|Lough Erne Resort's Faldo Championship Course is the first golf course the six-time major champion has built in Northern Ireland. (Courtesy of Iain Lowe)|
ENNISKILLEN, FERMANAGH, Northern Ireland -- You are never that far from water in Northern Ireland. The Atlantic lies to the north and the Irish Sea to the east, and there are a numerous lakes scattered around.
Lough Neagh, just west of Belfast, is the largest lake in the British Isles. A little farther west and close to the border with the Irish Republic is lovely Lough Erne. Using locks, canals and rivers, it's possible to take a boat all the way from Lough Erne, down the River Shannon to the southwest corner of Ireland. It's not quick, but it transports you through some of the loveliest and greenest scenery in the world.
The Lough Erne Resort is sandwiched between two stretches of water, Castle Hume Lough and Lower Lough Erne. And from the moment you enter through the imposing wrought iron gates, you're conscious of being somewhere special. It's a resort par excellence, where everything is done in a grand manner with undoubted style and enormous attention to detail.
There are two golf courses, but it's Lough Erne Resort's Faldo Championship Course, designed by Nick Faldo, that receives nearly all the attention and creates the excitement. It's the first golf course the six-time major champion has built in Ireland.
But it's another famous pro who can claim a fair-sized chunk of the credit for doing so much to bring Lough Erne to the world's attention. Signing up the precociously talented Rory McIlroy to be Lough Erne's touring professional was, at the time, a brave but inspired decision. His subsequent heroic exploits around the globe have done much to raise the profile of this exciting new resort. Perhaps in gratitude, numerous photos of him are liberally scattered around the hotel and clubhouse.
The round begins with a gentle walk across a long bridge to the first tee that provides a taste of what's to come on the course, which features water on 14 holes. After the first few holes take you through the woods, the course climbs uphill and runs along a ridge before plunging back down and around the edge of the lake.
Between them, the water and woods provide all the definition you could possibly want, and there's plenty of elevation and loads of visual interest. The halfway house would make a magnificent detached home but has been earmarked for a seafood restaurant. Officially there's no signature hole, but unofficially the 10th (Emerald Isle) -- with its near island green -- would be the choice.
"I really love the course and want everyone who plays it to enjoy themselves," said Lynn McCool, a former Ulster Girls Champion and touring professional who is the director of golf and head professional at Lough Erne. "To this end, we let golfers play off whichever tee they fancy.
"Even women are welcome to go off the very back if they want. I don't recommend it, but they can if they like. It's a truly great course and golfers enjoy the thrilling challenge it presents."
The course was the venue for The Duel on The Lough, a head-to-head clash between McIlroy and Padraig Harrington. McIlroy came out on top after shooting a course-record 68. The course also hosted The Faldo Series Grand Final this year and is set to do so for at least the next couple of years. Coincidentally, McIlroy -- a former member of Team Faldo -- won both the Under-15 and Under-17 Faldo Series titles in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
Frequently compared with Loch Lomond in Scotland and clearly destined to be up there with the best of them, Lough Erne Resort is living testimony to the new age of optimism that is dawning right across the six counties of Northern Ireland. It's unimaginable that such a huge investment would have been made when times were more turbulent, and in many ways this beautiful golf course symbolizes the new optimism that's sweeping through the country. Both the course and the country have a bright future.
For more information, see www.discoverireland.com/Golf.
November 9, 2010
Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Darren Clarke learned to play the game at Dungannon Golf Club, a pretty parkland course right in the middle of Northern Ireland. While the course is pretty enough and the green fee is almost embarrassingly reasonable, the appeal of Dungannon is the opportunity to pay homage to the 2011 British Open champion, Clive Agran writes from County Tyrone.
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