The North and West Coast Links of Ireland
Where golf and hospitality go hand in hand…
For almost a decade now, the European Golf and Travel Media Association has sent journalists on organised golf trips to the north and west of Ireland, allowing its members the chance to discover the largely unheralded links courses which are laid out around the coastline in that particular part of the Emerald Isle.
These visits have been arranged through EGTMA Gold Media Partner North & West Coast Links Ireland and last year’s itinerary – the fifth trip organised since 2006 – saw delegates experience the glorious links golf on offer at Carne, Connemara, County Sligo, Enniscrone, Donegal and Narin & Portnoo.
This year, it was the turn of another six clubs in the North & West Coast Links alliance to come under the spotlight and so the 2015 promotional tour began in County Down, moved through County Antrim and Londonderry in Northern Ireland before concluding in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.
Ardglass was the first port of call, where the cliff top course occupies a narrow stretch of coastal terrain just outside the little fishing port. Architect David Jones modified the layout in the late 1990s, replacing three holes with a new loop at the furthest point from the clubhouse, and this sporty new configuration has helped propel the course into the Top 10 of the Northern Ireland national chart.
After a comfortable night at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in nearby Newcastle, it was time to tackle the 18-hole Strand layout at Portstewart Golf Club. The course came to prominence in the late 1980s when several new fairways were routed through the towering sand dunes in an area known as “Thirsty Hollow” and these holes now contribute to one of the most exhilarating front nines in Irish golf.
Fortified by a full traditional Irish breakfast in The Bushmills Inn boutique hotel the next morning, it was on to the Harry Colt-designed Dunluce layout at Royal Portrush Golf Club. The course has recently been chosen by the R&A to host the Open for a second time and in preparation for this major event the club plans to discard holes 17 and 18, replacing them with two new holes that will be constructed on land where the adjacent Valley course lies.
Day four of the trip and the 18-hole Mussenden course at Castlerock Golf Club was next on the golfing agenda. Designed by Ben Sayers, the course has been in use for over a hundred years now. It may be somewhat overshadowed by the neighbouring Portstewart and Portrush courses but it’s a very good links layout in its own right which is generously supported by the 9-hole Bann course, a bunker-free little track that weaves in and out of an adjacent sand dune system.
Having spent the first part of the tour in Northern Ireland, the golfing caravan then crossed the border into the Republic of Ireland, establishing an overnight base camp at the congenial Ballyliffin Lodge in County Donegal. Suitably refreshed after a relaxing overnight stay, it was time to take on the Glashedy course at Ballyliffin Golf Club the next morning. Currently the county’s number one course, this terrific links also lies within the Top 10 of the Irish national ranking chart. Along with the Old course, the Glashedy provides golfers with one of the best 36-hole facilities in all of the country.
All too soon, it was time to move on to Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Lodge for the penultimate overnight stay, before playing the Sandy Hills course the next morning. A renowned tough track which was originally set out by Pat Ruddy, it has been softened to a certain extent in recent times by American architect Beau Welling, who has remodelled several of the holes. Set amongst heaving sand dunes next to the Old Tom Morris Links, Sandy Hills is at the heart of a very impressive 45-hole golf complex.
At last, with all the courses on the itinerary played, the last destination of the north and west golf trail was McGrory’s of Culdaff and a final dinner hosted by Failte Ireland (a similar meal had been arranged three nights earlier by Tourism Northern Ireland in the Bushmills Inn) where a cheque – consisting of the week’s golf prize fund – was presented to the First Tee Ireland junior golf program.
Following another very late night, it was onto the Spirit of Ireland Executive Travel coaches early the next morning for onward transportation to Dublin airport. The three and a half-hour journey south to the capital afforded a little time to reflect on the quality of golf courses played during the week and, more importantly, it also allowed sufficient time to relive a few of the personal exchanges with the many people that had been encountered along the way.
Truth be told, it’s in that department where Ireland really outperforms any of its golfing competitors because it has the natural ability to combine golf with hospitality in a totally effortless manner. The weather might not always be the very best and there might be one or two other minor things to gripe about but for many golfers who’ve been around a bit, there’s still no finer place to play the game.Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses
27 April 2015 Respond to this article