You know what annoys me about the Bunclody Golf & Fishing Club? That damn lift. People talk about the ‘golf course with the lift’, or ‘what’s that course with the lift?’ They don’t say: ‘hey, have you played Bunclody with its brilliant finishing stretch down through the woods and along the river.’ No, the lift gets top billing and on a course this thrilling that’s a shame.
Despite being brand spanking new, the only evidence is the drainage lines on holes. Everything else has settled in perfectly. Take the mile long driveway through a perfect avenue of dark trees (some in the middle of the drive): you get tempting glimpses of the river and the course. Then there’s the magnificent clubhouse with its thatched roof and luxurious interior. It’s a thrilling introduction and you can rely on Jeff Howes’ design to throw a great golfing experience in your path as well. [All 19 photos can be viewed on my Flickr page]
[Photo: the approach to the par four 12th, with the thatched clubhouse on the right]
Essentially, there are two lots of holes: nine of them play within an open, undulating landscape, bordered by dense trees. They are populated with water features and hundreds of surprisingly mature plantings. This space will age well but it feels a bit barren for now. The other nine are the holes that look and feel like they’ve been there for years, and are far more dramatic. And tougher. They run alongside the River Slaney, and the mature trees of the old Hall-Dare Estate form an impressive defence against errant shots. There are places where it’s pointless to look for a ball, and the thick grass around the edges of the waste bunkers (on 6 and 7) may prove just as pointless. These waste bunkers help to drain the plateau by the river, which is on a separate section of the course, and one of the most beautiful (think Woodenbridge, only better). They have ‘islands’ in them and you’re allowed to ground your club. It’s a good splash of something different.
[Photo: the par four 15th. A stream snakes in front of the green]
Holes 10 to 13 bring you back to the open section where there’s lots of room to play, until you approach the green on 13. Now you head back into the woodland that gives Bunclody its brilliant, tight and dangerous finish. 14 and 15 are the holes of the course, and the walk down to the 15th tee gets the heart racing as a steep hillside comes down from your left, and a lone tree stands in the fairway. 16 and 17 play alongside the river before the lift takes you up to 18, a short but tight par five.
The quality is excellent, as you’d expect, and the greens are both receptive and true. They are also surprisingly uncomplicated. Bunkers are a bit over the top, in places, but they do an excellent job of defending greens, some of which are angled behind them.
Bunclody sits in a pleasant setting, with hillside, woodland and some mountain views. It is well spread out and it changes pace often enough that it promises a thrilling round of golf. There are three tees and the best challenge is from the middle whites (6,728 yards) as the green tees, which I played off, felt a touch too short at 6,291 yards.
Favourite hole: Par three 14th. 180 yards. It’s a downhill hole, in deep woodland, and it just looks delicious. There’s no room to the right. 15 is a brilliant follow-up.
[Photo: the par three 14th]
Toughest hole: Par three 5th. 208 yards. Also downhill but with big water, tight and right, and woods to the left. There is room to bail out (short and left), but a threatening hole and tough in any kind of wind.
[Photo: the par three 5th]
Course Design 17
Value for Money 9
Golf Experience 18