Thursday, August 28, 2014

Farnham Estate – Turning ‘Blu’

The excellent downhill par four 2nd.
Farnham Estate held some interesting memories. It was here in 2007 that I got stuck on the 13th hole. I don’t mean failing to escape from a bunker or walking off with a quadruple bogey… I mean stuck.

The back nine were still in the throes of construction and I had been given permission to walk them. Greens were mere pools of sand, bunkers no more than holes in the earth, fairways nothing but mud… and it was into the mud that I sank. It took a while to extricate myself, and a little longer to retrieve my golf shoe that had been sucked off my foot. It was a soggy walk for the final five holes.

The staff at the Radisson Blu hotel, around which the elegant golf course flows, were kind enough to let me have a room where I could take a shower and clean up. Rusty (that’s my camper van) had no such facilities and neither had the golf clubhouse, which at the time was little more than a hut.

The hotel (not the hut)
The room I was given was impressive. It looked out onto what I assumed was an outdoor Jacuzzi, filled with young people enjoying a pleasant weekend afternoon.

I tried to make as little mess as possible and was gone within 20 minutes, the mud washed down the drain, my shoes carefully wrapped in a bag and my impression of the hotel and its facilities nothing but good.

The Reception area
When the opportunity arose to stay at the hotel, almost seven years later, I jumped at the chance. My wife and I were heading for Donegal, and Cavan – and the Farnham Estate in particular – was as good a midway point as we could ask for.
As we drove in we passed a newly married couple, piling out of the hotel’s courtesy minibus for a photoshoot. The white dress contrasted against the bucolic backdrop of straw bales, giant oak and endless fields. It would have been perfect but for the anvil-shaped black clouds heading our way.

Moments later, I was dropped off at the clubhouse. And minutes after that I found myself in the midst of a thunderstorm.

Farnham Estate Golf Course – Part I
I was standing in the deserted hut (formerly the clubhouse) by the 1st tee, recording the deluge… I had nothing else to do for 15 minutes, other than wonder how the photoshoot was going.

Once the storm had cleared, I had two hours of perfect sunshine to experience the 18 holes and the back nine I had not yet played. The course was designed by Jeff Howes, a man involved in other ventures such as The Ballesteros Course at The Heritage, Gowran Park and Bunclody. The quality is not in question, and the greens are exceptional.

The par three 5th, with wedding couple on the hill above.
The obvious point to make is that the course falls into three distinctive styles of hole: the front nine starts with hilly, tree-drenched and elegant holes, before finishing (7 to 9) with flat, open spaced and deceptive holes; the back nine is up in the forest, where the pine trees squeeze you in, before you end your round with a couple of flatter holes. The 18th is a par five dogleg around water and emphasises that at no time can you let your focus wander on this elegant course. In holes 2, 4, 5, 10, 13, 15 and 18 they have wonderful holes that keep the round motoring along. While I was playing the 5th, the wedding couple reappeared on the hillside above (see photo below). It was too far away to say with any certainty, but it looked like the photographer had got them back in the bus before the rain had arrived.

I didn’t get to play the back nine that evening. I got as far as the 11th before realising our dinner reservation was just 20 minutes away. There was going to be a fierce amount of golf over the next three days – the least I could do was to show up on time for dinner with my wife.

Here's a full set of photographs of the Farnham Estate golf course.

Walks Around the Estate
While I had been playing golf, my wife had gone for a walk around Farnham Estate’s 1,300 acres. There are five walks in all, lasting from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours. There are three lakes, ancient woodlands and lots of wildlife – and the walks are far from arduous. If you want to go on a guided walk, these can also be arranged.

The golf course embraces 500 of those acres and is a beautiful walk itself.

The Hotel
This is a 16th century estate and the old house has been extended, modernised and refurbished. Old character remains near the front of the hotel (to the right of Reception) and it is calm and peaceful. 

High, ornate ceilings, elegant furniture and an air that takes you back to an earlier time. The rest of the hotel boasts a more dynamic vibe with restaurants, bars, leisure facilities and an extensive 40,000 sq. foot spa. While the holistic spa wasn’t about to catch my eye, the eye-catching array of Irish craft beers in the Botanica Bar certainly did. But the spa was a popular destination (it was en route to our room), with couples and groups dressed in white dressing robes and slippers (supplied in the bedrooms) passing back and forth through the doors. There was a queue outside the door the following morning and the infinity pool has an inside and outside element.

The Botanica Restaurant
The Botanica Restaurant, where we had our dinner reservation, is cleverly laid out. The room is divided up in different ways, making each section feel much cosier and more intimate. It felt relaxing and certainly enhanced my feelings towards the Donegal Blonde who was at the table with me.
This is also where they serve breakfast, one of those extensive buffets where almost every breakfast food imaginable is laid out for guests. Why it made me laugh, I don’t know, but there was something amusing about the young couple at the table next to us, tucking into their Coco Pops. You come all this way, to a luxury hotel, and your breakfast choice is Coco Pops. Still, if they turn the milk chocolatey then I guess they can’t be all bad.

The Rooms
As hotel rooms go, this one was perfect. Well laid out, comfortable chair, space to move around, terrace, big bed…

… because at the end of the day, the most important thing in the room is the bed. And the Radisson Blu came up trumps in that department. You know that way when you’ve been on holiday and you think ‘I just want to be in my own bed’, because that’s where you know you’ll sleep. I wasn’t thinking that at Farnham Estate. I was already out for the count.
View from the 9th tee over 8th green and up the 6th fairway.

Farnham Estate Golf Course – Part II
After breakfast I returned to the course for some unfinished business. It turned out to be a sorry state of affairs given the rain that relented not once. But at least I got to experience these woodland holes that glide almost eerily through the pines. I prefer to walk a golf course… but this time I took the buggy and was thankful for it. I had visions of getting stuck ankle deep in another fairway, given the volume of rain. 
Approach to the short par four 10th
The forest makes it easy to divide Farnham Estate Golf Club into two distinct nines, but that rather oversimplifies things as each nine has distinctly individual elements. It means that the course bristles with variety and while doglegs are kept to a minimum (the 18th is the big one) there’s always a new challenge to tackle.
What more needs to be said!
The hotel has combined the old and the new in a striking fashion, and you can choose which style of environment you want to spend your time in… modern luxury or timeless elegance. It’s a tough call, but not a choice you get in many hotels. Farnham Estate has the highly regarded Spa, 1300 acres of countryside, activities to keep everyone happy and a setting that must draw brides-to-be in their hundreds. It is popular but there is that sense that there is more than enough room for everyone. It has an air of peacefulness and relaxation… and class. There’s not much more you could ask for from a quality hotel as good as this.  

Take a look at their Special Offers… and if you have golf in mind, remember that Co. Cavan Golf Club us next door, and Slieve Russell is just down the road. 

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