Not long into the new millennium, some members of Castleblayney Golf Club approached Coillte, the Irish Foresty Commission, with a view to securing 240 acres of woodland beside Lough Muckno for a new golf course.
The estate was purchased through the sale of shares in the development then Christy O'Connor Jnr – now an established architect with an impressive portfolio – was asked to collaborate with his uncle Christy Snr in bringing to life a tract of land that was full of potential.
“The first time I saw the site it was a bit of a mess,” recalled O'Connor Jnr. “There were a lot of tree stumps and ditches covered with briars, but the views were extraordinary. It's one of the finest natural sites I've seen and presented a great opportunity to create a course with such magnificent lake views.”
The O'Connor partnership carefully routed the Concra Wood layout so that holes only reveal themselves as the golfer stands on the tee, a clever design ploy that adds both excitement and anticipation to a game here.
Lough Muckno is visited twice during the round, the first time between holes 4 and 6 – where water runs left of the fairways – and the second time between the 12th and 16th, when wayward shots to the right of these holes will end up wet.The signature hole occurs when golfers are initially introduced to the water at the par five 4th hole. The fairway veers sharply to the right at the landing area then runs along the side of the lough before dipping wickedly down to the left to a shore side green perched just above the waterline.
A true test of golf, you walk off 18 knowing you’ve just been tested. But as enjoyable a test as you could get. More than a few fantastic golf holes, my own favourites would be 3,8,11,13, and 17. Visually stunning, and always in perfect condition. You weigh that all up against “ bang for your buck”, and there’s no comparison anywhere in Ireland. A true hidden gem.
I was staying in Monaghan for a couple of days and escaped long enough to book myself in for a late morning round. I was in two minds if I’d play it or look elsewhere as I was and still am a keen fisherman. I remember being able to fish all of the banks before the course existed, which sadly for the fisherfolk, much of those banks are now out of bounds to the fisherman (and the golfer as I was to find out more than once on the 4th).
The course starts off with a lovely downhill dog leg par 5. A drive, a wood, a chip and a putt and I’ve off to a birdie. A pleasant uphill par 4 follows, before the course and it’s views really start to get going. The third, a very steep downhill par 4 (which I played terribly) gives great views over part of Muckno. This is where my fisherman “resentment” eased, with wonderful views of Hope Castle & White Island. Immediately I was looking at areas of the lake I’d spent hundreds of hours afloat, recalling fish I’d caught from all the bays, nooks and crannies of this wonderful lake. For nearly the entirety of the rest of the round these lake views and fishing memories of the magical Muckno totally won me over. What a job they have done and I wish I’d let my mind be opened sooner.
Anyway, back to the course. After butchering the 4th (it was an 8 or a 9, or maybe a 10. I’d stopped counting) a tough dog leg with a green with water on two sides I got into my stride and amazingly my approach to that green was my last lost ball of the day. As the round progressed, up and down hill (yes it’s very hilly) I just couldn’t take in all the course had to offer. Drives over water, tee boxes close enough to the edge to peer into the depths, some huge bunkers (the 8th & 17th greensides swallowed me up), large greens on the fast side, even a fairway a mountain goat would stay clear off (the 10th IIRC), everything just felt really well done and designed. I’m generally not a lover of many of the new parkland courses, but I couldn’t get enough of this place. Not sure what it is, but to me it felt similar to Powerscourt East, but on a hill, around a lake.
You don’t need to be long to enjoy the course, but although fairways are wide and rough relatively light, the extra distance does help. The fairways did roll when I played, so low trajectories would run on as there’s only really one large carry across water. The day I played it wind was very light, so that could change with a decent breeze. Greens were consistent in pace, and quite quick. Bunkers all in good shape. Pace of play was good, course maybe at 80% capacity, but was moving on well. Good food in the clubhouse, along with great views.
You feel physically beat up after playing it, but exhilarated at the same time, so don’t know if I’d want to play it every week. In summary, definitely a course I’d look forward to, and actually go out of my way to play a few times a year. Like the lake it sits on, stunning.
Concra Wood is an absolute gem. Top class facilities and the course will test all aspects of your game and you will probably use every club in the bag. Standout holes are the 4th which is a double dogleg par 5 which requires total precision with the drive and 2nd which leaves a short iron over the lake to a tiered green. As good a par 5 in Ireland. The 5th is a tough par 4 along the shore that requires straight hitting. The 8th is a shortish par 4 to an uphill green that demonstrates that par 4's don't need to be 450yds long to be a test. The 9th is a tough par 3. The real fun starts on the back 9 with a long downhill par 4 10th hitting straight towards the lake. The 11th is par 4 that would grace any course and for me the 12th is the best hole on the course. Long, downhill par 3 with the lake bordering the left side of the green. Great par 5's with water at 13 and 15 and a brute of a par 4 sixteenth, tricky 17th. Awesome course.
I played this course in sub zero temperatures , rain , sleeth and even snow all on the same day and it still did not take away any of the pleasure from the experiance.
I've been lucky enough to play Concra 4 times now, and even though I was blown away first time out, it's only got better on each subsequent visit. Put simply, this is an utterly brilliant and stunning golf course. I can only think of two plausible weaknesses, one being that Castleblaney is surely too far from the population source required to maintain a setup of this distinction. The other is golf related; bring your 'A' game with you or you won't enjoy - it's a proper tough course, even from the front tees. That apart it's an amazing golf experience, with the lakeside stretch from 3-5 tough, teasing and beautiful, while 11-16 will test everything you know about golf, with a certain quirkiness you won't find anywhere else. In terms of everything else, the staff are superb and welcoming, whole the recently finished clubhouse and road add the veneer a course like this demands. Concra is only 3-4 years old now. It has the potential to be the parkland in Ireland. Indeed it already deserves a top 5 spot and I've yet to pay over €50 for the pleasure of it.