Strandhill Golf Club is a links course that often lives in the shadow of its GB&I Top 100 near neighbour, County Sligo, and that is doing it a real disservice because this befuddling good golf course delivers with a bang and offers great value at the same time.
There is an eclectic mix of holes at Strandhill which continually keeps the golfer on his toes. Some provide championship-esque style golf whilst others are quite bizarre – but in a good way – with the rest lying somewhere in the middle. There’s never a dull moment golfing here along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The hotchpotch style is the result of a varied landscape and the course expanding with new holes being added over the years. Ultimately this enhances the experience considerably. The course sits on a small site but plays big, or at least it did in the four-club wind I encountered on my visit!
After an awkward opening tee shot we trace the beautiful coastline of Cullenamore Beach for a few holes under the gaze of Knocknarea, a clear-cut limestone mountain, where we discover some excellent green complexes and a bold-as-brass one at the fourth where we must fire up to a green plateaued into a large sand dune; anything short and your ball will roll back maybe 40 meters. The fourth isn’t a great hole but it’s black and white with no grey area and often holes like this work very well.
There is talk on the club website of extending into duneland behind the fourth green to add a couple of new holes which may alter the existing fourth and also enable to club to lose some of their weaker holes in a complete re-routing of the links.
We then embark on a run of holes that offers everything. The 5th and 6th are preposterously good. The bubbling fairway of the former – a par five - is a sight to behold and a joy to play, however, the angled drive from an elevated tee at this hole is also highly strategic and the basin green is a satisfying conclusion to a glorious hole which encourages bravery and shotmaking but also most likely requires the golfer to have a good sense of humour as things could potentially go wrong… through no fault of their own!
And then Strandhill delivers one of the best holes on the island of Ireland. The 6th is a thing of true beauty. The par-four sweeps to the right through dunes to a churning fairway that gradually reveals itself before the glorious view of the infinity green complex appears and becomes fully visible. A pair of greenside bunkers down the left ensure an approach from the tighter right side is preferred on a hole that is truly all-world. Simple strategy and visuals work in tandem here to create a real beauty. I haven’t been as blown away by a hole since playing Portrush last year. I have a feeling the original hole may have played from the other side of the fifth green as you can make out an old fairway but whoever moved the tee closer towards the clubhouse has pulled off a masterstroke.
The 7th – where everything is on display - and the 8th – where very little is – continue our enjoyment factor of Strandhill where the line of quirk and quality is perfectly trodden.
The 9th, 10th and 11th – all played on the inland perimeter side and the ugliest part of the course do not quite live up to the rasping golf we have encounter thus far but all hold merit and provide lots of strategy.
The next four holes rank amongst the most enjoyable, fun and quirky stretches of golf I’ve played. Because of their unique nature describing this quartet of maverick holes is not easy but as you play round, over and through this amazing part of the property your spirit is lifted with the golf you get to play.
The highlight of this sequence is undeniably the wacky and genius 13th. Here you have several options from a high tee box in order to find a mostly hidden, serpentine fairway which meanders down like a ribbon through the largest of the dunes before you hit to a tiny dell green almost entirely surrounded by more dunes with just a small cut in the hills to give you a glimpse of the flag. It could be said that it is not a great hole, a potentially maddening one, but it is unorthodox holes like these which etch themselves into your memory bank. It’s an utterly amazing and original hole; a puzzle which must be solved.
The final three holes are played over less enthralling land but do not disappoint as a finale to the round.
At just 5,804 meters from the tips it could be argued that the par-70 course is too short to provide truly great golf and although I would perhaps agree that a wind is beneficial to see Strandhill at its best there is no denying that for a large part great golf is exactly what Strandhill delivers.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Date: June 20, 2019