- November 3, 2020 // The Consummate Pro
In Irish golfing parlance we have an oft used term, the “hidden gem”. It frequently comes to symbolise a golf course that is well renowned on a local or provincial level, but may well not have the same recognition internationally, in the cognizance of the overseas visitor. Ardglass Golf Club is one of just a handful of fantastic Irish links golf courses that falls perfectly into this category.
Situated on the County Down coast, 45minutes south-east of Belfast in the fishing village of the same name, it is also a mere 35-minute drive from the esteemed and revered links at Royal County Down. The members in Ardglass are very relaxed about their position vis-a-vis their illustrious neighbours and are under no misapprehension as to their place in the golfing world. It’s difficult to pretend otherwise when you have arguably the world’s number one golf course on your doorstep. But as many in the club will tell you, they very much like it that way.
The Ardglass members know that the majority of overseas golfers visiting Northern Ireland, won’t look past Royal County Down on their golf vacation. They are also pretty confident that less than half (currently) of those that do, will actually make the pilgrimage to Ardglass on that same trip. However, the one thing they are sure of, and are determined to deliver, is a welcome and visitor experience at Ardglass that is second to none. The simple fact of the matter is that Royal County Down will beat most visitors to a pulp. It is one of the most challenging golf courses in the world, even for the pros. So, when that same group of golfers arrive at Ardglass, they know they are already one up!
The links at Ardglass golf club is certainly not on a par with Royal County Down, but let’s face it, nowhere is. The club does however have many other superb attributes. For one, it’s playability is perfectly suited to the mid and high handicap club golfer, whilst still being a challenge to the lower guys. It is aesthetically beautifully, welcoming and basically shouldn’t be missed on anyone’s golf vacation to Northern Ireland. Let’s delve into a little more detail.
If you rated a golf course on its sense of arrival, Ardglass would be in the top three in Ireland, possibly the UK, every day of the week. As you turn left off Castle Place and pull into the club, you realise quickly that you have arrived at somewhere special. The clubhouse is branded the “Oldest Clubhouse in the World”, the building dating back to 1405AD. A spectacular view of the Irish Sea, and on a good day of the Isle of Man, sits on the horizon. The flags representing all visiting nations flutter high above the 18th green, a colourful demonstration of the club’s popularity. They are especially proud of their reciprocal with Credit Valley Country Club just outside of Toronto, where lifelong friendships are now formed. The Proshop at Ardglass golf club can be found in this building adjacent the putting green and 1st tee, always well stocked, with help on hand from resident professional Paul Vaughan and his team.
The upstairs bar and lounge are arguably the beating heart of the club, a space that is never lacking good conversation and witty banter. Sitting as it does beside one of Northern Ireland’s most important fishing ports, the seafood is always superb, and the Guinness smooth. The walls of the lounge are adorned with club memorabilia from inter-club competitions from down the years but a special place is set aside for a couple of items belonging to club member Cormac Sharvin. He represented Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup in 2015, turning professional shortly afterwards. A proud achievement for a club such as Ardglass.
There is a popular saying in Ardglass Golf Club that, “the whole of Ireland is to your right” from the 1st tee – see the video below. When you get to stand there, you will fully understand why. The ancient walls of the clubhouse offer a modicum of protection from the frequent on-shore breeze, but as you look up the opening hole, the Irish Sea encroaches just far enough for you to shift your stance at least 20degrees to the right. In fact, Ardglass is one of very few golf courses in Ireland, where you have sight of the Sea from all eighteen holes, adding greatly to the perspective.
The opening stretch runs out along the shoreline, and provided great drama from the off. The highlight for us is the superb 167-yard, par-3 second, “Howd’s Hole”. The exposed tee box lies parallel with the green, but tells you little of the challenge. A chasm in the coastline lies between you and the green, ostensibly creating the sense of a much larger carry than in reality. It can be a proverbial wedge one day, to driver the next depending on the conditions, and the green is surrounded by well positioned humps and swales and two greenside bunkers. This is arguably one of the best golf holes in Ireland. Indeed, the members are determined to make Ardglass one of the best golf courses in Ireland. The clubs growing popularity amongst overseas golf visitors in the past decade has allowed them invest in a 5-year development plan. Over several winters now, the golf course has seen the introduction of new bunkers, a programme of revetting existing bunkers, additional shaping to some fairways, and the construction of new tee boxes. The upgrades, whilst subtle, have added greatly to the overall visual appeal of the links.
The 4th hole is where this renovation will be most obvious to returning visitors. A series of new (to the left of the fairway) or reshaped (on the right) fairway bunkers has created a different playing challenge entirely, providing players of all abilities with a decision to make where previously one would have reached for the driver. The architect, Ken Kearney, has done a great job of balancing the demands of the playing membership, with a desire to raise the standards and appeal of Ardglass for the visiting golfer.
The back-nine at Ardglass has some special golf holes. The stretch from the 11th to 13th is a case in point, and many people say they are reminiscent of the illustrious Pebble Beach in California. The coastline comes into play on the 11th and 12th in particular, with a direct comparison often made between the 12th at Ardglass and the 7th at Pebble. The closing stretch is also a firm favourite of ours as you head back towards the clubhouse and village. The out of bounds wall on the left of the 17th will likely catch the eye from the tee, but it is the approach to the green where the damage is often really done. A well struck tee shot can often leave you playing an uphill second to a well-protected green that resembles an upturned saucer. A par on seventeen is a good score.
Then you get to take on the deceptive downhill 18th towards the sanctuary of the clubhouse. The recent course upgrade has seen the introduction of a number of new bunkers just short of the green, where beforehand the bigger hitters may have been able to reach the putting surface with a well-directed tee shot. Nowadays however, more thought is required to play this picturesque but challenging finishing hole.
One of the most important aspects of a golf trip for many overseas visitors, is the caddie experience. Yes, a good caddie should provide a great golf service to the visitor, be able to read the greens and help the golfer navigate the course appropriately, but they also offer so much more. Caddies are usually members of the community, so are a great source of local knowledge. They will provide you with a unique insight on the club, the course and as is common, their own background. So, for the visitor, you get to understand more than just the golf course. Past clients will often cite a particular caddie experience as the highlight of their trip, and specifically ask if they can request that individual again on their return trip. One of the added benefits of the caddie pool at Ardglass, is that all of the caddies are members of the club. While that will add to their knowledge of the golf course it also means that unlike many other clubs in Ireland, they have unfettered access the clubhouse, so after your round you can continue your conversation over a pint. This adds a special dimension to the whole Ardglass ‘experience’, and is why we regularly hear of Ardglass being described as not only one of the best golf courses in Ireland, but also one of the friendliest.
Finally, one of the experiences that shouldn’t be missed on your day trip to Ardglass Golf Club is a visit to The Old Commercial Bar opposite the entrance to the golf club. “Mannies” as it is known to the locals is one of those fabulous traditional pubs that is brimming with banter and ‘craic’. The bar and lounge are always busy and you are assured of great conversation and an even better pint.
When we survey our clients and ask them to nominate the best experiences about their golf trip, we are never surprised to see Ardglass Golf Club mentioned in their highlights. The combination of playability, the scenery, the quality of the golf course and the welcome and clubhouse are all mentioned in feedback. When you are planning to travel to Ireland, we highly recommend that you consider Ardglass Golf Club for one of your rounds. You won’t be disappointed.