The island of Ireland will be the focus of an exciting new global television Series set to showcase ‘Golf’s Greatest Holes’ over the next four years. Former winning European Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley and TV personality Chris Hollins will embark on a journey to discover the greatest golf holes on Earth.
Season One sees the unlikely golfing duo blazing a trail across the island of Ireland, taking on some of the country’s most revered obstacles while unearthing some hidden gems sure to feature on future golf itineraries to the Emerald Isle.
“We had incredibly access,” says McGinley, who used his playing experience and knowledge of course design to help determine the featured holes.
“We didn’t just go after the elite courses, although they are included, but if you’re going up to Royal County Down, we wanted to highlight other great options nearby, be it Ardglass or whatever the case may be that are also worth checking out.
“We were looking for eye candy with this project, spectacular holes and spectacular scenery. We were blessed with the weather and we got some incredible images.
“We had a pretty edgy production team– we didn’t get a golf crew in to film it – it was a film crew. So director Jeff Emerson and his Leap Production team thought about things differently from a creativity perspective, using drones and without necessarily looking at things through the eyes of a golfer.”
Produced in super high-definition 4k by Hollins’ No.4 Productions company in conjunction with London-based Boulder Creek International, prepare to experience some of the country’s most established golfing landmarks like you’ve never seen them before. Even for McGinley, who has walked practically every blade of golfing grass in Ireland and has witnessed first-hand the extent of Tour level production through his work with Sky Sports, he was amazed by how the team were able to transform Ireland’s golfing landscape and showcase it in a unique light.
“They saw things in a totally different way,” McGinley admits. “Their drone work was just incredible – it’s not just how they fly but the quality of picture that they capture. Everything was done to a very high production level.
“We had a big crew but it was 100 miles per hour. We went around the whole permitter of Ireland in 12 days. It was a lot of travel and a lot of planning but looking at the post-production stuff, it looks fabulous so very we’re excited about how it turned out.”
When it comes to identifying the ingredients that go into creating a great golf hole, there are few authorities on the subject more qualified than McGinley. A four-time European Tour winner who holed the match winning putt at the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry before going on to Captain Europe to victory at Gleneagles in 2014, McGinley’s credentials are clear as a player, while the dazzling surrounds of Macreddin marked his first foray into golf design.
It was a tough decision-making process, but Paul wanted to make sure that the show reflected everything that is wonderful about Irish golf. Still, it begs the question: What makes a great golf hole?
“For me, a lot of it is framing. Just like looking at a beautiful painting. If it’’s beautifully framed and positioned in a nice place, then it’s going to highlight exactly what it is,” McGinley explains.
“So the first thing is what it looks like. The framing can be trees, it can be bunkers, sand dunes, or sometimes it’s just infinity. Down at the Old Head of Kinsale, it’s just the Atlantic Ocean in the background but it’s hard to beat that.
“The second thing you look for is playability. I don’t believe in really difficult holes. I believe in cute holes. Holes that give you options in terms of how you play them and holes that allow players of different standards to play them.
“I don’t believe in intimidation. I don’t believe in big carries over water. The holes we chose, none of them you would say are the most difficult holes on those particular golf courses.
“We were after eye candy, focused on getting the aesthetics of how beautiful the golf courses are and explaining what makes a great hole. Having done a bit of course architecture myself, it was about detailing what I look for and for me it’s always that backdrop and framing.”
Each show in the six-part Series will feature 5-6 holes with many leading lights of Irish golf taking centre stage with the likes of Royal County Down, Ballyliffin, The K Club, Royal Portrush, Portmarnock, Old Head, Adare Manor, Rosapenna and Lahinch all featuring.
McGinley knows it’s been a tough time for everyone involved in golf and the tourism industry in Ireland and because of restrictions, the team were unable to experience everything the island has to offer. However, the 54-year old knows this welcome all too well, not least through hosting a festival atmosphere at Lahinch for the Irish Open in 2019, and even in the face of restrictions, McGinley believes the show will still have a sense of that famous Irish hospitality that is part and parcel of the country’s unique golf offering.
“We were made welcome at every course we visited, be it by the Captain, Lady Captain, greenkeepers and other staff members. They really pushed the boat out for us,” McGinley recalls. “I think they were just delighted to see someone visiting them during these strange times!
Together with his wingman Hollins, a former footballer, television presenter and Strictly Come Dancing champion, McGinley had no shortage of company, or laughs. In fact, originally it was intended that McGinley would play all the holes on his own. But after a few rounds with Chris and listening to the banter, the crew begged the pair to play few holes together.
“We seemed to get on very well – he was directing me more than anything at the start but then after Chris found parts of the courses other players couldn’t reach, we decided to film it! It was great fun,” McGinley says.
The result is not just an injection of energy and chemistry to the show as a whole but also serves as the perfect juxtaposition when it comes to the reasons behind selecting the golf holes themselves. Far from just selecting them through the lens of the game’s elite player, the input of handicap golfer Hollins brings a balance to proceedings that should make the whole Series a much more relatable experience for the viewer, not least when McGinley pokes fun at one of Hollins’s errant tee-shots, quipping “you had the whole of Ireland to aim at and you managed to miss it!”
“The game is tough enough,” McGinley says. “It’s physically one of the most difficult sports in the world so the idea is not to intimidate people, it’s to let them have fun, attract repeat business and get them to come back again.
“If you look at the average handicap in the world, it’s nearly 18 for men and up around 27 for women. Let’s try to help that and make the game easier to play.
“Too many courses were built with the quality of player that I am in mind instead of the handicap golfer who is really paying the bills.”
As McGinley says, the compilation isn’t a list of golf holes that play as the index 1 at the courses in question, rather they’re holes that lend themselves to that picture perfect postcard, the one tourists will look at in awe and swiftly earmark for a visit.
That’s not to say the golfing gods shone down upon McGinley and co for the entirety of filming. After all, what would a golf trip to Ireland be without a hit of unruly weather.
“We picked the 14th hole at Co. Sligo and the two of us were on top of the sand dune and the weather came in but you know what, it actually kind of made it,” McGinley laughs.
“The crew weren’t too happy with the misty rain. They couldn’t understand why anybody would want to play sport in weather like that because none of them were golfers.
“You don’t want perfect weather everywhere but in saying that, when we were down in Kinsale, we had amazing weather, blue skies everywhere which looked great on TV.”
If viewers wanted an indication of the type of holes set to feature in the Series, then the 14th hole at Co. Sligo encapsulates precisely what McGinley was trying to translate to the screen.
“The 14th at Rosses Point always stands out for me,” he explains. “I’ve got a great history around there. I won the Irish Close there, my first big win as an amateur that set me on the road to where I ended up in golf.
“But I also love – and Jack Nicklaus is like this with his golf designs – trying to have the tee box higher than the fairway and the fairway higher than the green so you’re always hitting slightly down or you have a visual.
“It’s not always possible when you’re designing a course but it is something you strive for. When you look at all the holes I chose, most of them are that way. Of course, people are going to have their own opinions and might disagree, but we’ve tried to bring a sense of balance to the table and I believe the show will reflect that.”
For co-host Hollins, what he lacks in golfing pedigree, he more than makes up for with passion, and he was particularly keen to capture the social aspect of golf, a unique environment in this modern world, one where conversation is king and friendships are forever forged on the fairway.
“As an avid golfer, I was keen to share what makes the game of golf so special. It’s the only time in our busy lives we allow ourselves to breath, take in the views and have a chat. And we are doing it on the best courses in the word,” Hollins says.
“We cover venues that have hosted Majors and Ryder Cups, plus others that are renowned for undulating greens, tricky approach shots, deep bunkers and intimidating lakes.
“I would love to thank Tourism Ireland and the golf clubs themselves for all their help making this happen. Thanks to them we’ve been fortunate to explore legendary landscapes and embrace local anecdotes, while playing signature holes together that literally take your breath away. I couldn’t be happier with the first Series and hope golfers enjoy watching it as much as Paul and I did making it.”
In terms of timing, the Series could hardly be more apt. Ireland was far from alone in being starved of international tourism throughout the pandemic but off the back of The Open Championship’s successful return to the island at Royal Portrush in 2019, the country was never able to cash-in on the tourism windfall that would’ve followed the staging of such a historic event.
With travel back on the menu, there is a ravenous appetite now rumbling for golf and if Ireland wasn’t already top of the list for many, then the visit of Golf’s Greatest Holes is sure to whet that appetite even further.
For McGinley, he didn’t have to think twice about taking on the project. There was no pressure on him to do the country justice. The golf courses speak for themselves, and if a reminder was needed of just how special a place Ireland is for golf, then this Series is sure to provide it.
“The courses do themselves justice, we’re just there to showcase them,” McGinley concludes. “We started with Ireland because of my knowledge and association with Ireland but the idea is to move it around the world and shine a light on certain areas to say ‘look, if you’re going on holiday here, this is what you have and these are the courses that are available’.
“We think we’re offering a nice mix of entertainment with a bit of information and background on the golf courses in question. We’re also highlighting a bit of golf course architecture, so with the Irish courses we featured, I was able to give a bit of insight into what the architect would’ve been trying to achieve, and then exploring exactly what makes a great hole, or why is this hole so famous.
“Is it because of the framing, the backdrop, the history? We’re able to explore all that, and then we’re able to intertwine stories into those explanations.
“We had a great time filming and we’re proud of the way it’s turned out so if we can get more people playing golf off the back of the Series, then we’ll be absolutely delighted.”
The first episode of Golf’s Greatest Holes airs tonight – October 11 – on Sky Sports at 19.30pm. More than 20 broadcasters have committed to screen the Series several times across 160 countries over the next four years – including the USA, China & Australia – reaching up to 500m+ households and 50m+ digital viewers, plus significant website and social media audiences.
For more information, visit Golfsgreatestholes.com