Thursday, August 1, 2019

Ireland's Toughest 18 Golf Holes

The 17th at Carne. Beauty and the beast!
You won’t break 70. You probably won’t even break 90. But it will break your heart. Here’s an 18-hole golf course made up of the toughest that Ireland has to offer. 
These are holes where any and every golfer will be delighted to walk off with a nett par… where there is a sense of fear stepping onto the tee… where you wonder if you should swap that nice Pro V1 for the old Topflite in the bottom of your bag… and where you know that only three, four, five – or even six – of your very best shots are required if you are to walk off the green with dignity.
This selection spans the country and embraces blind shots, doglegs, hollows, water hazards,
bunkers, cliffs, ocean, dastardly green complexes and lightning putting surfaces.
The following imaginary course measures 7,325 yards (from the medal tees) and is a par of 71. There are fifteen par fours and two par threes. Only one par five makes the list.
Prepare to be exhausted and intimidated in your quest for par.
The Front Nine
1.             Scrabo 1st par 4. 404 yards Index 1
A start to fill you with fear. You climb to the tee with the hole behind you. Then you turn and see the 1st in all its glory. The flanks of gorse loom above the fairway on both sides as it rises and rises over bumpy terrain to a green sitting under Scrabo Tower. You need to be a long way up that hill to reach the green in two, but the farther up you go the more the fairway narrows. The small green is tucked in next to more gorse and there’s a significant slope to the putting surface. Always be short and right of the pin.

Scrabo's 1st hole. Yes... gorse!
2.             The European 7th par 4. 449 yards Index 1
Probably the flattest hole on the course but the one that demands two of your best shots to reach the green. A marsh runs all along the right, while a further, smaller marsh awaits your drive on the left. It is a tricky tee shot especially as the tee sits nestled in the wilds, hiding much of the trouble ahead. The fairway then resembles a runway between the two marshes, heading straight for the low, deceptive green. No draw and no fade allowed.

The 7th at The European Club
3.             Mount Wolseley 3rd par 4. 435 yards Index 1
Position and length off the tee is everything here. A strong drive out of the trees needs to favour the left hand side as the slope drops away from you. Staying left also means taking the lake and surrounding trees at the bottom of the slope out of play. From there the fairway rises to a heavily tiered green. The approach shot makes the drive look easy and finding the green is no guarantee of a straightforward two-putt.
The 3rd at Mount Wolseley. A green to be fearful of.
4.             Mount Juliet 4th par 4. 387 yards Index 2
Given the generous fairway widths at Mount Juliet, the 4th is an anomaly. The hole plays through a chute of trees, requiring laser point accuracy to find the fairway. Your approach shot may not be the longest (this is the shortest par four on the list) but the lake that hugs the right hand side of the green, the vertical drop off the back and the trees on the left offer no forgiveness whatsoever.
The 4th at Mount Juliet.
5.             Rosapenna Sandy Hills 6th par 4. 390 yards Index 1
A big drive up the dune between flanks of deep grasses is required if you are to have any hope of seeing where your second shot is to go. At the dune crest the hole tumbles down the other side to a treacherous green with a bunker front and centre. It is a cruel blow for those considering bump and run, and the stunning views are scant consolation.

6.             Galway Bay 12th par 4. 431 yards Index 1
One of the best tee boxes to stand on as you look out across Galway Bay, but also the most fearsome. This is a left to right dogleg tumbling down to the sea. If you can avoid the nest of bunkers awaiting your tee shot in the elbow of the dogleg you’ll have a shot at the green below… jealousy protected by a lake in front. So tempting, so beautiful and so, so dangerous.
The 12th at Galway Bay doglegs around the lake.
7.             Malone 7th par 4. 460 yards Index 1
Yes, it is long but the rising fairway that bends left into a dogleg means only the longest hitters will be able to see the green for their second shot. The estate’s grand trees frame the hole perfectly and offer a threat to the wayward as well. So length and accuracy required. You may not find a level lie for your second shot, either, which will make a long approach all the more daunting.
The 7th at Malone require two very big shots to find the green.
8.             The Island 13th par 3. 192m Index 9
Packed with beautiful holes, The Island boasts one of the best and toughest par threes anywhere. The estuary lingers below and along your right with nothing but trouble between you and the green. Yes, you can bail out left but even then you’ll be struggling wth your club choice. It may be Index 9 but for visitors this is treacherous as it is The Island’s toughest tee shot – and that’s saying something. And then there’s the green which is slick and deceptive.
The par three 13th at The Island. Don't be short. Or right.
9.             Royal County Down 9th par 4. 428 yards Index 5
This is one of the toughest holes you will ever face… and yet it is only Index 5 on this world famous links. A blind drive up over the dune and straight at the Mourne Mountains is your starting point and you’ll need someone – anyone – to give you a line off the tee. Then it is a steep descent to the flat fairway below where the green looks a mile away. Finding the fairway is cause for celebration, before you remember that your long second still has to squeeze between more dunes and fly a bunker. Two brutally tough shots and what a way to finish the front nine.
The par four 9th at Royal County Down. The blindest of blind shots...
and then this.
The Back Nine
10.          Tralee 12th par 4. 440 yards Index 1
Another tee shot that will intimidate absolutely everyone… but also an approach that makes that drive seem like a doddle. You hit down through tight ridges of dunes and hope and pray that your ball is a) on the fairway and b) on level ground, because your approach shot must cross a chasm to the putting surface. The green sits perched alone and only the most precise shot will avoid a deep and impossible end. And even on the green you get the sense that too firm a putt will send you down into the void.
Tralee's 12th fires down a narrow chute
11.          Rosses Point 17th par 4. 385m Index 2
This long hole may not require a driver as the fairway ends in an unplayable hollow, before shifting left and steeply uphill. Position down the right is essential if you’re to have any hope of seeing the flag high above you. But even if you can see the green, set into a high rocky bank, this is a big shot and the green tilts steeply towards you, quite possibly sending your ball back down the hill.
A brilliant and terrifying hole and not a bunker in sight. Nor should there be
12.          Castlerock 8th par 4. 364m Index 7
A mischievous Index 7, and a hole that doglegs through deep dunes. Gauging where to aim off the tee is your first challenge as the fairway curls out of sight behind the right hand dunes. All you see is a sliver of fairway and the hole tempts you to bite off more than you can chew. Finding the fairway is crucial as you then have to play up into a morass of mounds to a well-protected green you can’t see… the flag, yes: the green, no.
Castlerock's 8th is a wicked dogleg through deep dunes.
13.          Old Head 12th par 5. 537 yards Index 3
The Razor’s Edgepromises a terrifying tee shot over a chasm that descends between Old Head’s famous cliffs, to an unseen fairway above you. And the fairway is at right angles to the tee so you also get to choose how much of the ‘corner’ you can cut off. (The answer is ‘very little’.) You then have two shots along the cliff’s edge to reach the green and, chances are, the wind will be coming off the sea… which means you will have to aim towards the sea to allow the wind to bring your ball back on to the fairway/green.
Old Head. Cliff tops. 300 foot drops. Enough said.
14.          Royal Portrush 16th par 3. 202 yards Index 4
Calamity Corneris known worldwide for its difficulty and the sheer terror it instils in golfers when they step onto the tee. The hole curves around a deep chasm to a green that sits above you with nothing behind it but sky. There is a small bailout area front left – highly recommended – but it is a terrifying shot regardless.
The Pros made it look relatively easy (not Tyrrell Hatton, mind you), but
Calamity remains the toughest par three around.
15.          Druid’s Glen 13th par 4. 461 yards Index 1
What might be a par five on some courses (in terms of length) is Ireland’s toughest par four. Every terrifying element is here, except a bunker. From a high tee, golfers ideally need to fade a drive around a cliff face and over a stream to the fairway far below. Find the fairway and you have a shot at reaching the green which sits tightly between the trees over a big, magnetic lake. It will be a long approach and many golfers will choose to lay up short of the lake to give themselves a mid to high iron shot that offers a small chance at par. Force that second shot and the water and the trees will leave you staring at double bogey, or worse.
Look at the photo. Find that piece of fairway and you've still got 200 yards
to the green... over a lake.
16.          Ballybunion Old 11th par 4. 402 yards Index 2
The Atlantic Ocean roars at you on your right, below the tee, all the way to the green. It is a beautiful but thoroughly intimidating place to stand, especially as you’re likely to be buffeted by strong winds. The fairways drops down over a couple of tiers, setting up a needle like approach between two sentry dunes below. The drive is manageable if you can avoid the distractions of the ocean and the wind is kind, but finding and staying on the putting surface is the bigger challenge as there is no margin for error.
The 11th at Ballybunion is one of the best holes in the world.
So perfectly natural... with beach all along the right.
17.          Carne 17th par 4. 392 metres Index 1
Uphill, through the dunes, the 17th requires four exceptional shots if you are to make par. The fall-off into a chasm along the left may not be fully visible but there is an aura there that will always encourage you to keep to the right. The fairway is wide enough but you do need a big drive to have any hope of continuing your quest for par. A big dune wraps tightly around the green from the left while another steep fall-off drops sharply on the right of the putting surface, leaving only a tiny entrance to the green itself. Most golfers will be/play short after two shots… which leaves a tricky uphill chip to a putting surface with fast, steep slopes. 

18.          Portsalon 2nd par 4. 389m Index 3
I wil not be dissuaded from saying that this is Ireland’s most beautiful golf hole. We are blessed with many beauties but this hole curls around the enchanting (often empty) Portsalon beach. From a high tee your drive takes on both the beach and a river, which also runs in front of the green. It is a long and glorious hole and, from the tee box, the views of Lough Swilly and the mountains are majestic. Two perfect shots required.
Portsalon's 2nd hole is sublime.

Hole Number
Par 4
The European
Par 4
Mount Wolseley
Par 4
Mount Juliet
Par 4
Rosapenna Sandy Hills
Par 4
Galway Bay
Par 4

The Island
Par 3
Royal County Down
Par 4
Par 4
Co Sligo
Par 4
Par 4
Old Head
Par 5
Royal Portrush
Par 3
Druid’s Glen
Par 4
Ballybunion Old
Par 4
Par 4
Par 4

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