County Sligo membership give green light to Mackenzie & Ebert redesign

Mark McGowan

The overview of the course changes at Co. Sligo as presented by Mackenzie & Ebert

Mark McGowan

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At an EGM on Monday night, County Sligo Golf Club’s membership unanimously gave approval to a redesign proposal for the club’s Harry Colt Championship Links presented by Martin Ebert, one half of the acclaimed architectural duo.

Mackenzie & Ebert are among the leading and most highly sought golf course architects in the world and their fingerprints are on eight of the 10 courses on the Open Championship rota, including Royal Portrush where they oversaw the creation of two new holes which proved instrumental in the game’s oldest Championship returning to the Causeway Coast for the first time in 68 years back in 2019.

Other notable Mackenzie & Ebert work on this island includes Royal County Down, where they were responsible for the creation of three new holes on the Annesley Links as well as Championship Course upgrades, Portmarnock Golf Club where they’ve acted in an advisory role, and more recently at The Island, where major course upgrades included the construction of two new holes which now play as the 8th and 9th.

Originally laid out as a 9-hole course by George Combe in 1894, County Sligo was extended to 18 holes by William Campbell in 1906, but it was radically overhauled by Harry Colt in 1927 and just two of the original 18 holes were retained. And sitting on the rugged Rosses Point Peninsula, in the shadow of the iconic Benbulben, it was the Colt design which heralded County Sligo’s arrival as a force to be reckoned with on the Irish scene.

Pat Ruddy lengthened the course in 2015 to provide more of a challenge to the accomplished golfer and retain its status as one of the sterner Championship tests and as well as hosting the annual West of Ireland Amateur Championship which is set to get underway this week, it will also play host to this year’s Irish Amateur Open in May, marking a first return since 2001.

The Mackenzie & Ebert revisioning proposed changes on all 18 existing holes, including the design of a new par-3 hole which could replace the existing 16th should the coastal erosion which threatens its existence continue.

Although three holes – namely the par-5 5th, par-4 7th and par-3 9th – will be lengthened from the Championship tees, and the par-5 12th green is proposed to be moved further out onto the jagged peninsula, the overall length of the course off the back tees will be reduced by some 33 metres. This is largely due to the removal of the back tee on the 2nd hole, which will also see the fairway extended right to the right-hand boundary wall to encourage better players to take a more aggressive, risk/reward approach off the tee, the removal of the back tee on the 11th hole and the reduction in size of the 10th green which will see the more heavily guarded front portion take precedence.

The index-one 7th hole will see the construction of a new tee box with the fairway extended left, offering an alternative and more friendly angle to the green but forcing players to make a choice as it also brings the burn into play

Additionally, 31 of the bunkers will be either removed or reshaped and positioned, reducing the entire Colt Championship course’s overall bunker count from 84 to 71, with the largest hazards given a ‘rough-edged’ appearance to blend more naturally into the surrounds and increase long-term sustainability. The smaller bunkers and those situated greenside will retain the revetted style currently employed.

Both Ladies’ Captain Valerie Booker and Men’s Captain Jim Flood spoke glowingly of the proposals and offered their full support before the membership cast their votes and the proposals were carried unanimously.

“First of all, let me just say that we all know how great County Sligo is,” said Ebert who represented the architectural firm at the presentation. “The fact that Harry Colt designed it is a great start and what a piece of land it plays over.

“But we look at each hole individually and try to understand how the holes and the course has evolved as well. Some of the proposals out there are restoring features that we think have either been lost or features that have been added that we think aren’t necessarily appropriate as well as having some new thoughts as well, but the layout structure stays the same, we’re not proposing any changes to that. Obviously we need to see what happens with the 16th bearing in mind that the coastal footpath may interfere with that hole so at least we’ve got opportunities there which is a good one.

“A lot of it is really small-scale adjustment, but as a whole, we think it will really strengthen the offering that County Sligo provides to both members and the huge visiting traffic it receives as well.”

The 12th green will move closer to the extremity of Wren Point, enhancing the vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the distant lighthouse

Given the extensive portfolio of courses on which Mackenzie & Ebert have worked on, both as existing and new projects, few are better placed to assess the quality of both the terrain and the vistas on offer.

“Well how good is it already?” Ebert responded when asked just how good he thought County Sligo Golf Club can be? “I think one of the things that any golf course is dependent on is its setting and the setting of County Sligo is probably second to none. The different views and the magnificence of the views is second to none, and it’s really breathtaking in so many instances. I referred to the level changes that the golf course enjoys – obviously there’s a bit of climbing involved on certain holes to take the opportunity that those elevations provide.

“There are so many breathtaking views; the third tee is an incredible spot, the fifth tee – the fairway is so far below – but also it changes in character. You have those holes which take on the hills more strongly and that provides incredible views but then at the far end you just have real, dune-y links holes, so it’s a great variety of character, a great variety of terrain.

“As we always say, Harry Colt, he was one of the best – possibly THE best – of the ‘Golden Age’ architects and probably the best there’s ever been, so he left something pretty special. Our job is not to re-do that by any means, it’s really just to build upon what is a great foundation, but on occasion at these great courses, changes are made over 100 years or so and they’re not always in the best interest so if we can detect some of those things and perhaps put them right as well as coming up with minor embellishments then it really can be – it already is world class – but in this world of ever-improving [focus] then this can make it even stronger.”

The changes are expected to be carried out over a five-to-six-year period and will largely be conducted in-house through consultation with Mackenzie & Ebert and work will likely commence in October of this year.

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One response to “County Sligo membership give green light to Mackenzie & Ebert redesign”

  1. Ian C Hodgson avatar
    Ian C Hodgson

    Excellent article

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