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Ireland's northwest coast challenges adventurous golfers

Jeffrey WhiteBy Jeffrey White,
Nick Faldo - Ballyliffin Golf Club
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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.

Ballyliffin Golf Club: Built in 1947, Ballyliffin owes much to Nick Faldo, who finally completed a three-year redesign and renovation of the Old Course in the summer of 2006.

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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The Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Ireland golf

    frank Mason wrote on: May 2, 2007

    Just got back from 10 days of golf in NW Ireland, Played the following courses. Rosapenna Sand Hills links,Portsalon golf club, Bundoran Golf Club,Donegal golf,Narin and Portnoo Golf,County Sligo golf,Connemara,Carin golf and Lahinch.
    All of these courses are great Links courses. I would rate Rosapenna Sandy Hills and Carn as my favorites. Prices for these courses were from 40 to 70 euros, except Lahinch at 150 euros. For the money Lahinch is over rated and I would not play it again. Go to the northern courses for the best value.


      • RE: Ireland golf

        Ryan wrote on: May 5, 2009

        What about Ballyliffin? This is the actual highest ranked course in the NW region, and is also the highest ranked 36 complex in Ireland. The others are great tracks but ballyliffin is way ahead in terms of quality.


      • RE: Ireland golf

        Dermot O'Regan wrote on: Jul 18, 2007

        What a pity you missed out on Enniscrone ! !


      • RE: Ireland golf

        rick Rappaport wrote on: May 30, 2007

        Thank you for your assessment.
        Did you play the Rosapenna Old Links?
        If you could play only one: Portsalon or Portnoo
        which would it be?
        Thank you.