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Legends of the Green Isle

In northwest Ireland, the winds howl and the rains fall on some of the world's purest and most remote links golf courses
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Andy Garcia, Mar/April 2004

If you see high drama in golf, if you see the sport as a theatrical experience set upon an earthen stage, if you see yourself cast as the protagonist in search of the holy grail of par, then there is a place for you.

Golf comes in no greater dramatic abundance than the northwest coast of Ireland. From Connemara in County Galway to Ballyliffin in County Donegal, there is a series of true links courses that, taken as a whole, has no rival. It is a fantasy land for links golfers, for those who want their golf hard by the sea, staged amid dazzling dune land and surrounded by brooding mountains and eerie bogs.

At every turn through the linksland of northwest Ireland there is awe and inspiration, and not a little intimidation. Golf here is not for the faint of heart and the soft of spirit. Along with 14 clubs, your best rain gear and thermal underwear, bring along a sense of adventure and appreciation of grandeur.

Pat Ruddy, Ireland’s golf impresario, has traveled the northwest links for more than three decades. Ruddy is a golf course designer, an owner and a journalist in his own right. There is a sense of theater about the man, in his writing, his design and his speech. He has designed a new course at Rosapenna and revitalized the old one there. He’s designed a course at Ballyliffin and renewed a grand old tract at Donegal.

“It is a magical place, the northwest,” says Ruddy, the owner and designer of the European Club south of Dublin. “The influence of the weather there over time has sculpted the place. You get northwesterly winds from Iceland. It’s a bit more raw there, more manly stuff. It’s more exposed to the North Atlantic and as such, life on land gets a bit more turbulent. But I should say that it is a place that once experienced is always remembered. And I am quite pleased to have my name on the ticket with men like Harry Vardon, James Braid, Old Tom Morris—the men who first came up here to fashion golf courses. I have tried to help a bit, you know.”

This is also the land where Ireland’s most revered links golf designer, the late Eddie Hackett, left his substantial mark. Hackett was a humble man who was humbled further by the grandeur of the northwest coast. He came there not so much to design courses as to discover them. Accepting tiny fees, which he often deferred, Hackett walked the land and prayed to God for the strength to do the right thing. He had little money with which to work, yet the land was so dramatic that it revealed to him the most wonderful sites for tees and greens that never could have been constructed with bulldozers and earth scrapers.

So it is here, to the northwest, that you come with your sense of adventure. The roads, often narrow and twisting, take substantial time to navigate. You may be stuck behind a farm vehicle, have to wait as a flock of sheep cross the road, but it is time well spent in anticipation. Let your imagination take over, let fantasy take flight, then arrive to one of the links of the northwest coast and find reality all the more overwhelming.

Here, now, is a trip through that magic land. And isn’t it all the more appropriate, in the theatrical sense, that this is the land of James Joyce and William Butler Yeats? They weren’t golfers, but they knew a thing or two about the rugged drama of the northwest.  


Enniscrone Golf Club
Enniscrone, County Sligo

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