Baltray Links, as it is more commonly known, succeeds massively in balancing classic links golf with enough individuality and moments of brilliance to rightly give it a place at the top table of Irish links. The playability aspect of County Louth is quite exceptional.
There are several unique holes at this fantastic layout, many of which run alongside the Irish Sea, and is located under an hour north of Dublin and very much worth the drive.
Tom Simpson can be credited for much of the current design (going back to 1938) although a new clubhouse has meant that some holes were rerouted and/or renumbered whilst further alterations were made just after the turn of the millennium.
There is a beautiful clean and crisp feel to the golf course thanks largely to the large areas of tight, closely mown grass around the greens, plenty of width to the fairways - often cresting the rolling duneland - bordered by fine playable rough and protected with sharp revetted bunkers which are re-done on a rolling 3-year basis. Add to this the beautifully crafted putting surfaces and you have a course of the highest order.
The terrain is ever changing as we encounter more dramatic moments coupled with subtler parts of the course. The key to the brilliance of Baltray is that the green complexes match their surrounds perfectly and tie everything together seamlessly.
Ordinarily three par fives in the first six holes would feel a little cumbersome but Baltray pulls if off very well. The second, third and sixth are all 500+ yarders but they are all so different it doesn’t feel as if you are covering so much ground in such a short period of time.
I enjoyed the climbing second but it is the third and sixth which steal the show thanks to exceptional green complexes that suit a three-shot hole so well. The mysterious, potentially funnelling, approach to the third may be blind and has a nasty drop-off to the left whilst the teasingly small green at the sixth could also leave you partially sighted if you get out of position. Going for the green in two is an option at all three for bigger hitters but getting too close could lead to more trouble than leaving yourself a pitch from 100-yards.
Fairly early on in the round we also enjoy playing two delightful short holes; both played from exposed teeing grounds. The fifth and seventh are not dissimilar in that they play to plateau greens with sneaky fall-offs but there is enough differentiation to make each stand out on its own merit. The hole location of the day could radically alter how you play each hole.
Elsewhere, I was impressed with the opening hole where a front-right bunker does just enough to add some strategy and the fourth, another two-shotter, which used to be the opening hole is a bumpy ride over some lovely linksland.
Indeed, the first eight holes are of an extremely high standard. There are some Portrush-esque drop-offs around many of the greens and the course doesn’t really miss a beat on the excellent front nine.
It’s possible to jump from the eighth green straight onto the 12th tee (the group in front of me actually did this in error!) and if you are short of time then this would be a reasonable option. Although I must state that not making enough time for a full round at Baltray would be a crime.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with holes 9-11 but this trio is the least memorable on the course; solid but unspectacular. They are three long par fours (in a stretch of golf which includes a run of seven 400+ yard holes in a row between the 8th and 13th) and they don’t quite match their counterparts for drama and character.
However, the run of holes from the 12th right through to the 16th is quite exceptional. The 12th bends elegantly left before we fire to a green behind a saddle in the dunes whilst the next takes us straight towards the beach and a view of Seapoint Links from the next tee. And what a tee the 14th is. Played from the top of large dune we must find a fairway that turns right around another sandhill to a wonderful and wild green complex.
The 15th is another par-three with a plateau green and although a fine hole it doesn’t quite strike the same amount of fear into you as the 5th and 7th and is slightly less complex. Meanwhile, I was particularly fond of the 16th which tempts you to go right from the tee before you play to an amphitheatre green which feeds in from the left.
The course ends with what appeared to be a new par-three and a long par-five with a plethora of bunkers dotted along its 559-yards.
When all the maths is done the yardage of Baltray adds up to 7,031 from the blue tees with a par of 72. The whites offer a more manageable 6,716 yards whilst a green set of blocks allows the course to be enjoyed from just over 6,300 yards.
Whichever set of tees you play from I would wholeheartedly recommend an hour in the clubhouse after your round to enjoy the delicious Clogherhead Scampi special and a rather sizeable portion of home-made lemon drizzle cake. With on-site dormy accommodation to boot Baltray gets it right both on and off the golf course.
The Dunskey course at Portpatrick is one of the most fun and enjoyable I have played in Scotland.
Not many people know but there is also a third course at Turnberry and this is the nine hole Arran course.