Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ireland's Top Ten Hidden Golf Courses - No. 2 (Links)

Approach to the 5th green, a saucer shaped affair.
For the number two links in this Top Ten of Ireland's Fairways Less Travelled we're staying in the North West. This stretch of coastline promises the best value for money when it come to links golf and I would argue that point for days with anyone who disagrees. 

Strandhill is the Number 2 Links. Win a fourball for the course at the end of this blog.

For the 3rd-ranked links, click here
For the 3rd-ranked parkland, click here
For the 4th-ranked, click here
For the 5th-ranked, click here
For the 6th-ranked, click here
For the 7th-ranked, click here 
For the 8th-ranked, click here
For the 9th-ranked, click here
For the 10th-ranked, click here

From the moment I stepped onto the 1st tee at 6.30am on a cool October morning in 2007, I’ve had a love affair with Strandhill, just outside Sligo town. I had played the mighty Rosses Point the day before and found it to be remarkable in so many ways. I expected little of Strandhill because no one ever talked about it. I can’t imagine why.

Views over the first few holes from the 1st tee.
I found the positioning of Strandhill and Portsalon in this ranking a challenge: Portsalon has a bigger and more traditional links feel; Portsalon is also 500 metres longer and beats Strandhill’s par, 71 to 69. And yet Strandhill has a unique character that makes it stand out. 

The brilliance of this course is in its landscape and in the genius of its designers. Standing on the 1st tee you can see much of the open part of the course (holes 1 to 5 and 16 to 18)… yes, it is open, but look more closely and you see the amazing humps of the 5th fairway (which appear on my business card), the climbing approach to the 4th green and the ridges of low dunes that separate holes. I said it was open – I never said it was flat. Apart from three holes (2 to 4) along one of the beaches you are rarely moving in the same direction.

The exceptional 15th - a dogleg par four that rises up the slopes
to a green beneath Knockarea Mountain (flag is top left on the dune)
Several of the remaining holes are tucked away in or wrapped around a warren of dunes. These form Strandhill’s most thrilling stretches and, in 13 and 15, the course can boast superb holes that are as unique as they are intimidating.

There are a few tame (by comparison) holes in the middle of the round, but it’s good to catch your breath – and they’re not exactly easy. Once again you’ll discover a few surprises that can turn simple mistakes into tragedies… good luck on the 10th green. Count that three-putt as a blessing.

The short par four 7th, from a high tee. Surfers on the waves
to your left, Benbulben straight ahead.
Who were the designers? The members. Strandhill was established in 1931, when golfers who couldn’t get access to Rosses Point across the bay used horse and plough to create their own course. The natural undulations dictated much and today’s layout bears testament to their work and ingenuity.

For the views, let me take you back to the 1st tee: sea and mountains directly ahead, Benbulben in the distance behind, Knockarea Mountain above and left (with the tomb of Queen Maebh on top), a single Titanic-sized dune to the right, and more sea beyond that. You visit the sea a couple of times – for the run of holes from 2 to 4 and then again for the 7th, with its tee high in the Titanic dune and views over Strandhill’s famous surfing waters. You are surrounded by beauty and while many golfers say they are not remotely interested in the views (‘we’re here to play golf, not go sightseeing’), places like Tralee, Dooks, Carne and Rosses Point are fĂȘted for the added experience that such views bring. Add Strandhill to that list.

My business card image - the bumps of the 5th fairway.
Portsalon may be a bigger and more traditional course, but Strandhill sneaks ahead of it because its quirkiness and thrills keep you guessing and it’s just so much fun. There’s a sparkling clubhouse, too.

Green Fees: €30 - €35

The 16th, green to tee (the 5th fairway is to the left), with the
clubhouse high and proud on the right.
Free Fourball
To win a free fourball for Portsalon, leave a Comment below with your nameemail and answer to the following question: 

Whose tomb is said to sit atop Knockarea Mountain? 
(Comments will remain unpublished to ensure privacy.)

Draw closes on Monday 27th January at 6pm, at which point a winner will be chosen. 


  1. From: Richard Quinn
    Answer: Queen Maebh

  2. The course is subtle at first then hits you upside the head as you get past the first few holes.
    Loved the "keyhole green" . I liked it better than Sligo. A must play.