Given the recent playing of The Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club, the renewed interest in golf in Northern Ireland will undoubtedly rise as golfers from around the world venture to see firsthand what top tier options are available.
Much of the emphasis will be on securing tee times for the Championship 18 at Royal County Down and, of course, the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush. Both clearly are world class golf options.
However, the flip side is that both courses are especially demanding - pity the hapless player unable to control one’s tee shots consistently. The steady diet of looking for lost balls and then reloading time after time can be fatiguing to say the least. Amazingly, just 30 minutes from County Down is a layout blessed with stellar scenery a worthy test and without all the grueling rough to inhibit one’s backswing.
Ardglass Golf Club represents the kind of “fun” golf many players need to include when in Northern Ireland. Incidentally, Shane Lowry’s caddie during The Open - Brian “Bo” Martin is a scratch player and two time club champion at Ardglass.
While Ardglass is not overly long - just over 6,200 yards - make no mistake about it - winds can whip off the Irish Sea adding a good bit more to any hole played.
The 1st tee is located immediately next to a magnificent castle structure that serves as the clubhouse. With water to one’s left - the short par-4 opener turns left then uphill to a green set in a saddle with ample rough serving to thwart the half-hearted play. The best angle is from the left side but be forewarned on the high grass that awaits. Be especially mindful if the pin is placed in the deepest area of the green. Possible birdie - yes. Possible double-bogey too! A vintage opener to get the golf blood flowing.
The 2nd is a solid 167-yard par-3 - again with water to the left for an engaging view with a green totally exposed to the elements. The next two holes also follow the coastline - both are short par-4’s. The 4th is particularly well done - the preferred landing area is left centre which is hard to accomplish given the proximity of the rough and coastline on that side. However, if one misses too far right a large grass dune blocks one’s path very effectively.
At the short 5th you face a drop-shot par-3 featuring a putting surface maddeningly difficult to hold with any serious wind blowing.
Once you reach the 6th the course swings inland and the holes encountered are fairly repetitive and don’t really add much to the total equation. They are sufficient - but not especially noteworthy.
That changes with the start of the back nine - following another downhill par-3 at the 10th - the par-5 11th is exceptional. Lined with gorse left and a parallel sea wall to the right. Birdie is possible but not without being in play right from the start. The 12th is a quality par-3 that follows and the par-4 13th is well done - turning left in the drive zone and ending with a subtle green that is hard to fathom.
After the 13th you play another series of holes that are fairly rudimentary - not bad per se - just not memorable. The concluding trio is a return to quality. The 16th slides uphill - the green elevated above the fairway. The 17th is good short par-4 with another elevated target.
The final hole is a quality closer - presenting a slew of options - from driving the green to possibly throwing away one’s round with a foolish play. As you stand on the tee you see the magnificent clubhouse in the distance. At 345 yards and going downhill - the temptation is there. Do you go for the max? Do you play conservatively? The thing about the 18th is that those bailing out right face a devilish pitch uphill to a narrow green. There is a speed slot on the left side of the fairway and should the execution match the ambition the reward might just be an eagle putt. It’s a fascinating hole because the numbers can be so varied among all levels of players.
Ardglass provides a design that wants players to get emotionally connected - relishing fun shots played well. Not endless slogs with little hope for success. Too many links courses have overdosed on the inclusion of brutal rough - making holes more demanding does not add to greatness but simply shows a weak crutch unnecessarily added.
Elasticity in design is not about accepting mediocre plays - but giving players space to elevate themselves. Ardglass provides such a platform - combining scenic vistas and enough quality holes to carry the day. Be sure to schedule a round on your next visit.
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