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