Strandhill is a resort that lies at the western base of Knocknarea – “Moon Mountain” – a 1,000-foot high limestone mass to the southern side of Sligo Bay. An enormous stone structure, 60 yards in diameter and 30 feet high, sits at the top of the mountain. “Maeve’s Cairn” as it is called, is said to be the grave of the mythical Queen Maeve, whose father, the high King of Ireland at the time, presented her with the province of Connacht as a gift many years ago.
Way below, in the shadow of the mountain, sits Strandhill Golf Club, better known perhaps to those who chase the waves as a great surfing location though its fine links golf course also has a fair following amongst those who chase the wee white ball in the Sligo area.
Strandhill Golf Club was formed in 1931 and members played on a 9-hole layout for over forty years until Eddie Hackett extended the course to 18 holes in 1973. Some of the green designs allow for severe undulations which add greatly to the challenge of playing Strandhill.
It is a criticism that the course design is too large for the acreage available and it is true that the 6,243 total yardage of the course takes up just about every square yard of the beautiful sand hills between Strandhill Beach to the north and Culleenamore Strand to the south.
There are four par threes and only one par five on the course – the 530-yard, left doglegged 5th hole, named “The Dunes” which is played to a sunken green. The difficult, 441-yard right doglegged 18th, called “Bustard’s Lodge” is not stroke index 1 for nothing. The tee shot must find the fairway left of the equipment sheds then the approach should be targeted to the back right hand side of the green.
A really enjoyable place to play, beautiful scenery of mountains, sea and massive dunes and lots of fun holes. Noticeably shorter than other Links in the part of Ireland made for a more relaxing game. The course is organised in 2 lips, the front 9 on the outside giving more seaside golf, the back 9 more up and down dunes holes. The greens had been hole tined yesterday but were excellent, the best and quickest so far in the North West. The ninth and tenth were a little flat compared to the rest, and the dune top green on the 15th was terrifically hard to hold. My ball went across the putting surface 5 times before I picked up at the bottom of the hill ! Mostly though the golf was excellent and great fun, featuring elevated tees, blind shots, spectacle bunkers and a bathtub green through a gap in the dunes. Ref the comment that the course feels too big for the property, there were 1 if not 2 holes not in play tucked away in the centre of the dunes, hidden to all but the most wayward drivers. Perfectly placed between Rosses Point and Enniscrone, noone would be disappointed with a game at Strandhill followed by a drink at the friendly, scenic clubhouse where we had the satisfaction of seeing the rain sweep through ten minutes after we'd finished our sunny round.
The Donegal has some truly magnificent courses and although Strandhill is a level below Donegal, Sligo and Enniscrone, (mainly as there a couple of more inland holes which do not have the wow factor that the other holes do) it is a wonderful course and has some holes that would grace any links course such as 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 15, 16. Set on a beautiful bay, Strandhill is definitely worth playing.
The course starts off with a par 4 decending from the clubhouse and nearly hugging the foot of the impressive Knocknarea mountain, it makes its way down to the water of cuillinmore strand. The next few holes play along the stands edge with the par 4 4th being the pick of the opening holes thanks to the three formidable bunkers guarding the green perched up on the hill. Only a crisply stuck approach will get the golfer up onto the green and anything less will result in trouble. The approach shot here is reminicent of the par 3 7th at Carne but possibly even more daunting. Should you avoid the bunkers and find the green, you will be happy for the day.
The tee box on hole 5 is one of the higher parts of the course and the view is terrific. Looking staight ahead you see Knocknarea and to your right across the strand is the picturesque county sligo countryside. Below you the fairway bucks and rolls all the way to the green like atlantic waves on a stormy day. Its completely different to the holes before it and is a joy to play. The 6th and 7th are amazing par 4's. The 6th, a dogleg right, sees the golfer attempt to fade his ball onto a fairway that sits at the foot of a towering sand dune. As you slowly walk towards your ball the green comes in to view and it simply takes your breath away, as the back drop to your approach shot is the atlantic ocean with its crashing waves that makes this area in particular a haven for the sufers of this world. You could never tire of playing this shot. After holeing out on this excellent par 4 you make your way onto a tee box nestled in the dunes where another gem of a par 4 awaits. This one plays dead straight and is a feast for the eyes with the atlantic to the left and the mightly ben bulben mountain staight ahead in the distance. Your tee shot from the elevated tee box eats up a lot of the fairway if properly struck and the approach is mostly a short iron, but nonetheless the subtle ridges on the green can make life difficult.
The next few holes are weaker. Not bad holes by any means but such is the strength that has preceeded it, they are not near the same high standards. You are brought back up to the clubhouse after the 10th and back down again and back up again with the 11th and 12th, all par 4's. Then comes the 13th. You stand on the tee box with a terrific view out to sea straight ahead. Below you, you see a gap between dunes that you need to hit towards before the hole turns almost at a right angle towards a distant and heavily guarded green set at the foot of the dunes with only a small gap available to find the green. Playing this hole for the first time you don't know what you are supposed to do or which way the hole turns (I didnt have a strokesaver) so you end up taking the conservative route and hitting an iron off the tee to the area below. This leaves a very long and very tough approach. Played a second time I would have certainly aimed to the right off the tee box and hit driver. A excellent golf hole, with many ways to play, and your score could be anything.
The 14th follows and is a partially blind shot to a par 3 with a small green. Its not very long but accuracy is paramount here. The 15th is another unique, challenging and beautiful hole thats a dog leg left par 4. Once in the fairway the golfer has to hit to a green thats perched so high, only the blue sky is the backdrop. It's a tough approach that needs far more club than you think. Mine didnt make it and i landed on a flatish area between the fairway and the green. It was a popular landing area judging from the amount of divot marks around my ball. From the green you can see almost every hole on the course. The 16th is a downhill par 4 that plays towards the strand and with it's two tired green is one of the best holes on the course. This hole along with the 6th and 7th is truly world class and the three of them are amoung the best par 4's you will ever play.
The 17th and 18th take the golfer away from the strand and back up to the clubhouse. The 18th in particular is a brute as it is all uphill with a tricky green site. I played Strandhill a day before I played Rosses Point, and undoubtably rosses point is a quality course but strandhill is much more enjoyable.
Ive played many many links courses around Ireland and the strong holes here - 6th,7th and 16th in particular - match up to the best of them anywhere. For sheer enjoyment, wonderfull views and a test of your game you'd be a fool to overlook Strandhill. Living in Dublin i've unfortunatly only had the chance to play this course once but once was all that was needed to make me promise to myself to go back again. PS - apologies for the long review but a course this good deserves nothing less. DF