The claret jug had barely settled into Stewart Cink's grasp a few weekends ago, when Ireland's two top players, disappointed by their own performances at the 2009 British Open, were making their way back home for another important event.
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Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy were scheduled to be the star attractions at the first, Lough Erne Challenge, a friendly showdown between these two top-ranked golfers, to raise funds for charities in the Enniskillen and wider, County Fermanagh area of Northern Ireland. The event also marked the official inauguration of one of the most remarkable new courses to open on the island of Ireland in many a year, The Faldo Championship Course, at the plush and equally new, Lough Erne Golf Resort.
Last Wednesday's fun shoot-out was quite literally, a roaring success, with young Rory coming out of it as the eventual winner. But this was a golf day with no losers - monies were raised for a dozen worthy causes, Ireland's two top golfers had some relaxing enjoyment after the stress of British Open Week and the crowds got to see their heroes up close and personal. Lough Erne Golf Resort was also a winner as it got to show-off its magnificent facilities in the grand style this facility will inevitably be soon known for.
Ireland has no shortage of luxury golf resorts, in fact there are more 5 star hotels with their own championship courses here than anywhere else on the globe. Names such as Dromoland Castle, Adare Manor and Mount Juliet are only a sampling of the established, 5-star golf resorts that have been around long enough to have earned solid reputations for both their luxurious accommodations as well as the quality of their golf courses. They have been joined in more recent years by others, held in equally high esteem -- The K-Club of 2006 Ryder Cup fame, Druids Glen, The Lodge at Doonbeg, Carton House and The Heritage, among them.
Each provides its own variation on the luxury golf experience, together with a variety of other leisure facilities, including health spas, gastronomic dining together with a few more active pursuits. Lough Erne Golf Resort however may be taking the established standards of 5 star excellence to an entirely new level.
Located a few miles from the historic small town of Enniskillen in the heart of Northern Ireland's stunningly beautiful County Femanagh, this is a land of lakes, rivers and pastoral landscapes. It's the Emerald Isle we all dream of -- the Ireland of yester-year, where life moves at a slower, unhurried pace and Mother Nature's handiwork reigns supreme.
Idyllically set on its own 300 acre peninsula, separating two magnificent lakes -- lower Lough Erne and Castle Hume Lough - the elegant, Lough Erne Golf Resort resembles a small, neat village, fitting perfectly into the surrounding natural beauty. But no village could ever offer the unabashedly, sumptuous luxury showered upon each guest, every second of their stay. Complementing all is the thoroughly pampering staff, always with a genuinely warm level of Irish service and a seemingly nature-given aptitude for making everyone feel totally at home. It's a level of service and quality seldom found in today's world.
The 120 plush hotel rooms, 6 extravagant suites and 25 irresistible lakeside lodges, are all uncommonly spacious, flooded with natural daylight, each offering spectacular views of the lake and gardens. Exuding an elegant country house styling, they are tastefully decorated with the very finest of top quality furnishings, with beautiful fabrics, Irish linen and lush draperies, all in a thoroughly sophisticated fusion of past and present. The beds are massive and unbelievably comfortable and the bathrooms distinctly un-hotel-like, with their impressive size, generous use of marble, twin sinks and something close to the heart of every traveling American, luxurious rain showers.
Superbly opulent accommodations in a picture perfect setting, with an amazing golf course, destined to be quickly ranked among Ireland's best, sitting at the front door, should be temptation enough for any golf traveler. But there is so much more to this spectacular resort, which defies adequate description and the superlatives that inevitably will be showered upon it.
As amazing as Nick Faldo's most recent design triumph at Lough Erne Golf Resort very definitely is, this is a magical escape retreat with every bit as much appeal to those who have no love of the game as it does to the most ardent golfer. With an activities listing as long as your arm, any guest would be hard-pressed not to find something on it to at least tickle their fancy and the opportunities to try one or two of the more off-the-wall possibilities, undoubtedly too strong to resist.
If you have ever thought about trying your hand at fishing, this is your chance, whether fly fishing for brown trout or pike. The two lough's surrounding the resort offer some of the best fishing in Ireland. All of the necessary equipment is available for your use, together with some elementary instruction, or help with more advanced techniques for the more experienced fisherman, it's all here through the Resident Game Angling Instructor. And unlike other resorts that may offer fishing, you won't have to drive 50 miles to find the fish, they are all here, in the two lakes just outside of your room.
If fishing isn't your thing and you prefer more leisurely sightseeing, perhaps with just a touch of drama, helicopter and seaplane excursions to explore the beauty of County Fermanagh leave from the resort's own helipads and Castlehume Lough, on request. For something more conventional, discover this region, so rich in history and culture, as well as good looks, by car or boat, with an expert local historian as your guide.
There's canoeing and kayaking on the loughs and nearby rivers; horseback riding, deer stalking, archery and clay shooting or sailing and pleasure craft hire on lower Lough Erne. The list is impressive and it's all here, right at the doorstep.
And for those who just want to be really pampered, the resort's state-of-the-art, Thai Spa, is a treat that simply must not be missed. A team of expertly trained, Thai therapists, offer a profusion of treatments for mind, body and soul, with ritual applications of all Asia's botanical heritage provides in one of Ireland's best equipped spa facilities.
With so much to see and do, healthy appetites inevitably become even healthier than normal and the dining opportunities at Lough Erne Golf Resort offer yet another area where this paradise found, excels beyond any guest's wildest dreams. Under the close supervision of one of Ireland's leading and most famous chefs, the appropriately named, Noel McMeel, the artistry of fine cuisine rules and no place more so than in the Catalina Restaurant, which is fast becoming one of Ireland's most talked about new fine-dining restaurants.
Executive Chef McMeel delights in demonstrating the versatility of fresh local produce and County Fermanagh gives him plenty to work with, made all the better by McMeel's never ending fountain of creativity. The elegant, Catalina Restaurant provides gastonomic experiences to be not only savored at the moment, but also mouth-wateringly remembered for years to come.
There's no question that The Lough Erne Golf Resort has raised the bar a few notches, not only for luxury golf resorts, but all five-star resort properties. This is a place with a heart; it's also got a lot of soul and a firm commitment to absolute luxury and excellence, all amid an unpretentious atmosphere that makes it refreshingly unique. Come here for a golf trip, a second honeymoon, or give a trip to someone special, as a graduation present, an important birthday or anniversary or simply escape here yourself for a few days of relaxation, away from the hum-drum of everyday life -- I can assure you, there's nothing everyday about this resort where everything is delightfully, extraordinary.
For a few ideas on how best to include the amazing, Lough Erne Golf Resort in your Ireland itinerary, click here.