Reflecting on the 2015 Atlantic Coast Challenge
The Atlantic Coast Challenge 2015 has finished for another year. Played from 6-8 July, some 130 teams played the Irish golf links of Carne, Co. Sligo and Enniscrone, in counties Mayo and Sligo. They sit rather majestically on the Wild Atlantic Way.

There were many highlights, with the courses being the stars of the show, but what is most noticeable about this glorious corner of Ireland is that you should never believe the weather forecast. Never, ever, ever.

Five years ago, when I played in the inaugural Atlantic Coast Challenge event, I chatted to Pat Sweeney, the then General Manager at Enniscrone. Under clear blue skies, I commented that the weather forecast had predicted relentless rain. The response was a laugh and a pertinent observation that those forecasting the weather in Dublin didn’t have a clue about what was going on in the north west.

And so it proved this year… for some of the time. Those golfers going out in the mornings experienced the worst of the conditions on days 1 and 2, but the forecasters predicted heavy and wet skies over the north west’s bucolic landscapes for the entire three days.

Fin plays from a dune top at Carne.

Bar ten minutes, it was 18 holes of rain yesterday morning at Carne,” Niall, from Druid’s Glen, told me as we chatted on Enniscrone’s 1st tee, on the final day. Our team had gone out in the afternoon (2.36pm) and we enjoyed the polar opposite. We were lucky enough to play half a dozen holes in sunshine, although sadly that didn’t improve our golf.

The scores across the three days – and the three rotations – varied considerably. Given the differing weather conditions, that is no surprise… nor is it any great shock that the final day, with its dawn to dusk sunshine, delivered the best results. The top scores of the week were recorded at Enniscrone, with 44 and 43 points being achieved within 20 minutes of each other. I would also add that, of the three courses, Enniscrone is the hardest to play. There is little forgiveness if you venture off fairways, and it is strongly recommended that you do not go long on approach shots… there is no forgiveness there, either.

For most of us golfers, simply playing these three courses for such a generous entry fee is reward enough. I can’t say our team has ever held any allusions of winning. My two friends, Fin (17 handicap) and Ronan (10), are golfers who simply don’t play a lot of golf. Fin lives outside New York, and you can imagine how expensive and inaccessible that makes our beloved sport. So playing some of the best and most beautiful courses in the country, and facing some of the most difficult and testing holes anywhere is all the winning we could ask for.

Three Days

Three days and three rounds produced shots that every golfer will wish they could take back, strike again or repeat endlessly. It is the lot of golfers everywhere to dwell on the past – bad or good. Here are a few of those moments from this week:

In driving rain and a cross wind, whipping in from the Atlantic, Fin stood on Carne’s 16th tee box and struck a shot that landed no more than three inches from the cup, some 142 metres below. It is a shot that he is unlikely to forget, nor should he given how far left of the green he started the ball. The next hole is the hardest on the course and one of the toughest in the country. Carne’s par four 17th measures 392 metres and rises steadily uphill to a tilting green tucked into the side of a dune. Along the left side of the fairway is a deep chasm, where no golfer would ever wish to venture. It requires two perfect shots… or one enormous drive. Ronan struck his tee shot straight up the middle over 300 metres. If the fairway had been half the width he’d still have been dead centre. His approach required only a lob wedge while Fin and I were hitting 3 wood and 6 iron, respectively. For a low handicap golfer – or any golfer for that matter – there is nothing more enjoyable than knocking the teeth out of the Index 1 hole.

Approach to Carne's par four 17th (Index 1).

On the 18th, the par five closing hole, both Fin and Ronan hit their drives left, into the rough. Feeling overexuberant at their recent triumphs, perhaps, they tried to scale the enormous dune in front of them. Both balls were lost, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth as they both walked off the final green with a scratch. It only serves to emphasise that when you play Carne (and Enniscrone, particularly) straight hitting is critical. If you fail in that regard, take your punishment and play a sensible recovery shot or you will be wandering these swelling dunes for what will feel like an eternity.

I’ve often wondered which type of par is more rewarding: the perfectly played hole or the scramble. At Co. Sligo, I played the par four 6th as a snap hook, a heave out of heavy rough and a bladed wedge that hit the flag and left me to sink a six footer for par. On the 394 metre 8th, a perfect drive crossed the dogleg to find the fairway, an easy 9 iron put me on the green and a missed birdie putt down the slope left me with a simple tap-in. Which par left the better taste… but which was more adventurous?

Views over the 8th hole at County Sligo Golf Club.

Other Voices

Perhaps, from an Irish golf writer’s point of view at least, one of the most gratifying things is hearing English, Scottish, American and a mixture of European accents in the clubhouses and at the Diamond Coast Hotel, which served as one of the chief accommodation centres for the event. There were close to 400 golfer playing and we all mingled in clubhouses and bars telling our stories of woe and victory, and discussing the brilliance of the courses we were playing.

More often than not, non-golfing spouses and partners pay scant regard to our victories and failures when we return after our day’s play… so a bar full of passionate golfers enjoying the same experiences feels like a brotherhood where we share pain and joy in equal measure.

And there’s the rub… for as much pain as we endure on the course we somehow manage to turn it into joy by the time we leave. It’s what brings us back for the next round, and the next Atlantic Coast Challenge, too.
Posted by admin at Jun 22, 2016 Category: Other
Tags: Atlantic Coast Challenge, carne golf links, Enniscrone Links, links golf courses, Wild Atlantic Way