Donegal is in a very peaceful setting some distance from the town. After the first uninspiring four holes on flat land it gets more interesting from the very good 179 metre par 3, 5th. Just to confuse you some Irish courses use yards and others metres. The 7th and 8th holes nearer the sea are two of the best at Donegal. The greens are excellent here but there are too many very ordinary holes to inspire me to return. I felt it was not as good as some of the rankings would suggest.
You can now travel south along side Donegal Bay on the N15 to County Sligo at Rosses Point. Some of the upgrading here was completed by Harry Colt and his assistant at the time, Hugh Alison. From the 2nd green there are great views over Sligo Bay and the famous mountain, Ben Bulben. In the distance beyond the attractive short 9th lies the resting ground of the poet W B Yeates. Two of the best on the home run are the 14th and 17th whilst the 12th runs to the much photographed rocky shore line. There is little by way of dunes here and the greens are fairly flat and a somewhat uninteresting but there are some good holes, particularly the stretch from the 9th to the 17th.
Heading south towards Ballina you then make a slight detour to the fabulous links at Enniscrone. After the completion of six new holes built amongst the towering dunes in 2001 in my opinion Enniscrone is now one of the best and most exciting links in Ireland. The dunes are just massive and you are amongst them from the very first green. For me the only weak spots were on the flat land at holes 6 - 8. The 9th plays beside the tranquil Scurmore Beach and the 12th to the 16th are just brilliant. The standout is the 14th "Valley of Diamonds and the huge dune 'Cnoc na gCorp'. The 17th is a fabulous par 3 but the view is totally spoiled by a horrible caravan park in the near distance behind the green. This is a thrilling links experience but you must be accurate off the tee.
photo - the author on the green at the magnificent 14th hole (photo courtesy Gary Prendergast)
Carne is well and truly hidden away on the Belmullett Peninsula about 50 miles west of Enniscrone. It has some wonderful and exciting holes but, personally speaking and contrary to general opinion, I rate Enniscrone as better. There are some very average holes on the front nine but the back nine is loaded with gems. Furthermore there are some fantastic new holes just waiting to be built in the location behind the present 15th to 17th holes. The 11th and 12th are great examples of good short par 4's that dog leg through massive dunes. The par 3,14th has its tee at the water's edge where you play uphill to a green that slopes rather too steeply from the back. After you have experienced the thrill of the dramatic 15th to its elevated green you then head to the top of a dune for the stimulating par 3 that follows. The two finishing holes are quite difficult and need good drives if you are to have any chance of par.
After you have played Enniscrone and Carne anything else will seem a little tame by comparison.
(photo Carne's 15th is a tough par 4)
We drove considerably out of our way to Connemara on the central west coast near the town of Clifden. Despite the rave reviews they give themselves my comment in two words is simply "don't bother!"
There are virtually no dunes and the only holes near the sea are the first two on the new nine. There are few standout holes amidst the landscape of rocky outcrops. The more interesting holes are on the back nine with 12, 13, 14 and 18 the best. Probably the pick of these is the 212 yard par 3,13th where you play across a valley to a raised green. I thought the new nine had some more interesting holes but on the day we visited this nine was consigned to the hackers.
The south west coast of Ireland has some quality links, the first of which is Lahinch. The links owe much to the work of Dr Alister Mackenzie whilst some recent restoration work by Martin Hawtree has added two excellent new par 3's. There are no weak holes but personally I don't like the par 5, 4th hole 'Klondike' which takes ages to play because of the need for a marshall to tell when you can play your blind shot over the dune and across the 18th fairway. There are some tough opening holes, none more so than the 3rd that plays alongside the beach. The par 3, 5th 'The Dell' is a celebrated short hole where you can scarcely see the green because of the dunes.
The tee at the 9th is the highest point and is the beginning of the area frequented by the goats. At the attractive 12th you play around the sandy beach towards Liscannor Bridge. You won't find many better examples of a great short par 4 than the 13th with its narrow fairway and elevated green. If there is a weak hole it is the 18th - a rather lackluster short par 5.
My friends keep telling me they played Lahinch in warm sunshine. I have only experienced wet and windy weather when the rough was lush and thick and Lahinch was at its toughest. This is a great links -just hope for good weather.
(photo 'The Dell'at Lahinch - side on from the 6th tee)
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