My Visit To Waterville Links And Golf With The Legendary Higgins Family

My wife Dee’s big birthday was in March just when the Corona lockdown started and our planned trip to Waterville had to be put on ice. This week we finally did it!
With David and Liam Higgins at “Liam’s Ace” in Waterville
Why Waterville? Because it is home to one of Ireland’s best links courses and I’m ashamed to say I had never actually been there in my life. Every year for the last eleven I would meet the Noel Cronin at the PGA Show in Florida, with his blazer and beautiful embroidered Waterville crest and he’d say “You must come down.” And I’d always promise faithfully to but I never did. It’s a real Irish thing.
Noel Cronin 
I never really asked Noel what his title was in Waterville. The best chats we had were in the hotel in Orlando when I’d be heading to do my triathlon swimming training at 6.30am in the pool and he’d been outside the door of his room in his whites trying to stretch and get the “ould circulation” going in the legs!
I think the title was officially secretary/manager but Noel was much more than that.  He was an institution at the front door, he knew everyone, he greeted friends, he “looked after” lads as we say in Ireland, he told stories, he would drive people around in a buggy and tell them about the history of the course and all about Mister John A. Mulcahy and the Higgins family. The best thing you could say about Noel Cronin is that he opened the gates of Waterville Golf Club every morning and he closed them at night. 
Noel passed away this January, unexpectedly, but maybe fittingly out at the same PGA Show in Orlando, where he would meet his Irish golf family his American friends and future golfing visitors and tell them all about Waterville. He’s missed every day.
A promise was finally a promise and eleven years and four months later, almost to the day, we jumped in the car and headed south from Mayo to Kerry for a three day trip to the Kingdom.
We stayed at the beautiful Butler Arms Hotel in Waterville, formerly owned and run by Peter and Mary Huggard and now by their daughters Louise and Paula.
Peter used to manage Ashford Castle, right beside where I live in Cong, and we have gotten to know each other through that and the great game of golf.
With Peter and Mary Huggard in The Butler Arms
The signs of castle style are all over The Butler Arms, with attention to detail and touches of class everywhere. Overlooking the ocean and bang square in the centre of the village, it’s the best place for golfer’s visiting the area to stay.  We explored, I played golf, Dee walked the “Kerry Way” , we went up the Kerry Cliffs and we ate steaks and seafood and drank pints and gins and whatever we could get our hands on!
At the Kerry Cliffs
I suppose the most important part of any trip with your wife, is to work up enough credit to allow you to go and play golf for a few hours, and by God did I roll up my sleeves and lavished the attention!
The reward was a round on Waterville Links, first thing in the morning, with former European Tour player David Higgins.  The Higgins family are an institution in Waterville.  Dad Liam is a legend of the original European Tour and David is one still of the best PGA Tour pro’s in Ireland, Brian is the teaching professional and runs the proshop in Waterville (which is one of the nicest in the world by the way) with Lynda.
When I worked with the Irish Examiner paper I did a weekly “Higgs Tour Diary” charting David’s season on the European Tour.  It was great to show the readers the life of a Tour pro, the highs and lows, it was a very important part of my weekly page and it was good profile for David.  In 2013 at the Italian Open in Turin, Higgs mounted a serious backnine charge only to be pipped to the title by one shot by Julien Quesne who himself shot 31 coming home.
David and his dogs from Higgs Tour Diary 2014
Walking to the first tee with David, only the two of us in the whole place, I actually felt a bit nervous. I hadn’t played a full 18 holes for over a year since getting a right good belt on his hip in a car accident but I couldn’t let the occasion pass so I brought my clubs and tried my best to find a way to swing it!
David down the middle every time!
The morning was perfect for golf, just a nice gentle breeze, and lovely overcast clouds so you could see the ball fly off in front in front of you.
Watching David hit the ball was like watching Michael Jordan dunk.  Effortless and easy, that lovely crisp “clack” you hear when a good player hits the ball.
“You hit some good shots today,” Dave said to me after attempting to put a positive spin on proceedings. I was completely shite, lost every ball in the bag, but he was right in a way, I did hit some good shots and that was good enough for me!

On the back nine we were joined by David’s Dad Liam, still playing a few holes every day.  It turns out Liam and I have a lot in common! He knows Ashford Castle well and lots of the people around Cong, including Martin Gibbons, and we both have a bit of a pain in our hip we need sorted fast!
Liam Higgins
Liam was one of the original European Tour stars, famous for being a massive hitter, and that’s back in the day when drivers hadn’t the giant heads and technology they have today.  How big a hitter? Well the 384 yard par-4 16th in Waterville is known as “Liam’s Ace” because he drove it into the hole on his way to setting the course record. And in 1984, Liam hit a 634 yard drive at Baldonnel Airport in Dublin, to break a Guinness world record!
This is Liam hitting a couple of drives from the archives!

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