On Tuesday morning, the Lansdowne Valley Pitch & Putt course in Drimnagh is open.
Just walk through the gates at the Slievebloom Road entrance, and there are big trees, freshly cut grass, cherry blossoms on the ground and starlings chirping.
It’s free to play at this Dublin City Council-owned golf course, but there are no tees out, no markers on holes, and there is nowhere to hire equipment.
The park is “lovely” and full of wildlife, and it’s used by local families in summer, says Susan Hogan, chairperson of Slievebloom Park/Lansdowne Valley Residents Association.
But change is coming. One proposal would see a private operator take over maintenance of the course and promote it as a place to play footgolf for a fee, while keeping pitch and putt free.
Another would see the course eliminated at some unspecified date in the future to make way for a cycle path planned by the National Transport Authority (NTA).
On 19 April, members of the council’s South Central Area committee, discussed whether to let a private operator convert the course for footgolf.
“Everybody knows I’m not very sporty,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh. “But I give up, what the hell is footgolf?”
There was some laughter. “It’s very popular”, said independent Councillor Paul Hand, “you kick a football into a bigger hole.”
Ronan Cunningham, who opened a footgolf course in Tallaght in 2013, and would like to open another at Lansdowne Valley, explained the sport further by phone on Saturday last.
“It mixes the best parts of football with the best parts of golf,” he said. “Essentially, you are kicking a football from tee to green, in the shortest number of shots.”
Under Cunningham’s proposal, he’d take over operation of the course from the city council, improve it, and put in holes along the edge big enough to catch footballs. He’d charge for footgolf, but pitch and putt would still be free.
A timetable would be worked out to decide which sport was played at which times. “The only thing I would need to do is cover over the footgolf cups with a lid and artificial grass so that the golfers can play away,” he said.
“I think it would be hugely popular anywhere, let alone somewhere like Drimnagh and Crumlin. They are sports-mad down there,” says Cunningham.
The Lansdowne Valley course is one of the closest to the city centre, and is exceptionally attractive, says Cunningham. “It really is stunning,” he says. “It’s like a little secret garden.”
Hand has been campaigning for two years to convert it to include footgolf. “The area desperately needs more facilities for young people,” he said.
Local residents support the idea too, Hogan said. “Hopefully the footie golf will go in, and it will bring something to the area for the kids,” she said.
At its 19 April meeting, councillors unanimously backed the plan. But there’s a problem.
The Cycle Path
Dublin City Council says the National Transport Authority has decided to run a cycle path through the course, and flying balls aren’t that compatible with whizzing cyclists.
“The cycle path through Lansdowne Valley is part of the National Transport Authority’s Cycle Network Plan for the Greater Dublin Area,” said a spokesperson for council.
“There are no immediate plans to remove the pitch and putt at Lansdowne Valley, however there is a long-term plan for a pedestrian and cycle route to go through the area as per the Naas Road Local Area Plan,” she said.
Susan Hogan does not like this plan at all, and says residents in the area are united in opposition to it.
A hedge is all that separates her garden from Lansdowne Valley Pitch & Putt, she says, and she fears the path would attract anti-social behaviour, and be used as a place to drink and do drugs.
“A cycle path? Absolutely no way. We will fight it every bit of the way,” says Hogan.
The cycle path is part of a larger plan, though, said the council’s manager for the South Central Area, Peter Finnegan, at the meeting on Wednesday last.
The vision is to create a greenway linking Inchicore and the Grand Canal network to the Longmile Road and Drimnagh Castle, said Finnegan.
Since there’s a cycle-way coming, it wouldn’t make sense to bring in footgolf, Finnegan said.
“It would … be unreasonable to introduce a new amenity at this site when the timescale for its continued use is uncertain,” he said, reading from a report issued in response to Hand’s motion.
However, perhaps there’s some room for compromise, Finnegan said. Perhaps the cycle path could take a different route. “We need to sit down with parks and think about reconsidering the long-term plan,” he said.
Said Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne: “Imagine a cycle path being put through Hermitage Golf Club or Clontarf Golf Club, it absolutely wouldn’t happen.”
There are no other golf clubs in the area, Dunne said. “Lansdowne Valley Pitch & Putt is one of the few municipal facilities we have,” he said
Speaking on the phone after the meeting, Hand said that under section 139 of the Local Government Act, 2001, councillors have the power to stop building work in their areas.
Hand said the could could invoke this to resist the building of the cycle lane if necessary. He hopes that the footgolf will go ahead instead.
“Dublin City Council officials need to get their thinking caps on and support this proposal, as it has been democratically backed by every councillor that was present,” he says.