Leaving Rathsallagh House was, I’ll admit, quite difficult. With its charm and character, I’ve encountered few places that are its equal. Still, as with most of my golf odysseys, more courses were in the near future. For some, this sort of trip would simply be too much — too much golf, too much travel. For me, having done this sort of venture dozens of times, I’ve grown accustomed to moving from spot to spot on a regular basis. I likely miss out on some of the culture, but I surely see all of the golf.
The trip north east to see County Louth Golf Club (otherwise known as Baltray) took a few hours of relatively easy driving. The Republic of Ireland, which has been witness to a huge surge in economic interest in recent years, is also home to some of the worst roads I’ve ever encountered. Getting from one point to another can be extremely hazardous.
Nonetheless we managed to make our way to Baltray without much issue.
Created in 1938 by noted English architect Tom Simpson, a man [photopress:County_Louth_15th.jpg,full,alignright]known for moving golf away the penal school of design and towards a more aesthetic, strategic look, Baltray is a true links spotted with notable dunes that rests on a flat area near the sea. Everything at Baltray, including the clubhouse and golf course, is slightly understated. There is none of the regal nature and look you find at a County Down. There’s also none of the pretense. Baltray is a solid course without a strong second in the area.
Right off the first hole, one gets a sense that Baltray will not overwhelm. The opening hole is tough, straight and long, like much of the front nine. The best holes on the front nine have some degree of dune involvement, including the fifth, “Haven,” a par three at 173 yards with a green situated on a hillside. It places a premium on safe iron play, which can be difficult with the wind screaming in your face. Similarly, the following hole, a terrific par five with a rumpled fairway and a magnificent greensite, is as much fun as anything on the course.
[photopress:County_Louth_16th.jpg,full,alignleft]The back nine is stronger, especially where it heads into a series of dunes near the sea. Holes like the 474-yard 11th through to the 13th (Manx Men’s Gap) are the teeth of the course, playing over rumpled, rolling ground and nestled along dunes next to the sea. The truly exceptional holes follow, including the terrific 332-yard short four 14th, and the equally strong par three 15th. Baltray ends very similar to the way it starts — with a long straight hole that tests the players ability to hit long irons. That’s not to say it is a bad hole — just one that isn’t as inspired as what comes before it and therefore is disappointing.
Baltray’s website has this to say about its club: “It is one of the top twenty five courses in the British Isles and it is in the top six in the island.” The truth is that’s surely not the case. It surely doesn’t measure up to the intriguing links of Cruden Bay, or Dornoch. If this were in Scotland, it would be a second-tier track, along the lines of Western Gailes. In fact, Western Gailes is a good comparison point for Baltray. Like Western Gailes, Baltray is relatively straight forward in design and layout, making it a good entrance to quirkier courses that make up the broad spectrum of links golf. That also makes it a worthy stop on any Irish golf tour, though it might be better positioned early in a trip that includes Royal County Down and Portrush. Otherwise it will likely pale in comparison.
From Baltray we piled in the van, worn out from a day of fine golf [photopress:bushmills.jpg,full,alignright]conditions, and undertook the three hour drive to Royal Portrush. Our trip ended at the historic Bushmills Inn, one of those romantic hotels that was a product of its era and a delight to stay in. The next day would be busy, including a quick round at Castlerock, followed by a walk down to the Giant’s Causeway, and finally a battle with Royal Portrush, arguably the best golf course in the world.
County Louth Details:
Visitors may play by advance booking in the week except on Tuesdays.
Weekends and Bank Holidays:
Visitors may play at weekends and bank holidays subject to availability.