Rathsallagh House is a 31-bed country house – converted from stables in 1798 – that sits in 530 acres of parkland in Dunlavin, County Wicklow. In the early 1990s, the owners commissioned Christy O’Connor Jnr and Peter McEvoy to construct a golf course on the estate and this opened for play in 1994.
Rathsallagh is a long, demanding course routed over gently rolling terrain with a number of burns, ditches and ponds to bring water into play at several holes. Mature trees flank most fairways, the construction and positioning of bunkers around greens is quite exceptional and the putting surfaces have been built to USGA specification.
The overall yardage from the back tees can reach 7,200 yards so it is perhaps no surprise to learn that the standard scratch score is two more than the par of 72 – as good an indication as any to the difficulty of scoring well at Rathsallagh!
A feature hole on the front nine is the 8th, a right doglegged 382-yard par four, where a blind tee shot is played with water all the way down the right. The second shot must be accurate as the narrow green has protection from a pond and large bunker to the front and a stream to the right which winds its way round the back – easily one of the most challenging holes to be played on any golf course.
The favourite of many on the back nine is the 536-yard par five double doglegged 16th where the intimidating view from the tee to a fairway with ditches and bunkers may make the completion of the hole in par seem a distant prospect. However, two well-placed shots will leave an approach that could well result in at least a par on the scorecard – something that may have looked rather forlorn from the tee.
In 2014, the Rathsallagh golf course closed and was floated on the open market. For some time it was feared that the property would be sold to farmers and returned to agriculture, but in September 2015 a local Co. Wicklow golf investor ruined agricultural interest and bought the 274-acre Rathsallagh Golf Club for more than €1.5m.
The golf course reopened in June 2016, and since then the layout has been reconfigured so that play now starts and finishes in front of the clubhouse. Additionally the course has been partially re-routed and a new "signature" par three (#11) has been built in the woods between the old 1st and 2nd holes. Hats off to the new owner who has breathed new life into Rathsallagh.
Rathsallagh Golf Club is located right on the boarder of Wicklow and Kildare, just outside the sleepy one horse town of Dunlavin and only 45 minutes from the suburbs of Dublin. The course, which is only 15 years old was laid out amidst the rolling terrain of a 600 acre country estate, The estate is also home to one of Irelands must see hospitality experiences, Rathsalagh country house Hotel, run to the highest standars by the O'Flynn family with a unique personal touch. I would throroughly recommend it as part of the Rathsallagh experience.
As you enter the club,you drive along the long entrance driveway and as you descend down the hill you are greeted with one of the most stunning vistas in all of Irish Golf. Before your eyes sits the beautiful homely clubhouse which overlooks holes 10 and 18, with the land cascading downhill towards the water and the fairways flanked by beautiful mature trees, it is easy to be taken aback before you even tee it up.
One thing you will always receive is a warm welcome, although the perception of Rathsallagh is that its membership is snobby, this couldn't be further from the truth and one thing I always hear said of Rathsallagh is that one is immeaditley made to feel at home. One friend of mine one said when you drive into one of Kildare's most exclusive clubs the whole place gives the impression of **** off, Rathsallagh screams welcome! Exceptional practice facilities, which are home to one of European Golf's most respected instructors, Brendan McDaid, give the player no excuses for pre round rustiness.
But enough of the pleasantries, this is a course review, but as you can see, the quality of every aspect at Rathsallagh can easily lead you astray. I have always thought of Rathsallagh as having as strong a collection of 18 holes one could find. The Course open with a gentle par 5, my favourite way to begin a round, as it eases the player into his rythm, however when I reached the second tee I found that the easing was well and truly over. The second is one of strongest par 4's I have ever played, playing from the tips the golfer is presented with a large fairway and can see the fairway swing to the right. However here in lies the danger,playing 450 yards one would think that the shortest and smartest way to play the hole would be to kpeep ones tee shot as tight to the dogleg as possible but in reality, given that the green has both a narrowing opening and is guarded on both sides by deep traps along drive down the centre provides the best angle of attack.
The fourth is an excellent par 3 which I am sure has wrecked the card of many given the danger that lurks for anything but the best of strikes. The stretch of holes 6 through 10 is what many consider to be one of the toughest stetches on the east coast. It starts with a terrific par 5 which presents the golfer with tempatation from the outset. A drain snakes down the right side almost splitting thevery wide fairway in two and down the left a den se oak forest. The green, a humpy Peter McEvoy special, guarded b two large lakes and bukers short, miss long and you face a treeacherous chip back down the slick green miss short and its time for the armbands and goggles. A genuine birdie opportunity but 7/8 is not an uncommon score. 7 plays across a pond to a green which is set against a backdrop of tall pines and beautiful mature trees. 8 is a superb short par 4. The hole plays out straight then turns 90 degrees forcing the golfer to deal with water long and short, a deep bunker and a narrow green that has some tricky hole locations. The 9th is a strong uphill right to left par 4, requiring an eaxcting iron to a sharply sloping two tiered green.
However what awaits on the 10th is one of the best par 4's I have ever played. One has now climbed uphill and has a clear picture of what lies ahead. The hole measures 470 yards(par4) and trouble lurks at every turn. From the tee one must find the fairway, a pulled shot will end up wet or in long rough while s push rules out the possibilty of reaching in two. The safe way to play the hole is playing a 3 wood taking most of the trouble out of play, but this leaves a shot of close to 200 yards to an enormous green. A 150 ditch of Oak trees with a ditch below guards the left while right a huge lake and beyone that deep rough once again strike fear into the golfer, 5 is not a bad score here. One or two over par for this stretch is not a poor score at all.
The feeling of isolation at Rathsallagh, due to the fact the course is laid out right across the whole estate is something I have only experienced at a couple of other courses (Pine Valley and Killeen Castle spring to mind) This undeniably Peter Mcevoy's best design, but I supopose it was an exceptional picece of land. Little or no earth moving was done, is it possible to call this a "minimalist new style parkland". The back nine contains some quality holes most notably the downhill par 3 13th and the par 4 fifteenth and the double dog leg sixteenth. The 181h at Rathsallagh alongside the 18th at the European Club is the most difficult finishing hole in Ireland. 450 yards, uphill, OB left, trouble right and a semi blind approach to a 4 tiered green sloping back to front, a memebr once told me that only a handful of memebrs can reach the hole in two on a consistent basis.
As you can tell from my review I love Rathsallagh, I love everything it stands for the atmosphere, the ambience, the experience the golf course. I feel this place probably has the most potential of any course in the whole country. Comparing it to its rivals it's more natural than the K Club (both courses) a better layout than Powerscourt, the Heritage and Palmerstown House, Possess more features and enoyment than at both courses at Carton House Combined and more personality than Killeen Castle or Bunclody. Peoples criticisms of Rathsallagh stem from its conditiong and I would admit its is something that can be improved upon, fairways in particular. But we have also become too hung up on pristine presentation, tees and greens are where this is most important and at Rathsallagh they are exemplary. I am unsure as to how this course has escaped the real public eye, if I had the choice to be a member of any of the above clubs, Rathsallagh would be my choice every time. Now that the Irish Open has no venue for 2011 or no sponsor, here is an opportunity for some idealist to make a name for himself, Rathsallagh Irish Open 2011? The birth of a superstar awaits. Nick