If pressed, I might say: Portrush, Portmarnock, The European Club, Cork and Waterville are my favourite courses to play golf in Ireland. I won’t name more than five because there are so many other courses that I’d be more than happy to play. It’s ironic that not one of the five named figures amongst my favourite five finishing stretches (holes 13-18) which (after a lot of deliberation) is as follows:
1-Malone (Co. Antrim) – Malone is a true test for all standards. Hole 13 is a strong left to right par-4 of 415 yards. A long and accurate drive onto the right half of the fairway is required to obtain clear sight of a well-bunkered green. Hole 14 – a hefty par-4 measuring 474-yards (Index 2) swings right to left. A bunker placed at the ‘turn’ strategically directs the play. Hole 15 is a classic par-3 of 168-yards. Water, water everywhere with no safe play!
Hole 16 is a short par-4 of 303-yards that frustrates the greedy. More birdies come from playing cautiously than attempting to drive the green. Hole 17, 544 yards, is a ruler-straight par-5. Any deviations enroute result in the next shot being wastefully sideways. Hole 18 is one of Ireland’s most scenic and majestic finishing holes. 431-yards, par-4 requires a long, slightly drawn drive to clear the brow of a hill. Without full sight of the green, laying up well back from the green advisable. A ball alighting near the front of the green can kick sharply to the right into a watery grave.
2-Bunclody (Co. Wexford) – After playing over relatively open, flattish land on the first twelve holes, navigating an exceptional finishing six leaves one thrilled and satisfied. Hole 13 (388 yards, par-4, Index 5) introduces mature woodland and severe undulations. An uphill tee shot requires a fade to present the best angle to approach a long, narrow green guarded by a large, over-hanging tree.
Hole 14 – 180 yards (Index 17) downhill, par-3 to an elusive green encircled by trees. Hole 15 – 407 yards long, par-4, Index 3. A large oak tree in the middle of the fairway and a stream running diagonally in front of the green are the main features. Hole 16 – 432-yards, par-4 with the Slaney river running along the left side for the full length of the hole. Playing through a narrow, shoot of trees makes for an unnerving tee shot. Too much to be said because it is Index 1.
Hole 17 – is a challenging mid iron par-3 of 166-yards, Index 13. Again the Slaney flows along the left while a narrow tributary runs across the front of the green. Hole 18 – Par-5 measuring 506-yards goes uphill first and then downhill with a heavily-cambered fairway causing problems if the ball is running. Big hitters have to contend with a large pond left of an elevated green. As a group, Bunclody’s last six hold their own in any company.
3-The Island (North Co. Dublin) – A staggering variety of shots will arise on the last six at The Island. Hole 13, 190-yards (most of them carry across an inlet) is recognised as one of the best par-3s in the country (for men). Aim straight towards Malahide village and into the prevailing wind while avoiding the OB danger along the RHS. Shorter hitters must try to find safety on a limited amount of ground away from the estuary. For low-handicap women, the brave strategy of driving (for them) the par-4 green can backfire.
Hole 14 (333-yards, par-4) on normally fast running terrain may not seem challenging except the width is a mere 14 yards flanked by marshlands on the right and a series of nasty mounds on the left. Thread the needle, or else! Hole 15 is a stirring and dramatic par-5, featuring a drive from a high tee and an intriguing third shot onto a superbly conceived green complex.
Hole 16 is a par-3 measuring 173-yards that is often exposed to troubling crosswinds. Hole 17 (385-yards) is an unforgiving par-4 with a hazard along the right and deep trouble awaiting on the left. Hole 18 (Index 1) is a quarter of a mile long and is as difficult a finisher as there is in the country; well beyond most players of either sex to reach the well-bunkered, green in regulation.
4-Westport, (Co. Mayo): Located in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, the course boasts spectacular views of Clew Bay and the surrounding countryside. Hole 13 – par 4, 437-yards (Index 1) – sharp dogleg left; hitting the ‘right distance’ off the tee is imperative to avoid being stymied; straight drives that go too far or too short spell trouble. Hole 14 – par-3, 190-yards (usually into the wind). Small, severely slanted green. 3 is a very good score. Hole 15 – one of the best par-5s in Ireland. 586-yards from the tips requires a big carry to clear an inlet. Into the wind, it is not unusual to fail to reach a ‘devilish’ tabletop green in three of one’s ‘Sunday best’.
Hole 16 – par-4, 339 Yards – Sharp dogleg to the right and up a steep hill to a split-level green that slopes severely from back to the front. Correct clubbing is vital; long putts are fraught with complications. Hole 17 – par-4, 336-yards. A tricky, downhill fairway that slopes severely from left to right; better to be in the rough on the right and risk minor tree obstruction than playing from a hanging lie. Hole 18: Avoiding the fairway bunkers on the left-hand side of the fairway is the first imperative. Missing the long and narrow home green featuring three levels on either side spells bogey, or worse.
5-Dromoland Castle (Co. Clare): A magnificent lake, innumerable streams, thousands of mature trees and dramatic vistas across rolling land were features with which the ladies had to contend in the 2022 LET-Irish Women’s Open at Dromoland Castle last September, all enhanced by a major clearing out of scrub, and undergrowth.
Hole 13 – Precise clubbing is essential on the downhill par-3 of 158-yards (Index 13) or top grade recovery skills will be needed. Hole 14 – A sharply uphill par-4 of 439-yards with trouble along the LHS and a partially-blind and severely slanted green. Hole 15 – short par 4s are the ‘most fun’ holes in golf. Dromoland’s ‘shortie’ is 273-yards (Index 17) . Sharply downhill, the driveable green has ‘no depth’ and going through it could spell ‘lost ball’; no fun in that!
Hole 16 – 455 yards, par-4 (Index 1) is the most difficult of what could justifiably be termed a ‘savage’ final three holes. The long, uphill approach to a shelf green is the most demanding shot on the course. Hole 17 – 220 yards, par-3, Index 9 – a considerable carry of 190 yards over swamplands to a partially blind green surface that caused ‘havoc’ in the Women’s Championship.
The 18th hole (563 yards, par-5 from the tips) goes left to right around the rim of the lake. Because the fairway runs perpendicular to the teeing ground, choosing the correct line is critical. Finding the correct spot avoids having to contend with an enormous, 500-year old Sequoia tree that dominates the lay-up area. Playing the hole from the forward tee (467-yards) brings more risk and reward drama into play (in my opinion).
An alternate ending:
If I had confined myself to naming my five ‘best last three’ finishing holes, I would have come up with a different list:
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