|Connemara Golf Links in Ireland's northwest features uniquely rocky terrain. (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)|
BALLYCONNEELY, Ireland - Making your way to Connemara Golf Club, you'll pass the landing site of the first nonstop transatlantic flight, made by John Alcock and Arthur Brown in 1919. A 2005 re-enactment flight in a replica wooden airplane actually came down on No. 8 on the club's Championship links.
Connemara Golf Club is as much a safe haven for golfers as for pilots. This user-friendly golf course complements a northwest Ireland golf scene full of hidden gems that can be played for a fraction of the cost of southwestern giants Ballybunion and Lahinch.
"It's not as formal or as old" as the southwest courses, manager Richard Flaherty says. "But people appreciate the fact it's easier to get a tee time, it's very friendly, and sometimes you can even play with members. It's also about 100 euros cheaper."
Built in 1974 from a design by regional favorite Eddie Hackett, Connemara is a relative newcomer in Irish links. The front nine is primarily flat (flat enough to land a plane on), but the back half covers the property's most rolling topography, playing between dunes from elevated tees to elevated greens.
A third nine built in 2001 features the closest holes to the sea. It's usually reserved for nine-hole play, and for overflow golfers on busy summer weekends.
The landscape is unusually rocky for the region, and there are plenty of stone walls around farms and ruins, but the course treats them as visuals rather than hazards. In fact, most of Connemara is remarkably trouble-free for a traditional links.
You won't find the usual suspects in links scorecard damage - blind shots, steep pot bunkers, wild heather and gorse, surreal length. Not that par is a given. While fairways are wide-open, the greens are small, and little bumps and swales mean your chipping game will need precision.
The first winds around a rocky dune, and a small burn lies just beyond your sightline from the tee. That's about as blind or tricky as Connemara gets. Just about everything else is right in front of you, especially on the front side.
The par-37 back nine is a bit tougher, especially the pair of closing par 5s. The 17th green is carved out of a hill with steep slopes on either side; hit a screaming long iron with enough heat and you might find a near-impossible chip to a narrow, sloping green.
The 18th plays parallel to the 17th but the green is tucked just under the clubhouse behind a subtle dogleg. Mounds fronting the elevated green make running up difficult.
Connemara is one of the gems of Ireland's budding northwest golf scene. It's not quite at the level of Enniscrone Golf Club and Rosses Point, but it's still a good links play with a unique look.
It's also easier than many seaside courses, making it a good early-trip option to get a feel for links golf. Green fees in the peak season are €60-70.
A new clubhouse is due to open in May with a full restaurant and bar. Clifden, a bustling shore town about 10 kilometers from the club, has a vibrant center packed with restaurants and pubs.
The three-star, Best Western-operated Alcock & Brown Hotel in the heart of Clifden has large, clean bedrooms and bathrooms and a bar and restaurant that serves food all day.
Alcock and Brown's landing wasn't as smooth as that of the re-enactment - they put down in a seaside bog - but they made it overseas from Newfoundland in less time (just under 16 hours in 1918, 18 in 2005).
May 15, 2007
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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