The 390-yard par-4 14th is the best hole on the course, although Arnold Palmer once said that the 187-yard 15th was the best par-3 in the world. His three-iron across the wind wound up three feet beyond the hole. He missed the putt, but apparently bore the hole no grudge.
On a Sunday morning at Portmarnock, the faint peal of church bells drifts across from the mainland, and a fleet of small sailboats races around an island called Ireland's Eye. It's heaven.
Over the door of a shop that looks like an Irish cottage that has had its thatch blown off is the sign: W.J. McGONIGLE, PROFESSIONAL AND CLUB MAKER. "Any pro in this part of the world must be able to fix and repair and make clubs," says McGonigle, 57, "although the art is dying out here as well as elsewhere." A custom-made McGonigle driver costs about the same as a good Wilson or Ram.
Better known as Rosses Point, Sligo is 360 acres of true linksland on a spit between Sligo and Drumcliffe Bays. The first four holes wend their soothing way uphill along the inland side of the course, away from the guesthouses and caravan park of the village of Rosses Point. At 5, a 482-yard par-5, the ground drops to a fairway some 100 feet down. Spread below and ahead are the next 11 holes, surrounded by beach and bay and, across the water, Ben Bulben, a flat-topped mountain whose extraordinary profile is visible everywhere. Yeats, who's buried in the Drumcliffe churchyard, wrote his own epitaph in Under Ben Bulben.
...On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
The best hole on the course, and surely the strangest, is the 14th, a par-4 with a double dogleg—first left, then right. Into the wind, said an Irish golf writer, "I wouldn't know how to play the hole except badly."
Sligo's most celebrated amateur was Cecil Ewing, who won the West of Ireland at Rosses Point 10 times. Ewing was a huge man with a large head and a profile to match Ben Bulben's. He's generally credited with having invented the half-to-three-quarter swing. Suffering from an infected big toe, Ewing discovered that he could avoid the pain by placing his feet close together, thus reducing the arc of his swing, and using his powerful arms and shoulders to take up the slack.
A large number of Ewing's countrymen seem to have copied his style. Their backswings are short, they play quickly (an Irish foursome rarely takes longer than three hours to play a round), and they keep the ball in play. Only foreigners lose golf balls on Irish courses. Lots of them.