Connemara: An extraordinary links that refuses to be beaten

October 20, 2009
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Connemara is the Ireland of yesteryear - the countryside is totally unspoiled by progress and the unsightly clutter, which development always manages to bring. Life in these rural parts is simple and filled with starkly beautiful vistas of land and sea; small villages of thatched roof cottages and donkeys laden with creels of peat, to be stacked in readiness for winters chill. It's an idyllic Ireland, sitting as far away from the hectic 21st century as it's possible to be. In Connemara, life goes on as it has for centuries, paying no heed to the modern day world.

There are fine Irish links courses then there's Connemara a links to test the very best.
That a course so handsome yet so isolated could offer this caliber of golf might be one of golf's great mysteries.
Starkly good looking Connemara refuses to be beaten by any player.
Be wary - play Connemara and you will have a new Irish favorite.
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Ireland has no shortage of excellent courses and this is not where you expect to find a world-class golf course, but Ireland is filled surprises and Connemara Golf Club is as pleasant a surprise as any golfer could wish for.

There may be no other course on the Emerald Isle that projects such a strangely beautiful feeling of total isolation and of being at the very edge of civilization. Mystical, almost foreboding, how such a stunning links came to be in this remote part of County Galway may be one of golf's great mysteries. But if you are fortunate enough to be here, make the very most of the special, almost holy experience and enjoy one of Ireland's great links courses to the fullest.

Occupying an impressive site between the crashing Atlantic Ocean and the mountains of Connemara National Park, this handsome layout comes from the hand of Eddie Hackett, one of Ireland's most prolific and successful golf architects. Opened in 1973, the thoroughly natural track seems to have been here for centuries, carved out by Mother Nature and her arsenal of elements, she has effectively used to form so many of the world's great links. And this is a links track in the purest sense of that often misused term.

Absent are the giant sand dunes, typical of many seaside courses, instead a nakedly open layout, totally exposed to the incessant wind whipping in from the Atlantic Ocean and it's the wind that provides one of Connemara's main defenses. Cantankerous and erratic, changing direction and velocity on a whim, this wind seems to always be there to frustrate and annoy. Hope for a calm day if you wish, but just like hurricanes in Hampshire, calm days at Connemara, hardly ever happen.

Complicating matters further is the length of this bucking bronco of a course. Measuring a hefty 7,055 yards from the tips, there will be no shame in playing from the forward tees. For those who insist on proving their macho side, play from the back at your own peril, this is a layout with no qualms when it comes to humiliating tough guys.

The front 9 may fall a little short of expectations for some, though there is a scattering of rather good holes. The opener immediately grabs attention -- the 360-yard dogleg, crosses a stream en route to the green, well protected by shrewdly placed bunkers. Then a lull in excitement until the short 6th with one of the most elusive greens on the course -- elevated and well bunkered with a steep fall-off on all sides, there's a testiness here that throws down a gauntlet and dares you to try.

Take advantage of this first half, it's a full 300 yards shorter than the back 9 and as you are about to discover, you'll need to build a credit here to have any chance of surviving the tough and demanding second act with a decent score.

The roller coaster ride that is the real Connemara starts in earnest at the 8th -- focus, this is only an introduction to the ruggedly tough and very serious, main attraction. At the turn the terrain becomes hilly with sand dunes, though not the gigantic variety, bringing an entirely different character into play. Connemara comes to life - be warned, the men are about to be separated from the boys.

The card shows three of the last five holes are par 5's but after attacking the glorious 12th and charging uphill for some 445 yards to a plateau green, you could be justified in adding a fourth to Connemara's backside. After the charming short 13th, you'll be on the climb again to a tee in the clouds with nothing but glorious views to savor, before the downhill gallup on the first of the official par 5s on the back half.

The thrill packed ride continues, uphill and then down, every hole bringing a different challenge, each compounded by the wind that never seems to pause for even a moment. There are rivers crossing fairways, rocky limestone outcrops to be steered clear of and always the crafty bunkering around greens and strategically placed along fairways. The generously wide fairways provide the big hitters with confidence enough to spread their shoulders, but accuracy and a constant factoring in the effects of the ever-changing wind are crucial.

With each progressive hole presenting a trickier problem than the previous, Connemara plays like a well orchestrated symphony, with everything leading up to a crescendo and the dramatic grand finale. The pair of closers, both par 5's, provide the appropriate stage and as if sensing the theater, both set off from elevated tees.

The 17th, a straight-away 500 yarder, goes to an elevated green surrounded by a natural, sand dune amphitheater adding to the drama. The absence of bunkers encourages bravado, but be wary, a good approach shot to below the hole is the only route to success.

The very best is saved until last with the 18th's final examination of all Connemara has taught before and at 525 yards, this is the longest hole of all. It's a dogleg right, with a stream meandering across the fairway, three quarters of the way down and just where you don't want a stream to be. There are no fairway bunkers, but with out of bounds running along the right flank and some of the most unsympathetic bunkering jealously guarding the green, this is one that calls for nerves of steel -- good luck.

Battle-worn and weary, the 19th hole will be a very welcome end to what can only be one of the most memorable rounds of real links golf you have ever played. To learn more of how to include Connemara and other West coast gems in your Irish golf trip, click here.

©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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