In the north-west of a country known for legendary links courses, sits a classic parkland layout, which can hold its own against the best in Europe
If you’re planning a golf trip to Ireland and have shortlisted the courses you’re going to include in your itinerary, chances are that Castle Dargan Golf Resort, in the small town of Sligo in the north-west of that country, has not made it to that list. “Why should I bother about a parkland layout in Sligo?” you’re likely to ask incredulously, and that’s understandable. Why in the world would anyone, going to the land of classic links like Killarney, Narin & Portnoo, Lahinch, Ballybunion, Doonbeg and Old Head, deign to play a parkland course with no coast in sight?
No reason actually, if the single-minded objective of your trip is to experience links golf. But a surfeit of reasons, if what you’re looking for is a familiar challenge, in radically different conditions. The point is this: unless you’re from Scotland, or England, or have played a lot of links golf in your life, it’s a different game—playing those coastline layouts—and one that requires a different mindset, strategy, and skill set. So you learn the bump-and-run, and how to putt from 40 ft off the green. Castle Dargan does a fine impression of a beast you’ve tackled before. Parkland golf is something you’re likely to be accustomed to, and may believe (even though it may not turn out that way) that your game has the arsenal to tackle a course like Castle Dargan. As you’ve probably surmised, it’s a happy illusion. The fact that, all said and done, you’re still in Ireland, and, therefore, susceptible to the vagaries of the unrelenting wind, and sporadic drizzle make it a very different ball game indeed.
Castle Dargan Golf Resort is home to the premier parkland golf course in the north-west of Ireland and opened for play a little over five years ago. Designed by Irish veteran Darren Clarke, the 2011 British Open champion, the course has met with widespread praise. Clarke himself isn’t modest about his creation. “I’m not sure how many courses I will have the opportunity to design, but if this is my last one, I could retire a happy man. I tried to draw on the great courses I have been fortunate enough to play over the years as well as some of the links I grew up playing. This estate was just perfect for a golf course and I think now the north-west has a parkland course to compliment its renowned links,” says Clarke.
The 170-acre estate has all the ingredients of a very special golfing sanctuary. The course meanders through freshwater brooks and rolling terrain, embracing the old stone walls and ancient ruins, which define this romantic landscape. The course’s natural feel reflects Clarke’s passion for traditional design, while its strategic layout reveals his love of shot-making.
The short 121-yard third hole gives a nice view of the resort, and lulls players into a false sense of confidence, which the fourth, a 383-yard par-4, exploits to the fullest. A large tree smack in the middle of the fairway dominates the player’s view, and obscures the treacherous water on the left.
The 11th hole has an elevated tee looking down an extremely narrow haricot-shape green surrounded by water and bunkers. Not for the faint-hearted, this one. The 262-yard 15th is a drivable par-4 and Clarke’s ‘signature’ hole. Not surprisingly, the green sits tantalisingly close to the water’s edge.
On the whole Castle Dargan is a tough layout, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. The greens are multi-tiered and befuddling. First-timers would save a lot of effort and aggravation by playing off the white tees. Even then, anything within a couple of strokes off your regular handicap is commendable.
Golfers are also certain to enjoy their time off the course. The resort has a four-star hotel and the club facilities include a practice academy, a golf shop, spa and club bar that commands dramatic views across the course.
So make the detour to Sligo if you can: in any case, it’s likely to fall right along the route if you’re playing the links along the north-west coast. After three-four rounds on windswept links courses and merciless gorse, you may just yearn for a tree-lined fairway—a slightly more modern set-up, like the ones you’re accustomed to playing.
Sure, links golf may be as pure as the game can get, but at the danger of sounding sacrilegious, let’s just say that once you’ve been mauled by a few of those, Castle Dargan could provide just the succour that your parkland-starved soul might need. If for nothing else, then just to regain some confidence, and faith, that you can, in fact, play this game.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game