Traveling in southwest Ireland for a week with Beverly native Ron Kirby makes one appreciate the extraordinary career the 81-year-old has experienced as one of the game’s most successful, though underrated, golf course designers.
At least I learned what it was like to traverse the golf courses, countrysides and coastal regions of the magical area with Irish golf royalty.
It wasn’t always this way. Even after teaming up with multiple major champion winner Gary Player in the 1970s (Kirby, Player & Associates), then becoming head of European projects (based in Monte Carlo for a time) for Jack Nicklaus Golf Design in the mid-1980s, Kirby’s star remained dim and under the media radar.
That all changed when the jovial Kirby was enlisted to provide the design for what Links magazine has called “the most spectacular course in the world” at Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale, the southernmost layout in all of Ireland. It’s located on a promontory surrounded by cliffs with 200-foot drops to the rocks and the Atlantic Ocean below.
When developers John and Patrick O’Connor finally admitted its first member in 1999, a whole new chapter in Kirby’s already esteemed career had begun. Today Old Head is a ‘must play’ for any diehard fan of Irish golf.
As for Kirby, credited with recent designs at most notably Castlemartyr Resort, Dromoland Castle, Killeen Castle and Skellig Bay, the kid who grew up on Mulberry Street in Beverly has become an icon in the Irish golf community.
Not that the member of the 1949 state championship-winning Beverly High golf team has confined his later works to the Emerald Isle. He finished renovation of Barbados Golf Club in 2000; has done four new courses and three remodels in Spain; completed one new nine-holer in Belgium; and completed three remodels and one new course, Dushaughlin, in other parts of Ireland.