There is an eclectic mix of holes at Strandhill which continually keeps the golfer on his toes. Some provide championship-esque style golf whilst others are quite bizarre – but in a good way – with the rest lying somewhere in the middle. There’s never a dull moment golfing here along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The hotchpotch style is the result of a varied landscape and the course expanding with new holes being added over the years. Ultimately this enhances the experience considerably. The course sits on a small site but plays big, or at least it did in the four-club wind I encountered on my visit!
Strandhill Golf Club was founded in 1931 as a nine-hole golf course although this was redesigned within a decade. The present 18-hole course was opened in 1973 but subsequently altered via the input of several members. The club have more recently carried out significant re-bunkering as well as tee work and minor reshaping of some holes. Work continues as funds allow.
After an awkward opening tee shot we trace the beautiful coastline of Cullenamore Beach for a few holes under the gaze of Knocknarea, a clear-cut limestone mountain, where we discover some excellent green complexes and a bold-as-brass one at the fourth where we must fire up to a green plateaued into a large sand dune; anything short and your ball will roll back maybe 40 meters. The fourth isn’t a great hole but it’s black and white with no grey area and often holes like this work very well.
There is talk on the club website of extending into duneland behind the fourth green to add a couple of new holes which may alter the existing fourth and also enable the club to lose some of their weaker holes in a complete re-routing of the links.
We then embark on a run of holes that offers everything. The 5th and 6th are preposterously good. The bubbling fairway of the former – a par five - is a sight to behold and a joy to play, however, the angled drive from an elevated tee at this hole is also highly strategic and the basin green is a satisfying conclusion to a glorious hole which encourages bravery and shotmaking but also most likely requires the golfer to have a good sense of humour as things could potentially go wrong… through no fault of their own!
And then Strandhill delivers one of the best holes on the island of Ireland. The 6th is a thing of true beauty. The par-four sweeps to the right through dunes to a churning fairway that gradually reveals itself before the glorious view of the infinity green complex appears and becomes fully visible. A pair of greenside bunkers down the left ensure an approach from the tighter right side is preferred on a hole that is truly all-world. Simple strategy and visuals work in tandem here to create a real beauty. I haven’t been as blown away by a hole since playing Portrush last year. I have a feeling the original hole may have played from the other side of the fifth green as you can make out an old fairway but whoever moved the tee closer towards the clubhouse has pulled off a masterstroke.
The 7th – where everything is on display - and the 8th – where very little is - continue our enjoyment factor of Strandhill where the line of quirk and quality is perfectly trodden.
The 9th, 10th and 11th – all played on the inland perimeter side and the ugliest part of the course do not quite live up to the rasping golf we have encounter thus far but all hold merit and provide lots of strategy. In the case of the latter two this is apparent on both the drive and approach. Sleeper holes these may be but they still offer plenty. Safety issues are apparent on the ninth where large netting protects nearby houses whilst the entrance road to the club is only a snap hook away at the 10th.
The next four holes rank amongst the most enjoyable, fun and quirky stretches of golf I’ve played. Because of their unique nature describing this quartet of maverick holes is not easy but as you play round, over and through this amazing part of the property your spirit is lifted with the golf you get to play. On three of the holes you can golf conservatively or take a risky shortcut whilst the short and bunkerless 14th also offers options on how you should try and shape your ball into the green.
The highlight of this sequence is undeniably the wacky and genius 13th. Here you have several options from a high tee box in order to find a mostly hidden, serpentine fairway which meanders down like a ribbon through the largest of the dunes before you hit to a tiny dell green almost entirely surrounded by more dunes with just a small cut in the hills to give you a glimpse of the flag. It could be said that it is not a great hole, a potentially maddening one, but it is unorthodox holes like these which etch themselves into your memory bank. It’s an utterly amazing and original hole; a puzzle which must be solved.
The final three holes are played over less enthralling land but do not disappoint as a finale to the round. The 16th, with an ideally placed central bunker, and the 18th are both tough two-shotters but have a touch of real quality about them whilst the par-three 17th plays much better than it looks.
At just 5,804 meters from the tips it could be argued that the par-70 course is too short to provide truly great golf and although I would perhaps agree that a wind is beneficial to see Strandhill at its best there is no denying that for a large part great golf is exactly what Strandhill delivers.
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.