Ireland, golfing on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Ireland, golfing on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Breathtaking in the harsh ruggedness of its natural beauty, this is a land rich in history with legacies of its glorious past visible at every turn. Truth and legend are recorded in folklore and mysticism, in songs and tales of a glorious past. It is not, therefore surprising that this is a country which has cradled many famous sons and daughters, writers, poets and musicians. As you travel around, you will see ancient monuments, crumbling castles, ornate stately homes and imposing cathedrals all attesting to a wealth of history and culture. 

Visitors cannot fail to be amazed by the spontaneity with which they are welcomed in the towns, villages, pubs and restaurants dotted along Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard. It has always been my experience that the people of this enchanted land know how to live life to the full, which makes it pretty certain that, as their guest, you will truly have the time of your life. 

Making your way around and down the coastline, the countryside seems to become increasingly breathtaking. Stark cliffs give way to low-lying, boggy plains and rugged mountains inland. Roads are near deserted, bordered by banks of fuschia; small homes dot the landscape, while cattle and sheep graze peacefully. Cascading streams tumble from high peaks, feeding eventually into huge tracts of water where nature provides a home for wild brown and rainbow trout and sleek salmon, while man has created oyster and mussel-breeding grounds. (Fishing, indeed, comes very high on the popular list of things to do…..) 

Not surprisingly the waters take on an almost golden hue as they fall against the dark chocolate colour of the peaty soil. This, over thousands of years, has provided essential fuel and fertilizer…Not to mention giving that rare and distinctive flavour to the waters used in the distillation of local whiskies…. perhaps also redolent of the nation’s other famous liquid product, which usually comes in a straight-sided pint glass, bearing the emblem of a harp. ….(Perhaps I have died and gone to heaven? It’s certainly an effect this country can have on one!) 

Long stretches of sandy beaches are interspersed by river estuaries, home to a myriad variety of sea birds and waders; you may catch sight of seals and dolphins as they bask in the shallow waters. 

WHERE TO PLAY 

There are 53 of the world’s 151 Championship links golf courses in Ireland, making it an obvious and, hopefully, more than once in a lifetime destination for any golf enthusiast from anywhere around the world. Here, too, you will find that fabled welcome. 

Henry Longhurst once concluded: “Some of the Irish links. I was about to write, stand comparison with the greatest courses in the world. They don’t. They are the greatest courses in the world, not only in scenery, but in ‘atmosphere’ and that indefinable something which makes you relive – again and again – the day you first played them”. 

These are golf courses which, in spite of their exceptional quality, make no pretence to emulate many of those built more recently. Indeed, in that very word lies the precise difference between those designed and constructed by man and those whose very existence is entirely due to the land provided by Nature herself. Towering dunes covered in the treacherous, long, marram grass, with flowing valleys between and natural waterways, provide classic links land, which is always playable – even during the often inclement winter months. A true test of the game, in all its varying aspects and with the elements thrown in for good measure 

This is a region which prides itself on a tip-top golf product at affordable prices - a product which has not lost its way in the all too manicured and ‘glamorous’ world of golf increasingly portrayed and promoted It is good, solid and honest and will make your heart sing at its very sight. 

Passing west and south of Derry, through the counties of Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Connemara and Galway, just the names – ‘Blue Stack Mountains’, ‘Valley of Tears’ – hint at enchantment, and these are regions literally ‘littered’ with championship golf courses, challenging links and a range of nine-hole layouts, where play is all year round. 

Under the auspices of the Republic’s National Tourism Development Agency – Fáilte Ireland - a group of enterprises involved in tourism have combined to promote Ireland’s North West coast in its entirety. Self-styled ‘ Wild Atlantic Way’ hotels and guesthouses ,restaurants, pubs and bars, monuments and museums , any and all sporting activities (in this context, particularly golf, fishing and shooting) have joined under a banner which unites a mutual promotional incentive. 

Ten golf courses presently come under the promotional banner of the North & West Coast Links alliance– Narin & Portnoo, Donegal (Murvagh), Enniscrone, Carne Links (Belmullet) and Connemara Championship Links (Ballyconneely) Ardglass, Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Ballyliffin, Rosapenna, 

They occupy some of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful, un-spoilt scenery in Europe 

If time permitted, it would truly be easier to write a book, however, focusing on golf – which is what this is all about – there’s only space for a miniscule glimpse of what golfing visitors may experience in that context….For now, we’ll take a look at just the first 6 of the list, working from the north, southwards, around the coastline.

Narin & Portnoo  - (“Links golf as it should be”) 

Founded in 1930; designed by the Members and Eddie Connaughton. 

Links golf at its wildest and most rugged, bordering the Atlantic coastline, the course has been recently re-structured, and now has a new SSS rating of 73 and extended range of teeing-off areas. 

Portnoo continues to be thoroughly deserving of its consideration as one of Ireland’s outstanding, finest naturally scenic courses , rating one of the World’s Top Ten. 

tel: 00353 (0)74 9545107 - narinportnoo@eircom.net  - www.narinportnoogolfclub.ie 

Donegal ‘Murvagh’. 

Est.1959: designed - Eddie Hackett, with recent re-structuring by Pat Ruddy. 

Laid out over (and with the least possible disturbance to) the dunes of the Murvagh Peninsula on lands leased from the Forestry Department. This is – again - an outstanding course, further enhanced by Ruddy’s upgrading work which improved the greens at the 1st, 2nd, 9th, 12th, 13th, 14th & 18th; and introduced new fairway bunkers at the 4th, 9th, 12th & 14th: By cutting a narrow opening through the dunes at the par-4 18th, he redefined this as the signature hole. 

tel: 00 353 (0)7497 34054 - info@donegalgolfclub.ie - www.donegalgolfclub.ie 

County Sligo at Rosses Point. 

Est. 1894: designed – Harry Sand Alison. (9-hole Bomore Course opened 1999 

The Club has a long and venerable history and has been home to the West Ireland Championships since 1923. Three huge beaches keep the Atlantic at bay to the west, while, inland, there is the towering shadow of Benbulben. The winds off the sea are the overriding factor when playing here, compensated in some small measure by downhill drives from the elevated 3rd, 5th ,10th & 14th tees. While it’s fair to say that the fairways are relatively generous, bunkers and rough are punishing: apart from a few blind shots, it’s truly up to the player to pick a way through! 

tel.00 353 (0)7191 77134 - info@countysligogolfclub.ie - www.countysligogolfclub.ie 

Enniscrone GC. 

Est. 1922: designed - Eddie Hackett – redesigned in 1974 and again, in 2002, in collaboration with Donald Steel. 

One of Ireland’s finest links courses set in the scenic splendour of Killala Bay, with three of the par-4’s running along Scurmore beach. A Championship venue, this is the ultimate golfing experience – dramatic dunes and breathtaking views. Commissioned to take an additional 6 holes wending into the mountainous dunes plus three new holes on the flat Steel’s expert and inspired design added an exciting dimension to the course. 

The addition of 3 new holes to the 6 which were thereby relinquished, provided a further, quality 9-holes for the less experienced links golfer!. 

tel: 00 353 (0)96 36297 - enniscronegolf@eircom.net - www.enniscronegolf.com 

Carne golf Links – Belmullet Golf Club. 

Est.1995: designed - Eddie Hackett 

The human story behind this course is as worthy of the telling as a description of the course itself, beginning (as it did) as a consolidated community project - an effort to bring some sort of prosperity to an economically-depressed area. In accordance with Hackett’s credo, this is yet a further example of the crafting of land, sculpted through centuries, into eighteen golf holes, with as little disturbance as possible to the natural landscape as it existed! His last design, it is now considered by many to be his best. The course lies in magnificent, unspoiled dunes overlooking the rocky Atlantic coastline of Blacksod Bay, near Belmullet, Co.Mayo. With breathtaking views over the legendary islands of Inos Glóire and Inis Géidhe, the course is challenging in its 6,120 m. The names of the holes are taken from local history and the legends surrounding it – links at its wild and very best! 

Last year (and these are still bedding in) a further 9 holes –‘Kilmore’ - were crafted out of the dunes producing an enviable 27 hole combination. 

tel: 00 353 (0)97 82292 - info@carnegolflinks.com - www.carnegolflinks.com 

Connemara Championship Golf Links. 

Est. 1973: designed – Eddie Hackett, concluded by Tom Craddock 

Originally a traditional 18 links holes, nestling between the Twelve Bens Mountains and the Atlantic in one of the most splendid settings imaginable, to which, in 2000, a further 9 holes were added. A combination of dramatic, rocky outcrops and unique coastal dune-land give the sensation that one might be playing on a lunar landscape, with waves crashing in the distance. The first few holes seem relatively benign – for these parts! By the 8th, you begin to appreciate the real test ahead, for this, the 9th and 13th are truly gems. 

tel: 00 353 (0)95 23502/23602 - info@connemaragolflinks.net - www.connemaragolflinks.com 

WHERE TO STAY 

The Region offers plentiful and varied opportunities for accommodation, ranging from beautifully appointed 4* and 5* hotels – both privately owned and managed to -internationally recognized groups, down to smaller hotels and welcoming B & B’s! 

Retracing our steps, from north to south, the following are great examples – varying from elegant to downright homely!.... 

Harvey’s Point.- Lough Eske – Donegal 

Secreted away on the shores of Lough Eske, the Hotel is located amid jaw-dropping scenery, away over the lake and inland to the Blue Stack Mountains - ‘enviable’ scarcely begins to describe it! 

Established in 1989, Harvey’s Point remains the property of, and is managed by, the original, Swiss-family Gysling, together with their outstanding staff whose friendliness and helpfulness emphasise how exceedingly well they operate together as a Team. 

All the rooms are spacious, elegantly furnished suites; the cuisine gourmet, award-winning and generally universally recognized…..Truly..“Swiss Made in Ireland”. 

Click here for the 360 degree virtual tour of Harvey’s Point - http://www.digital-door.com/hpoint/tour.swf

stay@harveyspoint.com - www.harveyspoint.com 

Radisson Blu, Sligo 

Internationally-known hotel chain offering spacious accommodation in the town and conveniently placed for nearby golf courses. Extensive Spa facilities 

www.radissonblu.ie/hotel-sligo 

In Clifden, try…. 

The Station Hotel:- 

Tucked away in a quiet square in the town and offering eminently comfortable rooms, leisure centre with indoor pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and gym; also available are fully equipped 4*Self Catering Apartments just a stone’s throw away from the main Hotel facilities.(Activity Packages on offer include Walking, Fishing and Cycling) 

info@clifdenstationhouse.com - www.clifdenstationhouse.com 

or… 

Foyles Hotel 

Downtown and owned for nearly 100 years by the Foyle family. 

The hotel’s old world elegance and atmosphere has been gracefully retained in spite of recent renovations: each room is individually decorated. 

info@foyleshotel.com - www.foyleshotel.com 

Mont Falcon Estate – Co. Mayo 

The 32 bedroom 4* deluxe hotel is located in a 100 acre parkland estate, with convenient access to 12 golf courses. 

Additionally, there are 45, 3 & 4 bedroom luxurious lodges, leisure facility/spa, 9 bay golf driving range, two miles of private salmon fishing on the adjoining River Moy(the most prolific salmon river in Ireland), a trout lake, fly fishing school, clay pigeon/archery ground and 4km. woodland/cycling trail….Need I say more?! – Oh – I forgot – An award winning Restaurant… 

info@mountfalcon.com - www.mountfalcon.com 

Glenlo Abbey, Galway 

As the name suggest, this 5* hotel - the forms an integral part of what was formerly an abbey: indeed, today, the deconsecrated chapel is an unrivalled setting for weddings.Dating back to the 18th century, and with panoramic views over Lough Corrib the Hotel is the epitome of elegance and old world charm. In addition to the romantic setting of the abbey itself, two Pullman cars, ‘Leona’ dating from 1927 and ‘Linda’ (1954) are the setting for the hotel’s Pullman Restaurant. ‘Leona’ not only part of the original ‘Orient Express’, but also the setting for the Sidney Lumet classic ‘Murder on the Orient Express, featuring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall and Sean Connery! 

info@glenloabbey.ie - www.glenloabbeyhotel.ie 

Fact File

The Fáilte North & West Coast Links Golf Ireland Bureau and ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ provides information on golf, fishing, gastronomy, accommodation, transport - and pretty much everything else, offering a comprehensive Golf Bookings Service via email (wclgolf@iol.ie), and information on the North West Links’ GOLF PASS: 

Visit their websites on: www.northandwestcoastlinks.com or www.discoverireland.ie 

email: sales@northandwestcoastlinks.com - tel: 00351 (0) 91 868642 

When the sun shines, there is – perhaps – no other country in the world quite like  this and where you will receive – above all ´Céad Míle Fáilte - A Hundred Thousand Welcomes’ 

Post Script 

Golf Club hire 

If you (like increasing numbers of people) don’t wish to pay the many airlines’ extra hold luggage charges, you may hire from www.clubstohire.com who will deliver and collect sets at Dublin airport. 

Transport 

While car hire companies are readily available at most airports around Ireland, groups of golfers should consider availing themselves of the excellent services of ‘Spirit of Ireland – Executive Travel company. 

info@spiritofirelandandtravel.com - www.spiritofireland.com 

Report: Sue & Geoffrey Farmer for the EGTMA

 

Doing golf ... the Monte Rei way.

Doing golf ... the Monte Rei way.

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Belgium, beer and birdies.