Golf on the West Coast of Ireland

Golf on the West Coast of Ireland

For the keen and dedicated golfer, enjoying links golf in Ireland is one of the real pleasures in life. The courses offer a scenic beauty almost impossible to imagine anywhere else. Sand dunes ravaged by the Atlantic Ocean are pushed high by strong winds and provide a formidable backdrop for golf to be played in this wonderful region. Golf Features was delighted to be invited to review and sample five of the regions finest venues, and we can wholeheartedly recommend just such a trip to all.
There is also Guinness. Guinness is a part of Ireland and a tradition that even teetotallers can agree is unique to the Emerald Isle. It is often said that Guinness tastes different in Ireland from other parts of the world and you cannot disagree with the actuality of this claim. But there is a real reason. In pubs and bars in Ireland where Guinness is served correctly, pints of the black stuff sit three- quarters full, waiting to be topped up for three minutes or more. This is all part of the charm, and genuinely affects the taste: by letting the Guinness stand for three minutes, the blank fluid oxygenates to its full capacity, thus making it tastes better. We cannot be bothered with this process of waiting in the UK as we are too busy and consequently the Guinness does not taste as good. It tastes better in Ireland because you spend the extra three minutes waiting for your pint. This is the real joy of Ireland: it is important to take a little more time to enjoy everything this wonderful country has to offer.
In addition to Guinness and the great courses with their scenic splendour, there is also a curious way of life in Ireland. People seem to understand each other better in Ireland. There is an acceptance of each other and an understanding of the quirky and the unusual. This acceptance is also useful when travelling by road, as the roads and their signage are often more charming than logical.
However, it is the people who really make Ireland; wherever you go there is a charming warmth to all of the interactions that any visitor could hope to expect in any country in the world. Ireland tops them all.

Donegal

This excellent links golf course occupies the wonderful Murvagh peninsula in Donegal Bay, hence it is known locally as Murvagh. The course is isolated from the outside world by a forest of evergreens washed on one side by the great Atlantic Ocean and by Donegal Bay on the others. It has a panoramic view of the Bluestack Mountains and the beach that runs along the Atlantic border is one of the finest in Ireland. The club was originally founded in the late fifties, but moved to its current location in the mid 1970’s and was laid out by the renowned Irish architect Eddie Hacket. There have been a number of adjustments over the last forty years, and Pat Ruddy has overseen much of this remodeling. The clubhouse - like many in the region - has great views from the restaurant and bar on the first floor across this excellent championship links. At 7300 yards, it can be a brute, but several options for teeing allow for a gentler examination of this fine course.
Murvagh can be a tough links to master. Its severity, as with many, is determined by the force of the wind on the particular day that you play. The course is easy to access most of the week, but comes alive with hundreds of members at the weekends in the summer months. The layout is spacious and generous, but still provides plenty of opportunities to wreck your scorecard.

Enniscrone

Enniscrone Golf Club is a real classic. Among the finest and most challenging traditional Irish links golf courses, Enniscrone started life in 1918 as a basic nine-hole course near the seaside village. Today, Enniscrone offers 27 holes on 400 acres of magnificent links land, featuring the excellent Dunes Championship Links Course.  
The course really started to take shape under the design of Eddie Hackett in the mid 1970’s. It has been further revised, by Donald Steel, and is highly regarded by all that have the fortune to visit it.
The sand dunes and undulations sweep the golfer along a path of either merriment or misery, depending on his or her competence. Whenever punishing rough edges they playing surfaces, it is all too easy to suggest that the best strategy is to hit fairways and then greens. That is so achingly obvious, but at Enniscrone, it is important to see the hole as it was envisioned by Eddie Hackett all those years ago. The layout has an infectious rhythm to it, which is hard to pinpoint, but lovely to enjoy.
The Scurmore course is laid out over 9 holes and not as testing as the Dunes Championship course, but both are in near perfect condition and the shorter course, with its lighter contours, can be a welcome break from the more demanding longer layout of the main course.

Carne

Carne Golf Links was formed and is still owned by the local community. Various farmers and individuals contributed land, money and effort to create this quite remarkable golf course in North Mayo.
As part of this development, the company undertook the construction of Carne Golf Links, which covers 260 acres of exceptional links ground, originally designed in the mid-eighties and was the last links course to be designed by Eddie Hackett.
The first nine was opened in 1992. Play began on the second nine in 1993, with the clubhouse being completed in 1995. The Belmullet Golf Club, originally founded in the 1920’s, played initially on a less dramatic nine hole course at Binghamstown, before switching to Carne when the course opened in 1992.
The two loops of nine holes that are currently in operation are quite different from one another.  The first nine is slightly flatter and more sedate, with more of the holes at a lower level. On the back nine, however, the course rises and swoops and falls with the contours of the huge dunes that are at its core. Once again the views are stunning and a treat for any links enthusiast. In the near future a new nine holes will open and this, too, has been carved through the magnificent sand dunes that are such a feature of the second nine. This will make the course into a real classic and the chance to play Carne Golf Links should not be passed up by anyone.

Connemara

The first vision for golf at Connemara was by Peter Waldron, a young priest who managed in the early seventies to gather the community and engage Eddie Hackett to design a fine links layout. The land was used as ‘commonage’ and owned by a large number of families and individuals, so getting everyone’s agreement was not an easy task. The club opened in June 1973. This beautiful, isolated, links course is a testament to the vision of her founders and in the short years since it has become established as one of the finest in the country, and plays host to the longest running Pro-Am in Ireland. Today there are 27 holes of outstanding golf, with golfing legend and links specialist Tom Watson describing the course as “A true championship links course.”
Connemara is the historic site where Allcock and Brown touched down on the first transatlantic flight, and several centuries earlier the Spanish Armada ran aground here. Today the course has strong links to the USA - this includes having the stars and stripes flying proudly with the Irish flag, along with that of the European Union in prominent position for visitors and members to admire and look out on this great landscape. Of all the courses, this is perhaps the one with the most unusual style of links. It is a very rocky course and one that has been laid out around the great protrusions of rock from long ago volcanic activity. It is in pristine order and a great pleasure to play. Not particularly punishing for those missing a fairway, the course has its own defences with excellent run off areas, good bunkering and a brisk wind whipping off the Atlantic to deter those who would look to score low. The clubhouse is a fairly modern, but beautifully appointed building, with the bar and restaurant on the upper floor giving panoramic views across the course and out to sea. It is a delight to play and provides perfect viewing opportunities from most parts of the course. Despite being more open, the course loses none of its intimacy, or feel.

Galway Bay

Galway Bay is constructed more conventionally than some of the other courses. It provides an excellent test, whilst also benefitting from fabulous views across Galway Bay and beyond. It was designed by the late - and greatly missed - Christy O’Connor Junior, who was a fabulous golfer, hitting the famous long iron approach to the last at The Belfry to clinch the Ryder Cup. He recorded a number of tournament victories before turning his attentions to golf course architecture. He has created a first class layout with delicious scenery and a venue that has hosted some very big events. Such was his stature and popularity, he even got Jack Nicklaus to turn up to play in a fundraiser for the Galway Hospice.

There are a few places better to enjoy links golf than the west coast of Ireland. True, the weather can be lousy, but links golf is not for sissies.  It is the real test, and for those interested in shaping their shots to meet the challenge of the various courses, then you will enjoy a week in paradise, regardless of the weather. There are all sorts of combinations that can be mixed together for a fascinating tour of this remarkable region. Green fees are reasonable, access is straightforward and all the courses have the usual golfing additions, such as buggies, trolleys and golf shops that you would expect. The clubs are so friendly that matches can be arranged for visiting clubs. Any golf doctor would prescribe an annual dose of golf in Ireland – it’s delicious and good for you, like Guinness.

More information on the courses is available at:

http://www.donegalgolfclub.ie
http://www.enniscronegolf.com
http://www.carnegolflinks.com
http://www.connemaragolflinks.com
http://www.galwaybaygolfresort.com