Little did supermarket tycoon Jim Treacy realise back in the late 1990s when he established the Castle Hume course in Enniskillen that it would be the starting point for a 10-year, £30 million golf project that would reach a dramatic conclusion with the opening of the Lough Erne course in the summer of 2009.
Think of luxury golf resorts in Ireland with both excellent accommodation and quality courses and the likes of Adare Manor, Mount Juliet, The K Club, Druids Glen and Carton House spring to mind – well, to that illustrious quintet of top notch establishments can now be added Treacy’s new 5-star Lough Erne in County Fermanagh.
Designed by Nick Faldo, the Lough Erne championship course extends to just over 7,000 yards from the back tees and it lies at the heart of an upmarket development in a part of the country more renowned for its angling and water sports than golf.
That perception will change once golfers get to know how good the facilities are at a course that sits on a spectacular site along the shores of Lough Erne – indeed, many seasoned observers anticipate the course will be a future professional tournament venue as it has all the attributes expected of a top European Tour track.
Castle Hume Lough and its many wetland areas come into play at most of the holes here so accuracy around the course is absolutely essential in order to score well. A good short game will also help at the handful of par threes on the scorecard, the last of which is played at the final hole, “Cygnets Rest,” where the home green is a welcome refuge for tee shots that avoid sand to the left and water to the right.
A couple of short par fours really catch the eye. The 2nd hole, “Forest Drive,” doglegs right from the edge of the Lough and the 351-yard 10th sweeps to a green jutting out into the water. A pair of par fives are also worthy of special mention. The first, the 637-yard 9th is a strategic three-shotter that plays to a narrow, angled green and the other is the 16th, “Faldo Turn,” which enjoys views over the estate that are simply stunning.
The competitive side of Lough Erne was initiated by a charity match in July 2009 between Ireland’s two leading golfers, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy, when they played an 18-hole stroke play head-to-head match billed as “The Duel on the Lough.” Young Rory edged out 2-time Open Champion Padraig by two shots to claim the specially commissioned Belleek Trophy for the first time.
For me one of the stand-out holes is the 10th. Not a long par four but in this day an age of advancing technology it’s a perfect example of risk and reward as you decide whether to take on the green that clings to the edge of the lough or play it in regulation. So many other holes could be mentioned; the long par-five ninth up the to halfway house, the 16th which begins the stunning homeward run alongside the inner Castle Hume Lough with tees and greens cleverly jettisoned to offer maximum impact, both visually and playability. With so many tee box variations this is a course that can and does suit all golfing standards, from the ordinary club golfer to the Rory McIlroy’s of this world. If there is criticism it is minor. The tee box markers should be more clearly defined and perhaps authentic wooden illustrations of each hole placed on tees to assist visitors who play there for the first time. On reflection I was left with a singular curious thought – have I just played a future Irish Open venue? Would make for one hell of a venue if it proves so.
It would be very easy to write about every hole but I’ll only pick my real favourites from here. The par-5 9th needs an exact approach before moving to the pretty par-4 10th (after a stop at the sumptuous half-way hut). This 10th is drivable no doubt about that but is it worth the risk as the green sits well into the Lough – decisions decisions. Depending on the wind, the par-4th 11th can vary from a really long approach to something around 150 yards and it is a lovely looking view to the green (surely no-one could hole out from there!!). The view from the 16th tee is worth getting the camera out for and what an inviting drive…this is my choice of best par-5 on the course. The 18th is a fairly lengthy par-3 and although the par-3 finish to courses raises a few eyebrows, this works pretty well. Lough Erne is in its infancy but is well worth a visit, this will be on my agenda annually now – I just wonder how long it will be before I can give it the full 6-ball rating? (A couple of years from now I would guess). I defy anyone not to have a great experience on and off the course at Lough Erne.