How many golf resorts have changed hands in the past few years? Fota Island, Castlemartyr, Mount Juliet, Mount Wolseley, Doonbeg, Moyvalley, Portmarnock Links… There are others, not to mention those now on the market (Knightsbrook (€18m) and Carton House (€60m) among them), but it has been a busy few years.
Perhaps that’s why the resorts that have stayed on their feet deserve a special mention, earning a small round of applause for striding through the recession and reaching higher ground. Today, golf tourism can look at a brighter future. Yes, I know there are many clubs still in trouble but, despite what the golfing bodies are telling us about falling participation levels, golf resorts have an edge.
Roe Park, in Limavady, is a case in point. This hotel and golf resort will be unknown to many Irish golfers south of the border, but it has a considerable list of benefits for anyone looking to visit and/or play golf on the north coast. Chief among them is the recent investment of £1 million, which was completed in time for the 2017 Irish Open.
“We are delighted to complete these developments,” says Terry Kelly, Roe Park’s Golf and Spa Manager. “The changes have transformed the course and facilities following a significant investment programme over the past number of years.”
The Roe Park Resort contracted golf course architect Marc Westenborg to renovate holes 16, 17 and 18. The final three greens were reconstructed to improve play and create a more challenging finish to the course. The redevelopment also included a multi-tier finish to surrounding bunkers and introduced additional bunkers throughout the fairways to give players a more competitive game. All bunkers now ise Sportsbond to ensure consistency and drainage. Some fairways were also realigned and the final touch was to redevelop the par three 6th rising through the hotel grounds.
“We have worked with course specialists and combined our knowledge with input from resident golfers to make sure the course enhancements provide players with a challenging and competitive course,” added Kelly.
The positive investment approach is reflected in other golf resorts, too, but many of these have new owners. Roe Park does not: it has been owned by the same local businessmen since it opened, in 1995, and it remains a popular destination. The hotel was also crowned the Golf Hotel of the Year at the inaugural Irish Hotel Awards, in March 2017. The four star resort saw off competition from top golf resorts across Ireland.
“We are thrilled to be recognised for our world-class golf facilities,” said Kelly, “as well as the many other services we offer guests at the Roe Park Resort. We pride ourselves on offering a wide range of facilities – from our award-winning spa, 18 hole golf course, two Taste of Ulster accredited restaurants, heated swimming pool and health club. It is great recognition for the whole team to win such an award.”
The resort is one of only three in Northern Ireland that directly combines golf, hotel and spa.
“We have seen a big influx from the Republic since the devaluation of the pound,” says Kelly, “although the significant exposure received by the North coast in the lead up to the Irish Open has also contributed to a large increase in business.”
The Golf Course
One of the strengths of the golf course at Roe Park is that it is a friendly, fun and accessible place. It is not a muscular, fancy affair like Lough Erne or Mount Juliet, nor should it be. What you get is a four star hotel with a fine golf course to match. A lot of North American golfers attracted to the resort have their eyes on the links courses in the region (Castlerock, Portstewart and Royal Portrush are within a 30 minute drive, with Ballyliffin, North West, Portsalon, Rosapenna and Ballycastle within 90 minutes) and a round at Roe Park, or use of the driving range, will serve as the perfect warm-up. The course is also outside the front door and the routing makes it easy should the late evening sunshine draw you out for a few ‘quick holes’.
Spread over the estate’s 155 acres the course dates back to 1992. It is a par 70, measuring 6,180 yards from the Blue tees, 5,927 yards from the Whites, and a very generous 5,556 yards from the Society Green tees. It is a Par 71 and 5,015 yards from the Red tees.
There are five par threes, and three par fives. Of the par threes, the shortest is the infamous 6th, measuring 117 yards from the White tees… and all uphill; the 3rd and 17th both creep over 200 yards, and their challenges are not just from the yardage. The par fours promise good variety with the shortest at 260 yards (15th, see panel) and the longest at 418 yards (the 18th). From the White tees only two are over 400 yards. The par fives are definitely generous (500, 462, 480 yards) so it isn’t hard to see why societies love it.
“Society golf is big business,” Kelly confirms. “One unique thing we offer is plenty of weekend tee times. For those who choose to stay at the hotel we also have special packages of unlimited golf, both for individuals and societies. We’ve seen a massive surge in society bookings this year, thanks to our investment, our numerous awards and the devalued pound.”
Yes, Roe Park is accessible in every sense of the word. Even if you play badly you won’t get beaten up looking for or losing golf balls. It is a resort course where you can let loose with your Driver… and that makes it fun for everyone.
The course weaves around the hotel and even through it, with that startling par three 6th rising from outside the hotel windows, up to an old stone tower. It is almost entirely enclosed within the hotel complex. The opening five holes are on one side of the hotel. They are low-lying and skirt alongside the River Roe. That said, you start with a booming drive off a high tee, shadowing the resort’s driveway and ancient trees. You then play three flat holes weaving between younger trees before the 5th slides upwards to a long, thin green.
After the 6th, the landscape changes. Now you find yourself playing over a gentle but erratic hillside above the hotel. There are some nice changes in elevation – nothing severe – and these holes find interesting shapes and slopes, as well as some elevated tee shots. I guess you could call this the hive of the course for this is where you’ll get the greatest buzz and the holes are the most exciting. Holes 10 and 11 slide across the slopes at an angle, making them two of the tougher holes. The ball will be below your feet on one and above them on the other.
There are no serious doglegs but figuring out the best position to land your ball is a key requirement, especially as the many young trees make an ever-growing impression. The main building of the hotel dates back to 1743, which indicates how old some of the biggest trees are; when they appear, they stamp their authority on the hole concerned.
But the course feels open and spacious, and views across the Roe Valley to patchwork fields on distant hills are with you for much of the round. The par three 17th (202 yards) hits straight at the rocky outcrops of Binevenagh, a mountain that signals the end of the Antrim Plateau.
The changes introduced in the past few years have certainly added to Roe Park’s challenges… but everything is easy to gauge from the tee so you know what is expected of you. OK, yes, you won’t travel from Dublin or Galway to play Roe Park Golf Club on its own, but you will when you add in the whole package – namely the hotel, the many facilities and the proximity to the northern links.
What else is available? Roe Park has excellent practice facilities including three new practice holes and a full scale, floodlit driving range with ten indoor and eight outdoor bays. The golf academy also features a chipping, bunker area and putting green, as well as an indoor studio using the latest technology in V1 Video Analysis Software, FlightScope Launch Monitor and E6 Simulator software. There’s a secure private bag store where guests can store and dry their gear and charge their batteries. They certainly look after their golfers here, and transport can even be arranged to nearby attractions and golf courses, while the Pro Shop hires out the latest Taylormade clubs… and even shoes.
Green fees are priced at £35/£40 for week day/weekend and £20 for hotel guests. You can also save by booking online through the roeparkresort.com website. Look for the unlimited golf offers!
This article is from the latest issue ofIrish Golfer Magazine. To read the full magazine free of charge CLICK HERE