The West of Ireland is played at Rosses Point every year but there’s an awful lot of west beyond Sligo. Maureen and I drove for just under an hour to Enniscrone/Inishcrone/Inis Crabhann and were still in county Sligo and then there’s Mayo beyond that. It could take a lifetime to play every golf course around the coastline of Ireland, before even venturing inland.
At least Mo and I have now added Enniscrone to our list and it’s more than worth the detour. We caught it on a near-perfect day, with blue skies and enough of a breeze to keep us honest and thank goodness it was in benign mood because it’s a tough track with serious dunes and elevated greens with roller-coaster run-offs. It is not easy to navigate if you’re playing it for the first time without a local to point you in the right direction. Still, we managed it, only losing one ball each and fortunately, a four ball of Englishmen called us through at the delightfully dinky traffic light hole – the light goes green when you leave the green, letting the players on the tee know it’s time to let rip – where we hadn’t a clue what it was we were supposed to be doing. We hit crackers, which impressed our ball spotters, and swaggered on as though that was the norm. It was the next hole that we halved in lost balls!
After a bowl of delicious fish chowder and the ubiquitous, divine wheaten, we set off on the drive north (east first of course, there’s a lot of water immediately north of Enniscrone, which is also famous for its beach, seaweed baths, wildlife and all things water-related).
We were off to visit our great pal, the inimitable Lilian Starrett, in Ballyclare, an old stomping ground of our aunt and uncle, Dick and Dote but not a part of the world we know that well. The drive there had everything: mountains, lakes, greenery and a porous old border that I hope even after Brexit everyone in places like Blacklion and Belcoo will continue to cross multiple times a day with nary a thought. Am reading the quite brilliant Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, in a last, valiant attempt to get the brain cell working and understand the world we live in a bit better, so borders are on my mind.
Lil was keen for us to play Hilton Templepatrick, where she works and she’d summoned Kath Stewart-Moore from Portrush to join us. Unfortunately, the balls paired Kath with Mo and Lil, who was hampered by one of those pesky back tweaks, was lumbered with me. Kath, irritatingly competitive and consistent, improved as the round went on , impervious to distracting questions about the bird life and playing a ball that seemed allergic to trees and water. She holed a treacherous, downhill putt for a par 3 at the 15th and Lil and I were toast.
The rain held off and the course proved playable and testing without being monstrous, bar the 3rd hole, which features a lake that takes up the entire fairway and offers no obvious, circuitous, non-aerial route to the green. Not all of us avoided the water.
The final course on this trip was Baltray, more formally County Louth Golf Club, which I, shamefully and amazingly, had never played. It’s 125 years old this year and the day before we played, Maria Dunne, from Skerries, just down the coast, had won the Irish Women’s Open Strokeplay Championship by two shots from the Englishwomen Gemma Clews and Sophie Lamb. All three have been picked for the Vagliano Trophy in Italy at the end of next month. Mind you, we were just as impressed that Maeve Rooney, of County Sligo, who played with us and Mary McKenna at Rosses Point last week, played all three rounds. Well done Maeve.
The trophy Maria won is now named for two of the greats of Irish golf, both stalwarts of Baltray: Clarrie Reddan and Philomena Garvey. Clarrie was a formidable competitor, who won the Irish and played in the Curtis Cup but Phil was just phenomenal, hoovering up an indecent number of Irish titles, one British (she was runner-up four times) and a host of Curtis Cup appearances, playing on two winning teams. They put Baltray on the map – and kept it there.