Our 4 day trip to the North West of Ireland started with a short flight (35 min) from Edinburgh to Belfast on a windy day in August. We stepped off the plane at Belfast airport knowing that the weather was for showers and high winds all week - welcome to autumn golf in Ireland, this wasn't going to be a bit of sunshine in Spain or Portugal, it was going to be a test of stamina, fortitude and the ability to stand up right for 4 days. Be prepared !
We picked up a mini bus to transport the 5 of us around for the week, it looked like the bus had been battered around the Belfast streets and back roads by previous visitors but it proved to be a reliable vehicle for the week.
We headed off on our first 2 hour plus drive of the week to Ballyliffin for an afternoon tee time, arriving in time for a very friendly welcome, our first Guinness of the week, the usual pictures of Rory as a young boy hanging in the entrance hall and a good lunch, we looked out of a great looking couple of links courses looking forward to the afternoon.
Ballyliffin was definitely a testing, brilliant Links course in possible the biggest links land area i have seen (we played the Glashedy), with breathtaking views over the Atlantic ocean. A further 4 courses could be fitted in without any difficulty. with a 35mph wind as we approached the par 3 7th with an elevated tee position into a 150 yard hole, damage limitation was the only thing in everyone's mind.
This is wild golfing country perched right on the Atlantic Ocean (next stop New York) with stunning links and equally stunning views. It had been a long first day and as we drove up to our second venue at Rossapena we knew the week would be a good one !
Day 2 and Rossapena, again 2 courses to choose from, a huge club house and nice hotel (with some great pictures, Rory yes, of course but plenty of other interesting memorabilia, Padraig Harring, Shane Lowry and many others adorn the walls)
We played the newer of the 2 courses (Sandy Hills), a fantastic layout, we were going out in a 5 ball (thanks to the starters for allowing this as the course was very quiet) - the rough was significantly worse than Ballyliffin and the greens more difficult to hit with elevated positions and fairways that tunnelled through the dunes.
This is a must play venue and walking off the 18th was a course I immediately wanted to play again (albeit on a calmer day) !
Day 3 and onto County Sligo @ Rosses Point a much more traditional golf club feel (more Rory with the mop of curly hair), the weather forecast was deteriorating and we expected rain (but actually got lucky !). The 1st few holes climb up to a magnificent 360 degree view point high on the peninsular, and then a tough (but short) par 5 back down hill but into the wind (i lost my ball and any chance of a score had disappeared) .
A couple of holes the courses changes shape again as the burn winds around the finishing holes on the back 9 before we turned down wind. It was no easier and the wheels came off for a couple of holes before I bagged my first 2 of the week on the 16th. (followed by a car crash on 17 (a slightly quirky Par 5) and a slight recovery on the 18th, a blind par 4. Another visit to Sligo would be much appreciated.
Day 4 - The final day and Donegal golf club (yes Rory again, but also our first pictures of Darren Clarke, were had he been all week !). Some friendly but slightly confusing chat from one of the members on the first, as he regaled us with stories from visiting Scotland back in the day and the drink and golf involved.
Another tough but very enjoyable links track with less visitors and more members, possibly as it was a Friday morning. The course showed some signs of over play but was never the less a good venue. A tough 9 out into the wind (sounds familiar) with some tricky par 3s and a par 5s that i would like to play again with a bit of experience, with some respite coming on the back 9 through to the tough 18th.
After finishing we made the 3 hour drive (trek) back to Belfast and stayed one final night in the city which allowed us to review (with Guinness in hand) what was a great weeks "proper golf" in a part of the golfing world that deserves to be high on every touring golfers must play list (there are at least half a dozen more courses to play in the area).
Be prepared ....for some tough conditions, a warm welcome everywhere you go and a bit of driving in between locations but it's well worth it.