Another go-round on a bucket list Irish links course. Co Sligo Golf Club, known to locals as Rosses Point, has been up and running for one hundred and twenty-five years. It's on a prime piece of land on Sligo Bay and looks across the bay at one of the iconic Irish mountains, Benbulben - which has a massive presence in this area - much as Croagh Patrick rules western Co Mayo.
I had mentioned the value of the GUI card and membership at Westport GC when visiting these top courses, all well-known to touring Yanks hungry for a taste of links golf. As a recent local acquaintance, Joe Bourke, put it - "the Yanks are daft for the links." Well, I know, at least this one is...
Padraic's acumen did us well - he had discovered that there was an agreement, though poorly publicized, between a number of courses in the west - those in Co Galway, Mayo and Sligo - to give special consideration and reciprocity between the clubs located in those counties. And, although I would have been happy to pay the GUI rate of Euro 60, Padraic's nose for value had us availing of the "West" rate and paying only €45. Mind you, just walking in the door would cost you €175. Candee overheard some Yanks remarking about €175 being such a great bargain - they must have just come from Ballybunion or Royal County Down where greens fees can easily top €250.
|Getting ready to tee off on hole 1|
Again, I went to my primary source to help me get perspective on the course. Tom Coyne had ranked Rosses Point number one on his list of "Best Courses for Links Purists." He speaks of his time in Sligo town after having played another local course, Strandhill (another favorite that I played last year) - "It was a day back into Sligo, and then out to Rosses Point, where we checked into a tidy guesthouse overlooking the bay and the remains of an old farm on Oyster Island. I loved the fact that the lady of the house wasn't there when we arrived because she'd snuck out for nine holes. County Sligo Golf Course, or commonly known as Rosses Point, was founded in 1894, the current course laid out by Harry Colt in 1927.
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"Golf holes were beginning to run together in my imagination, my Keens (his shoes) wandering an endless field of hills, gorse, and heather. Rosses Point proved that a links could be measured by more than the height of its dunes, and that a course laid out on linksland could be bold without having to scream it in your ear. Rosses Point lacked the unruly undulations that Americans came to Ireland to traverse, and it proved me wrong for thinking that a worthy links was nothing more than the sum of its humps. Rosses Point opened with four holes that felt like you were climbing to the top of Benbulben, then launched you down the backside of the hill to seaside terrain that, for feeling somewhat flat, was chockablock with intrigue. I loved the water hazards that I'd never seen replicated on another golf course, bottomless trenches like cracks in the earth snaking their way through the fairways and around the greens.
|Mighty Benbulben - dominating the Co Sligo skyline|
"The hulking dunes of Carne or Enniscrone would have only interrupted the views at Rosses Point - Benbulben seemed to follow you around the course, with water and the Sligo beaches surrounding you on three sides as you golfed your way out to the edge of Ireland. There was an understated grandeur to the course, a century's worth of subtleties locked in its contours. It was special in a way that made me understand why, every once in a while, I'd meet a veteran of the Irish links who would tell me that, of all the courses in Ireland, he put Rosses Point at the top."
Candee tagged along with Padraic, Marion, and I for the round. She will usually walk the front nine, then retire to the clubhouse lounge (read bar) and have a coffee or two or a hard cider or two - walking the links can generate a powerful thirst, after all... It has been customary, upon hearing her American accent, for the locals in the bar to sidle up and present the rhetorical query - "So....tell me about your Mr. Trump." Candee does not lack for companionship whilst we walk the hills and take mighty lashes at the poor little white sphere...
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Alas, at Rosses Point, hole nine does not return to the clubhouse and Candee had a bit more walk than she bargained for. She was a champ nonetheless and made the best of a "good walk spoiled." After play we hurried off to the local pub for a fine meal and Candee's well-waited for and well-earned Bulmer's Cider.
|On the edge of Sligo Bay|
As Coyne said, Rosses Point does not have the drama of the courses that are situated amongst mammoth wild dunes - Enniscrone or Belmullet - but it more than makes up for this with a subtle and challenging routing of the holes around and over the meandering deep "burn" or stream and by a need to play smartly - not hitting it as far as you might but hitting to position yourself for the next smart shot. Just great fun.
|Lining up a shot? Nah. He's scheming...|
I was more competitive than I've been - having the lead for much of the front nine until I had a complete breakdown of judgment after hitting my drive into the gorse and high grasses right of the fairway. Rather than taking my medicine and chunking it back out into play, I continued looking for the redemptive shot that would have me near the green in regulation. After four such "heroic" attempts, I carded a quadruple bogey - no Stableford points on the card, a "blank" - and had opened the door for the duplicitous and conniving P Duffy to catch up and pass me. Meanwhile, of course, he had gotten into my head the hole previous when he stated that I was playing so well, he'd never catch me. The kind of subtle and well-practiced golf psy ops for which he is well-known among his regular four-ball group...
|Mighty Benbulben across the bay|
I recovered, played even better on the back, and actually was the winner for the second segment of our play. Not, of course, without the aforementioned P Duffy trying to pull a fast one on seventeen, where he wanted us to consider our putts conceded. I declined - made mine, he missed his - and I went to eighteen with a comfortable margin to seal the deal. And a gracious return of some of my previously lost quid. A great day all around. Very gentle breezes - strange, so close to the ocean - enough sun to stay warm, enough clouds to stay cool, and a complete absence of precipitation. I have a few pictures, but I've banked my memories of the sights, the play, the feelings, and the company deep somewhere in both my heart and my head.