North-West-IrelandIn many ways Ireland’s North West is the Cinderella of Irish golf. Despite being a natural beauty, it’s often overlooked in favour of its more gregarious siblings in the south west and around Dublin who are constantly shouting about how brilliant they are. But spend some time getting to know this unassuming wallflower and you’ll discover a few pleasant surprises along the way.

The area around Donegal and Sligo is blessed with a stunning landscape dotted with small villages, lively pubs and quaint country house hotels. In amongst them are golf courses of the very highest calibre. Championship links layouts that adorn the untamed Atlantic coast that are among Ireland’s best in terms of design and awe-inspiring vistas and there are some excellent inland parkland courses too.

This unspoiled region is also where you can find green fees that are a fraction of the most sought-after courses elsewhere in the country. And it doesn’t matter what direction your nose, or your sat-nav takes you, you’ll be sure to find some enticing combinations.

Head far north and enjoy the sublime links at Ballyliffin, Northwest and Rosapenna.  There’s plenty of accommodation around here but you can’t beat the Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel and Spa, perched on Ireland’s northernmost coast. It provides a welcoming, pampering haven next to the two Ballyliffin links, with cosy rooms, award-winning dining and the renowned Rock Crystal Spa.



Ballyliffin

Ballyliffin



The Ballyliffin courses are both outstanding tracks. The Old Links is a quirky seaside track, packed with character, with undulating fairways that produce unpredictable bounces as they wind their way through the rolling dunes. Nick Faldo did a superb job of remodelling the course to give it some added teeth and all 18 holes are now both challenging and entertaining. Its sister track, the Glashedy, opened in 1995 and was designed by Ireland’s premier architect Pat Ruddy. This formidable layout features huge undulating greens and it has already tested the best amateur and pros in several Irish national championships and pro tour events.

If you need another reason to visit Ballyliffin then Northwest Golf Club, 25 minutes away by car, is it. It doesn’t enjoy Ballyliffin’s widespread reputation, but you’ll be amazed by the quality of this unsung gem. Wedged between the sea and the towering Mouldy Mountain, it dates back to 1891 and is a true links in every sense. Its smooth fescue greens, fast running fairways, wispy rough and revetted bunkers make it a joy to play – and its seaside holes really are right beside the sea, providing brilliant views and an intoxicating dose of drama.

If you want to visit another outstanding golf club in this corner of Ireland, Rosapenna is the way forward. While here we recommend you stay at the Station House Hotel Letterkenny. Located on the banks of Lough Swilly, this lovely hotel provides easy access to all three destinations – while Ballyliffin and Rosapenna aren’t that far apart geographically, travelling between the two by road can take longer than you think due to the craggy nature of the coastline.  Alternatively, you can stay at Rosapenna itself. The resort’s hotel, overlooking Sheephaven Bay, is top class and you can then be up early to take on the two cracking links courses on its doorstep.



Rosapenna

Rosapenna



Open Championship legend Old Tom Morris laid out the links that bears his name back in 1891, while over a century later Pat Ruddy built the wonderful Sand Hills course, a challenging 7,000-yard beauty that has elevated Rosapenna into a truly world-class resort that you simply can’t miss when visiting this part of the Emerald Isle.

Head south and you come to County Sligo, which also has array of outstanding links courses. The town of Sligo itself makes for a great base with international standard hotels in its lively centre, such as the Radisson BLU Hotel & Spa and Sligo Park, or if you’d prefer something out of town try the grand Sandhouse Hotel on Donegal Bay or the stylish Castle Dargan Hotel, Golf & Spa with its lavish rooms, well equipped spa and marvellous Darren Clarke parkland golf course.

But if you love links golf, you’ll be in Heaven around here. North of Sligo are the wonderful windswept links at Bundoran and Donegal Golf Club. The latter is a real gem, perched dramatically on an exposed peninsula, providing amazing views. The golf is just as good, with the course often compared favourably to the famous links at Muirfield…high praise indeed!



County-Sligo

County Sligo



To the west of town, on the coast, is Sligo Golf Club. This Harry S. Colt course is one of the region’s oldest and finest. It’s blessed with some great holes, especially the short 13th where your tee shot must fly a stretch of beach. In all, five holes run along the Atlantic, with the ocean visible on most of the others.

Many of the finest golf courses in the region are within easy reach of Sligo. Strandhill, for example, is just five miles from the town centre. If this stunning seaside links was near, say,  Ballybunion, you’d have Yanks crowing about it all day long on website forums and green fees would be double the price and twice as hard to secure. Luckily for us, it isn’t, they don’t and they’re not.

The same applies to the links at Enniscrone Golf Club and Carne. To reach both requires a drive west of Sligo on the N59. Carne, in particular, is in a remote spot on the west coast – but what a spot it is! It’s renowned as the late Eddie Hackett’s finest creation alongside his celebrated track in south west Ireland, the Waterville Golf Links. Carne’s location is arguably more spectacular than Waterville’s and the holes, which run through natural sand dunes, are every bit as good.



Enniscrone

Enniscrone



While you’re out here, you must stop off at Enniscrone too. This golf course dates back to 1918, but both Hackett and Donald Steel have improved it in recent years. Dramatic dunes, an inspired layout, superb greens all year round and breathtaking views – what more could you ask for? How about another 18 holes?

Not a problem; in addition to the flagship Dunes Course, there’s the Scurmore course, which is every bit as fun and challenging. Playing here sort of sums up the experience of taking a break in Ireland’s North West… like proposing to Cinderella, and then finding out she has a trust fund!