Rosslare Golf Links is bathed in sunshine as we walk up the final hole of a round that will live long in the memory.
It was Walt Whitman who wrote, ‘keep your face always toward the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you.’ That was certainly how our day on this charming, mischievous links has felt – optimistic, hopeful, enjoyable. And you are statistically more likely to feel the sunshine on your face playing this golf course than on any other in Ireland. And that’s because Rosslare, which derives from the Irish words Ros Láir meaning middle promontory, is officially Ireland’s sunniest place.
For generations, this has been the holiday destination of choice for Dublin families looking to escape the city. They have come for the sunshine, the stunning beach but they have also come for the golf. The links here stretches out like a pointing finger along a peninsula of undulating, crumpled ground which separates the Irish Sea from Wexford Harbour. There are two courses here, the 18-hole Championship Old Course and the 12-hole Burrow Course, which was designed by Ryder Cup legend Christy O’Connor Jr.
As much as we would love to play all 30 holes, time only allows a round on the Championship Course today and after a night of wonderful hospitality at the much loved Kelly’s along the road, it was time to test ourselves on this celebrated links.
The first seven holes stretch away from the clubhouse and out towards the end of the peninsula. The final 11, come back the other way in almost a figure of eight layout, with tees and greens delightfully close together on many occasions.
At first glance, Rosslare may not possess the visual wow-factor of Ballybunion or Lahinch but this low-lying links poses an altogether more subtle challenge, one you underestimate at your peril. The bunkering is inventive and unpredictable, the fairways are littered with wonderful ridges, run-offs, raised strips and plunging dips. There are occasional blind shots, while around the greens there are gullies that will run your ball away and leave you with horrid chips and pitches. To play well here, you need to be led by your brain and not your ego. If you aren’t, you’ll end up red faced.
Once you do finally get your ball onto the green, you’re in for a treat. Full disclosure, I played very well at Rosslare and that always helps you see a golf course in a positive light, but the greens were a real joy – true, full of subtle slopes, swales and gullies that will test your green reading every bit as much as your judgment of pace.
The opening tee shot at Rosslare is not straightforward. The aggressive play is a driver over the bunker on the corner of a dog-leg left to leave no more than a flick to the green. The smart play is an iron or a 200-yard fairway finder to leave a short-iron into the green. The second is a good par-3, on which I hit the flag and came within a whisker of a hole-in-one, and the 3rd is a solid par-5. From the 4th to the 8th, Rosslare moves through the gears beautifully. It’s a fabulous, memorable stretch, which you play to the soundtrack of the crashing waves onto the white sands of Rosslare Beach and with the smell of the sea in your nostrils. The par-4 11th is the best-known and arguably the most challenging hole on the golf course. The Barber’s Pole, as it known, is a 481-yard par-4 which demands a solid tee shot and then an approach that’s fired over the aforementioned marker post which sits atop a large mound some 100 yards short of the green – 4 is a fantastic score.
Rosslare Golf Links was established in 1905 but the original 18 holes were squeezed into a piece of land that simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate a course of any repute. Within a year the decision was made to redesign the course into a 9-hole layout. By 1925 new land was bought and 18 holes laid out by golf course architects Hawtree and Taylor. What they have created is a course that has stood the test of time and continues to charm and bewitch in equal measure.
If the club’s history is rich and varied, the future, it seems, will require an ongoing battle to keep Mother Nature at bay as she attempts to reclaim this links. Rosslare is more exposed than most to the winds and the weather which blow in from the Irish Sea. Mother Nature has made inroads into this peninsula in recent times and costal erosion is a problem that is not going away. The sun will shine on Rosslare Golf Links for many years to come, despite this.
It may lie a little off the beaten path for many who flock to Ireland to play golf but those who know it and treasure it make the journey to Ireland’s Ancient East not only because of the wonderful weather, but with their golf clubs on their backs. Like the links itself Rosslare Golf Links is unassuming, understated and unpretentious. It is full of subtle qualities and has never felt the need to shout too loudly about the wonder of the links it has here. It prefers its Old Course to do the talking. Well, it was too good for us not to tell you guys about it and as you well know, the greatest adventures in golf don’t always come at the grandest golf courses. They come when you explore somewhere new, take the road less travelled and find yourself at a place like Rosslare Golf Links.
My hope is that more golfers will do just that and those who do, will be rewarded with an experience that will provide memories that will keep you coming back for more.