Top 5 Hidden Gems in North West Ireland
Remote and stunningly beautiful, these are hidden gems in its truest sense!
Ireland’s North West passage runs from the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal, down to Connemara. The coastal route covers over a third of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, which is 1,500 miles of stunning scenery and Atlantic Ocean. For golfers, the best courses sit on this route, with the raw, natural energy of the ocean always filling your lungs. But there are hidden gems, too, and not all of them are on the coast.
So many Irish courses can boast the ‘best views in Ireland’ and Connemara is one of the top contenders. Ocean views, craggy mountain-scapes and the Twelve Bens rippling across the horizon sets the tone for an adventurous round of golf.
The links owes its existence first to a local priest, who saw the opportunities (and visitors) a golf course would bring, and second to the tireless Eddie Hackett, who designed the course in the 1970s.
Connemara Golf Club is tucked away at the farthest reaches of the beautiful, barren Connemara region, just south of the pretty town of Clifden. The links is wrapped around an impressive, high clubhouse, from where flags can be seen in every direction.
The fairways, like the views, are generous… a vital concession considering how the wind can batter this exposed course. At times it feels like a lunar landscape and this feeling increases on the back nine as you reach the impressive closing stretch. The par three 13th sits alone in a rock-strewn hollow, while the 14th promises one of those incredible driving moments from a mile-high tee.
- Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris)
The Old Tom links squeezes its Sandy Hills sibling in a pincer movement: the front nine pressing in on one side, the seaside back nine on the other. Today’s course combines nine of Old Tom’s original holes with a new nine by Pat Ruddy (opened 2009). Ruddy’s holes form the front nine, away from the sea, where the rhythm of the dunes gets more agitated at the farthest point. It builds the tempo and the landscape allowed Ruddy to create plenty of deception, especially on green approaches.
Old Tom’s classic holes (with hints of Braid and Vardon) follow the curve of Sheep Haven Bay. Their natural shapes use the landscape to perfection, promising some terrific quirks, and they emphasise the differences between the old classic style and a new style designed to complement them. The back nine is visible from the impressive hotel, as is the statue of Old Tom.
Old Tom’s other original holes are still open for play, but now form a nine hole inland loop.
- North West
So close to Ballyliffin, on Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula, and yet so far off the travelling golfer’s radar, North West is one of Ireland’s oldest links. In 2016, it celebrates 125 years… and a turbulent 125 years they have been. Over the decades the course has lost a lot of land to the sea but, despite the implications that has for the course, it remains a links of subtlety and ingenuity. This is old school design and charm, something most apparent on the excellent, natural and treacherous greens.
Truth be told, when you drive by the course on your way to Ballyliffin, it does not look that interesting. It appears flat and open… but you have been fooled, for this is bumpy, idiosyncratic and perfect links golf terrain. Engage your brain and you can do North West justice, but the course possesses invisible dips, semi-blind approaches and difficult-to-gauge greens. It all adds up to a stern examination of your game. The sea is a constant companion, as are the views, and you can be sure of a very friendly welcome.
Enjoy the 90 yard 16th. In the wind it can prove to be the trickiest hole of your round.
- Cruit Island
This may only be a nine hole course, but try telling that to the 3rd, 6th, 7th and 9th holes. Big adventures, every one, and that par three 6th, over rocky ocean chasms, stops golfers in their tracks, time after time.
Cruit (pronounced ‘Critch’) is off the beaten path but it ties in nicely with nearby Narin & Portnoo, and driving this stretch of coastline is part of the adventure. Don’t believe it? Walk over the crest of the dune on the 3rd hole and you’ll quickly change your mind. Donegal’s rugged beauty is all around you, while the 3rd green lies below with only ocean behind.
The beauty of this course is that it is so natural. There’s nothing fancy here: the greens simply come at the end of fairways and the design conforms only to the shape of the landscape that created it. It’s well maintained but there is no fuss about the place, despite the explosive dunes which are home to nine terrific holes. No shot disappoints and the great advantage of a nine hole course is that you’ll have a far better idea where those hidden humps and hollows are to be found (and avoided) on your second loop.
Westport Golf Club basks on 260 acres of picturesque land belonging to the beautiful 18th century Westport House, that’s nearby. It was the house’s owner, Lord Sligo who bequeathed this parkland course to the people of Mayo in the early 1970s. He saw the importance of the course, both for the community and for local tourism, for this is an idyllic setting on the edge of Clew Bay. Across the water looms Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s most holy mountain, and many golfers turn to it for inspiration.
Yes, it is a parkland course, but the sea laps up to the four best holes and the views are never less than stunning. On the par three 14th, you hit directly at Croagh Patrick. Look closely and you’ll see the chapel built on the top.
This is a big course with five par fives; the 15th is the pick of the bunch, curling around the bay and demanding a big drive to clear the water. The course really kicks off from the 7th and holes 11 to 16 are superb. They have the best elevation changes, the best views and the water to thrill you.
Westport is also one of the friendliest, prettiest towns in Ireland.
There are, it has to be said, plenty of inland courses for golfers to visit, with Ballinrobe and Castlebar chief among them.
The Ireland’s North West hosts golf’s hidden gems in its truest sense. The region is genuinely off the beaten track, being one of the more remote areas of the Emerald Isle, and is blessed by raw and natural beauty as well as golf of the highest order. So once you have played the more renowned courses in the area, feast on these gems, which can be equally as good!
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