Friday 15 September
Connemara is the lowest rated of the four courses we visited this week, ranked 32nd, but is still very highly regarded so we were not expecting much of a comedown. We were not to be disappointed and in fact it was arguably ahead of the other three venues in some aspects, certainly the most impressive clubhouse setting and up there with Carne in terms of the enchanting unspoilt natural beauty of the location and surroundings. The weather enhanced the experience, as we had the best day of the trip – mostly sunny yet still with the solid two-club prevailing wind.
The front nine of the ‘A&B’ course meanders around flatlands with dangerous pot bunkering and varied green countours the main defences on the ground. The 1st and 2nd played into the crosswind, the 1st a dogleg left par four that invites a draw tee shot off the rugged rocky hill terrain to the right and the 2nd a straight par four with pot bunkers on both sides of fairway and green. After the testing opening two holes, the short par three third is index 18, then the par four 4th is a straightish par four, again with pot bunkers on both sides of fairway and green, a comfortable hole when played downwind provided your tee shot can avoid the traps. The 5th hole is the second hardest hole on the front nine card, a dogleg left par four that for us was relatively kind given the helping crosswind on the day. The par three 6th hole, whilst index 14 on the card, played one of the harder holes of the day as it required wood tee shots for us into the wind. The par five 7th offers quite a wide fairway and would be a great birdie opportunity when not affected by a hurting wind, which is probably never the case! After passing the plaque dedicated to Steve Fossett’s 2003 re-enactment of Alcock & Brown’s 1919 first non-stop flight across the Atlantic on a biplane, the index 2 8th takes you in the direction of the clubhouse, with no significant fairway bunkering to consider, but an undulating tiered green complex well protected by bunkers short and to the right. The 9th is not unlike the 8th in terms of direction and has more fairway pot bunkers to contend with, but it is a much shorter par four than the 8th off the white tees.
The first three holes of the back nine are broadly in a similar vein to the front nine, before the epic homeward stretch raises the bar substantially. The 10th is a tough par four that was into the wind and required a 5-wood second shot for me on the day due to the elevated green. The 11th is a lovely slightly downhill par three with two pot bunkers on each flank and one large deceiving bunker in front that is in fact much further back from the front of the green than appears from the tee. Whilst many holes on the day were played into a hurting crosswind, the slight dogleg right par four 12th is one of the few holes that played head-on directly into the wind, which when combined with the elevated green and 445 yardage from tips made it play all all of its index 1.
Leaving the 12th green you find yourself on the high outpost of the course, which signals the beginning of a slightly different stretch of holes until the finish. The par three 13th brings you to a higher altitude than previously experienced thus far and is positioned alongside some of the most rugged rocky lunar terrain amidst the dunes. It is a long par three with a slope in front of the green making it difficult to find the surface, also with three pot bunkers lurking front and back, one of the best holes on the course. Then you ascend higher again to reach the 14th tee and what is an absolutely jaw-dropping view of the entire course and surroundings. It is a straight par five played in a southwesterly direction towards the ocean with a significant drop from tee to fairway and OB all down the right side. The green was reachable in two for us but our second shots were cruelly diverted left and short rolling back down the steep slope just in front of the green, a tricky feature along with the five bunkers short of the green. Definitely one of my favourite holes of the trip.
The next two holes are tough par fours, the 15th is without bunkers but if it plays in to the wind, as it did for us, finding the relatively small and elevated green in two with hairy dunes on three sides is a difficult task and its index 3 rating is no surprise. The 16th plays back downwind towards the clubhouse but is not an easy fairway to hit as it doglegs slightly to the left at the landing area. There is a burn about 30 yards short of the green, three pot bunkers and the green itself is one of the more undulating on the course.
The finish at Connemara GC is very enjoyable, two par fives in succession routed in opposite directions. The 17th back tee is on elevated ground in front of the clubhouse played to an inviting wide and flattish fairway with no bunkers to contend with from tee to green. Whilst the hole measures 500 yard and might sound easy, the approach to the green is another steep rise in elevation and playing into the wind it actually took us three solid shots to make the green, another with long dune grasses threatening on three sides. The 18th here rivals the 18th at Carne in terms of its combination of stunning views and hole design, both par fives with downhill tee shots with inclines back up towards raised greens, what surely must be two of the best finishing holes in the country. For those laying up, a burn crossing the fairway 100 yards in front of the green must be considered for second shots, and for the longer hitters the green is reachable in two downwind, although the second shot will have to fly all the way to the putting surface and carry the four pot bunkers and the steep slope before the green.