Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Day 1 in Yeats country started off 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 was the par five 3rd, the tee-shot a dramatic one back down the mountain to a fairway that has three bunkers on either flank and runs out at a rough covered decline before continuing on a flatter note towards the green, the only drawback (in my view) being the road crossing the fairway before 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, a birdie chance albeit there are eleven bunkers littered along the way to punish any mishaps.
The flat-lands 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 another 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 picturesque 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 (probably my least favourite hole on the course) with 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 invitingly towards the green and the ocean horizon beyond.
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 majestically by dunes on both sides from tee to green and overlooked by the spectacular highland section of the front nine to the left background. 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 simply because of its difficulty. The landing area from the tee is quite 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 excellent and worthy of its top ten rating in the country.
Pick of the holes: Par three – 13th // Par fours – 8th, 15th // Par five – 5th
(Photo: 14th green as viewed from 7th tee)