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Ireland Day Four: Enniscrone Captures the Imagination

 

Enniscrone -- worthy of a spot in the World Top 100.

Courses: Co Sligo and Enniscrone

Sometimes expectations get in the way when you approach a golf course you haven’t played before. You come at it anticipating greatness, and occasionally find out it doesn’t measure up. Golf courses are like puzzles – they piece together to create something greater.
Then, every so often, there’s a course that you play for the first time when you aren’t expecting something terrific and are surprised and thrilled at what you find.
I found that at Enniscrone, an Eddie Hackett/Donald Steel design located near Ballina, a town of a few thousand on the north-west coast of Ireland.
After a four-hour drive, we arrived in Sligo. It didn’t take long to figure out that I was mispronouncing it.
“It is sly-go,” said the GM at Ballybunion when I told her where we were heading next.
The drive wasn’t difficult – though it didn’t hurt that we had three guys prepared to tackle it. Interestingly, a lot of people find driving in the U.K. and Ireland to be daunting; our group approached it with enthusiasm. Yannick Pilon, our esteemed Quebec architect, even admitted he liked the smaller, wilder roads. I can’t imagine getting in a bus to explore the country – it seems so limiting.
Day four of our trip found us starting bright and early at Co. Sligo Golf Club, playing right ahead of a couple from San Diego. The day was bright and the wind was strengthening as we went out. I had high hopes for the course, an H.S. Colt design, and the first hole, a tremendous par-4 with a wide fairway that played slightly up a rise, didn’t disappoint. However, on some level, much of the rest of the course did. Sure there were some fascinating holes – like the 5th hole, named “Jump,” which dropped off a sea wall down 80 feet to the fairway below, or the 8th hole, a long par-4 that bent to the right with a green perched into a coastal dune.

Sligo's 5th hole -- a big par 5 played well downhill.

But on a day when the wind thickened throughout, an out-and-back links proved to be, well, a little dull. The final five holes – playing along a relatively flat area heading back to the clubhouse, were all good, but never achieved greatness.
There were fine holes – the cool par-3 13th along the coast was interesting and challenged with difficult greenside bunkers. But by the time I was done I felt like I’d weathered a battle.
That meant I wasn’t expecting much at Enniscrone. We arrived as the wind was strengthening further. It was hard to imagine playing in it; in North America we would surely have called it a day and left. Instead we had lunch in the modest, but comfortable clubhouse, hit a couple of putts (and yes, balls were wobbling at address) and went out to the first hole, a tremendous par-4 with a green set in a natural amphitheatre. I made birdie there – and a par on the next par 5 – to stand at 1-under through to the third, a tiny par 3 up a hill. A storm blew in at that point with such ferocity that my 3-iron to the 130-yard hole flew right over a dune and landed 40 yards away. I’ve never played in such a breeze.

Another of Enniscrone's brutes played between massive dunes.

We stuck with it, with rain pummelling us for a single hole – a typical occurrence throughout the trip – and I’m thrilled we did.
I can honestly say that Enniscrone is one of the best courses I’ve ever played. The dunes are massive, and the green locations are smart. Even holes on flatter land – like the par 4s that make up the 5th and 6th holes – have fascinating elements. By the time we hit the back nine I was sure something goofy must be coming. But the two short holes on the card – the 345-yard 12th and the 338-yard 13th – were brilliant and entirely different, with one playing slightly uphill to perhaps the best green location we saw all week, and the other downhill to a green protected by a large green. I’d love to play these again – the thrill of discovering how to play them, even in a gusty breeze, is one of the fondest memories I have of our trip.
But it doesn’t end there. Instead Steel added a handful of holes along the beach – the 14th through to the 17th – and they are among the best links holes anywhere.
I left wondering what holds Enniscrone back from being better known. I have no explanation, though its awful logo – which looks like it might work for a weekend trailer retreat – might be the cause. Regardless, this is one of the best courses we played all week – and warranted a discussion as to whether it was better than Waterville. Depending on your taste, you might find that it is.

Enniscrone's short, but brilliant 12th.

Where to stay:
Ten minutes down the road from Enniscrone is the incredible Ice House Hotel, a boutique hotel created only a few years ago. Located hard on the River Moy Estuary – you could likely have gone fishing from our room – the hotel is a modern masterpiece built around a very old farm house. Worth staying at even if you aren’t golfing, it is one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

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Jeff Lancaster

Jeff Lancaster is the Publisher of CanadianGolfer.com.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I agree. Enniscrone is a wonderful golfing treat. Enniscrone and Sligo was the setting for a 2 day “Ryder Cup” type competition between 4 of us from North America and 4 of our buddies who lived in the UK. Enniscrone was a great setting for Day 1 of the competition complemented with the friendly locals in the town’s pubs.

    Winds were up (they always seem to be up…) on both days especially at Sligo.

  • It’s great to see reviews like this of our lovely course. It’s true that it’s not as well known as we’d like, but maybe that provides some of the charm! As for the wind, what’s a links course if it’s not beautiful and challenging at every turn… http://Www.Enniscrone.ie

  • Delighted you have discovered our course , spread the good word its a joy to behold whatever the weather the company is always great.

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