Ashford Castle may have its roots in 1228 when the de Burgo family conquered the O’Conner family in Connaught, but it was not until 1973 that Eddie Hackett built a golf course here. Hackett, the golf pro from Portmarnock Golf Club outside of Dublin, was considered a radical by many designers of his day, as he did not believe in the huge earth-moving projects of his contemporaries. Rather, Hackett felt it best to rely on nature as his main motivator and sculpted each of his courses with this in mind.
When John Mulcahy purchased the County Mayo property in 1970, he dreamed of completing a massive castle renovation, nearly doubling its size. Building the nine-hole course was part of his grand design to improve the surrounding grounds and gardens and offer a more diverse experience to the guests of Ashford. After a long line of owners (including the Guinness family, who once called Ashford home), Mulcahy put his personal stamp on the future of the property with the signature golf course.
The course acts as your introduction as you drive up the long road to the castle, passing several holes and greens to the property’s grand entrance.
Hole 3 | 391 yards, par 4
Tom Watson scored an eagle here when he stayed at Ashford Castle before playing Royal Birkdale Country Club in 1983. Impressive as it sounds, it is even more impressive when you consider the hole. For Watson to land on the green in one, he had to cut the corner over a tree to the green (perhaps the tree was not as tall in 1983). It is a feat to admire after you tee up and play the hole.
My drive was lackluster and stayed far and right enough to be blocked by the large tree that signified the dogleg turn to the green, which is uphill. At about 195 yards away, I took a 5-wood with a fabulous draw around but short of the green. A simple chip over the flat sand trap and I recovered.
Hole 5 | 327 yards, par 4
This is the signature hole of the course and is called the “Island Hole,” as it offers remarkable views of some of the 300-plus islands in Lough Corrib and the beautiful Ashford Castle in the foreground. I nearly lost my drive right (a blind tee shot), but I landed safely on the right side in the rough. From here I took a mid-iron to the green, favoring the right side.
Hole 8 | 270 yards, par 4
As they say, a little course knowledge goes a long way. On Hole 8, it is important to aim this blind shot significantly farther left than you believe is needed from the tee box. Otherwise, you will be on the right side in the rough with the way to the green blocked by a tree. This is exactly what happened to me, but my lie was fluffy in the rough and I took an 8-iron, believing that 80 percent of trees are air. Well, this tree was a little leafier; and although my shot was decent, it came up short of the green. A little chip and I was in putting distance for a par.
After the round was finished, we took a short seven-minute walk to Ireland’s School of Falconry, which is part of the Ashford experience. We met up with Laura Gallagher (no relation) for a tour of the facility and to take a Hawk Walk with one of Ashford’s more famous attractions, a female Harris hawk named Swift. Harris hawks are native to America and are particularly agile with their short wings and long tails. This gives Swift the ability to fly down from her perch in a tree and land gently on your arm — to receive a treat, of course.
The peregrine falcons, which also reside at Ashford, are birds that attack their prey in the air as opposed to Harris hawks, which attack mice and other small creatures, even large jack rabbits, on the ground. This makes the Harris more suitable for the walking class.
Once we received basic instruction on the proper handling of Swift, we headed off to our walk on the grounds of Ashford as well as through some of the wooded trails. The catch and release procedure was instituted, and we witnessed these magnificent birds in action eating from our gloves and swooping down from their high perch as we admired the dexterity of their maneuvers through wooded paths.
Ashford Castle Golf Course
Cong, County Mayo Ireland
tel 353 94 954 6003
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