Back on the coach, Brendan drove us expertly while keeping us entertained to Ballina. It was a long drive, but we were all in high spirits. The Ballina Inn greeted us warmly as did the bus load of Scottish seniors on holiday also staying at the hotel. They made us all feel so young. A group of us ventured to the center of town where we found a great pub where the bar food was wholesome and samples of the local whiskies warmed our bellies and clouded our minds.
Ballina is close to Enniscrone where we played the following morning. What a great course! Clients have raved about it for years, but this was my first visit and I now understand their enthusiasm. Great vistas, high dunes and sense of being a bit beyond where most golfers would venture, made this course special. It was along the Atlantic on hole 15 that I hit a career drive. By the time I got to my ball, a small dark cloud we had been watching had turned into a 60 mile an hour micro blast with rain and pea sized hail. Golf bags and pull carts were upended and the 45 seconds required to down my rain gear was just enough to soak me to my skin. The only escape from the storms fury was to huddle on the lea side of a sand dune. In five minutes, the storm had past and the sun and a mild breeze began the process of drying and warming. Despite the issues, I think I pared the hole. God, you have to love the Irish experience.
The next day, we had a long drive to Carne Golf Links near Belmullet. Opened in 1992 to attract tourism to the area, the Eddie Hackett designed (the last before he died) course is a tribute to the architect and the land he so lovingly left virtually undisturbed. A significant feature of the course are the dunes, many of which tower up more like mountains than mounds of sand and grass.
The next morning we left Ballina and headed for County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point. The sun was shining as it was for most of our rounds, but a strong wind made drives challenging. The 150 yard par 3 No. 13 required the most interesting shot of the day. To have any chance of hitting the green, you needed to take your shot out over the Atlantic about 30 degrees right of the target and allow the wind off the ocean to steer your shot to the green. In my foursome, only one of us made it on. Windblown but happy, we enjoyed our Guinness in the welcoming club house after the round and before the next leg of our trip – Newcastle home of Royal County Down.
The place to stay in Newcastle is the Slieve Donard Hotel & Spa. This modernized Victorian master piece exudes the charm of a more genteel time while having all the comforts of a modern hotel. Dinner in the main dining room was delicious and the service was good. After a huge breakfast the following morning, we took the short stroll to the course filled not only with black pudding, coffee and other breakfast treats but with excitement about playing RCD. Most golf critics consider RCD among the top three golf courses in the world, but that was not going to intimidate us. The day could not have been more favorable. It was sunny and a light breeze off Mount Slieve Donard crossed the course and out to the Irish Sea. Usually, wind comes off the water, but in this hallowed place the course does things its way.
In order to maximize the fun and the chance to score well, I elected to employ one of the local caddies. Jerry, a senior caddie, had worked on this course for over 40 years and had a remarkable knack of finding my ball even when it was deep into the punishing foot long grass that always seemed to be too close to the fairways. I played the best round of the entire trip that day and took money off my playmates.
After golf we headed back to Dublin for our last night at the equally fine hotel, the Portmarnock Links Hotel. Close to the airport and with its own course, it is a great place to stay your last night in Ireland. The Jameson Bar, in the old Jameson House but still part of the hotel, with its original oak paneling and high ceilings, is the place to celebrate the end of a fabulous trip. I had a bit of Jameson whisky to toast my friends and shared experiences. It seemed perfect for this place and time.