We adored Ireland because it was the most changeless place on earth.
Was! Now, since its conversion to Europeanism, it?s got money and it?s got bustle and it?s got a compulsion for building things.
There are new roads to drive urgently along, in every farmer?s field there?s a gleaming new mansion and while there were always great golf courses galore, it seems that Dublin is now a giant clubhouse with fairways radiating as far as the mind can see.
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the tee.
Lathered, obsessively energetic Irishmen were once hard to find but there?s one whom I know well. Pat Ruddy has been so busy building golf courses that he?s worn himself out.
He still has the urge and the devilment to make his own course, The European, in Brittas Bay as difficult as possible, but he has now ceased from designing courses elsewhere. And thank God for that, said I as I stood dejected and defeated in some of his bunkers last week.
There?s a lovely old course up in the north west of Donegal called Ballyliffin; I drove there from Dublin, a 176-mile first leg of a round trip that would terminate at Brittas Bay.
You don?t just go to a golf course in Ireland, you go to see the country and I saw a thousand kilometers (they don?t have miles any more, not that they ever did) of it in seven days.
Nick Faldo once tried to buy Ballyliffin and they turned his offer down. And now there?s a second course there, called the Glashedy and Ruddy built it.
I like to think of the big man as a friend but when, after three of the best shots I have ever played in my life, I found myself in a subterranean sand trap at the back of the par-five 13th, I wondered at his regard for his fellow golfers. Has he no pity?
Ballyliffin?s appeal lay in its remoteness and, looking across its acres, you had no doubt that there was only one thing you could do with the ground: put a golf course on it. And so natural is the golf in this corner of Ireland that its fame has spread. No longer has the cliche "hidden gem" any currency; Ballyliffin is well and truly discovered and a superb new hotel, the Ballyliffin Lodge, has risen there to shelter the pilgrims.
The nearest town to Ballyliffin is Buncrana and you can catch a ferry there these days if you wish to cross the lough to another wildly beautiful headland of the Atlantic on which stands Rosapena.
I had enjoyed the hospitality of Frank Casey, the owner of the Rosapena hotel and links before; that?s something that hasn?t changed. But there?s a new clubhouse there now and a second course, Sandy Hills. Designed by Ruddy, obviously.
It is spread over more than 7,000 yards of classic duneland, and its merit is implicit in Casey?s expectations of the place. He wants championship golf there and I have no doubt that he?ll get it.
On a sunny day, standing where Sheephaven and Mulroy Bays converge, with Horn Head as a backdrop, it is difficult to imagine a more perfect place for golf.
Then we moved south, to a slightly whacky little seaside town called Bundoran which has got an excellent curry shop in a chapel. It has also got a challenging clifftop golf course, alongside the Great Northern Hotel which, we were surprised to learn, was not designed by Ruddy.
It was first established by the British army more than a hundred years ago, the original Christy O?Connor was once the pro there and it is now one of those effortlessly welcoming places that are so typically Irish.
Plans are being drawn for a new clubhouse and I was impertinent enough to ask why; the old one has got real character, especially the bar.
"Because we want to keep up our standards," said the pro, David Robinson and that?s the new Ireland for you: they can?t stop building things.
Then, with an effort that was spectacularly rewarded, on the recommendation of that splendidly helpful organisation, North West Tourism, we abandoned the seaside and moved inland. To Slieve Russell, in County Cavan.
This place reeks of quality. The golf course, designed by Peter Merrigan and measuring more than 7,000 yards, was in the best condition of any inland course I have played this year.
Some of its holes would have to appear in any anthology of special challenges and the par-five 13th, which winds in a semi-circle around a huge lake, damns you if you make a mistake.
After failing with two not-bad drives to make the first carry, I left it to the others. And it was won with an eight.
And finally to The European, for a memorable round and an audience with Pat Ruddy. You know those films in which generals at table depict great battles by using the pepper pot and the jug of port? Ruddy?s graphics came from a plate of chips.
Big chips equal long drives, little chips short approaches. What a way to talk you round a golf course!
The European has changed every year that I?ve played it. Ruddy has just put in 30 new bunkers and every bunker on the course is now railway-sleepered. So when you hit them with any force they become trampolines.
Now I would never have the temerity to argue golf course design with Mr Ruddy but I did venture a mild inquiry as to the reason for all that wood. And he gave me a mysterious answer.
"I don?t have to have explanations," is what I think he said. "But golf has got to be fun."
My suspicion, therefore, is that the great man measures fun by degrees of fiendish difficulty.
This is what he has printed on the back of the clubhouse menu (best apple pie ever, incidentally): "It is by design that we seek to test a player?s skill, patience and ability to recognise, even in the face of momentary sporting tribulation, that we who walk the dunes and seashore in pursuit of a golf ball are indeed blessed . . . our golf is meant to be a test of physique and temperament and, like any other challenge, at its best when one overcomes adversity and manages to deliver that glorious stroke that wins the day."
To which I would add: the day was won by strokes, lots and lots of them, that were far from glorious and as for sporting tribulations, there were none that could be called momentary.