Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Atlantic Coast Challenge 2013 - Day One (Rosses Point)

Practice putting green and the grand old clubhouse
The last few days have been building up to this. The courses of Tuam, Claremorris, Castle Dargan and Castlebar - not to mention the mad 5am dash around Westport - were appetisers before the main event of this trip. The Atlantic Coast Challenge has drawn me to the north west since it started in 2011. And with three of my favourite courses why wouldn't it.

County Sligo Golf Club (Rosses Point), Carne and Enniscrone are worth anybody's time.

My friend Finbarr was back from New York for a second bite, and Ronan was making his first appearance. There were familiar faces around the clubhouse at Rosses Point, too, emphasising the event's popularity with those who have played it before. Two years ago there were three ladies behind us; last year they were in front of us; this year they decided they didn't like the look of us and moved forward several tee times. There are English and American accents, and I know the guys who run an American golf site (Fore Linksters) are also here. This is all good for Irish golf and the day was happy to play along. To call it benign is an understatement.
Ronan drives off the 7th hole at Rosses Point, straight at Ben Bulben
A breeze made an occasional effort to disturb a ball in flight and we felt - at most - two drops of rain as we played the 10th, out towards Ben Bulben and the furthest reaches of this wonderful golf course.

The format for the event has changed. Last year there was a Singles element as well as a Team (of three) element where all cards counted. This year it's the best two scores on each hole. It makes it more enjoyable and makes it move faster too, or maybe that's just a coincidence. The last two years have seen a round taking five hours plus; this year it was closer to four and a half. At a guess, I'd say we spent 20-25 minutes looking for golf balls but we rarely lost touch with the group in front and we had to wait 10 minutes on the 17th tee.
Ball in flight as Finbarr pitches in from 40 yards short of the 8th green
The golf? A variety of interesting, terrible, sublime and outrageous... not to mention Ronan's drive on 18. It was undoubtedly a good day for scoring with fast running fairways offering bump-and-run opportunities galore. But you needed to avoid the rough because it turned the clubhead hard and fast. On the par three 4th, my wedge out of the heavy stuff shot off at 90 degrees, almost decapitating an unsuspecting Finbarr. Ronan drove into calf-high rough on the par five 12th, hacked it into thicker stuff ... and then again just for good measure. Having favoured the left side of the fairway, he then chopped his fourth into the rough on the right side, before lashing it onto the green and sinking his putt for bogey

Bogey man. Ronan gets away with murder on the 12th
Quite capable of driving 300 yards plus, Ronan had one final tee shot to entertain us: the 18th is an intimidating drive which needs to get over the bank that rises some 40 feet above the 17th green (see photo). It's a good carry and not for the faint-hearted. Ronan's drive went straight into the bank and, rather than dying on the hill, it rebounded onto the 17th green where the group behind us was putting out. The ball slid past the hole and stopped two feet away as the golfers looked around in utter bemusement.

The drive on 18, above the 17th green
Rosses Point is well-known for many things - the West of Ireland most notably - but few people realise that it also has the longest par three in the world... 1150 metres in fact.

Avoid playing the par three 4th from the green tees.
The course was in great condition and the greens not too fast, so our score of 74 seemed respectable rather than spectacular. We heard of an 84 in the clubhouse with plenty of golfers still on the course, but we're not here to win anything (if we'd had the 84 I might be saying differently). This is more about catching up with friends and enjoying Irish links golf at its finest.

Tomorrow (i.e. today) we're playing Carne, over in Belmullet, and we're staying in the Talbot Hotel. It's most definitely'boutique' and extremely comfortable. It also has a great bar where we spent many hours last year. True, there was a problem with the booking - we got two rooms, each with a double bed (and not the twin as booked) - but seeing as I got a room to myself I'm not too fussed what the boys get up to. As long as they play good golf, how they spend their free time is up to them!

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