A Journey to the Links of Ireland

By Jason Bruno

The Links of Ireland.

Cool temps, history, terra firma, strategy, ground game elements, shot-making options, links golf, and of course – Guinness.

Breathe . . .

That simple phrase “Links of Ireland” stirs the soul of links enthusiasts around the globe, yours truly included. In fact, any trip to the Emerald Isle is the experience of a lifetime, but in the case of Irishman Justin Farrell the term also serves as his company’s name. Farrell’s Links of Ireland travel company specializes in setting up golf packages and itineraries for international travelers to both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The route west across the island to Galway.

Farrell set us up a custom itinerary for a late August arrival in the land of greener pastures and world-class links golf along the “Wild Atlantic Way” of northwest Ireland. We began in Dublin and made our way across to Galway Bay, Enniscrone Golf Links, County Sligo, Portsalon, and Rosapenna Golf Resort (for a 36-hole finale that included Sandy Hills and the highly acclaimed new layout by Tom Doak – St.Patrick’s Links). Our journey across the pond began on Aug.28th, and like many of you have experienced recently, delays and drama are often part of the deal with present-day air travel. Our adventure was no different, the first leg of the trip from Palm Beach to Boston stayed on schedule, unfortunately, a 5+ hour delay en route to Dublin altered the arrival and schedule for day one – which included a lengthy drive to Galway. Delays happen, best to roll with it, pivot, and make the most of it, which we did.

We arrived in Dublin safely with all of our luggage intact and retrieved the rental car. A word to the wise, if you’re traveling from the states and plan on driving through Ireland yourself – pay the slight upcharge for an automatic transmission and GPS unit (cell service can be sketchy in Ireland). Since you’ll be driving on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right, the last thing you need is to challenge yourself on those narrow curvy roads with a left-handed stick shift. Also, watching a few YouTube videos about what to expect while driving in Ireland helped quite a bit, seriously.

Over the next several weeks we’ll do a deeper dive into each links design, but this is an account of our personal journey up the Wild Atlantic Way. . .

Galway Bay

Photo Credit: Galway Bay Resort

Galway Bay Golf Resort is a proper place to kick off any Ireland itinerary, ideally located in the central region along the island’s west coast, just 9-miles from the town of Galway in Oranmore. The Christy O’Connor Jr. designed layout sits along a stunning backdrop of Galway Bay and the Atlantic coastline with an eclectic mix of windswept trees, unique rock formations, water hazards, well-positioned bunkers, and some very challenging green complexes.

Photo credit: Galway Bay Resort

A true combination of links and parkland elements dot the landscape. According to the locals, consistently fluctuating coastal winds will test even the most accomplished players.

If there was ever an appropriate logo for a golf club, the windswept trees on the property serve as the ideal symbol for Galway Bay.

Photo Credit: Galway Bay Resort

Big thanks to both Damien and Ronan at Galway Bay Golf Resort, they were fantastic in accommodating our later than planned arrival. We teed off just after 5pm and chased the sun before heading for dinner at the Connacht Hotel. The gorgeous evening was a brilliant leadoff for the adventure that lie ahead (up the northwest coast of Ireland).

(above) The view from the Galway Bay clubhouse terrace is a keeper .

https://galwaybaygolfresort.ie/

The Connacht Hotel is a popular Galway hotel whether in town for business or leisure, that has been recently refurbished offering a range of luxurious hotel rooms, suites, and a central location that is easily accessible off the M6 highway just over a mile from Eyre Square Galway. They also provide complimentary parking for hotel guests. The recently refurbished bar, restaurant, and new barista coffee bar are all outstanding. The Fish n Chips won’t disappoint (above).

https://www.theconnacht.ie/

Day Two – Enniscrone Golf Links

Next up, we traveled north to the mighty dunes of Enniscrone Golf Links.

Another crème de la crème weather day greeted us in northwest Ireland at Enniscrone Golf Links on August 30th. Enniscrone Golf Club features 27 holes on 400 acres of magnificent links land along the shores of County Sligo.

According to club lore, it all began at a meeting in 1918 that marked the formal birth of golf in Enniscrone. The first recorded mention of the club appeared in the Western People, on August 19th, 1922 when it was announced that “medal competitions” were being held at “Enniscrone Golf Links”. Golf was then played at three locations in Enniscrone – at Bartra, Kilcullens field, and at Scurmore Hotel on either side of the entrance avenue. It was not until 1930 that nine holes were laid out on flat land at Bartra and the course was formally opened with a membership of 48 on St. Patricks Day in 1931. Members began to look longingly at the dunes and dream of an 18-hole links course. By March 1970 the great course designer, Eddie Hackett was at work in Enniscrone. Working alongside a dedicated and hard-working committee, he shaped and blended holes through the dunes that interfered very little with the natural terrain. It was here that  Hackett built some of the best golf holes of his long and distinguished career. In 1972, the acquisition of a new lease agreement was very important for the club and allowed 12 miles of wire fencing of the course to exclude livestock. With just two permanent employees along with the generous voluntary labor of members, a pioneering spirit and a will to succeed saw the course and a new simple clubhouse opened in August, 1974 with Eddie Hackett driving the first ball. This was followed by an exhibition match featuring golf professionals Christy O Connor Sr. and John O Leary.

Photo credit: Enniscrone Golf Club

Enniscrone Golf Links is renowned for having some of the tallest and most dramatic dunes in the world on their par 73 Dunes Course. Check out the Agronomy team’s maintenance area set within the dunes, we took a visit down there to visit . . .

. . . with the two gents who represent the club brilliantly – Superintendent Enda Mulrooney (who has tended to the links at Enniscrone for 40+ years) and the energetic and welcoming Head Professional Keith O’Neil. We really enjoyed getting to know them both. Look for our Q&A with Mulrooney coming soon.

The view from behind the green on the magnificent dogleg right sixteenth on the Dunes Course.

Enniscrone members Brendan Frost and Gerry Ring guided me around the links, offered great company and . . .

. . . .introduced this non-drinking yank to his first Guinness. Hooked, on the brew and the links.

For tee time info:

Enniscrone Golf Club

The award-winning four-star Diamond Coast Hotel is a two minute walk from the clubhouse at Enniscrone and overlooks both Killala Bay and the Golf Course. 

https://www.diamondcoast.ie/

Day Three – County Sligo Golf Club (Rosses Point)

The trek to County Sligo was just a short drive slightly northeast.

Another weather gem presented itself for our visit to County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point.

The championship “Colt Course” is named after architect Harry Colt who redesigned the original course in 1927.

History: The original nine holes were laid out in 1894 by George Combe at the request of Colonel James Campbell who was the first Captain of the club. In 1906 it was decided to extend the course to eighteen holes and the designing brief was given to Captain William Campbell a step brother of Colonel Campbell who was an accomplished golfer and sportsman. The original Combe course was integrated into the new nine holes. Colonel Campbell presented a cup to the club the “Hermitage Cup” to be played bi-annually on St. Stephen’s day and on a day in June.

As golf developed it was felt that the club needed a serious upgrade, and so at a council meeting held on May 20, 1927, it was decided by the committee that the secretary should write to Mr. Harry Shapland Colt enquiring as to the earliest date that Mr. Colt would be in a position to visit the links. Then on June 27th, Colt did arrive for a visit, and soon after the links were created.

Above – 1st tee, local legend David Dunne was kind enough to take me around what has been his home turf for the past 40 years. The championship links is widely considered one of the finest layouts in Ireland and is where the West of Ireland Championship has been played each year.

Past Champions:

1994 – Padraig Harrington

2005 & 2006 – Rory McIlroy

2008 – Shane Lowry

30 years ago at Sligo, “Dunner” was among the best junior players in Ireland, these days he’s a restauranteur that slays the links in his spare time. . .

. . . David Dunne par 3 sixteenth (below).

Sligo requires every club and every type of shot imaginable. A prime example is the bunker-less green complex on the brutish 457 yard uphill par 4 seventeenth. This particular golf hole holds up quite well vs many of the toughest challenges in championship golf.

The vistas in Sligo are spectacular in every direction, especially on a flawless 70-degree weather day in northwest Ireland.

Mark Millar Superintendent at County Sligo

Superintendent Mark Millar and I discussed his agronomy operation and career path for an upcoming Q&A.

We sampled the Fisn n Chips no-matter where we went in Ireland, County Sligo’s edition was superb.

The par 4 ninth – Bomore course

The short 9 hole Bomore Links Course is set in the flatlands below the Colt Championship layout, and is an absolute blast – so after our post round lunch and a sit down with Superintendent Mark Millar off we went for 9 more.

According to the club, the land area known as Bomore had many uses over the years. It was originally part of the Sligo race course starting in the 18th century and was used for horse racing up to 1952. Then for many years it was used for cattle grazing. In the 1950’s a local businessman built a small airplane hanger where he kept a private airplane using the part of Bomore as a landing strip. The golf club acquired the lease of the area in the sixties.

Over the years it was discussed many times about building another nine holes on Bomore. In the early 80’s nine holes were laid out but nothing was built. In 1994, club Captain Oliver McDonagh asked consulting agronomists S.T.R.I if they would assist in developing the nine holes that became known as Bomore. They appointed Jonathan Tucker to design and oversee the project. The project commenced in 1997 and was opened for play in 1999.

Golden age local golf legend Cecil Ewing has a room dedicated to his impressive accomplishments, that includes hand written Masters invitations from Bobby Jones, trophies from several Irish championships and this announcement of a two-man match with John McCourt vs Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood at County Sligo.

info@countysligogolfclub.ie

The Glasshouse Hotel

When in Sligo, we highly recommend the Glasshouse Hotel. The Glasshouse is the area’s only 4-star city center lodging destination – towering dramatically over the Garavogue River. The Glasshouse offers edgy modern interiors, amazing views, and close proximity to all of downtown Sligo.

https://www.theglasshouse.ie/

Day 4 – Portsalon Golf Links (Donegal)

On Day 4 we traveled further up the coast to the Fanad Peninsula and Portsalon Golf Links in Donegal

The fourth consecutive day of ideal weather welcomed us at Portsalon Golf Links. We met up with Director of Golf Daragh Lyons and set out on the links for a casual two-ball. Honestly, I didn’t know much about Portsalon, the club has a very intimate and modest vibe – and it didn’t take long for me to realize it was as proper and authentic as any links we’ve experienced to date.

History: Portsalon Golf club was founded by Colonel B.J Barton in 1891. Colonel Barton established the Portsalon hotel and golf links and was very forward thinking in Portsalon becoming one of the founding members of the Golfing Union of Ireland, the oldest golf union in the world. The course was designed by Charles Thompson, the Portrush golf professional. In 2000, a major redesign of the links was undertaken by architect Pat Ruddy, who upgraded the links to be stand up to the modern game. The course was lengthened a considerable amount and nine completely new holes were added.

Superintendent Johnny Shields and Director of Golf Daragh Lyons

We’ll feature Portsalon in detail in the future, in the meantime let a few of these images wash over you . . .

Double green – third and ninth
The par 3 tenth tee view
Opposing view from behind the green of the par 3 tenth

eleventh tee

Hard to fathom any part of Ireland being a bit under the radar of international travelers, but the area of Donegal is stunning and yet is still considered to be the land less traveled. I was smitten.

http://www.portsalongolfclub.ie/

Day 5 – Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort (Donegal)

Just a brief drive due north from Portsalon, the final stop of the journey was at Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort.

Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort

Located on the edge of the picturesque Sheephaven Bay, Rosapenna Golf Resort is the home to 54 holes of links golf and a world class 62 room hotel owned and operated by the Casey Family. The Old Tom Morris Links was designed by Old Tom himself in 1893. Over a century later, their Sandy Hills course designed by Pat Ruddy opened for play. The new St.Patrick’s Links crafted by Tom Doak opened last summer to the highest praise of any new course in recent memory (since Sand Hills in Nebraska). St.Patrick’s Links debuted as the #55 ranked course in the world (Golf Magazine).

Resort Check-in

On the final full day of our journey – Friday, September 2nd, we experienced weather more typical of this part of the world (a stark contrast from the San Diego-esque pristine conditions of the prior four days). The forecast was for a dodgy gray morning, followed by heavy rain by afternoon.

With my 36-hole itinerary (of Sandy Hills/St.Patrick’s Links) in jeopardy (I was prepared gear-wise with an array of full waterproofs – courtesy of our friends at Dunning Apparel), Rosapenna Director John Casey was kind enough to send me off the first at Sandy Hills Links at daybreak in an effort to beat the foul weather.

Sandy Hills Links (Architects – Pat Ruddy & Frank Casey Snr – 2003, Beau Welling 2013)

The approach on the first at Rosapenna’s Sandy Hills plays to an uphill green site cut into the dunes.

Sandy Hills Links at Rosapenna is a brawny layout at 7,255 from the tips that opened for play in June 2003 and has matured into a worthy modern links layout. Pat Ruddy decided to craft his design with several holes running straight through the dunes rather than alongside and around them. Many of the teeing areas and greens are elevated, which provides spectacular coastal views of Sheephaven Bay, and that design philosophy exposed several green sites to the crisp Irish seaside winds.

Early morning purple hues at daybreak on Sandy Hills 4th tee

Marram grass and tall fescue lines the dunes that frame each fairway below in the natural bowls of the dune floor providing a momentary sense of seclusion.

Approach on the fifth
Sandy Hills par 3 – 16th

Mothernature held off any fury through the morning 18, so with fingers crossed, a quick breakfast back at the hotel and short drive over to Doak’s new chart topper – St.Patrick’s Links was the headliner of the day.

St.Patrick’s Links

St.Patrick’s Links is close to the resort’s main property, but like many places in rural parts of Ireland – it isn’t the easiest place to find . . .

I actually took a wrong turn (my GPS didn’t have St.Patrick’s Links location in its database) and got lost on the short 5 mile drive over. I ended up in the wrong direction on a narrow side road where sheep were grazing in the field nearby, stopped at a Circle K gas station (who knew they had Circle K in Ireland) asked a local for directions and finally arrived at the unassuming gates of Tom Doak’s latest creation for the Swan Song of our Links of Ireland itinerary.

In true Doak minimalist style, the clubhouse at St.Patrick’s Links provides no extravagance, just the essentials. And honestly, it fits the ethos of the property perfectly.

Tom Doak’s latest, St.Patrick’s Links at Rosapenna is already considered among the very best in the world after being open just 1 year. Coming soon, a complete in-depth feature, but in the meantime, lets take a look at the four one-shotters (the third, fifth, fifteenth and seventeenth).

The Par 3 – third hole plays slightly downhill into a valley through the dunes
Par 3 fifth
Fifteen on St.Patricks is a shorty at 125 yards, but it plays uphill into the prevailing breeze.

The 176 yard penultimate hole at St.Patrick’s features a redan-esque contour that encourages a right to left tee shot.

It was a Mandatory Golf Friday to remember.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the cuisine and service at Rosapenna Resort, all first class. We probably gained a few pounds around the mid-section during our stay, but it was well worth it. Don’t pass on the desserts, especially this raspberry cheesecake. It was the ideal place to finish off the journey, the Casey family has created one of the finest golf destinations in the world, get it on your must experience list.

https://www.rosapenna.ie/

Back to Dublin Airport

After 6 rounds of golf in 5 days and well over 500 miles driven from Dublin across to Galway up the Wild Atlantic Way to County Donegal and back to Dublin, we boarded the bird back across the pond for the states.

A massive debt of gratitude to Links of Ireland, Failte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and the Irish locals who hosted and welcomed us with open arms. We’re already looking forward to the next visit, and hopefully bringing a group of LinksNation faithful.

LinksNation meets Links of Ireland at Galway Bay Golf Resort

Here’s a sample of just one Links of Ireland itinerary called “THE OPEN COUNTRY” :

  • Golf on Rosapenna (Sandy Hills), Portsalon, Rosapenna (St. Patrick’s), Castlerock, Portstewart (Strand), Royal Portrush (Dunluce), and Royal County Down.
  • 7 Nights Hotel Accommodation.
  • Traditional Irish Breakfast each morning.
  • Luxury Transfers by coach.
  • Stunning Sightseeing – Downings, Causeway Coast, Bushmills Distillery, Giant’s Causeway, Game of Thrones, Titanic Experience.
  • Assistance of Links of Ireland for duration.

A special thanks to Dunning Apparel for outfitting our journey with the finest layering and outerwear and Adidas Golf for providing us with the finest in golf footwear and accessories.

Simply click here to get more information on Links Of Ireland itineraries or contact us directly at linksnation@gmail.com

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