- +353 7191 77 134
5 miles W of Sligo city at Rosses Point
Welcome – contact in advance
County Sligo – or Rosses Point, as it is better known – is an exhilarating west coast links, situated in the heart of Yeats country. W.B.Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.
County Sligo Golf Club started out with a nine-hole course, designed by George Combe (contriver in 1896 of the world's first handicap system), and opened for play in 1894. At the turn of the 20th century, Willie Campbell extended the course to 18 holes. The famous Colt and Alison partnership remodelled the course in 1927.
There are many spectacular golf courses in Ireland and County Sligo is no exception. The views of the Darty Mountains and Benbulben, Sligo’s limestone “Table Mountain”, are simply beautiful. Drumcliffe Bay sweeps around the golf course. Its fine long sandy beaches, the Atlantic and the harbour are often in full panoramic view. The Ox Mountains – Knockalong the highest peak – add a further dimension to the already stunning vista.
In the same vein as the scenery, County Sligo is a real joy. It’s a strategic links with dramatic undulations, raised plateau greens, run-offs, high ground, low ground, and cliffs, challenging bunkering, burns and dunes. County Sligo has it all, including unusual routing over three distinctly different sections. The back nine, especially the 11th to the 17th, played on the headland, are truly magnificent. The sheer individuality of holes and the varied terrain makes County Sligo an absolute must-play golf course.
County Sligo is the home of the West of Ireland Amateur Championship and host to other important amateur events. It was here, in 1981, that Declan Branigan won the Irish Amateur Close Championship, becoming the first Irishman to win three major Irish amateur titles in the same year. Earlier that year, Branigan won the West (also at County Sligo) and the East (at County Louth).
In Pat Ruddy’s book Holes in my Head: A Lifetime Dreaming Golf Holes , the author has this to say about the recent course renovations in the following edited extract:
“To say I was pleased to be invited to work on the County Sligo Golf Club’s great links would be an understatement. I was thrilled and ecstatic to return on such a mission, at the end of a long journey in the game, to the place where my golf life started. It was at Rosses Point that I fell seriously in love with golf. It was in the 1950s. I was but a boy. Ever since, as boy and man, I have dreamt of Rosses Point every day. Every day.
It was here that the seeds were sown for a career in golf course architecture. I was told that the links had been designed by a great man named Harry Colt in 1927. That seemed like ages ago but he became much more immediate when I realised he had died as recently as 1951. Our lives had overlapped. Imagine my shock and delight in 2013 when David O’Donovan, manager of the County Sligo Golf Club, asked me whether I might be interested in making a submission on possible improvements to their great links.
I have striven to enhance a great place in a gentle way as I resisted any thoughts of a ‘vanity run’ of huge landshapes and cascading modern greens. I just slipped into an armchair beside Mr. Colt and listened to his thoughts. I am confident that the place is left recognisable as before, but much different and better. With this in mind I set to work at Sligo and headlined my plan of works on the links as: Revitalising a Classic. The first thing to do was to chart the existing greens in detail. In this way the club has a detailed record of the greens as I found them and as I intended to leave them.
Also, the game would be strengthened greatly with new championship tees at holes 1, 5, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 17. These tees were planned for extra distance but also for extra strategy as many of the holes had come to be played in a straight line from tee to green and I took great care to create new angles with a number of the new tees. The game has been greatly improved for championship play with new green extensions presenting the opportunity to place the target behind or close to bunkers and run-offs.
In several cases I took the opportunity to have bunkers that arrived with the green extensions move into position to add character to the old untouched greens as well. There are now places where a previously innocent pin at the back of the old green is dangerously close to a new bunker. It was my opinion that the four par-3s at Rosses Point are excellent and there is no imperative to change them. Things could be done. But there is hardly a better quartet of par-3s on any course and so they stay.
The three par-5s were a different matter as they had developed a silly habit of yielding too many birdies (a classical par-5 disease) and lots of eagles. The 3rd is a handsome devil playing downhill but at 533-yards to an open green it was an easy target. My solution was to create a new, well-bunkered green further back and left. The 5th was even more vulnerable at 480-yards but it moved to a new level with a new tee and a long extension at the back of the green. The 12th is an iconic hole and work there has featured strong bunkering in the dog-leg from the tee and a new greenside bunker.
I hope that my work meets with the approval of Harry Colt. I left his routing alone and most of his greens as I paid tribute to history while helping a great links adjust to the modern championship game. The great links is still recognisable, all in character, but so much more intricate and better.”
The members at County Sligo have a gem of a course to play. It is firstly blessed by being surrounded by beautiful vistas including Drumcliffe Bay, Benbulben, and both the Ox and Darty Mountains. It is hard to say where the best vista is on the course as even the eighteenth is backdropped by the bay, an island, lighthouses, hotels, and the Ox Mountains. However, it is a shame that the caravan park is there as it is very unattractive. It is secondly blessed by the naturalness of its terrain. Finally, it is blessed by having had the team of Colt and Alison transform the course in 1927 following an expansion by Willie Campbell. More recently, Pat Ruddy has tweaked the course with an eye to it being able to remain a stern test for significant Irish amateur competitions.
In my two rounds my friend and I were asked by the two members who joined us, (one a scratch and the other a solid player), which hole we like the most. My response was that there are nine to choose from including 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 16, and 17. This is not to imply that the others are not worthy; indeed my partner quite liked the tenth and fifteenth as well, but these are the holes that truly resonated with me following each round. I would add that I think the sixth is the “sleeper” hole on the course and likely worthy of consideration.
As I think about it a couple of days later, I would call out the fourth as my favorite due to its volcanic front and right side as well as a green that works itself away from you.
The course has a wonderful routing where one will experience downhill shots and uphill shots as well as downwind or into the wind. There are multiple holes that go each direction. I would note that the closest one gets to the clubhouse after the opening tee shot is the third green. After that you are working away from the clubhouse and staying far away with the turn for home beginning at twelve.
There are two critiques I have of the course. The first is the greens are characterized as being flattish. While there are a few slopes and tiers, there are rarely small depressions of micro-humps. My understanding is that the original greens designed by Colt & Alison were considered to be too undulating by the members and were softened in the 1940-1950’s. That is a pity. This does not mean that putting is easy, but it does mean that pace is much more important than the line on most of the holes. One should not have many three putts here. Having said that, the course has some wonderful green surrounds making many of the recovery shots quite interesting with the many options available to recover.
The second critique is that the fifteenth, which is quite lovely, has more recently added smallish dunes beyond the flanking high natural dunes and added fairway bunkers, making the hole feel as though one is playing through dunes. As several of these dunes are man-made, while attractive there are not in character with the rest of the course which is both natural and played atop the ground rather than below it as this is the only hole to really do so. Some might argue the tenth plays between the dunes but from the elevated tee one does not sense the presence of tall mounds as the focus is on driving the ball down the fairway as far as possible. I had a long discussion about the fifteenth with a member of the club and the alternatives discussed including lengthening the hole by 50-65 yards by building a new green. However as most of County Sligo favors a draw, the fifteenth is the rare hole calling for a fade and re-positioning the tee or the green could change the essential character of the hole. It is a difficult decision as the club needs to balance the wishes of all of its members with the desire to continue to present a course with challenge for the top players. I would note that others ten call out the fifteenth as one of their favorite holes. It certainly is memorable.
On the positive side, It is a course that one could play every day and never tire of it. It is also a course that a high index could play while also being a stern test for the higher levels of competition as it is very much a championship layout. It is a course that is very fair; everything is almost always right before you.
The course is 7157 yards from the blue tees and 6574 yards from the white tee which we played. The par 71 course is rated 74.3.
1. This par 4 plays slightly longer than it’s 398/366 yards as the green is perched on higher ground. The fairway is generous. The bunkering is splendid with three fairway bunkers and two on the front of the green. Longer hitters can generally carry the fairway bunkers on the right. The green is quite large, perhaps overly so, with generally a slant to the right. It is an okay starting hole that should increase one’s enthusiasm for the rest of the round.
2. The short par 4 of 323/295 goes straight uphill. There is an early fairway bunker right and one well up the left side. For most players the approach shot is a guess but one must carry the two front bunkers yet judge the distance correctly to not run off the back of the green where a difficult recovery awaits you as the green runs away from you. I liked the hole ever though it is quite the climb.
3. This par 5 offers a splendid view as you are going substantially downhill. There is a sharp falloff beyond which one’s ball should land. A collection of three bunkers awaits on both sides of the fairway. The hole turns left as you cross a road. Two bunkers are spaced short of the green on the right with the green featuring a front left bunker and each side having a middle bunker. There is a fair amount of land movement prior to the green which has a small false front and is relatively small for a hole listed as 588/565. I really liked the hole even if it should be another 30 yards longer for the better player. Environmental restrictions may prevent future lengthening.
4. Par 3 - 179/164. This bunker-less hole features a volcano-like green with a substantial wall of perhaps more than 10 feet at the front and right side. Miss short or right and one feels as if they are in a moat. The miss is to the left side where one can see the flag. Th green is angled to the left making it almost a redan. The green runs away from you but it otherwise flattish. It is a brilliant par 3.
5. Par 5 - 540/489. From a very elevated tee you play to a very wide fairway. Four bunkers are placed in the likely landing zone of each side of the fairway. But one can play short of them and still have a very good chance of birdie or par while longer hitters can try for an eagle. There is a small pot bunker before the green and three cross bunkers fronting the green. Another bunker is on either side near the rear of the long green. The green requires more inner movement than it currently has. After the tee shot here, most of 5 - 8 is on flat ground.
6. Par 4 - 447/400. A three feet deep ditch goes down the entirety of the right side. The fairway is relatively wide with three well-spaced bunkers going down the left side. The green features no bunkers but has a surrounding fall-off and good green surrounds on its left side. The green is angled left. It is a well conceived golf hole.
7. Par 4 - 431/421. The tee box is wedged between the sixth and fourteenth greens. The fairway features two spaced bunkers on the right and one on e left opposite the second right bunker. The key to this hole is the approach to be played over a burn that cuts diagonally left to right in front of the green. There is room to bail out left of the green but one must play short of two deep bunkers on the left rear of the green. Behind the green is a substantial fall-off, almost a ravine where balls can end up on the tall grass on a downhill lie leaving one to recover with a shot that must carry the swale but stop without making it to the burn. The right side of the green is shallow and the fall-off even more severe as well as the mounding. It is a genius green.
8. Par 4 - 484/433. A new tee was added for the better players to this dogleg left. There is a single bunker left and three on the right at the turn. Missing to the right results in playing from lower ground and taller grass. A burn cuts across about 30 yards short of the green. The right side has a natural depression followed by a front right and right side bunker. The left side has a single bunker. I would have liked to see the burn moved closer to the green but it a strong hole as is.
9. Par 3 - 167/152. You climb a hill and are rewarded with a great view of the bay, homes across the bay and Benbulben. This hole features four deep bunkers including a front bunker and two on the left side. The key to the hole is to carry the front bunker as tightly as possible as the green is not receptive to low-struck shots as balls likely will go to the back of the green or off. This is very different to the fourth but is another very fine par 3.
10. Par 4 - 466/402. Both the tee and the green was extended more recently on this downhill par 4 but playing to a green nestled in the right against higher ground. There is one bunker left middle of the green which is well below the green’s surface. My partner loved the hole but I thought it as more visually attractive than compelling as the green is relatively flat.
11. Par 4 - 480/402. The new tee is so far back to the right that one wonders if it is actually part of the course. This hole plays sharply uphill to a canted fairway to the right. There is a fairway bunker on the left more in play for the shorter hitter. At the green are two flanking bunkers on the corner with the right side being deep due to the fall-off of the land. This also creates about an seven feet high wall to the green making the right half more of a plateau. There is good micro-contouring near the green. I loved the green complex and the hole.
12. Par 5 - 531/520. I tried to convince my member host that a tee should be built 50 yards further back and used only in competitions. I do not think it would disrupt play into eleven’s green nor bring the ninth hole into play. It would make the tee shot play as a forced carry over rough to a fairway canted to the right. As it is the club added three spaced bunkers left and there is one on the right for the longer hitters. At these bunkers is where the hole plays slightly left. The entirety of the hole offers lovely views. The hole plays between dunes on the right and tall grasses on either side. A final bunker is on the left of the fairway about 70 yards from the green which rests on lower ground. The green needs more contours.
13. Par 3 - 174/162. This sharp downhill hole plays across an early valley to a green surrounded by five bunkers center right to center rear and the burn cutting down the left side. Much like the tenth I found the hole to be more visually attractive than compelling but I did not have to play to a pin on that right side. The green is tilted but not particularly interesting.
14. Par 4 - 460/432. The back tee is very elevated and offering the most dramatic tee shot on the course, even more so than the third though fifth. The more forward tee is also elevated. The tee shot must be placed between dunes and a bunker left. The right has dunes and a bunker. Bigger hitters will have to also ensure their tee shot does not reach the burn which cuts right to left across the fairway with a jag in the middle. The green is placed on the left angled to the right with a left corner bunker. The green has good contouring in it as well as run-offs. More of the greens at County Sligo should be like this. If some claim this to be the best hole on the course, I would not dispute it as it is stellar.
15. Par 4 - 422/394. The more I think about it, the more I like the fifteenth although I think it should be lengthened for the better players even if the green needs to be relocated. It is a terrific tee shot from the slightly raised tee to a green with a slight false front, three bunkers left, and a nice tilt to it.
16. Par 3 - 210/194. This is a very nice par 3 with a false front comprised of mounds and a bunker front left. Short grass does not appear until near the green. There is an alternative tee box well left of the fifteenth green requiring one to carry the front left bunker but quite honestly I do not think it betters them hole.
17. Par 4 - 470/422. My caddie told me this is the signature hole at County Sligo. You play straight out over mainly flat land until the land falls and has a ten-fifteen yard break of rougher ground. It is at this point that the hole sharply turns right at nearly 90 degrees. Longer players can reach the turn even tumbling down the break to have a clear look at the green. If short of this break or left one will have a blind shot to a green that is about 75 feet above you. At least that was my guess as it felt even higher. A better view of the green is down the right side but it leaves an even longer shot uphill in the vicinity of 210 yards. Landing short of the green will result in one’s ball tumbling back down the steep hill. It is a large green but nestled into higher ground at the back and rear. It is a very good hole.
18. Par 4 - 387/361. The tee shot plays uphill over a valley with a forced carry on this hole which seems to be a dogleg right but is actually pretty straight. I think for competitions the tee should be shared with the tee on the fifth to lengthen the hole by 40 yards. The green is slightly down with an early bunker next to a tall natural mound on the right side which blocks a view of the green. Two deep flanking bunkers are at the middle. There are fall-offs left and at the rear with the rear denim’s a ball as much as 25 yards away leading to a blind recovery shot. It is a fine finishing hole.
I really liked County Sligo for the variety of holes, excellent par 3’s, and the vistas. With a few tweaks such as on the green contours and a few holes that should be further lengthened, this course could rise up in the rankings. When considering the views, it is a wonderful golf course.
Incredibly diverse terrain at County Sligo. The 16th and 17th will be remembered by most who play the course, but there are so many good holes throughout it's tough to have a favorite. The practice green in front of the Clubhouse will easily accommodate 200 golfers. The setting by the Yeats Hotel is fantastic. Hard to imagine anyone disappointed after playing County Sligo.
Played here last week for the 3rd time. This is a course which challenges all of your game. Some of the toughest par 4's are thru the middle of this course. Conditioning was excellent. Anyone could play here and enjoy it.
What a majestic and classy place to play golf. If I could only play one golf course for the rest of my life, I think Rosses point would have to be it. Rosses point gives you everything you could dream of in a golf course. It has the history, as it was founded in 1895. It has the architectural pedigree of being designed by Harry Colt. It has the championship pedigree, hosting the West of Ireland Championship every year, as well as hosting the Irish Amateur and Irish Close multiple times. It has the quirk and nuances of being a 100+ year old course. It has a magnificent piece of land sticking out into Sligo Bay by the estuary. It has a wonderful membership and staff, and finally it has the almost 360 degrees of magnificent views of being a links golf course on a headland with Benbulbin in the background.
I have been lucky enough to play Rosses point a few times, and after the first couple of times I used to worry that if I go back again it may not live up to the fantastic memories of the club. However, I very quickly learned that every time I went back, no matter who I played with, or the weather we played in, my fondness for the course only grew. Rosses Point sticks out from the other classic links courses along the West Coast of Ireland as it does not have the dramatic or towering dunes of a course like Enniscrone or Lahinch. It plays along a much less dramatic piece of land and very artfully flows across the gentle hills that the land provides. Due to the less dramatic land, the course does not beat you up like some of its peers and allows you to play the course and truly enjoy the time you spend with it.
I could wax lyrical about all the holes at Rosses Point, but I while try keep it shorter and to the point.
1. One is the type of opening hole that kills me. It is a dead straight up hill relatively short par 4 that should be an easy opening hole, but for some reason it's absolute straightness gets into my head and I always end up with a bogey.
2. Is a hole I love, mostly because if it was built today, everyone would call it stupid. Its a drivable par 4 straight up a hill, that is so steep you can't see the green, with an OB on the right that almost sticks into the fairway.
5. The tee box at 5 might be one of my favorite places on earth. It sits a top of a deep ridge that runs through the course leaving you gazing blissfully at the rest of the course in front of you, Sligo Bay to the left and Benbulin in the distance. You hit your drive to the fairway far below you and try to get a birdie or maybe an eagle on this short par 5 with an unusually long green.
7. Plays perpendicular to most of the golf course, playing in a west to east fashion. You stand on this tee box staring at a very narrow fairway with deep pot bunkers on either side of the fairway. If you lay up short of the bunkers, you are left with a mid iron into a shallow green with a deep burn running across the front of the green that really wants to take your golf ball.
12. Might be my favorite hole that I have played. You tee off with the bay to your right, playing a slightly up hill tee shot with pot bunkers guarding the left and right side of the fairway. As you walk up the fairway to your ball and reach the top of the hill you are left with one of the most beautiful vistas in golf. You have the bay to your right, directly in front of you and to your left. You play your second shot back down the hill to a green that sticks out on a headland which is beautifully framed by Rosses Point lighthouse directly behind the green. If you can keep your cool with all the beauty around you, aim for the lighthouse and take on this par 5 with your second shot and hope to walk away with a birdie.
13. Is a short down hill par 3 where you hit your tee shot across the corner of the beach to a green that is heavily guarded by bunkers short, left and long, and a burn across the right edge. All of the par 3's at Rosses Point are fantastic, but this is easily my favorite.
14. Is a relatively short par 4 that is just a truly fantastic hole. When you stand on the tee, it seems to be relatively straight forward. You can see one pot bunker on the right of the fairway, and a burn running in front of the green in the distance. What you can't see is that the burn devilishly juts into the landing area of the left hand side of the fairway where you are aiming your ball to stay away from the pot bunker across the fairway.
Lots of people have written about the excellent closing stretch, so I will leave my review here. This is a special piece of land, and a special golf course. Go play it!
Great course. It is very long and challenging. Great holes almost every where. Highlights include 5th tee shot, 10th green, par 3 13th, 14th tee shot and the 17th hole. A must play if in Sligo.
To sample the best of golf on the West Coast of Ireland there are two main choices: southwest to Lahinch, Ballybunion and Waterville or northwest to Donegal GC Murvagh, Enniscrone and the grand old lady at Rosses Point.
To describe the difference between the two alternatives I think of the plain-speaking captain of the first dive boat I went on. When conversation turned to the merits of the most famous dive site in the vicinity, he said: “What’s the fun in waiting around just to see a bunch of idiots filming each others’ butts?” So off we went to another place which was magical...and undisturbed by other boats.
You might not get the seclusion at Rosses Point which you can get at Ballyliffin or Rosapenna, but also not the constantly full booking sheets that is often the reality of high season golf at the top courses in the South West of Ireland.
On our arrival (without a booking, bien sûr) the pro shop assistant asked us if we wanted to start immediately. Somewhat bemused, we agreed. When teeing off, we saw two helicopters landing. Afterwards, we realised that we would probably have spent almost an hour longer on the links if we had not taken his offer. A few years later, I am still grateful for his initiative.
The pro shop assistant did not, however, try very hard to talk us out of our idea to also play the club’s Bomore nine. It would have been a better move to play the Championship course twice on the day, especially as we made a few rookie mistakes during our round.
County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point held the Irish Amateur Open the week prior to my visit and it is understandable why a prestigious venue such as this is deemed worthy of holding a tournament of this ilk.
The real beauty of Sligo, however, is that it has the ability to mix championship brawn with quirkier elements across its more undulating terrain and in the case of the short 4th serves up a truly wondrous and unique golf hole.
Many a visiting golfer may tie in a visit here with Carne and Enniscrone. I’d wholly recommend that strategy as Sligo offers an excellent alternative (breather!) to the big dune golf at the other two venues yet the quality is not compromised in the slightest.
The green complexes at Sligo stand out as being superior to most with large putting surfaces and standout bunkering. At a number of holes the length of the green is so vast that bunkers flank the putting surface often pinching in between a third and two-thirds of the way back - not always fronting the green like you find at many courses.
Excellent use is also made of a couple of ditches running through the property, not least at the marvellous 7th where chasing a right-hand flag is a fool’s errand.
The only arguable blot on the landscape, especially on the exceptional front nine, is the drive at the second hole which is a touch too steep although the skyline green is lovely and quickly makes amends for an uninspiring tee shot.
Indeed the outward half is one of the best nine-holes of golf I have played. And at a push I could go as far as saying the first two-thirds of the course.
Although much lauded the run for home which traces the beach didn’t quite live up to the staggeringly good golf through the first 12 holes in my eyes. There is absolutely nothing to dislike though and there are some very fine holes on these closing six holes – maybe it was the tailwind on the day which meant they didn’t quite play their best?
The standout on the homeward stretch is the remarkable uphill, doglegging 17th which requires some plotting, due to the uncertainty of where fairway meets broken ground, but at 470 yards brute force is also an asset.
In summary this traditional links layout utilizes the natural contours of the landscape to great effect. The end result is a course filled with dramatic undulations, elevated tees, and excellent green sites. Rosses Point is a stylish course, worthy of holding any top amateur championship but it goes a little further than this and delivers some individualistic holes which the travelling golfer will find extremely fulfilling.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
County Sligo is a terrific golf course in a beautiful raised location that slightly defies classification. It starts with gentle then severe elevation change followed by sweeping downhill like Gullane 1/2, gully redan par 3, heroic elevated tee shot like Cruden Bay... And so it goes. Add in elements of Royal Porthcawl for the topography, Castle Stuart in fairness and sight lines, Royal Dornoch for the mid back 9 stretch, a finishing duo with blind shots like the Machrie and you have a must play course. The greens were the best we've seen so far in North West Ireland with fun contours but no buried elephants but tough in the wind, the low lying holes always had interest with properly defined burns, shaved surrounds allowing the running game, the ever present beautiful scenery, changeable weather and the bonkers but fun 17th and it's a course it would be hard to improve. Would love to come back.
Judging from the reviews below, County Sligo divides opinion. Almost everyone agrees that it's a good course, but some feel it falls short of the best. I agree with the latter sentiment, I was slightly underwhelmed.
There's no doubt that it's a good golf course with some very good holes and few weak ones. But having played it in a trip that took in Carne, Enniscrone and Connemara, I came away feeling that Sligo was the least strong of the four. The weather drove my off Connemara, so I'm unable to make a complete comparison there, but for Sligo to be rated above Carne and Enniscrone? I can't see that. The views are stupendous, of course, and the facilities excellent, but for me it added up to a great place to play golf, not quite a great golf course.
For our round at Co Sligo the day started off kind weather-wise, overcast yet with barely any breeze. These somewhat unexpectedly benign conditions lasted for the duration of the front nine, until the clouds let loose and persistent heavy rain dominated the bank nine, albeit, oddly, without the wind ever really picking up beyond a slight breeze.
The first four holes and 5th tee are positioned on and around what more resembles a mountain than a large sand-dune. After the relatively benign par four 1st played to an elevated green, the imposing 2nd hole appears a driveable par four on the scorecard but such is the sharp incline it would take an exceptional drive to find the green protected by three nasty sand traps. One of my favourites was the par five 3rd, the tee-shot a dramatic one back down the mountain to a fairway that has three bunkers on either flank and runs out at a rough covered decline before continuing on a flatter note towards the green, the only drawback (in my view) being the road crossing the fairway before the green. The 4th is the first of a fine set of par threes, the green perched high up on a plateau with anything short or right severely punished. The index 18 5th hole boasts my favourite tee shot on the course, a huge downhill drive to a generous fairway on the flat middle section of the course on what is a very reachable par five with a 45-yard long green, a birdie chance albeit there are eleven bunkers littered along the way to punish any mishaps.
The flat-lands portion of the front nine (5th fairway/green and successive par fours from the 6th-8th) features the sneakily dangerous draw-favouring 6th with a hazard along the right and the very tough 7th, which is complicated by menacing fairway bunkering a treacherous burn running in front and to the right of the green, the hole framed by the dramatic backdrop of the famous Belbulben table top mountain. The approach to the dogleg right 8th was another one of my favourite shots on the course, played over the burn to what is an amphitheatre like setting at the green and a little backstop helping out any slightly over-clubbed shots. The 9th is a lovely par three across the top of the dunes with four bunkers protecting the front half of the green and an absolute no-go fall-off zone on the right side.
The back nine begins with the picturesque par four 10th, again in the direction of Belbulben, featuring particularly lumpy fairway undulations and another huge green. The 11th and 12th run directly back west towards the ocean, the 11th an awkward par four (probably my least favourite hole on the course) with a fairway sloping from left to right and a green guarded by hungry bunkers, one short on the left to catch any bounce-in shots and one short on the right to gobble up any underhit shots veering to the right down the hill. The par five 12th is a decent birdie opportunity before the homeward stretch, played up and over an incline and down the other side of the hill invitingly towards the green and the ocean horizon beyond.
The par three 13th tee is one of the standout scenes on the course, set above and overlooking the beach and the green below, its defences including a burn back right and ‘Lady Captain’s Bunker’ (€1 entrance fee) among the five sand traps. Whilst the final five holes are all played in a southerly direction back towards the clubhouse (13-16 alongside the beach), they offer great variety, starting with Tom Watson’s favourite, the demanding par four 14th that requires a long and accurate tee shot short of the burn that weaves its way across the fairway and an approach to an open, yet sideways sloping putting surface. I could see why Tom likes it, but I myself preferred the par four 15th, framed majestically by dunes on both sides from tee to green and overlooked by the spectacular highland section of the front nine to the left background. The par three 16th is similar to the other short holes in that the tee is above the green level, though slightly less so here, and like the others offers plenty of reward for good tee shots once you find the relatively flat green.
The 17th hole, whilst one of the more memorable holes on the course, may not necessarily be the most enjoyable for some simply because of its difficulty. The landing area from the tee is quite flat and favours the right side to open up the approach to the green, which is a long way up the steep hill and surrounded by dramatic high dunes – bogey here is a not a bad score at all. The 18th is a blind tee shot over the apex of a hill and appears tricky off the tee, but the landing area is forgiving and offers a chance to get close with a short iron for a finishing birdie, although missing the green does leave a difficult up and down.
Pick of the holes:
Par three – 13th
Par fours – 8th, 15th
Par five – 5th