One of Ireland’s GEMs
As an Irishman living in Scotland I find I get the best of both worlds – the challenging links courses in the notorious “home of golf” and also the hidden gems nestled in the Irish countryside – and what a beautiful countryside it is.
Having played a number of different courses throughout Ireland, I contacted some of the golfing network I’d built over the years to see about playing their home course – Enniscrone on the North West of Ireland, a small seaside village between Sligo and Ballina. Enniscrone Golf Club, a championship links, lays in the headland of Killala Bay and the mouth of the River Moy Estuary with some exposure to the Atlantic Ocean.
Driving down from Belfast, we took the scenic route and crossed through around 7 different counties, along peat lined roads and eventually to the seaside village of Enniscrone (or Inishcrone as it is known in Ireland). The course itself is set right on the Wild Atlantic Way with fantastic views of Ireland and out to the Atlantic Ocean with some holes sheltered by imposing sand dunes covered in marron grass – a lovely sight to see.
I had booked to play two rounds of golf at Enniscrone Dunes as part of a four ball, one of which was a member of the course. We teed off late morning for the first round with the weather being kind to us for October – a slight breeze but dry conditions. I have to admit, the first hole is intimidating with the clubhouse and out-of-bounds down the right hand side of the hole – I played right centre and was let down by my approach to the green which made for an overall six on the par 4 hole. I didn’t let this impact the remainder of my round.
For me the most difficult part of Enniscrone Dunes was the 15th “The Strand” hole. The tee shot requires accuracy and distance from the White Tees – ball placement on the right side of the fairway gives clear access to the green which is slightly dog legged left. The green has run off right and left and is on three levels – I ended up with a 5 here (a par 4 hole) which I was pleased with.
The best part of the course for me was holes 1 to 6 and 11-18. These particular holes ran through the sand dunes and a number had unspoilt views out to the Atlantic Ocean and peninsula of land on the other side of the estuary. The course overall is fantastic, but holes 7 to 10 for me weren’t as dramatic in the use of the various undulations created on the fairways of the other holes through the dunes.
Enniscrone Golf Course is celebrating 100 years of Links golf and if you haven’t played it yet, I would highly recommend it. It is a beautiful location and, like most places in Ireland, the people are friendly and happy to accommodate you. The course is a great links course which is a test for any standard of golfer. The best advice I can give would be to try and play with a local member, as the knowledge of the course is second to none in trying to navigate the fairways, greens and sometimes, blind shots! I played in October where the weather was still kind and the course was in fantastic condition.
Lots of airbnbs around the area (we stayed in the Cahermore Holiday Village) or hotels locally and the Pilot Bar is worth a visit for a traditional Irish feed and a pint of Guinness after a good round of golf!
The Creation of Golf Even More
Q: How did Golf Even More come to be?
I’m a keen golfer and golf tourist, when I’m on holiday or planning a holiday, I try to play at least a few different courses – sometimes I find a gem and don’t change course! Occasionally, when playing on new courses the starter or pro shop would place me along with other golfers – visitors or or members who know the course. This was where the idea came from, the desire to play new courses and that the ideal situation of playing a new course was one where a member could be a guide on the course and a companion.
Q: You seem like a keen golfer! How long have you been playing for?
Having grown up in Ireland golf was not a sport that any of my family or friends played, nor was there a course close by. In my early years it was football and rugby that were my passions. When I moved to Scotland (the home of golf!) I played rugby and was introduced to golf as an “out of season” sport. My interest continued and when my rugby career ended (it has to at some point!) golf became my competitive sport. One failure at an early stage was not having a coach that has been a lesson learnt. Two others were patience and the need for practice.
Q: Of all the courses you have played, what is your all-time favourite?
I have played quirky courses where there is an honesty box to pay and play, cows roaming along the fairways with electric fencing protecting the greens- what’s the ruling on landing on a cow pat?! I have also played some of the top courses; St Andrews Old Course, which is nostalgic but not the greatest links course in my opinion, two courses in Ireland Royal Portrush and Ballyliffin Glashedy are two wonderful courses – with Ballyliffin having shown the beauty of the course hosting the Irish Open.
However, some of the best courses are the hidden gems that you don’t think will come to much, but wow! I played Enniscrone last October – a course nestled in the West of Ireland that is definitely up there and I was fortunate enough to have played with a member and friend. Macrahanish in Scotland is another course that can be tricky to get to, but well worth the round, similarly Bude in Cornwall – where the summer is generally better than the rest of the UK – great golfing climate! Some of the best courses I have played aren’t necessarily in the “top 100” – it’s about finding these wee beauty’s – usually through an introduction by a course member.
Q: How do you think Golf Even More will support, and hopefully improve the take up of the, currently, declining sport?
I believe golf club membership is key to the health of golf clubs, development of young golfers into the professional ranks, and the wider golf retail sector. Golf clubs are losing members however various ideas are being used to attract and retain members including 5 day, 6 day and winter memberships. Golfers are looking for value in the sport and Golf Even More will bring value to club members – using their memberships to expand their playing experience on other golf courses – top 100’s to hidden gems. By putting the value back to the club member it will support golf clubs retention of existing members and encouraging social golfers to join clubs.
Q: Why do you think Golf is in decline across the UK & Ireland?
There are multiple factors for golf to be in decline in the U.K. and Ireland, and research suggests this is associated with introduction to golf and participation at a young age, time constraints and cost. One major component in my opinion is the lack of visibility of golf on TV; we no longer see our national championships and the sale of the TV rights by the R&A of the Open highlights this. If you want to play golf you need to afford to see its promotion.
The Golf Unions of the U.K. and Ireland need to have a unified and coordinated approach to promotion of the sport. In a recent report produced by a leading international auditor on the health of golf in Europe it indicates that there is growth in other European countries. Golf in Scotland and Wales was showing decline while England and Ireland losses are balanced by new golf club members. The survey indicates limited growth and participation within junior golf and women golfers.
Q: Are there any tips you would give to someone considering starting the sport?
I feel that you can take up golf at any age, so long as you have a bit of hand to eye co-ordination then it’s likely you will be able to participate! Get along to a local driving range where some will have practice clubs to use, golf clubs may also have beginners classes so get in touch with the golf professional, speak to friends that play golf and get swinging!
Q: Sometimes the cost is seen as prohibitive, how do you think golf clubs should manage this?
Golf clubs now allow monthly direct debits for annual memberships, there are also 5 day, 6 day and full memberships available with reduced subscriptions for juniors, students and under 25’s. Clubs are already working hard to retain members; another potential area to encourage take up is having reduced rates for beginners and possibly encourage members to donate pre-owned golf clubs for beginners use.
Q: Does the issue lie with golf clubs or should the golf unions support golf more at a younger age?
The promotion of golf is with golf unions of the U.K. and Ireland who need to promote the sport through education, advertising and marketing. This needs to be done at a local level through golf clubs, it has to be a sustained long term plan.
Q: With the Open coming up, who do you think is best placed to win the Claret Jug this year?
Jordan Spieth has not had a great year to date, although he was in the same position when he won in 2017 – he has a strong game and should do well. Brooks Koepka (2018 US Open winner) has a lot of European Tour experience and I see him being there at the end of the competition. The dry weather that we have had for months in Scotland has left burnt hard fairways and the rough has not grown to a level to punish poor drives. Carnoustie green keepers have been watering the rough to try and establish that punishment for warrant drives. So who will win the Claret Jug, it’s time for a European Justin Rose, Jon Rahm or Henrik Stenson!
Q: The new R&A Rules of Golf for 2019, what would you like to change?
When you are unlucky to land in a divot on the fairway you should be able to treat this as in the case of a preferred lie. On a number of holes on a course there will be popular landing area where there could be multiple divots or repaired divots, having control of the ball in that situation is like playing from a hazard where the golfer is punished.