The real beauty of Sligo, however, is that it has the ability to mix championship brawn with quirkier elements across its more undulating terrain and in the case of the short 4th serves up a truly wondrous and unique golf hole.
Many a visiting golfer may tie in a visit here with Carne and Enniscrone. I’d wholly recommend that strategy as Sligo offers an excellent alternative (breather!) to the big dune golf at the other two venues yet the quality is not compromised in the slightest.
The green complexes at Sligo stand out as being superior to most with large putting surfaces and standout bunkering. At a number of holes the length of the green is so vast that bunkers flank the putting surface often pinching in between a third and two-thirds of the way back - not always fronting the green like you find at many courses.
Excellent use is also made of a couple of ditches running through the property, not least at the marvellous 7th where chasing a right-hand flag is a fool’s errand.
The only arguable blot on the landscape, especially on the exceptional front nine, is the drive at the second hole which is a touch too steep although the skyline green is lovely and quickly makes amends for an uninspiring tee shot.
Indeed the outward half is one of the best nine-holes of golf I have played. And at a push I could go as far as saying the first two-thirds of the course.
The first is a classy opener, the sweeping third is a majestic par-five and the aforementioned fourth, a par-three played to a knob green which falls off dramatically to the right but has a putting surface which tilts from right-to-left, is world-class.
After dropping down to lower ground with an elevated drive at the linear fifth we play a series of holes on flatter ground – albeit still with plenty of movement in them - before rising back up onto a dune ridge to play the exquisite short ninth. Because of the flatter terrain holes five through to eight need good green complexes and boy do they have them! Looking down at these holes from the elevated third tee I must admit I was sceptical that they could produce great golf…. but appearances from afar can be deceptive.
Meanwhile, holes 10, 11 and 12 are played on the prettiest part of the property with delicious backdrops to each hole thanks to the proximity of the coastline and scenery on offer; Benbulbin, Knocknarea , Rosses Point Lighthouse, Sligo Bay & Oyster Island are just some of the highlights. The quality of golf just about matches the views on this excellent trio of holes.
Although much lauded the run for home which traces the beach didn’t quite live up to the staggeringly good golf through the first 12 holes in my eyes. There is absolutely nothing to dislike though and there are some very fine holes on these closing six holes – maybe it was the tailwind on the day which meant they didn’t quite play their best?
The standout on the homeward stretch is the remarkable uphill, doglegging 17th which requires some plotting, due to the uncertainty of where fairway meets broken ground, but at 470 yards brute force is also an asset.
In summary this traditional links layout, redesigned by Harry Colt in 1927 after the original course was laid out in 1894, utilizes the natural contours of the landscape to great effect. The end result is a course filled with dramatic undulations, elevated tees, and excellent green sites.
Playing to a maximum yardage of 7,167 with a par of 71 Rosses Point is a stylish course, worthy of holding any top amateur championship but it goes a little further than this and delivers some individualistic holes which the travelling golfer will find extremely fulfilling.
There is also the Bomore 9 at County Sligo which I hope to see on my next visit. It is located on the flatter terrain to the right of the fifth hole and if it is anywhere near as good as the holes on the main course in the vicinity it would be worth a couple of hours of your time.
The excellent Diamond Coast Hotel is located within walking distance of Enniscrone Golf Club and makes an excellent base for golf in this part of Ireland. This is where we stayed and it is less than a 60 minute drive to both Sligo & Strandhill and just over an hour to Carne. There is bar food available as well as a bistro and restaurant menu. The hotel do a fantastic value "Wild Atlantic Way" package which includes 3 nights B&B, a 3-course meal on one night and a round each at Sligo, Carne and Enniscrone.
Copt Heath is a very fine parkland golf course that requires precision, plotting and a deft touch around the slick greens.
The Blue is a mix of American-style design and traditional English parkland. It's an unusual combination which makes the most of the terrain available. It was designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1994.