There's a common misconception among first-timers, about to cross the Atlantic on their inaugural Irish golf trip that they must focus their playing time on only the historic, old courses. Nobody is going to argue that the late 19th and early 20th centuries, produced some excellent layouts that have become classics and of course they are well worth playing, but they are only a part of Ireland's golf story.
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Golf has come a long way in the 600 years it's been around and so have most things connected with the game. - golf balls are no longer leather pouches filled with feathers, hickory clubs are a relic of an age gone by and golf course architecture has progressed, along with everything else and Ireland has been at the cutting edge of contemporary course design..
The glory of Irish golf is in no small part created by the variety of courses this small island contains and modern-day layouts figure as prominently in mix as do those historic classics. The last 15 years or so has been an especially fruitful period for Irish golf, with new courses popping up across the country like proverbial mushrooms. Although quantity and quality seldom go hand in hand, the Emerald Isle's new courses go against the tide and many of these newcomers have proved to be exceptional enough to be ranked on the most recent listing of Ireland's Top 50 Layouts, which includes no less than 18 courses, all opened since 1995.
Adare Manor, Druids Glen, Ballyliffin's Glashedy Course, Doonbeg, Rosapenna's Sandy Hills, Old Head and Portmarnock Links are but a small sampling of some of the better known youngsters making it to the celebrity list - and their numbers continue to grow.
The Faldo Championship Course, at Lough Erne Golf Resort in Northern Ireland's County Fermanagh, was officially inaugurated only a few weeks ago, so didn't qualify for the latest ranking of Ireland's Top 50 Courses. Just wait until next year and it's all but guaranteed, this beautiful piece of golf artistry will be making a grand entrance - and it will be high on the list.
Seldom do brand new courses receive such accolades on opening day, but with the attendance of Ireland's top two players, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy, who participated in a charity shoot-out, with an impressive gathering of adoring fans and press looking on, publicity was plentiful. But it just might have been the golf course that upstaged them all -- the celebrity golfers and the 5-star resort hotel, already lauded as the very best in Northern Ireland.
Nick Faldo is a busy man involved in a host of endeavors ranging from television broadcasting to a chain of golf academies and promoting international tournaments for young up and coming players. The man has his own wine label, corporate partnerships with TaylorMade and Addidas and that's only the beginning.
Less known among fans is Faldo's success as a golf course designer, an endeavor he has given the same tenacity, passion and the determination to succeed, as he put into his tour playing days. In fact Nick Faldo has earned the same respect as a designer as he did as a player, creating some 30 or so, truly masterful designs around the globe to date. His inspired piece of golf artistry at Lough Erne has to rank as one of the very best.
Granted, the site Faldo was presented with, in the Lakelands of County Fermanagh, was picture perfect and about as breathtakingly beautiful as exists anywhere on the globe. But what Faldo has done with that site is simply, design magic and a pure delight for any connoisseur of the Royal & Ancient Game. Packed to the brim with variety and perhaps more than its share of risk/reward holes, this is a course for the thinking golfer, where practically every hole demands the same high level of attention.
The opening four holes provide time for gentlemanly introductions, as course and player become acquainted and the track calmly wends its way through mature woodland. By the fifth the niceties have been completed and things begin to get serious, with a spectacular short hole requiring a drive across the shoreline of Castle Hume Lough -- the fun is just beginning, so get used to it. Water will come into play on another 13 holes before you finally reach the 19th hole.
The sixth take you on a modest climb to a plateau and one of the most stunning vistas on the entire course. Stay focused on the test that lies ahead, a series of holes that will examine your golfing skills as sternly as any you may have experienced before.
The seventh sweeps down from the plateau to a lakeside green, tempting the big hitters to take the short-cut across Lough Erne -- do so at your own risk and for those of a more conservative nature, there's no shame in taking the safer route. The next two holes are equally strong, following the shoreline in a build up to the par-4 tenth, a thriller by any definition, with a green surrounded on three sides by the waters of Lough Erne. It's a daunting challenge for the accomplished golfer and a real knee-shaker for the rest of us.
And so the challenge continues, each hole showing its own unique character and a certain determination to surprise the unsuspecting and amaze those beguiled by the handsome good looks. And like all good shows, this all leads up to the grand finale, a closing sequence that begins to build from the sixteenth with a downhill drive from high among the trees to the loughside green, far below. The seventeenth sweeps along the shoreline to the crescendo of a finish, a sparkling par-3 that demands all the courage you can muster, with a drive across the lake to a craftily angled green that will take skill to hold.
Battle worn and weary, the welcoming 19th will be the place to celebrate an exhilarating round on a very special course, undoubtedly bound for future glory - rumor has it The European Tour is already considering this gem for one of next year's events. Play it and enjoy it, before the crowds start arriving!
For more ideas and suggestions on how best to include The Faldo Championship Course, together with other jewels of Northern and Northwestern Ireland, click here.