, "Brandel, you have to meet this fellow. This
fellow is... " I thought he was going to say, This fellow is the
best player in the club, or, This fellow owns Killarney, or
something like that. Instead he says, "This fellow is...an
absolute a------." If I'd been eating peanuts, I would've
peppered them both.

When we finally got back to the hotel, we cleaned up and then I
met Jack in the bar. He was smoking a Cuban cigar, nursing a
whiskey and generally looking pleased. We'd had a match, before
which I spotted Jack six holes, and he had beaten me 4 and 3. In
our game the loser had to buy dinner, so naturally Jack ordered
the best wine, double dessert and cigars. It was a $400 dinner,
and afterward, beyond exhausted, I went upstairs and passed out
in our magnificent room.

The next day we drove for nearly three hours, winding through
the Ring of Kerry to the Waterville Golf Club. I assure you, the
roads we took weaved like the Harlem Globetrotters, which didn't
make me feel any better. We had stayed up too late, and I was
still jet-lagged. At Waterville we met the club captain, and
again he insisted we pick out something in the shop. "You know,"
Jack told me, "I'm getting to like traveling with you." We were
supposed to play with the pro, Liam Higgins, who is a legend in
these parts. He's a terrific player but is known to show up for
a 7 a.m. tee time on his way home from a night out. There was no
sign of him when we got there, so I asked a lady in the shop if
she might have any knowledge of his whereabouts. "We don't know
where he is," she said in a resigned sort of way. "We haven't
seen him for two days." Only later did I learn that I had been
speaking with Mrs. Liam Higgins.

Liam was smart. It was a wicked May day. The temperature was
about 45[degrees], the wind was howling, and it was pouring
rain. Nowhere--except in Ireland and Scotland--is golf played in
such weather. Jack brought two hot toddies to the 1st tee and
said, "Pro, you were too serious yesterday." He handed me one of
the drinks. "This is the way we play in Ireland."

The weather got worse and worse. We're talking Caddyshack stuff.
The par-5 holes were driver, three-wood, three-wood, short iron.
The par-4s were driver, three-wood, short iron. When we made the
turn, the club captain met us with more toddies and Liam Higgins,
who had cap in hand and was apologizing for being late. He
stepped up to the tee bundled in sweaters and rain gear, teed his
ball as high as a soda can and, without so much as a practice
swing, ripped a 350-yard drive right down the middle. I certainly
didn't feel like Tiger Woods any longer, especially after Jack
beat me again, 2 and 1.

We heard some great stories from Higgins and the caddies. Tiger
and Mark O'Meara had been to Waterville before the '98 British
Open. "They're great golfers," one caddie said, "but they're not
much as fishermen." He said they had fished a couple of days
without catching a single salmon. The locals really wanted them
to enjoy their week and come back, so one of the fishing guides
quietly hooked a salmon and played with the fish for a while,
letting it run with the line until it was exhausted. Then he told
Tiger, "I have to go in. Here, why don't you use this pole?"
After a minute or two, Tiger started reeling in the line and felt
something. He was very excited about "catching" a big, beautiful
salmon, and the caddie said it had made Tiger's week. "Now don't
be tellin' Tiger about this," the caddie said. I promised I
wouldn't, and yes, Tiger and O'Meara did go back to Waterville.

The next morning we were taken to a place called Old Head, which
I had been told is the most spectacular course in the world. Sure
enough, it is. The course is on headland, 220 acres that had been
nothing but rock. The topsoil was brought in for the course.
Everyone is familiar with the spectacular ocean holes at Pebble
Beach, the 7th through the 10th. Old Head has 12 holes just like
them, only with 100-foot cliffs. Of course, it was blowing a
gale, cold and raining.

Old Head is an amazing place. The course is set amid the ancient
ruins of stone houses used by herdsmen 1,500 years ago. Their
walls are five or six feet thick. They were breathtaking, as was
Jack's performance after he missed a five-footer for par on the
3rd hole. He spun around like Al Oerter and heaved his putter
into the ocean. At least we thought it went into the ocean--we
couldn't be sure because it was 100 feet straight down over the
cliff. Jack's outburst was hysterically funny, but my caddie's
eyes got big. "He's gone too far now!" he said. "He's bloody
mad!" The caddies trod lightly around Jack the rest of the day,
but they needn't have. That's just Jack.

We thought we had been treated like kings at the first three
places we played, but Jim Dooley, the Tiger Woods of club
captains, topped them all at Tralee. Jack and I voted him the
Nicest Man Ever. Jack and I were not allowed to lift a hand. If
we wanted a drink, the Nicest Man Ever ran off and got one. He
bought lunch. He made sure we received shirts and sweaters.

Tralee is a fairly new course, but because of the way it fits the
land, it looks as if it was built 100 years ago. It was the best
course we had played. The Nicest Man Ever played with us, but he
would just quick-hit his shots so as not to slow us down. Jack
chipped in again to beat me one up and was getting quite
annoying. Each day, when my chances of winning were all but gone,
he would rub it in by saying, "Dorrrrrrmie" with about six R's.
On the 17th hole at Tralee he was starting to smile when I cut
him off. "I know, I know," I said. "Dormie." We had another
wonderful dinner that night, which I sponsored. Jack said I
should come along on his Irish trip every year because it was
getting cheaper and cheaper.

I call the fifth day of our trip the Tide Has Turned Day. We
moved out of the hotel and drove two hours to Ballybunion to play
the Old Course. I was stunned when we pulled into town. Tom
Watson has been coming to Ballybunion for years on his way to the
British Open. He's redesigning a course in the area, and the
Irish have always loved him. Therefore when we saw a large statue
of a golfer in full swing, I was stunned that it was a likeness
of Bill Clinton, not Watson. Watson is here year after year,
nothing. Clinton is here once, and they break records getting up
a statue.

I was fired up to play Ballybunion, and to beat Jack, so while he
was in the clubhouse, probably having his Irish whiskey, I worked
on my stroke on the putting clock, the first time I had practiced
the entire trip. Nancy and Karen came with us. Jack said the trip
had finally started to fulfill its purpose, that I was loosening
up and having fun, living the game again instead of just playing
for a score. Somewhere on the back nine Jack chipped in again.
Right on cue I made my eight-foot birdie putt to top him and
pointed, just like Hubert Green did when he stiffed it at Cherry
Hills in the '85 PGA. "The tide has turned," I told Jack. "I'm
not putting up with you chipping in again." I absolutely trounced
Jack in the match and arranged for a little chorus, too. When
Jack missed a putt on the key hole, our wives, our caddies and I
all screamed, "Dorrrrrrmie!" in unison. Payback is sweet.

You can't leave Ballybunion without having a Guinness. Even Karen
drank one down without making a face. We piled into our car and
drove two hours to Adare Manor, a 300-year-old castle where you
can fish, ride horses, shoot skeet, play golf--just about
anything. We wandered into the bar and met the owners, Tom and
Judy Kane, Americans who had bought the place, renovated it and
proved to be perfect hosts. I noticed a picture of them posed
with Bill and Hilary Clinton. It was on the wall behind the door.
"I thought I put it where nobody would see it," Tom said. "They
stayed here and took all these formal pictures, so I felt some
obligation to put the photo up." He said Clinton has messed up
the best job in the world, that of being a former President.

Dinner at Adare Manor was on Jack, and I was only too pleased to
run up the bill in every way possible. We finally called it a
night at 2 a.m. and were all a little tipsy. It seemed as if we
were the only ones in the castle, which was dark and a little
spooky. Karen and I had to climb a spiral staircase to our room,
and, man, I wondered how they turned the Ring of Kerry into a
staircase. We had to stop and rest a few times, which proved
enjoyably memorable.

By day six, Jack and I were golfed out and intended to hunt, but
Jack learned that the castle had a Robert Trent Jones course,
and he decided that we needed to play one last round. I'm sure
it had nothing to do with my beating him the day before. We got
up at 10 a.m. and were the only ones on the course. The pro was
an Irishman who used to live in Orlando, and he set us up with
two caddies who told stories nonstop. It was the nicest day of
the year, they said, sunny, calm and an unexpected 65[degrees].
I had to pick up a short-sleeved shirt from the shop because I
hadn't brought one. The USGA will love this part: We took five
hours to play. We hit our shots and literally walked in slow
motion, telling stories and soaking in the atmosphere, because
we didn't want this perfect day to end.

I birdied four of the first five holes. At one point two huge
swans took off from a lake, made a big turn and lazily flew right
by us. I could almost reach out and touch them. It was poetic. I
shot a 69, a course record, because no one ever plays the back
tees. I smiled at Jack at the 16th. "You don't have to say it,"
he said. "I'm dormie."

We went out for a wonderful dinner, at Jack's expense. I ordered
pheasant under glass, the best wine and multiple desserts. When
we got back to the castle, the head pro was in the lobby trying
to call us in our rooms. "You must come to the taproom," he said.
"Everybody is expecting you."

When we arrived, my caddie, Ollie, was there, wearing a coat and
tie. The pro said, "Brandel, you must allow Ollie to sing a
song. He's f---ing brilliant! Smoothest voice you've ever
heard." Well, I got goose bumps when Ollie started to sing. The
pro was right. I can't describe it except to say that he could
somehow make his voice tremble like the melody.

The pro came up to me later, laughing. A few minutes earlier he
had run into a group of Americans in the bathroom. They wondered
who had been singing, and the pro said, "Have you heard of
Brandel Chamblee, the first-round leader of the Masters?" They
said yes. The pro said, "That's him!" He really enjoyed the
prank. "Brandel," he told me, "people will be coming up to you
for years saying, 'I know you're a hell of a golfer, but would
you sing a couple of notes for me?'" I can hardly wait.

Karen and I flew home the next day. Jack and I agreed we should
make it a rule never to play again unless we have the course to
ourselves, like at Adare Manor. A few days later a heavy box
came. It was a gold cup mounted on a marble base. On the brass
inlay was engraved: TWO-MAN DORMIE INVITATIONAL RUNNERUP--BRADLEY
CHAMBLEE. Jack spelled it that way because people are always
calling me Bradley. He phoned that afternoon. "I hope you fell in
love with the game again," he said. I had.

That evening I thought I'd relive the trip, so I bought some
Guinness, poured a glass and, after admiring the rich, creamy
head, took a swallow. It tasted completely different.

FOUR COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY EDWIN FOTHERINGHAM
I knew Jack loved the mirrors. "You worked on your backswing all
night, didn't you?"
Jack's outburst was hysterical, but my caddie's eyes got big.
"He's gone too far now!" he said. "He's bloody mad!"
Two huge swans took off and lazily flew right by us. I could
almost reach out and touch them. It was poetic.