Friday, January 31, 2014

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

The superb opening hole, Scrabo Tower on the right. It's Index 1.
For the number two parkland in this Top Ten of Ireland's Fairways Less Travelled we're staying in the North, although this one is east, not west.  

And of all the 20 parkland and links courses in this Top 10 list, this club is the least well known. Chances are, you haven't even heard of it. 

Scrabo Golf Club is the Number 2 Parkland. You can win a fourball for the course at the end of this blog.

For the 2nd-ranked links, click here
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

Scrabo Golf Club

“Are you the gobshite who likes Scrabo?”

I am… although ‘loves’ is a more accurate word.

Hooked has generated some heated debates: I have been accused of reducing Elm Park’s green fees by 70%, of not appreciating the brilliance of Portmarnock and of over-hyping courses such as Bearna, The Curragh and, most of all, Scrabo. I have learned that it goes with the territory. The question I was asked about Scrabo was tongue-in-cheek (I was in the Pro Shop at Knock Golf Club) but it explains why ranking lists cause such angst.
The view back down the 12th hole.
Most golfers in Ireland – let alone anywhere else – have never heard of Scrabo. It’s outside Newtownards in Co. Down, on a hillside beneath Scrabo Tower. The tower dominates the skyline for most of the round and across the countryside. This is wild golf country, where the gorse is dense and razor sharp, where the terrain is high, low, bumpy and unpredictable, where the tee shots and approaches are enthralling and where several holes simply beggar belief.

The new clubhouse is spectacular, with views across Strangford Lough and – on a clear day – as far as Scotland, Northern England and the Isle of Man. The surroundings are beautiful, but this is a course that demands all of your attention, for it plays with you constantly. Beautiful tee shots hide serious dangers and if your ball ventures into the gorse I recommend you leave it there. This stuff will cut you. Scrabo is a challenge and you’ll need a few balls in the bag.
Gorse... avoid. The 14th hole back to the tee, high on the hillside.
The up and down nature of the course is epitomised by the opening hole, which heads straight up to Scrabo Tower. It’s magnificent but there are plenty more and it is non-stop enjoyment, with the tee shot on the par three 17th being one of those bombs to a green far below.

Scrabo may not have the finesse of our glamour courses – you won’t find fancy tee boxes, greens are straightforward, natural affairs (and tricky to stay on in summer) and bunkering is both scarce and of the functional variety – but it’s the excitement and uniqueness of a course like this that makes it so special. Hard to believe it’s been here since 1907; harder still that it never makes any top 100 rankings… it makes my top 10 instantly.

I hoped to persuade David Owen, the acclaimed Golf Digest and New Yorker writer, to play it in November. He was over reviewing Royal County Down for the Golf Digest’s first list of the World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses. Sadly he had other courses to play (Ardglass and Royal Belfast)… and when you rank RCD at number four in the world it’s little surprise that you’re going to focus your energies there. 

The par three 17th and views to England and Isle of Man on a clear day.

Scrabo has some of the most thrilling holes you will play. Which holes? you ask… Holes 1, 2, 3, 5, 12, 13, 14, 17, and you won’t be disappointed by the others, either. Christy O’Connor Senior said of the 1st: “My favourite opening hole in Irish golf.” It may also be the toughest!

People can call me a gobshite all day long for raving about this par 71 hillside course, but it still blows my mind every time I think about it.

Green Fees: Stg £15 - £25

Free Fourball
To win a free fourball for Portsalon, leave a Comment below with your nameemail and answer to the following question: 

Who said of Scrabo's 1st hole: 
My favourite opening hole in Irish golf.”? 
(Comments will remain unpublished to ensure privacy.)

Draw closes on Wednesday 5th February at 6pm, at which point a winner will be chosen.