Thursday: This tale goes back a few months, to the dark days of the finishing of the minigolf season. The not knowing when the next event will be. It feels like an emotional disorder to have your social calendar empty. Hell, I might even have to meet other people that don’t wield putters. However, at the back end of the 2016, we were given an early gift. Dublin and the very first Irish Minigolf Open. Just take my money, I’m up for this. Immediately, I start looking into making the trip as affordable as possible and give people a deadline of a week to see if they are as frugal as me. And from this, my road trip buddies will be father and son duo, Tony and Adam Kelly.
It’s 5.45 am, I have been awake since 3 am. I abandon my car on an estate in Stansted Mountfitchet, a sleepy backdrop to din of the local airport. The Kelly’s arrive shortly after 6 am and within two minutes, we already have one of the moments of the holiday. Tony pulls the car up wondering why the seatbelt sign is flashing. Of course, it helps if you put the thing on, Tony, after getting everyone to check that theirs is in. Clunk, click.
Flight time is around an hour to Dublin and we’re on time. Ryanair pride themselves on their punctuality and also charging you for anything that isn’t nailed down. To be fair, it wasn’t bad but I didn’t have time to get uncomfortable. We arrive in Dublin and onto the moving walkways at the airport. Adam poses the question ‘how fast would Usain Bolt do the 100 metres on one of these?’ I think we decide that there would be almost no difference. Someone out there has got to set it up. The transfer from the airport to the hostel is incredibly reasonable at just ten euros return. We’re dropped just two hundred yards away from the front door and check our bags into the Isaacs Hostel. It’s a typical hostel. Exposed brickwork, rows of benchwork, the help yourself mentality, a bike chained to the inner railings. From here, all we want to do is minigolf at the Rainforest Adventure Golf in Dundrum. To do this, we walk around fifteen minutes to the nearest tram or ‘Luas’, which takes another fifteen minutes. I foolishly decide we should get off at Dundrum stop as it seems logical. We needed the next one, Balally. We don’t make that mistake again.
After walking in and out of Dundrum Shopping Centre, we eventually get our first sighting of what will be our daytime home for four days. The layout is pleasing with a bar and restaurant, a small arcade and two well-lit courses, so no need to squint unlike at Nottingham. A few people are already at the course. Adrian Amey, the Johnsons, the Homers, the Czechs and the Austrians al have a head start on us. After so long without competitive minigolf, I’m so relieved that we have this chance to reacquaint ourselves as friends. As for the course, it takes some working out. The shots are there, it takes watching someone else play them to piece that jigsaw. Rebound shots get me fishing in my bag, with the seventh being especially difficult to figure out, as I try twenty-seven different spheres. What is noticeable is the humid conditions. It might be February outside but they have got the feel of the Eden Project inside.
Later in the afternoon, my good friend from Sweden, Pauli Kuikka, arrives. We embrace and begin to practice together. We would go on to practice for most of the two days before the tournament starts on Saturday. By 6 pm, myself, Adam and Tony decide to check into the Isaacs properly, having previously just acquired the locker. I wanted cheap and I got it. We’re sharing a sixteen bed unisex dorm with a variety of others with multiple hygiene issues and questionable time keeping regarding lights out. We don’t know this yet, although thankfully, no one snores or farts.
We hit the town for food and drinks and it is on nights out when you really discover who your travel companions are. Tony has a passion for ale, which does travel well through the blood line. Tony has done his research and is determined to get to a number of bars before the break is over. The first is by the Liffey called J W Sweetman. The Beef and Guinness pie tastes incredible and great value at eleven euros. Drinks are pricey, around five or six euros a pint but no complaints, we’re drinking. Tony produces a notepad, he’s a genuine connoisseur of beer. He is now also my hero. From there and feeling full, we become full on tourists and head blindly to Temple Bar, searching for Guinness. It's a superb atmosphere, live music and a packed barroom. I decide we should head through to the back bar as there looked like there was more room. While ordering the next round, I get accosted by a hen party from the Midlands. Unaccustomed as I am to female attention on a night out, I let my hair down. For over an hour, they won’t let me go. I have no complaints. Finally, we head back to the Isaacs to sleep and the only time we will get up as what would be considered a reasonable hour.
Friday: I get woken around 7.30 am by the sound of a falling Kindle from the bunk above me. With just three male shower cubicles available for the entire floor, we manage to get all three. From this, I assume that everyone must have showered before us or they don’t need to. Or just don’t bother full stop. Breakfast is a choice of corn flakes, muesli, toast, tea and juice. For what we are paying, this hostel experience is actually looking like amazing value. As well as free practice all week, the first of simply tremendous offers from the course, they close the track off from the public, although it isn’t busy by any stretch of the imagination. It’s around about now that I notice the staff and their interest in us as people, rather than just a rag tag bunch of sports clothing models from around Europe. They ask how we’re getting on and how we’re liking Dublin. The staff are entirely genuine, friendly and completely wonderful.
I find Pauli and we go back to practicing together. We have a few rounds and with the scores, this has the feel of a matchplay on eternit. Despite the lack of saucers around the holes, just four (with three of those on the inconsistent pipes), aces are flying in. Almost all of the overseas competitors have now arrived, including the good time lads from London who took part in the British Open. I have a habit of practicing for hours on end so Pauli decides to sit out for one round. Then, the magic happens. Unbelievably, I score a 22. A 22!!!! Including missing the fifth. I knew it was going well as I got to the eighth, six under par. Nine and ten went in and I realised something special was on. From then on, it was just dreamlike. I aced everything apart from the fourteenth. I got to the last having just taken TWENTY shots. By this point, I am shaking so much, I can barely hold the putter. I have to take deep breaths to compose myself. The tee shot is poor but I make a two. Oh my. This is insane. I have nailed some training laps in the past, I had posted a couple of 25’s already but 22 shocked me. I sit down for an hour. Minigolf is not for me until I can get a sense of what just happened. Speculation is now rife about what the winning average will be.
The rest of the day is a blur. Pauli wins our battle in rounds, beating me in a decider. I’m down an ice cream. Most of the field stay on for the opening ceremony in the restaurant area, where we are very kindly given drinks by the course and one of the sponsors, Mao, provides a delicious Thai meal. We are genuinely so grateful for their hospitality. Dublin and the Rainforest course is making us feel incredibly important. On the tram back to St Stephens, via the labyrinth of endless roadworks, Tony tells us there is another pub he is keen to try. Unfortunately, he can’t quite remember the name of the road it is in and with the size of Dublin, we settle on one for the road before the onset of the first Irish Open. It’s been such a memorable time so far.