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Thinking about a trip to Ireland? Let us whet your appetite with a glimpse of the stunning but relatively unknown golf links in the north-west of this beautiful country...

In golfing terms, Ireland’s north west – predominantly counties Sligo and Donegal – has long been overshadowed by the much-vaunted south west and the Dublin area, but this is a part of the country that really has it all: pretty little villages, lively pubs, welcoming country house hotels and golf courses of the highest calibre.

They include championship links beside the wild Atlantic coast with awe-inspiring layouts and views, plus a number of excellent inland tracks, too.

There’s a welcome flip-side to taking the road less travelled, too; the greens fees are a fraction of the cost of the most sought-after courses and obtaining a teetime is rarely a problem. Also, it doesn’t matter which direction your sat nav, takes you around here, there are some mouth-watering combinations to savour.

Head north until the end of the track and you reach the likes of Ballyliffin, Northwest and Rosapenna. There’s plenty of accommodation to choose from, but you can’t beat the Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel and Spa, perched on the rugged County Donegal shoreline. Its cosy rooms, award-winning dining and renowned Rock Crystal Spa provide a warm, welcoming refuge after a day tackling the rugged Ballyliffin links.

Ballyliffin’s original course, the Old Links, is a quirky layout in the dunes with undulating fairways that produce unpredictable bounces. Nick Faldo did a superb job of remodelling the course to give it some sharper teeth and all 18 holes are now challenging and thoroughly entertaining. Its sister track, the Glashedy, opened in 1995 and was designed by Ireland’s premier architect, the irrepressible Pat Ruddy. This formidable feast features huge undulating greens and it has already tested the best amateurs and pros to their limits in several prestigious events.

If you need another reason to visit the area around Ballyliffin, Northwest Golf Club, just 25 minutes away, is it. You’ll be amazed by the quality of this hidden gem, which is wedged between the sea and the towering Mouldy Mountain. Its fast, smooth greens, firm fairways, wispy rough and revetted bunkers make it a joy to play, while the seaside holes provide a dose of visual drama.

If you decide to take in Rosapenna as well, the resort’s hotel, overlooking Sheephaven Bay, is a lovely place to stay and you can be up as early as you like to take on the two cracking links here. Open legend Old Tom Morris laid out the course that bears his name, while over a century later Pat Ruddy built a second track, Sandy Hills, a challenging 7,000-yard beauty.

Head to the bottom half of Ireland’s northwest and you come to Sligo, the vibrant heart of the region with its many enticing pubs and restaurants, live music venues and nightclubs. It also has international standard hotels such as the Radisson BLU Hotel & Spa and Sligo Park, or if you’d prefer something out of town try the lush Mount Falcon Estate near Ballina, where the landscape is matched by lodgings of the finest order.

Many of the best golf courses in the region are within easy reach of Sligo. North of the town are the wonderful windswept tracks at Bundoran and Donegal Golf Club. The latter is a real gem, perched dramatically on an exposed peninsula that unveils incredible sea views. To the west, on the coast, is Sligo Golf Club. This Harry S. Colt design is a well established and immediately impressive layout blessed with some great holes, especially the short 13th where your tee shot must fly a stretch of beach. Strandhill, meanwhile, is another splendid links, located just five miles from Sligo’s town centre.

Next up, a venture west to Enniscrone and Carne, two other beauties that encapsulate the joy of Irish links golf. Carne is tucked away in a remote spot on the coast, but what a spot it is! It’s reputed to be the late Eddie Hackett’s finest creation alongside one of the south west’s most celebrated tracks, Waterville.

Enniscrone, meanwhile, dates back to 1918, but both Hackett and Donald Steel have improved its holes in recent years. Enniscrone’s dramatic dunes are framed by panoramic views of Killala Bay, Bartra Island and the Ox Mountains. It’s a magnificent backdrop that ensures Enniscrone is a course that once played, will never be forgotten… and that’s something you could say about golf in this whole, wonderful destination.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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