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The North and West Coast Links of Ireland

21 April, 2016
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The North and West Coast Links of Ireland

Welcome to Golf along the Wild Atlantic Way

The seventh edition of the North & West Coast Links Challenge took place last week in the north west of Ireland, with journalists from the European Golf and Travel Media Association participating in what is now an almost permanent annual fixture in their busy golfing calendar.

Organised by EGTMA Gold Media Partner North & West Coast Links Ireland, the event was held twelve months ago across six world-class links layouts – Ardglass, Portstewart (Strand), Royal Portrush (Dunluce), Castlerock (Mussenden), Ballyliffin (Glashedy) and Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) – in the northern section of the alliance.

This year, it was the turn of courses in the southern half of this golfing partnership to share the limelight and so the 2016 promotional tour started out in County Donegal, progressed through County Sligo and County Mayo, before ending up in County Galway.

On the eve of the tournament, delegates assembled at Harvey’s Point, a hostelry of outstanding repute that was established by the Gysling family more than twenty years ago. Located in a stunning natural setting alongside Lough Eske, this beautiful hotel is a really special place to escape to and an ideal base for golf groups visiting any of the dozen or so golf courses in County Donegal and beyond.

First course on the itinerary was the links on the Murvagh peninsula, laid out on land leased from the Forestry Department by the golf club at Donegal. Eddie Hackett fashioned the original 18-hole layout on this site in the early 1970s and Pat Ruddy significantly modified the course twenty years later, forming the formidable test that it is nowadays. It may lack the visual drama of courses set among high dunes but it’s as solid a links test as you’ll find anywhere.

Base camp for EGTMA members was then transferred to Ballina, where Mount Falcon became the group’s next “home from home” for a couple of nights. The 100-acre woodland estate offers both hotel and lodge accommodation and it’s the perfect place to stay when golfing in either County Sligo or County Mayo. There’s even a 2-mile stretch of the River Moy within the estate for wild Atlantic salmon fishing if you’re keen to take a break from the golf for a few hours.

The 18-hole Dunes course at Enniscronein County Sligo was next up on the schedule and this modern links layout has hovered just outside the Irish Top 10 since 2008. Another Eddie Hackett track from the early 1970s, it was redesigned by Donald Steel then Martin Ebert at the start of the new millennium and a number of its opening and closing holes are now routed through towering dunes, with fairways pitching and rolling through the coastal landscape in spectacular style.

Golfers who play Enniscrone for the first time and think the sand hills are somewhat substantial are in for an even bigger surprise on arrival at Carne, which was the third venue on this year’s Challenge tour. Set within a colossal dune system, the original 18-hole course is yet another Eddie Hackett design that debuted in 1993, and the club has recently unveiled a thrilling 9-hole course called the Kilmore, marking Belmullet out as one of the best 27-hole destinations in all of Ireland.

It was then time to hit the road and head for County Galway and an overnight stay at the Connemara Sands boutique hotel, situated next to the beach at Mannin Bay, outside Ballyconneely. This comfortable hotel has recently re-opened after an extensive refurbishment and its eighteen well-appointed guest rooms are a welcome refuge after a day’s golfing out in the wild, untamed local countryside.

Day four of the trip began with a short ten-minute drive to the Championship course at Connemara. Designed once again by the prodigious Eddie Hackett when he was at his prolific best in the early 1970s, the 18-hole course has since been complemented with an additional nine holes but Connemara is all about the wonderful Championship course, described by one recent reviewer as “one of the best and most natural links courses in Ireland”.

The last night of the tour was spent in the leafy suburbs of Galway at the Ardilaun Hotel in Taylors Hill. Nowadays, this hotel comprises 123 modern ensuite guestrooms but it started out a little more modestly half a century ago when the Ryan family bought the original Glenarde townhouse and surrounding five acres, converting it into the original 18-bedroom hotel which opened on St Patricks Day 1962.

Next morning, it was on to nearby Galway Bay Golf Resort for the final leg of the 2016 north and west golf trail. Christy O’Connor Jnr designed the course here – described as “parkland by the sea” – and it’s routed across the rolling landscape of a massive 300-acre estate just outside the city in Rinville, Oranmore. Costantino Rocca won the West of Ireland Classic here in 1999 and the clubhouse has just undergone a major refurbishment.

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to everyone and board the Spirit of Ireland Executive Travel coach for the cross country drive to Dublin airport, where the two and half hour journey east allowed EGTMA members the immediate opportunity to reflect on the week’s proceedings before catching their respective flights to their home country.

Much the same as last year, at the end of the 2015 North & West Coast Links Challenge, many will look back fondly at the places they visited, the accommodation they stayed in and the golf courses they played but, above all else, they’ll remember with great affection the people they’ve met along the way and that’s because Ireland does hospitality like no other place on earth, especially with visiting golfers.

Jim McCann
Editor
Top 100 Golf Courses

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