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|Nick Faldo finally completed a three-year redesign of Ballyliffin's Old Course in the summer of 2006. (Courtesy www.ballyliffingolfclub.com)|
There are stretches of Ireland's rocky, windswept northwest coast that feel like world's end: cut off, isolated by cliff and crag, a place to go and disappear.
Just don't forget your clubs.
Golfers traveling to Ireland usually head southwest for a shot at one of the ranked courses, like Ballybunion or Lahinch. That leaves the country's northwest largely undiscovered - good news for those seeking the challenging terrain of classic links golf without the crowds.
"The region is largely overlooked, for one reason or another," says John Snelling, director of Eire Golf Tours. "This in no way reflects on what the area has to offer."
The postcard fishing villages, country pubs and empty roads of counties Mayo, Sligo and Donegal complement more than 20 tracks, any three of which can be played for the price of one round at famed Old Head.
Here are some not to miss.
County Sligo Golf Club:People who know often point golfers to County Sligo GC and its Harry S. Colt-designed course, one of the northwest's oldest (built in 1927) and finest tracks.
Located in Rosses Point, Sligo boasts what is widely considered one of the best par 4s in the country. But getting to that celebrated 17th is no picnic.
The course greets you with two stern uphill par 4s and a 457-yard par 5. Not long as par 5s go, but on windy days - and this is the northwest, after all - it plays like a carry over the English Channel.
That's just for starters. Sligo actually saves it best for the home push. How about a tee shot (on the par-3 13th) that must clear the beach below?
Five holes run along the Atlantic, and the ocean is visible at some point on most others.
Enniscrone Golf Club: Another County Sligo layout, Enniscrone has what Snelling calls "the best nine holes in the world" on the back half of its championship course, the Dunes.
Enniscrone offers 36 holes, the 6,372-yard Dunes and its baby brother, the Scurmore course, a wee 4,680 yards of bother. Warm up on Scurmore. Pray on Dunes.
As the name suggests, this Eddie Hacket-Donald Steele collaboration winds among dozens of sand mounds along a cliff line that spills down into Killala Bay. Fairways are replete with doglegs, the greens nurtured in the wombs of hazards: dunes, bunkers, heather rough.
The Dunes dates to 1974 but got a facelift in 2001 that resulted in six completely renovated holes, all but a few running along the ocean.
The bunkers, a past weakness on the otherwise challenging 6,600-yard course, have been redesigned and strategically placed, giving the course an element it lacked before. There are new oceanside tees and a brand-new hole, the 523-yeard par-5 14th, which runs along a jagged palisade.
But locals will tell you that The Hole at Ballyliffin is the par-3 seventh at the But The Hole, as many call it, remains: The par-3 seventh at the Old Course's sister track, 7,217-yard Glashedy. You play from an elevated tee (really the top of a barrier dune) down to a green guarded well on three sides by bunkers and a fourth by Loch na nDeor.
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Finding a golf course to play in the Sarasota/Bradenton area 45 miles south of Tampa is easy. World-ranked beaches, European-style boutique shopping and al fresco dining, and a fantastic circus museum are just a few of the choices available for off-course entertainment.
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