There could not be a more beautiful setting than Lough Erne. The Northern Ireland lake inspired Nick Faldo to choose this site for his first golf course design. Complementing the course is Northern Ireland’s first 5-star hotel, which has every amenity — including the Catalina Restaurant, where Executive Head Chef Noel McMeel’s creations emphasize fresh, seasonal and local produce. The restaurant is named after the World War II Catalina flying boats that used the lake as a base.
The par-72 course occupies a 600-acre peninsula between Castle Hume Lough and Lower Lough Erne and offers sweeping views of the countryside and the loughs. The resort, opened in 2007, includes 120 guestrooms and six suites. If you need more room, you can settle in one of the resort’s 25 two- and three-bedroom Loughside Lodges. Some are owned by the rich and famous, including the course tournament professional, Rory McIlroy.
The Faldo course teed up its first drive in July 2009. A second course, Castle Hume, offers golfers some diversity. Lough Erne, stretching 25 miles and encompassing 365 islands, offers outdoor pursuits and water sports and is a fly fisherman’s dream.
I played the course with Lynn McCool, head professional at Lough Erne, on a glorious day when the drizzle held off until the last hole.
Hole 5 | Dovecote Carry 197 yards, par 3
Take an extra club, as many a drive from this tee ends up wet. Crossing the water has a psychological effect on many golfers, but I launched a ball that landed in front of the flag for par.
Hole 6 | Collop Rise 595 yards, par 5
Rising above the hotel on the left and looking down on the lough below, this tee box offers a photo opportunity. Lynn instructed me to aim my drive to the road on the right side; this puts you in position “A” on the fairway. From your perfect drive, you will need two more near-perfect shots to hit this green in regulation, avoiding a trio of bunkers on the right and four more protecting the green. The course was built with a base of 18 inches of sand, which has flattened to nine inches — a perfect landing and playing surface.c
Hole 7 | Devenish Drop 396 yards, par 4
A review of Lough Erne is not complete without covering Hole 7, which Rory McIlroy drove in one shot during the Lough Erne Challenge in 2009. It must have been a massive hit. I only hope Rory carded an eagle!
We mere mortals tend to bite off more than we can chew, and many bite off too much on the downhill dogleg right, leaving their ball in the lough forever. Best to aim toward the middle fairway bunker and fade your drive toward the center of the fairway. This leaves you with a rather easy chip to the green.
Hole 8 | Saddleback 478 yards, par 4
This is a beautiful hole, with the lough on the right and rough blowing grasses to the left. You need two great shots to make this hole in two; when I played, the wind was blowing strong from right to left, which easily pushes a ball into the rough or one of the two bunkers. The fairway has a slight zigzag right to the water and a slight left thereafter. There are lush trees to the right as you approach the green, causing havoc for anyone who strays off. A huge cloverleaf trap sits right in front of the slightly elevated green. No wonder it’s ranked the most difficult hole on the course.
Hole 10 | Emerald Isle 351 yards, par 4
This is a fun hole: You hit from an elevated tee box down to the fairway that runs along the lough to a green that juts out on a small peninsula. Your drive should mirror mine but slightly more right, as I landed in the rough. Lynn’s drive was perfect, favoring the left side but remaining squarely in the fairway. I found a nice spot of rough, but my ball was sitting up, which allowed me to nail the green for par. This is another photo opportunity, with the green and the lough below.
Hole 13 | Ederlough 218 yards, par 3
This great par 3 requires a perfect iron shot, as the green lies slightly elevated but is surrounded by three bunkers: Two are on the right and the third is closer to the green to the left. I caught the latter but was able to shoot out of the bunker with enough gusto to par the hole.
Hole 14 | Fada 622 yards, par 5
This is the longest hole on the course, with a slight turn to the left. Your shot from the tee box does not offer much to see; your ball must climb the crest of the hill on this blind shot. I nailed a drive to the left side of the fairway, finding the rough. Here you have a clear view of the hole, which is a downhill rollercoaster. Your second shot should favor the left side of the fairway, offering a perfect approach to the green and keeping you well clear of the marshes on the right. A few walkers gave their hellos as I hit my shot to the green with some disappointment and came up short. But a simple chip let me walk off respectably with a bogey.
Hole 17 | Lough & Legend 357 yards, par 4
Holes 17 and 18 together make a great finish. Hole 17 is a drive from an elevated tee to the fairway below, which doglegs right along the lough. Many players aim too far right to cut the corner — and regret it afterward as they have a pint in the hotel bar. Lovely villas line the left side of the fairway, ending with the hotel at the 18th tee.
Hole 18 | Cygnets Rest 228 yards, par 3
The 18th is a perfect ending, with the hotel to the left and the water and reeds of the lough in front of the green and to the right. The hole was voted the best par 3 in all of the U.K. and Ireland in 2010. I used a 5-wood to make it to the very front of the green, nearly not having enough power to make it as a slight drizzle came down. I tipped my hat to the Faldo statue on the left side of 18 and to my room, the Nick Faldo suite, overlooking the 18th green. Of course, I celebrated with a Guinness in the Loughside Bar.
BT93 7ED Northern Ireland
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