Lough Erne Golf Course - Par 72 - 7,167 Yards
Opened in 2005 and adjoining the sister Castle Hume golf course, Lough Erne has quickly established itself amongst the very top parkland courses in Ireland. It is not difficult to see why - the spectacular setting sets the scene for an outstanding design by Nick Faldo, his first full 18 hole golf course in Ireland.
Constructed to the highest championship standards, Lough Erne makes full use of the location on a peninsula between Lower Lough Erne and the smaller Lough Castle Hume. There is some walking required between a few greens and tee (and even from clubhouse to first tee) and the round finishes with what feels like a contrived par-3 adjacent to and across the lake.
But these are minor criticisms - the first holes is a very nice par-4 towards some woodland that hides the par-4 second and par-3 third holes. This section of the course finishes with a straightforward par-5 where a shallow green is well protected by the courses many manicured bunkers and a spectacular par-3 that required a mid-long iron right across a small lake.
The first long walk up a steep hill takes one to the par-5 sixth that plunges into a valley before rising again to a difficult green. The par-4 seventh gives one the first memorable view from the highest point on the golf course. Everything is laid out in front of you here but being so high the actual line to take to ensure reaching the safety of the firway is hard to see. The temptation is to take too agressive a line as the hole looks much further than it actually is (370 yards from the blue tee marker) and a good drive on a conservative line will leave a short approach. The approach is also quite deceiving as the green is partially hidden with a large hill to the left and Lough Erne behind - trust the yardage!
Holes 8 & 9 are both long and difficult - 8 for its length and 9 for its trouble that lines both sides of the fairway before a green that has an intimidating location with severe trouble to the left and the lake to the right.
Unfortunately Lough Erne is a course that provides (and encourages) a halfway refreshment stop in an inviting wooden cabin. But once ready to pay again the short par-4 10th hole will immediately grab ones attention. Probably the signature hole on the golf course the green is driveable for longer hitters -- but the green is set into the lake so it is a real gamble. The line off the tee is crucial as the hole plays downhill and the ball will roll from left to right -- the trick is to land it far enough left to roll nicely through the narrow entrance without going too far left into the untended rough on the far side of the cart path.
Holes 11, 12 & 13 play back toward the clubhouse. Hole 14 is a long and excellent par-5 back in the opposite direction before another excellent par-3 across a large swale to an elevated green. The three homeward holes begin with an outstanding par-5 followed by another par-4. Both these holes play with Lough Castle Hume looming on the right hand side. Finally the eighteenth plays across an inlet of the same lake, nearly 200 yards from the back markers.
When travelling up the northwest coast, or travelling from Sligo/Donegal to Portrush, it is well worth considering the detour to play Lough Erns and see the spectacular lake district of County Fermanagh.
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The very popular Lynn McCool is the head professional at Lough Erne.
Yes, Rory McIlroy sported Lough Erne on the collar of his tee-shirts during his early years as a professional. The owner of Lough Erne provided support to the young McIlroy and allowed him stay in one of the resort villas while he practiced.
I played Lough Erne the day after an exhibition match in 2010 between McIlroy/Clarke and Harrington/Lowry. I simply don't know how those guys can putt on greens that are shaved bare -- it was a nightmare putting day! Speaking of which, I once won a betterball competition at Killeen Castle with the aforementioned Lynn McCool. Luckily Lynn could putt -- the head greenkeeper, who played off 1, also played and had greens running at 11.5 on the stimpmeter. Lynn's putting made us the winners on the day but as she was a professional we could not take the first prize - a trip to South Africa!! The greenkeeper was the 'offical' winner!!!
Luckily I had also played Lough Erne a few years previously in the company of David Hudson who hails from Enniskillen and who, together with Lowell Courtney, run the very personal and friendly Lynchpin Tours from Portstewart.
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