Set out on the banks of the River Slaney within the former Hall-Dare estate in County Wexford, the course at Bunclody Golf & Fishing Club is another top-notch 18-hole layout from Jeff Howes, the Canadian-born architect who has recently worked on a number of Irish projects, including Heritage, Fota Island and Gowran Park.
The course routing brings golfers to the water’s edge twice, once on each nine. Holes 1 to 5 are laid out on open, undulating land away from the river before the layout drops down to a narrow flood plain where waste bunkers on hole 6 and 7 help drain a beautiful little plateau section by the flowing waters.
A quartet of par fours from holes 10 to 13 brings golfers back beside the open section that started the round. There’s plenty of room here again until the approach to the 13th green where golfers now head for a thrilling finish into woodland by the river.
The 219-yard par three 14th is a captivating, downhill short hole played into a green engulfed by trees and it’s followed by the 444-yard par four 15th where the hillside drops steeply from the left and a sentinel tree in the fairway has to be avoided off the tee.
Holes 16 and 17 play through tight fairway corridors along the river before an elevator lift takes golfers up the side of an escarpment to the 18th tee, allowing one last lingering look at the river on the ascent before playing the home hole.With its chic circular clubhouse and jaw-dropping glass-fronted lift at the 17th green, Bunclody could easily be remembered for its modern accoutrements when really it’s the brilliant finishing stretch through the woods and along the river that should live long in the memory.
The course is laid out across a former country estate and Jeff Howes (he of Heritage and Fota Island fame) has incorporated the extensive woodland, elevation changes and the river Slaney into his layout. The entrance drive fills the you with a sense of what lies ahead, winding its way through the trees before emerging at the centre of the property with the modern clubhouse in full view.
The course opens with a gentle, somewhat non-descript dogleg left par 5, I don't usually mind this in an opening hole, as it helps to get the player "away", Harry Colt always maintained that the first hole be long and relatively straightforward, however apart from the fairway bunkers and distant trees this hole lacks any real definition which makes it difficult for the player to find his "spot". The tee shot st the second sets up in similar fashion and I was already bemoaning the drive down if this was to be the sight for the remainder of the day, luckily as I reached my drive which sat at the apex of the dog-leg right, my fears were allayed, a terrifying shot framed by a huge lake to the left, dense woodland behind and bunkers right, a very strong par 4.
From here on the front 9 gets better and better, a superb par 5 follows where a gutsy tee shot played close to the water on the right, rewards the golfer with a fair chance of reaching the green in two. The pick of the bunch for me though were holes 6,7 and 8, which all run alongside the River, 6 is a par 4 where the approach is played to a green perched on an incline just below a cluster of beautiful mature trees. The par 3 7th is a medium length hole played to a narrow green which can throw up some terrific hole location and for anything missing long the river lurks behind, while the 8th is another strong par 5 which again tempts the player to hit his drive toward the river again allowing him a shot at the green in two.
It is from this point until the player reaches the 14th tee where I feel the failing of the course lies. A collection of drab, monotonous "filler" type holes, lacking imagination, merely used as a means to bridge a gap between one great group of holes and the next. Perhaps in time, with some further tree planting and "bedding" in these holes will improve and therefore giving rise to a more complete layout, but for the moment they remain sub-standard.
The above is a pity, for when the player stands on the 14th tee, he is about to embark upon one of the most thrilling finishes in Irish Golf. 14 a downhill par 3 played from a tee perched among the dense woodland, which offers a tremendous view of the river and all below. Number 15, a par 4, again cascades downhill towards the level of the river with the second shot in particular reminiscent of the 2nd shot of one of the world's great par 4's the 15th at somerset hills. The 16th is an absolute bear of a hole, which when I played was into the breeze, it snakes its way left around a bend in the river and the second shot is fraught with danger. The 17th is a relative relief given what the player has just come through, but is in no sense an easy hole, with the river again lurking left and a green with some very tricky contours. The par 5 18th is well and truly a grand finale, given that taking the lift to avoid the long incline up to the tee box, The hole encompasses all I love in a finishing hole, as it provided a very real opportunity of a birdie, giving the chasing player a chance to make up his score, but at the same time if played conservatively it can be a tough par. The tee shot is played through a left to right bending chute of trees, with the left side of the fairway offering the best line of attack to a green guarded by water and extensive bunkering. This is a proper finishing hole!
As stated above Bunclody opened to great fanfare and no expense was spared, with anything on the property, extensive practice facilities, terrific clubhouse, a cosy halfway hut and friendly service. unfortunately for the owners they could not foresee the buckling of the Irish economy and as such I am sure things are tough for them, hopefully they can see things through. On reflection the only thing holding Bunclody back from climbing the rankings is the mediocre holes which simply do not match up to the remainder and until adjustments are made it cannot progress.