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|The par-4 12th kicks off a fabulous stretch in dunes at County Louth Golf Club. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)|
COUNTY LOUTH, Ireland -- County Louth Golf Club is among the rare courses in the world that can pass judgment on the scorecards of the pros, yet still forgive the sins of the higher handicaps.
Subtle greens and wide playing corridors through the dunes, coupled with a program to cut back the rough in recent years, keep this stunning 7,031-yard links course playable.
"It is a super golf course," said Michael Delaney, the club's secretary manager. "It is very user friendly. It doesn't matter your handicap. It has something for everybody. If you play well, you are rewarded. If you play badly, you won't be killed. You won't go home on your knees."
County Louth, called "Baltray" by the locals, was established in 1892 at the mouth of the River Boyne near Drogheda north of Dublin. It wasn't until 1938 that architect Tom Simpson perfected one of the top 10 golf courses in Ireland. Baltray lacks continuous seaside views but makes up for it with a strong personality.
Tinkering by architect Donald Steele in 1983 and Tom MacKenzie in 2003-04 has left Baltray with three par 5s on the front nine. Eagle is possible at the short par-5 second from the green or white tees. The par-5 third requires a blind shot to a green behind a ridge. The fine dunes come to a head at Nos. 12-15. The new 18th by MacKenzie stretches to 559 yards for the pros.
The course relinquished some surprise winners at the 2004 and 2009 Irish Opens -- Brad Rumford (2004) and amateur Shane Lowry (2009). Nobody, however, was surprised by how well it held up to the modern game. Australians Nick O'Hern and Peter Leonard, two European Tour veterans, shot course-record 64s, but Delaney said no one "ran amok" by winning the tournament with a super low score.
Gary Murphy, an Irish European Tour pro from Drogheda, praised Baltray as "a true links." He calls it a "historic place."
"Baltray is famous for being kind to amateurs, but it's very demanding off the back tees," Murphy said. " … From a tourist point of view, it is the East Coast Ballybunion. Stewart Cink played here before he won the British Open (in 2009). It is steeped in tradition. The course matches up with any."
Murphy loves its par 3s. Only one of the four, the 207-yard 17th, plays longer than 175 yards from the tips. He said he normally uses a pitching wedge to the 167-yard 15th hole. At the 2009 Irish Open, he needed 3-iron to reach the green tucked delicately into a dune.
"It probably has the best set of par 3s on a links in Ireland," he said. "They go against the grain of modern golf (with their lack of length). They are designed for the elements."
County Louth Golf Club is my favorite of all the Dublin links. It has enough inspiring dunes to rival The Island Golf Club. Best of all, recovery shots not available at other links are possible here. It's not hard to play several rounds at Baltray without losing a single ball, a rarity in links golf.
After a round, guests don't even have to leave. The clubhouse, a former hotel built in 1928, features 12 bedrooms above the pro shop, locker rooms and a restaurant/bar. If you're looking for something more from your accommodations, the d hotel, located on the River Boyne four miles away, overlooks the historic town centre of Drogheda. The four-star hotel, with 104 rooms, forms part of the redevelopment and rejuvenation of the river's south bank. The rooms, restaurant and bar are slick and contemporary.
October 7, 2011
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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