Connemara Golf Links 

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.

(Photo: Stunning view of the 18th hole)

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Carne Golf Links

Thursday 14 September

Out on the edge of the earth beyond the town of Belmullet within the spectacular landscape around Carne Golf Links we found ourselves the beneficiaries of a sunny seaside day with only one brief shower to contend with for the entire round. The wind of the day seemed to be a prevailing northwesterly off the ocean and stayed at about a two club factor throughout our round.

Carne is more remote and bare than Enniscrone and Rosses Point and you can immediately feel this on arrival at the clubhouse, imposing amidst an exposed rugged wild Atlantic coastal landscape. The Hackett 18, ranked 10th in Ireland, opens with a slight dogleg right par four that played into the teeth of the wind on the day providing for a very tough start. This is followed by what should be a relatively straightforward par three complicated by the right to left crosswind. The par four 3rd is quite exposed and features a false fronted green, followed by the benign par five 4th that played downwind on the day with OB on the left the only major issue. The 5th hole proved a brutish undulating par four into the wind with the dunes creating an amphitheatre effect around the green. The 6th is one of the harder holes on the card, presumably due to the small and dangerous green complex, but it played generously downwind on the day allowing for a short iron approach. The 7th is a fiendish uphill par three that required a wood off the tee held against a strong right to left crosswind with a bit of hurt. The par fours 8th and 9th follow a similar pattern to the 5th and 6th, one into the wind and the other more favourably downwind, yet with the downwind 9th hole again featuring a particularly tricky green complex.

The back nine kicks off in front of the clubhouse with the par five 10th played into the wind up and over a hill and down towards a towering dunescape behind the green. The 11th hole is a dogleg right par four with the tee shot played down into a valley between large dunes and the short approach back up the slope towards an exposed green on a ledge.

The 11th green marks the beginning of a section of the course from here until the 14th green that elevates the already sublime Carne experience to mythical proportions. Blacksod Bay becomes more visible with every shot until the seahorses on the waves are almost touchable from the 14th tee. The 12th is a quaint downhill par four with a forgiving landing area that pushes everything to the right to leave a short approach to a very elevated green. The par five 13th must be one of the most enjoyable walks in golf, the ocean and remote seaside landscape out to the right and the approach to the green seemingly at the edge of the earth.

Much is spoken of the par three 16th at Carne, but for me the 14th was the standout hole on the course, a majestic par three alongside the white sandy beach that played downwind to a narrow green. The setting is wild yet serene, remote yet comforting, a hole you would be happy to play repeatedly all day long.

The homeward stretch begins with the difficult uphill par four 15th, featuring a couple of nasty fairway pot bunkers and a relentless incline towards the green. The par three 16th is one of the signature holes at Carne and it is not hard to see why given the wide-reaching views from the high dune-top tee and inviting drop to the green.

The index 1 par four 17th is actually not excessively punishing from the tee but introduces real difficulty for the second shot played to a green that is tucked into the corner of a dune and high above a deep grassy ravine that will collect anything missed right and leave a very tough up-and-down.

The 18th is a finishing hole befitting of the quality of Carne. The green and red county flag of Mayo blows high on the dune to the right of the tee inviting two solid shots to reach this par five in two, an achievable feat if you manage to clear the valley before the green.

Carne is undoubtedly a golfing paradise at the edge of the earth!

(Photo: Larging it up on the 14th tee by Blacksod Bay)

Enniscrone Golf Club

Wednesday 13 September

The weather today was much more pleasant than yesterday. Apart from a twenty minute squall on the front nine the umbrellas were not required and the sun was out with a stiff breeze more typical of links golf than we experienced at Rosses Point.

If the dunes at Enniscrone GC are high then the challenge of the course itself is monstrous. Ranked 13th in Ireland, ‘The Dunes’ course starts with what seems a benign opening tee shot on the dogleg right par four 1st, however any notions of easing into the round are immediately denounced when you reach the dogleg and realise what is ahead of you – a brutal uphill approach with trouble in the way of wild high dunes on both sides. The exposed openness of the first tee is quickly forgotten as the next three holes, two par fives either side of a tight uphill par three, are routed right through the middle of the high dunes and leave little forgiveness for wide misses on almost every single shot. The dogleg right par five second hole stood out as one of the best holes on the course, one of seven holes (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 11th, 12th, 13th & 14th) that are played completely enclosed by huge dunes creating a feeling of complete detachment from the rest of the course and the outside world. The par three third required wood off the tee into the wind and the 4th is another dogleg right par five played through a dune tunnel.

Holes 5-8 are routed away from the higher dunes and play closer to the flatland Scurmore nine hole course. The 5th, whilst index 2 on the scorecard, played downwind on the day and its generous fairway from the elevated tee rendered it quite score-able despite the taxing contours on and around the green. Conversely, the par four 6th played like a par five into the wind, the steep slope in front of the plateau green an additional complication. The 7th is the third of the front nine par fives and features a perched green with fall-offs on three sides and a helpful slope on the right feeding back towards the middle of the green.

After the par three 8th played to the southeast corner of the property, you turn back west and start the long loop that goes all the way around the outside of the course that ultimately leads back to the clubhouse. The 9th and 10th tees are set close to the calmer waterway of the Moy River that leads to the ocean and are played in the same direction with trouble in particular on the left side of both. The par three 11th brings you back towards the more mountainous dunescapes of the western centre of the headland and features a huge grassy drop-off on the right side.

The next two holes are quirky yet memorable par fours set amidst the highest of the dunes. The 12th is a dogleg left with the second shot played (blind depending on position) over a deep grass valley to a rectangular green carved into the massive dunes, one of the nicer approach shots on the course. The 13th is a driveable (blind) downhill par four that doglegs right to the green hidden behind the dunes, a short hole but treacherous with a lay up strategy not much less dangerous than an attempt at the green, the hole made more memorable for its green/red light signalling technology to rival any rail network the world over!

The 14th hole was my favourite on the course, a par five that brings you from the busy western centre of the course out towards the northern seaside homeward stretch via an undulating fairway with typically monumental dunes overlooking on both sides and an approach around the corner to a green that features a complex arrangement of swales and backstops.

The next three holes are played along the northern edge of the promontory with the ocean in view to the left, the par four 15th and par five 16th both with tricky greenside countours and of course dunes all about particularly high on the right and behind the greens on both holes with the coastline away to the left. The 17th is a classic par three, the tee positioned high up on top of a dune and the green laid out invitingly a few feet below tee level. The final hole runs back inland to the south alongside a holiday caravan park towards the clubhouse and is one of the few holes that I can recall demanding a draw off the tee due to the three bunkers right side of the fairway. Despite the more urban, exposed and flat setting around the green, the fairway and green countours maintain the links feel.

Overall Enniscrone boasted the best conditioned greens we played all week but also the most punishing long fescue rough, which could make the round a major struggle for wayward players. Another dose of golfing paradise without a doubt.

(Photo: View from behind the 13th green)

County Sligo Golf Club (Rosses Point) 

Tuesday 12 September

Day 1 in Yeats country started off relatively kind weather-wise, overcast yet with barely any breeze. These somewhat unexpectedly benign conditions lasted for the duration of the front nine, until the clouds let loose and persistent heavy rain dominated the bank nine, albeit, oddly, without the wind ever really picking up beyond a slight breeze. The Championship course at Rosses Point is ranked 7th in Ireland.

The first four holes and 5th tee are positioned on and around what more resembles a mountain than a large sand-dune. After the relatively benign par four 1st played to an elevated green, the imposing 2nd hole appears a driveable par four on the scorecard but such is the sharp incline it would take an exceptional drive to find the green protected by three nasty sand traps. One of my favourites on the course was the par five 3rd, the tee-shot dramatic back down the mountain with a split fairway and flattening out towards the green. The 4th is the first of a fine set of par threes, the green perched high up on a plateau with anything short or right severely punished. The index 18 5th hole boasts my favourite tee shot on the course, a huge downhill drive to a generous fairway on the flat middle section of the course on what is a very reachable par five with a 45-yard long green.

The flatlands portion of the front nine (5th fairway/green and successive par fours from the 6th-8th) features the sneakily dangerous draw-favouring 6th with a hazard along the right and the very tough 7th, which is complicated by menacing fairway bunkering a treacherous burn running in front and to the right of the green, the hole framed by the dramatic backdrop of the famous Belbulben table top mountain. The approach to the dogleg right 8th was one of my favourite shots on the course, played over the burn to what is an amphitheatre like setting at the green and a little backstop helping out any slightly over-clubbed shots. The 9th is a lovely par three across the top of the dunes with four bunkers protecting the front half of the green and an absolute no-go fall-off zone on the right side.

The back nine begins with the magnificent par four 10th, again in the direction of Belbulben, featuring particularly lumpy fairway undulations and another huge green. The 11th and 12th run directly back west towards the ocean, the 11th an awkward par four that features a fairway sloping from left to right and a green guarded by hungry bunkers, one short on the left to catch any bounce-in shots and one short on the right to gobble up any underhit shots veering to the right down the hill. The par five 12th is a decent birdie opportunity before the homeward stretch, played up and over an incline and down the other side of the hill towards the ocean horizon.

The par three 13th tee is one of the standout scenes on the course, set above and overlooking the beach and the green below, its defences including a burn back right and ‘lady captain’s bunker’ (€1 entrance fee) among the five sand traps. Whilst the final five holes are all played in a southerly direction back towards the clubhouse (13-16 alongside the beach), they offer great variety, starting with Tom Watson’s favourite, the demanding par four 14th that requires a long and accurate tee shot short of the burn that weaves its way across the fairway and an approach to an open yet sideways sloping putting surface. I could see why Tom likes it, but I myself preferred the par four 15th, framed by dunes on both sides from tee to green and overlooked by the spectacular highland section of the front nine to the left background, it was on this hole where I finally nodded to myself in agreement with Co Sligo’s top-ten rating. The par three 16th is similar to the other short holes in that the tee is above the green level, though slightly less so here, and like the others offers plenty of reward for good tee shots once you find the relatively flat green.

The 17th hole, whilst one of the more memorable holes on the course, may not necessarily be the most enjoyable for some due to its difficulty. The landing area from the tee is relatively flat and favours the right side to open up the approach to the green, which is a long way up the steep hill and surrounded by dramatic high dunes. Bogey here is a not a bad score at all. The 18th is a blind tee shot over the apex of a hill and appears tricky off the tee, but the landing area is forgiving and offers a chance to get close with a short iron for a finishing birdie, although missing the green does leave a difficult up and down.

Rosses Point was majestic and worthy of its top ten rating in the country!

(Photo: 14th green as viewed from 7th tee)

North West Ireland Golf Tour 2017

Three young men from Cork are about to embark on a four-day golf tour along the wild North West Atlantic coast of Ireland.

Ready to play four of the finest links courses in the country (and therefore world), they will set off on Monday morning September 11 with the first destination being Sligo.

The itinerary is as follows:

Tuesday September 12: Rosses Point, Co Sligo

Wednesday September 13: Enniscrone, Co Sligo

Thursday September 14: Carne,  Co Mayo

Friday September 15: Connemara, Co Galway

Happy Chappell At Valero

23 April 2017
PGA Tour

Kevin Chappell won the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio on Sunday, fending off the challenge of Brooks Koepka with an 8-foot birdie putt on the par five 18th hole to win by a solitary stroke. Koepka had steamed forward from the pack with a final day -7 round of 65 that included a birdie on the 18th, but it would leave him painfully just short of the final winning total of -12. Koepka, seeking his second PGA Tour win, played the 18th hole with impressive careful strategic nous in the circumstances, choosing to lay up and rely on his wedge game to ensure birdie, but Chappell, himself seeking his first victory in his 180th start, stood up to the pressure playing the 18th in very similar fashion with the only clearly evident difference being a slightly longer birdie putt. Chappell took his chance and the wild celebration left in no doubt what the win meant to the 30 year old Californian.

On a course that proves a tough test year in year out, with scoring on Saturday in particular quite high due to the windy conditions, Chappell negotiated it aggressively yet assuredly and the overall quality of his final round of 68 should not be undervalued in the midst of Koepka’s 65. Fresh from a top ten in his first ever Masters appearance a couple of weeks ago, perhaps Chappell entered the week inspired by the experience, helped also by a return to a TPC San Antonio course on which he has previously performed very well, including a solo second place finish in 2011 and T4 in 2016. The springboard effect may lead to further success for Chappell in the near future, although that summation seems to apply to almost every single winner nowadays and they cannot all win. (I am still backing Sergio Garcia for the Grand Slam nonetheless.)

Scrambler Pick – Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Next up, the Tour returns to NOLA, but this time experimenting with a new team format similar to that of the World Cup of Golf – teams of two in strokeplay with foursomes applying for the first and third rounds and fourball (best ball) for the second and fourth rounds. There are some tasty looking teams on offer, not least Jason Day & Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth & Ryan Palmer, Branden Grace & Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay & Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger & Thomas Pieters and Bud Cauley & Justin Thomas. Of the above listed players, just Jason Day, Daniel Berger, Ryan Palmer and Justin Rose have recorded finishes of note at TPC of Lousiana, with Rose the only former winner, but that’s no reason to discount teams that include Fowler, Spieth, Stenson, Peiters, Thomas and Finau. The favourites are largely from the above list, but there are some interesting teams further down the field. Three I would highlight are the following:

Byeong Hun An & Seung-Yul Noh – This Korean duo looks menacing. Noh was the winner here in 2014 and An was runner up here last year. Neither is quite setting the world alight recently, but this could be where it all changes.

Alex Cejka & Soren Kjeldson – Say no more than that Kjeldson’s last win came at the World Cup of Golf at the end of 2016. I am sure he can take Cejka with him on a journey to the top five at least.

Luke Donald & Jamie Lovemark – a subtle combination of recent good form and a half decent record on this course for both. I like the chances.

At 35/1, you must go with the Koreans!

Hala Sergio! #SergioSlam2017

The Masters
9 April 2017

Sergio Garcia won the 81st Masters.

Sergio Garcia won The Masters.

Sergio Garcia is a major champion.

Yes indeed it is all true. Last week I told you that it might happen. There was no rocket science behind it, just a refusal to accept that his day would not come. If you kept the faith and stuck with him then well done to you.

You can find lots of stats that might help explain the reasons why Sergio won: his driving; his irons and GIR return; his proximity to the pin; his scrambling; his strokes gained; his putting; but you’ve heard it all already and for me it was simply a case of dominating certain holes in a manner in which he had not quite done in recent years. For example, last week I told you he had struggled badly on the 1st hole in 2016, playing it in +4 for the week. This year he played it in -2, including that superb birdie on Sunday that set the early tone. For 2015 and 2016 combined he played a total of nine holes in over par, whereas this year only the 4th, 7th, 10th and 11th holes stifled him, and at that, at no more than +1 over the four days for each. Damage limitation, and ceteris paribus (e.g. continuing to make a mockery of no. 15, continuing to make solid pars on 12 and 16), it was a formula that would prove successful.

I also told you last week that Sergio needed to sort out his front nine numbers in particular. He had been nine shots worse on the front side in 2015/2016 than on the back nine. This year, he obliterated the front nine, playing it in -6 for the week, which was even better than the -3 he recorded on the back. He was at least three shots better than the 2015/2016 averages on the 1st, 5th and 6th holes. The way he managed to scramble a bogey on the 10th and a par on the 13th on Sunday underlined the execution of a damage limitation regime that helped to reduce the negative impact of any mistakes. The 13th the ultimate turning point, somehow salvaging a par from an unplayable in the woods.

But the stats are the stats. This was a win made possible only by the years of near misses. Justin Rose summed it up best himself. If you want to win majors you’ve got to be ready to lose them. If you are good enough to be in the position to win them you will get into the position again and again and there will be pressure. You will need to learn to cope with it. When the chance comes, it gets intense. Sergio had that intense look in his eye. The conviction with which he smoked his first tee shot on Sunday. And again on the 2nd. Again on the 3rd. And when things temporarily went south early on the back nine only for a reprise on the 13th green, the tee shots on 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 were all flawlessly fierce and fueled by a Spanish adrenaline ignited by the returning whiff of victory and a steely determination to not let it slip this time. The approach on 14 was the most predictable outcome in the history of golf. You just knew he would not fail to find that slope. I told you last week that he loves the 14th.

Then, the approach on 15. This deserves an entire book. Probably one of the top five greatest golf shots in Masters history. Maybe the best. The look in his eyes as he leered up and down at ball and pin will live long in the memory. And the putt. The PUTT. Tell yourself Sergio isn’t a great putter. He putted into the hole an eagle putt on 15 on Masters Sunday having almost thrown it away. This on top of other vital putts for birdie and par made earlier on. TELL YOURSELF SERGIO CANNOT PUTT. It is not true and maybe it never was. Maybe it was just something we convinced ourselves.

The standard of golf down the stretch will be remembered forever. The 16th hole, where Rose answered Sergio and clawed back a shot by making his birdie with that Olympian spirit. He did not really deserve to lose. Two Ryder Cup warriors this time battling against one another. The 18th was drama in the extreme. Convinced that Rose would not miss, I feared that this would be the defeat of all defeats for Sergio and force him into early retirement. But no, a chance to WIN. A slippery downhiller, but still a chance to win. Shades of Carnoustie’s 18th green in 2007. And when the putt strayed out on the right side, the bastard ghosts of Carnoustie you feared had crossed the pond to Georgia and Sergio would be broken again.

But no. It was Sergio’s driving that wore Justin down more than anything. The 18th hole set up perfectly for Sergio’s power cut. He fired it out there yet again in the playoff as if it was on tap, and when Rose let his tee shot slide into the trees it was effectively done. Sergio firing into the 18th green with a wedge as he had done in regulation. 100% committed to every swing. The putt did not have to drop but it was fitting that it did. A celebration notable in its pure elation rather than raw emotion. The Augusta crowd almost as jubilant as Sergio and his family. I found this telling. He did not seem to emit the sense of relief, or “finally”, that you might have expected. It was just pure joyous celebration.

Above all it was Sergio’s refusal to accept defeat that pulled him through. No fear of failure anymore. No acceptance of just trying one’s best and see if it is good enough anymore. No “played well but the other guy just played better” anymore. No. No. NO. This was flat out REFUSAL.

As is often said when someone breaks a hoodoo, the floodgates may well open up and Sergio could become a multiple major winner before too long. Not only do I agree, I’ve got my money on “SergioSlam 2017”.

Vamos!