The phrase hidden gem is thrown out a lot, and the courses in question are often neither hidden nor in any way gem-like, but Rathsallagh is one that’s truly worthy of the name.
A 45-minute drive from South Dublin and built on the grounds of the Rathsallagh Estate with the course routing adjacent to the Country House, the Christy O’Connor Jr. and Peter McEvoy designed layout is one of the most underappreciated golf courses in the country, and more than capable of holding its own against the other suburbanite giants of world class golfing resorts.
In fact, author and golfing fanatic John Redmond, whose works include The Book of Irish Golf and Great Golf Courses of Ireland described it as “Augusta without the azalea,” and, even allowing for poetic license, such high praise speaks for itself.
Ranging from 6,000 yards to almost 7,000 depending on which tees you prefer, and set across 274 acres of prime golfing terrain, the course has the length to test elite players while ensuring that mid-to-high handicappers have the opportunity to put a good round together. Lush, mature trees line almost every fairway, with streams, ditches and ponds in addition to a healthy supply of bunkers strategically placed throughout, mean that this is a course to think your way around as well.
Like many golf clubs nationwide, the economic recession in the late noughties put severe financial strain on the club, but new ownership in 2015 and a new management team including General Manager Vera Brennan, and significant subsequent investment saw the seeds sown for this great estate to be restored to its former glory.
In keeping with the rejuvenation of the club, Advanced PGA Professional Ted Higgins of the famed Cork golfing family was brought in as Director of Golf in 2020. Higgins has been instrumental in the increase of overall business and the development of a Junior Academy, in addition to driving an increase in lesson provision at the wide variety of practice facilities that include chipping and putting greens and driving range, along with maintaining a superb and well-equipped pro shop.
In 2022, the decision was made to engage with Carr Golf over a multi-year maintenance contract and the conditioning and fine-tuning of the course has never been better, thanks in no small measure to head greenkeeper Barry Kavanagh who arrived on the back of Carr Golf’s procurement of the maintenance contract.
The green complexes, which are all built to USGA standard, range from expansive and heavily contoured to intricate and subtle, and are manicured to perfection. The course weaves its way through the rolling Wicklow countryside, gently undulating, with each hole an experience in itself, both aesthetically and from an architectural viewpoint.
The course begins with a relatively gentle, but picturesque downhill par-5, but turns the screw with the index-two, par-4 second, quickly alleviating any suspicions that the questions being asked would be easily answered. The following 16 holes are all high-quality, imaginative challenges, and will test every facet of the game, and as you amble round the estate, the feeling of intimacy and seclusion in natural beauty is something that very few other courses in the land can offer.
The back nine begins with the index-one par-4, one of the most beautiful and testing holes you’re likely to find anywhere, and the 18th, an uphill par-4 sees you finish in front of the beautiful veranda of the clubhouse which enjoys an elevated setting, affording picturesque vistas of the course and surrounding countryside.
The Trees Bar and Restaurant, which opens from Thursday to Sunday (and Bank Holiday Mondays), has continued the progression and is best seen in the increase in local traffic, with many non-golfers now choosing to come and dine at the club which is a depart from the tradition that saw golfers alone using the dining facilities, and this is further reflected in the growth in society golf and corporate outings who not only want to take on a fabulous golf course, but want all the off-course trimmings to accompany.
A genuine hidden gem, but with all the ingredients, the direction it’s going, and the value for money that it’s offering.
Rathsallagh won’t be hidden for much longer.