Golf has been played in County Donegal and County Sligo for over 100 years. Two of Donegal's main golf clubs, Buncrana and Portsalon, were founding members of the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1891. The courses of Donegal and Sligo are renowned as being challenging in general and cruel on misplaced shots of any sort. This is especially true in the weather for which the Northwest of Ireland is notorious, heavy rain and strong winds. All told, hand-picking your favoured courses of Donegal and Sligo will make for a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining week of golf.
Ireland's northernmost golf course, the Old Links at Ballyliffin was declared by Nick Faldo to be the most natural links he had ever seen. This may go some way in explaining why the course is affectionately known as 'The Mounds'. Here, the challenging topography includes a litany of moguls, basins, bunkers, boulders, sandhills and thick rough grass which is all but inescapable. Exposed to the capricious North Atlantic, the weather here is windy and unpredictable. When you make it to the greens, your worries are not over: frequently, they are turtlebacked and hard to approach. So, a testing awaits any golfer who ventures this far north. However, for those who do make the trip and stay long enough to enjoy the Old Links and its younger sibling, Glashedy Links, a magnificent 36-hole experience awaits.
At the far-flung tip of Murvagh Peninsula lies the open expanse of dunes and coastal grasses from which Eddie Hackett was commissioned to craft what, since its opening in 1960, has been known as Donegal Golf Club. The gruelling yardage of this expansive links course demands length and accuracy from all visitors who wish to finish close to their handicap. A highlight of the course is the greens, which are consistently fast and true. As you reach for your putter, watch out for subtle borrows and breaks on a surface that holds well.
The combination of two top-class links courses, a fantastic clubhouse and a premium hotel position this as perhaps Ireland's best resort for golf and luxury accommodation. The Old Tom Morris Course still bears the fingerprints of its eponymous architect, but the course has been redesigned by Harry Vardon and James Braid, with more recent refinements by Pat Ruddy. On the newer 'Sandy Hills Links' course, the creative credit goes to Ruddy alone. Fusing modern technology with traditional links design, he has produced a course that rivals its older sibling in every respect. A firm fixture on the bucket list of any serious golfer visiting Ireland.
The brooding presence of Ben Bulben mountain on the horizon announces that you are entering Yeats' country. And your recovery play will need to be as creative and poetic as that great wordsmith's own oeuvre if you stray anywhere beyond the short grass. On a course that takes ruthless advantage of a challenging landscape, staying out of the bunkers and the rough is a must for anyone who wants to share in Yeats' love of Sligo. Although relatively short, this course - known to the locals as 'Rosses Point' - is among the most demanding in Ireland.
Stretching to the distant reaches of the Bartragh Peninsula, Enniscrone (also spelled Inishcrone) is notorious for its dramatic coastal dunes and its treacherous, unforgiving rough. As with most links courses in this part of the world, wind is also a factor on even the calmest of days. So this is a course which rewards cautious, considered play. When contemplating a daring shot, risk-reward players may want to think carefully about the risks before they covet the rewards. This is a deservedly popular course attracting players from across the globe, and summer bookings are advised only well in advance.