Connemara is located on the rugged, tranquil and unspoilt Atlantic coastline at Ballyconneely, situated on a peninsula, jutting into the Atlantic between Clifden to the north and Roundstone to the south. Ballyconneely is also renowned for its breeding of the world famous Connemara Pony. According to folklore, the breed originated as the result of a Spanish shipwreck. A number of Arab horses swam ashore and ended up breeding with the wild local ponies.
Founded in 1973, and designed by the prolific Irish architect, Eddie Hackett. Connemara is one of the toughest links courses in the world, measuring more than 7,200 yards from the back tees. The course is littered with stern and craggy rocks, further adding to the rough and ready nature of the links. Avoid these rocks at all costs, otherwise you will find yourself playing from some unusual positions. Connemara has 27 holes, the A and B nines comprise the Championship course. The C nine is shorter in length.
The wind is a significant factor at Connemara. There are no sand dunes to provide protection from the elements. In fact, the ground is fairly flat. The upside of this is that there are uninterrupted, spectacular, panoramic views of the coastline with its glorious white sandy beaches and to the north east, the austere Twelve Bens mountain range provide a dramatic backdrop. The outward nine is much shorter and flatter than the inward half. But the back nine possesses the best and most memorable holes. Brace yourself for the challenging 210-yard par three 13th, with its raised green. It’s regarded as Connemara’s signature hole and this is where the lunar landscape kicks in and stays with us for the closing holes.
Connemara is a remote golf course, but everyone here is exceptionally welcoming. The last six holes will remain etched in the mind for a very long time, and if you are brave enough to tackle this brutal course from the back tees – good luck. Pray that the wind machine is turned off.
Very few golf courses leave an indelible impression like the ones that Connemara gave me upon completing the 18th hole. It is one of the few courses where you will experience cold, rain, and winds followed by blazing sun light and heat, all in one round. The topography is one of heavily laden with rocks, humps, mounds, followed by flat terrains. You are out in the middle of nowhere, and it can be seen as being desolate at times. I am glad I played it, but it would not be on my want to play it again list. It is wide open, and extremely challenging. The wind is a constant, as well as the unpredictable weather.
Connemara is a good, long, fun links in a spectacular location. Getting there may be involved but it's definitely worth the trip, and nearby Clifden is a charming town. The drive from similarly nice Westport is one of the best we've done, remenescent of Rannoch Moor, although if anything quieter. The greens were the best we've played on in 2 weeks, and the lack of sand dunes was a pleasant reduction in stress. The fairways are fairly generous, which is just as well since every non par 3 was a driver off the tee. We are definitely glad we made the trip, one of the very best courses in NW Ireland.
Just to add to the above review, rather than play a parkland course we returned the next day to Connemara and if anything enjoyed the experience even more. The drive out from lovely, friendly Clifden just gets more and more remote, with the beautiful ponies, ruined castle and stunning white sand beach demanding repeated photo stops. The sense of tranquility at Connnemara in 2 days of good, still weather was unparallelled. I can't recommend the trip enough.
Connemara is the lowest rated of the four courses that we visited on our Wild Atlantic Way golf tour, but is still very highly regarded so we were expecting to be impressed. We were not to be disappointed and in fact it was arguably ahead of the other three venues in some aspects, certainly the most impressive clubhouse setting and up there with Carne in terms of the enchanting unspoiled natural beauty of the location and surroundings. The weather enhanced the experience, as we had the best day of the trip - mostly sunny yet still with the solid two-club prevailing wind.
The front nine of the 'A&B' course meanders around flatlands with dangerous pot bunkering and varied green countours the main defences on the ground. The 1st and 2nd played into the crosswind, the 1st a dogleg left par four that invites a draw tee shot off the rugged rocky hill terrain to the right and the 2nd a straight par four with pot bunkers on both sides of fairway and green. After the testing opening two holes, the short par three third is index 18 and is a very enjoyable hole to play, also aesthetically nice owing to the craggy rock in the background. The par four 4th is a straightish par four, again with pot bunkers on both sides of fairway and green, a comfortable hole when played downwind provided your tee shot can avoid the traps. The 5th hole is the second hardest hole on the front nine card, a dogleg left par four that for us was kind given the helping crosswind on the day, pleasantly flat with pot bunkers scattered about. The par three 6th hole, whilst index 14 on the card, played one of the harder holes of the day as it required wood tee shots for us into the wind. The par five 7th offers quite a wide fairway and would be a great birdie opportunity when not affected by a hurting wind, which is probably never the case! After passing the plaque dedicated to Steve Fossett's 2003 re-enactment of Alcock & Brown's 1919 first non-stop flight across the Atlantic on a biplane, the index 2 8th takes you in the direction of the clubhouse, with no significant fairway bunkering to consider, but an undulating tiered green complex well protected by bunkers short and to the right. The 9th is not unlike the 8th in terms of direction and has more fairway pot bunkers to contend with, but it is a much shorter par four than the 8th off the white tees.
The first three holes of the back nine are broadly in a similar vein to the front nine, before the epic homeward stretch raises the bar substantially. The 10th is a tough par four that was into the wind for our visit and required a 5-wood second shot for me to the elevated green. The 11th is a lovely slightly downhill par three with two pot bunkers on each flank and one large deceiving bunker in front that is in fact much further back from the front of the green than appears from the tee. Whilst many holes on the day were played into a hurting crosswind, the slight dogleg right par four 12th is one of the few holes that played head-on directly into the wind, which when combined with the elevated green and 445 yardage from the tips made it play all all of its index 1.
Leaving the 12th green you find yourself on the high outpost of the course, which signals the beginning of a slightly different stretch of holes until the finish. The par three 13th brings you to a higher altitude than previously experienced thus far and is positioned alongside some of the most rugged rocky lunar terrain amidst the dunes. It is a long par three with a slope in front of the green making it difficult to find the surface, also with three pot bunkers lurking front and back, one of the best holes on the course. Then you ascend higher again to reach the 14th tee and what is an absolutely jaw-dropping view of the entire course and surroundings. It is a straight par five played in a southwesterly direction towards the ocean with a significant drop from tee to fairway and OB all down the right side. The green was reachable in two for us but our second shots were cruelly diverted left and short rolling back down the steep slope just in front of the green, a tricky feature along with the five bunkers short of the green. Definitely one of my favourite holes of the trip.
The next two holes are tough par fours, the 15th is without bunkers but if it plays in to the wind, as it did for us, finding the relatively small and elevated green in two with hairy dunes on three sides is a difficult task and its index 3 rating is no surprise. The 16th plays back downwind towards the clubhouse but is not an easy fairway to hit as it doglegs slightly to the left at the landing area. There is a burn about 30 yards short of the green, three pot bunkers to contend with for the approach and the green itself is one of the more undulating on the course.
The finish at Connemara GC offers two par fives in succession routed in opposite directions. The 17th back tee is on elevated ground in front of the clubhouse played to an inviting wide and flattish fairway with no bunkers from tee to green. Whilst the hole measures 500 yards and might sound easy, the approach to the green is another steep rise in elevation and playing into the wind it actually demanded three very solid shots to make the green, another with long dune grasses threatening on three sides. The 18th here rivals the 18th at Carne in terms of the combination of stunning views and hole design, both par fives with downhill tee shots and with inclines back up towards raised greens, what surely must be two of the best finishing holes in the country. For those laying up, a burn crossing the fairway 100 yards in front of the green must be considered for second shots, and for the longer hitters the green is reachable in two downwind, although the second shot will have to fly all the way to the putting surface and carry the four pot bunkers and the steep slope before the green.
Pick of the holes:
Par three - 13th
Par fours - 5th, 16th
Par five - 14th
Read more of my course reviews here: https://thescramblergolf.wordpress.com
Should you put Connemara on your next Irish golf trip itinerary?
The honest answer is “probably not”.
This is not because the course is bad in any way. In fact it is almost visually unique among links courses with all the bare rock close to the playing surface. The sea and landscape views are as lovely. The layout is also sympathetic with the more forgiving golf on the front nine and the longer, tougher holes on the back nine. For matches and twilight rounds it is also great to come back to the clubhouse after hole no 16.
We saved the third “C” loop of nine holes for our day two but quickly decided that once was enough. Some of the holes are fantastic designs on their own, but the long walks between holes make this nine feel like an afterthought. My advice is to play two rounds on the main 18 holes instead, unless you are a keen student of golf course architecture.
So, indeed, why not Connemara on your next Irish golf trip ?
You go to courses like Connemara for two reasons: (1) they fit into an itinerary where you play also other courses over 3-7 days or (2) they are great, out-of-the-way weekend type destinations on their own, a bit like Machihanish if you like.
Ballyconneely does not fit into the first category. It simply is too far away from other top-ranked Irish golf courses. It took us almost three hours northwards to get to Carne; it would have taken about the same time had we gone south to Lahinch. In the second category there are better combinations of accessibility, affordability and quality in Ireland: Ballyliffin comes to mind.
Therefore, I am afraid that future reviews on this site may also comment on the remoteness of this place and, perhaps also, praise Connemara as an undiscovered gem.
Connemara may well be remote, necessitating playing it en route, but nearby Clifden is a great place to stay and the drive up to pretty Westport as a staging post for Carne takes one through spectacular scenery.
Having played all the links layouts ranked above Connemara in the Irish Top 100, I didn’t really expect too much before playing here last week. Well, the Championship course turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve ever had when surveying 18 holes for the first time. So much so, I reckon it’s easily a better course than several of those that currently occupy places in the national Top 30.
The only reason I can think why Connemara isn’t better regarded is because reviewers haven’t visited, due to its remoteness - hands up, I’m one of those who has repeatedly gone to courses further north or south on the western seaboard, completely overlooking this place. Only three reviews in the last nine years on this website bears out my theory and that’s a crying shame because Connemara deserves a lot better.
The clubhouse is geared up for visiting golfers and there’s loads of room out on the course to accommodate three 9-hole loops on a very eye-catching property. The front nine occupies the flatter ground though there’s lots of subtle land movement to keep golfers engaged throughout the outward half. Greens are a mix of lie of the land and slightly elevated but they always allow a running approach, no matter which way they’re constructed.
The back nine moves up a gear or two as the routing heads into the dunes, with the greens on the 14th, 15th and 17th sunk into the sandy hillside. There’s not a weak hole on this championship course (even with wide, forgiving fairways) and it ends with a stout pair of par fives, the second of which plays to one of the most sloping home greens that I’ve ever come across.
My playing partner Hugh O’Neill is one of the most unassuming men you could ever come across and not only is he the Professional here, he’s also the Head Greenkeeper – how quaint a concept is that in the modern era? A man who actually knows how to maintain firm and fast fairways and proper fescue/bent grass greens surely has to be worth his weight in gold in today’s sustainable golf environment.
Do yourself a favour and discover, like me, just how good Connemara is - I’m 100% confident you’ll agree that it’s one of Ireland’s most underrated links. Jim McCann.