The North & West Coast Irish Links
By Neil MacKinnon Classic Golf Tours
Ireland in March, just what you'd expect right? Cold, windy, rainy and in spite of the weather still some incredible golf. Fortunate to be invited to tour the North & West Coast links, we arrived Tuesday in Shannon and headed through Galway for our first destination. This trip was designed to expose us to the less traveled roads and links of the North and West Coast of Ireland. Areas that don't necessarily get the press nor the player pressure of the South and Southwest regions. Golf that generally costs less than 1/2 of the more regularly played Irish links to the south. Roads sometimes so lonely that you would swear you were the only people for 100 miles. Then, after an hour and a half, we come around a corner into Ballyconneely and in front of us is stretch of spectacular beach and an equally spectacular golf course -- Connemara.
At Connemara, the staff warmly greeted us on a great golf course that winds its way through the windswept sand dunes typical of this region. Designed by Ireland's native son Eddie Hackett and having 27 holes to play, you can enjoy three distinctly different challenges. Crossing rivers, playing down to the ocean and winding up and down through the dunes one often loses sight of the game simply to take in the views. The third nine holes, as they are typically referred to, are probably the most popular amongst those who have played the course many times. Opened for play in 2001, this nine offers a second hole, a par 3 that measures 225 yards and is all carry. Manly indeed and it's just the start.
Not to be outdone the original course 13th hole is considered the most famous at Connemara again a beautiful 200 yard plus par 3 followed immediately by a brutal par 5 14th. You get a slight respite on 15 then perhaps 3 of the toughest finishing holes you'll find anywhere. The 407 yard 16th, 514 yard 17th and finally the 535-yard 18th. By the time you finish you'll know the meaning of testing ones game.
Wednesday morning we head off to Carne. Located in Belmullet on a tiny strip of land overlooking Blacksod Bay this course is considered by many to be the new jewel of golf in the U.K./Ireland. Golf World has ranked it # 28 in the world this past year. Also designed by Eddie Hackett and opened in 1992/93 it was recently rated as the most underrated course in all of the British Isles. It also demands more in stamina than perhaps any course we played. Having a caddie here would certainly be worth considering. The dunes that wrap around the course range in height from a few feet to several hundred feet. Just about every tee shot is from an elevated tee to a generous landing area followed by a trek up a hill to the green. Contrary to many of the courses in the area, everything at Carne is measured in meters so adjustment is the rule here. It took a few holes to get the difference down. Here's where some standardization would be a great help.
That lesson aside, we were again treated to magnificent golf holes framed by spectacular ocean views. Probably the most memorable hole is #18 with its own version of "The Valley of Sin." If compared to The Old Course at St. Andrews, this Valley of Sin is a mortal sin if you don't carry it to the green as the ball has a tendency to roll back about 50 yards into a fairway trough about 50 feet deep.
Carne like Connemara will soon have 27 holes to choose from. A new nine is being built by famed Colorado architect Jim Engh. The project is expected to take a couple years to complete and I would strongly recommend watching for the opening of this one.
This brings us to the end of the first half of our trip. The rest of the North & West Coast trip will be concluded in the next issue of Golf Views.