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The Atlantic Links Challenge - and the West of Ireland

25 July, 2014

Chris Murphy

The Atlantic Links Challenge is a competition played over three wonderful links golf courses in the West of Ireland during July. All the courses are on the Wild Atlantic Way ( Sli an Atlantaigh Fhiain ) which runs from Cork, through Galway, and up to County Mayo, it is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world.

County Sligo Golf Club
County Sligo Golf Club

The West of Ireland is rugged, stunning, romantic, inspiring, and a true adventure. It is the sort of place that it really does not matter if you get lost along one of its winding roads, nor does it matter how long it takes you to get your next stop. As you look out and take in the immense natural beauty which lurks around every bend you forget why you have ever been in a rush, you just want it to go on and on.

Enniscrone, Carne, and County Sligo are the three courses that host the event, each is different but they are all fantastic and provide their own tests and challenges. If you are a lover of links golf then there is no better place in the anywhere to visit and play, I myself have never looked forward to a golf trip more than this one.

We had our first round at Enniscrone Championship Golf Links. Being media coming over to play in and cover the event we did not expect to be part of the main competition, we found out on the first tee however we were, so I made my way back to the putting green for a couple more three putts.

View of the 16th at Enniscrone Golf Club
View of the 16th at Enniscrone Golf Club

Founded in 1918, Enniscrone Golf Club is located in County Sligo, next to the beautiful seaside town of Enniscrone. As if the course itself was not good enough while you play around the links you are treated to breathtaking views of Killala Bay, Bartra Island, miles of sandy beaches, with Nephin and the Ox Mountains as your backdrop.

What makes Enniscrown really special is the fact that the course is built through and round some of the largest dunes in Ireland, and this makes for some spectacular holes. It is a classic links in the sense that the front nine heads away from the clubhouse and the back nine back towards it. The last four holes are the most dramatic, running alongside the Atlantic Ocean with Enniscrown's giant dunes on your right.

14th at Enniscrone
14th at Enniscrone

Usually being played into the prevailing wind they are also the most testing, the long par five 16 th is followed by the short but treacherous par three 17 th , which can play anything from a 9 iron to a 3 wood depending on the wind. The tee is also the high point of the course and the views you get from up there are unbelievable, make sure you take a camera.

Enniscrone is a serious test of golf, often a venue for Ireland's top amateur events. If your golf is not going so well however you can still enjoy it just as much, you are on one of Ireland's most beautiful coastlines.

The Atlantic Links Challenge consists of three rounds over three consecutive days, and players rotate around each course. The competition is stableford with full handicap, and the best two scores from each hole count from a team of three. I don't need to give you all our scores but just say the media teams did not worry the leaders too much.

Next we made our way to Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point for the second round. Located in the picturesque seaside village of Rosses Point and around 8 km from Sligo known locally as 'The Point', this links course is considered one of the best in Ireland.

10th Green at Sligo
10th Green at Sligo

View of the beach and wild Atlantic at Sligo
View of the beach and wild Atlantic at Sligo

Par 5 5th tee at Sligo
Par 5 5th tee at Sligo

Sligo is home to the famous West of Ireland Open amateur championship played every Easter since 1923, it has also hosted many other prestigious events including the Home Internationals, the Irish Close, and the Irish Professional Matchplay Championship.

Sligo is a beautiful beast of a course, it is truly stunning however it is a serious test of golf, Rosses Point has some of the most spectacular views you can find anywhere in Ireland. The beautiful mountains in the background, the wild Atlantic Ocean running all the way down the side of the course, and the picturesque countryside all around combine to make one of the most memorable rounds you will ever play.

The 10th tee at Sligo
The 10th tee at Sligo

What you will find is the level of difficulty of the course changes with the diverse weather conditions experienced at 'The Point'. When we played our second round of the competition I can safely say the difficulty level was high. The wind got up and it was very tough playing into it, some of the par 4's where unreachable.

This does not take anything away from your enjoyment of the course. Links golf is Links golf and sometimes the conditions will be tough, but that is the fun. To give you an idea I shot 10 shots more at Sligo than at Enniscrone but I feel like I played just as well.

It's around the turn when the course really gets spectacular, from the 9 th to the 15 th the views of the mountains and ocean are out of this world. The 12 th is a long par 5 down to the bottom of the point and this is the moment I knew I was somewhere very special. It is a course very similar to Turnberry in Scotland, it has that same feel. I would come back to the West of Ireland again and again to play The County Sligo Golf Club.

While you are playing the Atlantic Links Challenge there are a number of places you can stay, there is one place however which is far and above anything else you can find in the area. The Mount Falcon estate and hotel has to be one of my favourite hotels anywhere in the world, and I'm not just saying it for the purpose of this article.

The Mount Falcon Hotel
The Mount Falcon Hotel

The Luxury 4 star Mayo hotel Mount Falcon is located on the west bank of the River Moy, 100 acres of magical woodlands, between Foxford and Ballina in North County Mayo, a beautiful part of the West of Ireland. Mount Falcon's new owners, amongst them the Maloney Family, fell in love with the estate and transformed it into a wonderful hotel. As the new owners, they have invested heavily in a refurbishment programme, and have ensured that the integrity and charm of the Estate has been completely retained.

The suite at Mount Falcon
The suite at Mount Falcon

The Mount Falcon estate is an outdoor lover's dream. You can choose from clay pigeon shooting, archery, estate lake fishing, bike hire, a golf driving range, falconry, and river fishing.

Visiting the Falconry is a wonderful experience, the resident falconers will personally introduce you to the various birds of prey on display at their Water Tower Aviary. Then you can experience a Hawk Walk and share in the secrets of the birds hunting habits and their place in the eco system. Our lesson was then completed with a walk through the estates magical woodlands where we got to experience the magnificence of a harris hawk in its natural environment. You can even have the birds fly at 100 miles an hour towards your arm where they gently land and feed, it really is a fantastic experience.

Falconry at Mount Falcon
Falconry at Mount Falcon

There is also some of the best fishing you can find in Ireland, the hotel run various river packages where you can fish the River Erriff, River Owenduff, and the River Moy, with an experienced ghillie or boatman. The fishing is so good Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara have been visitors to the rivers and hotel .

Fishing the River Moy at Monut Falcon
Fishing the River Moy at Monut Falcon

The Hotel boasts beautiful suite, four deluxe rooms, and 26 superior double rooms in the main house, as well as this three are 12 three bedroom detached Woodland sandstone lodges, built to look like Canadian hunting lodges, and 17 three bedroom Lakeside lodges. All are wonderfully designed and ornately restored.

The dinning at Mount Falcon is fantastic, the 'Kitchen Restaurant' at Mount Falcon was awarded a 2 AA Rosette in September 2008. The Moy River which runs through the Estate is a source of Wild Atlantic Salmon which anglers are encouraged to "Catch and Cook ". Wild game also features on the menu in the winter months. All the meat and poultry is of Irish Origin and our cheeses are sourced from Connaught and Munster.

The Mount Falcon Hotel is somewhere you have to visit once, but after that you will be coming again and again. If you want to experience all the best that the West of Ireland has to offer this is the most amazing place to do it. The Guinness it pretty good as well.

From the Mount Falcon estate you can easily access Enniscrone, Silgo, and finally Carne, where we were playing our third round. Carne in North Mayo, like Enniscorne, lies in magnificent unspoiled sand dunes overlooking Blacksod Bay and the wild Atlantic Ocean near the town of Belmullet.

The amazing 10th at Carne
The amazing 10th at Carne

Carne is only around 25 years old although you would never be able to tell, it is a wonderful Links golf course, and even though Enniscrone and Silgo are brilliant, this might be my favourite of the lot. I walked into the Pro Shop after my round and told the assistant I could not believe how young it was, he said in a broad Irish accent and without any irony in his voice 'yes it a young course, but the land it's built on is much older'. It's good to know Ireland has been around for a while.

The 8th at Carne
The 8th at Carne

There was not a hole on the course that I did not enjoy, there are some breathtaking views over the Atlantic and the legendary islands of Inis Glóire and Inis Géidhe. The course builds slowly and as the round progresses it becomes more and more dramatic.

The 6,700 yard links is not a classic out and back, with holes winding and crossing around the dunes in different directions. Like all links the wind plays its part here, without any you have a good chance of beating your handicap, but if it blows then you have a fight on your hands.

Carne Golf Club
Carne Golf Club

Each of the three courses you will play in the Atlantic Links Challenge have their own character and charm, their own difficulties, and their own unique beauty, each you will enjoy in different ways.

Even if you don't want the pressure of playing in the event you must come and visit the West of Ireland and play golf here. It's about getting away from it all and really experiencing the great outdoors, if you are a lover of links golf then not coming here would be a crime.

Some useful websites

You can book to play in the Atlantic Links Challenge by contacting any of the three courses.

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