|Enniscrone is one of the budding northwest region of Ireland's top golf courses. (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)|
COUNTY SLIGO, Ireland - There's a big secret emerging on the Emerald Isle: a handful of golf courses in its undiscovered northwest are welcoming golfers with open tee sheets and links as fine as anywhere else - but at a fraction of the cost.
Getting to Enniscrone in County Sligo is a challenge, like most spots in the rustic northwest, winding through dark, narrow roads. It makes the eventual arrival all that more rewarding, and at first sight of the massive dunes, the goose bumps strike.
Enniscrone Golf Club lacks the rich history of 19th century clubs like the more famous Ballybunion and Lahinch farther south, though it's working to play catch up. Golf was played in the village beginning in the 1930s, but the championship course didn't come along until Irish designer Eddie Hackett built it in 1974. In 2000, the club was granted permission to build new holes in the most rugged, seaside dunes sitting beside the course. Once architect Donald Steele had completed the six new holes, Enniscrone was ready to be placed into Ireland's elite class.
The additions comprise holes two through four, then 14 through 16 on the back nine. Its stern finish is exceeded only by the difficulty of the opening four holes. This is the kind of course you don't want to show up to cold.
"It's a golf course you need to be ready to play," said Head Professional Charlie McGoldrick of the strong opening holes. "You can't tell someone you're going to play your way in. When you get to the first tee you want to be ready."
The long par-5 second hole requires a narrow shot through dunes before darting right through a shoot toward the green, which sits just off the coast. The third hole is a 200-yard par 3 with more tall grass and dunes all around, and the fourth hole is another epic par 5.
The short par-4 13th, named "The Burrows," is a tricky hole for the first-time player to Enniscrone, but a white aiming stone offers the line off the tee. If you can find the fairway with a fairway wood or iron, it's a sharp right-hand turn downhill to a green far below.
Save your best swings and enough film in your camera for the 16th. It's an epic par 5 with a snaking fairway shielded on the right side from giant dunes, with the crashing waves of the beach encroaching on the left side and tall grass between. Walking this fairway, you're cut off from the rest of the course - and what feels like the world.
"You really feel like ‘Lord of the Links'," says McGoldrick of the serenity you encounter on this hole, which finishes to a green tucked behind another giant dune. From here, a short, tricky par-3 17th with plenty of trouble surrounding the green awaits, followed by a long par 4 back to the clubhouse.
Enniscrone is one of the big reasons why the northwest coast is a budding destination for golf. The new holes added by Donald Steele have put it among the elite links in the British Isles, and its friendly, authentic Irish atmosphere makes the experience all that more memorable.
Like all of the lesser-tracked northwest Ireland courses, Enniscrone is one of the best bargains in the Isles, just €55-70 in the peak season.
A five-star B&B in the golf course's backyard, the Season's Lodge (www.seasonslodge.ie) is also a good hub for playing nearby Rosses Point and Carne to the west. The four rooms, named Summer, Winter, Autumn and Spring, are bright, modern, spacious and equipped with beautiful bathrooms, plasma TVs and free WiFi. The owners are extremely friendly and inviting, full of local tips and knowledge. You can have dinner here as well, on request.
Traveling to the rustic northwest in Ireland is getting easier. As of the summer of 2007, West Knock Airport began offering non-stop service from Boston through FlyGlobeSpan. Also, local authorities are putting more money into their roadways, which for now are among Ireland's most primitive.
Getting to Enniscrone can be confusing, because most road signs point toward the town called "Inishcrone." It's traditional Gaelic spelling. Rest assured, follow these signs and you'll find your way to the course, in the heart of the village.
November 21, 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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