County Sligo keen to bring Irish Open to renovated Rosses Point

The 17th at County Sligo during the 2014 West of Ireland Amateur Open.

Rory McIlroy took his first steps as a budding superstar in the West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point. Now it appears that the famous County Sligo links is determined to put itself in consideration for a possible 2016 Irish Open staging with the news that the course is to receive a major facelift.

Sources close to the club have confirmed that the Irish Open is on their hit-list thanks to the financial clout of an anonymous benefactor — not McIlroy — who is prepared to pay for course enhancements that could cost in the region of €250,000.

Whatever about the viability of an Irish Open at Rosses Point, the news is a tremendous boost to golf in the west and Irish links golf in general.

The classic Harry Colt design (1927) was becoming short by modern standards and a facelift will bring Roses Point into line with other Irish links masterpieces such as Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Portmarnock and Ballybunion.

"It’s very exciting. It’s where life began for one and it’s like going back to your roots," says golf architect and Sligo native Pat Ruddy, who has recommended the changes that were approved by the club last weekend. "It’s a great golf links. And it’s also a mystical sort of place with the WB Yeats influence and all the leprechauns and fairies coming down off Ben Bulben, How could you beat it." 

We will publish a detailed interview with Pat Ruddy on the changes later this week but County Sligo Golf Club said in a statement: 

The club plans to remodel some 11 holes in the first phase of the development of the course. 

These are improvements that will “move County Sligo back to the very pinnacle of world golf,” according to course architect Pat Ruddy.

And it will not cost members a penny. A special general meeting of the club heard on Saturday evening that a benefactor had promised to cover the costs of this first phase of work — under the strict condition that he (or she) remained anonymous.

Members heard that the work was proposed against a background of declining green fees; falling rankings for the club nationally and internationally; and a loss of profile.

In the past 12 years membership has dropped; revenue from green fees has nearly halved and the club is perceived to rank no longer inside the top 10 in Ireland and the top 100 in Great Britain and Ireland 

The work is intended to secure the club’s status as the number one in the North West, increase the challenge and length for championship golfers, restore its ranking and boost revenues. The meeting heard that Ballybunion Golf Club takes in nearly €1.5 million more in guest fees than the Point.

Course architect Pat Ruddy, a Sligo native who addressed the meeting, said: “To be the best has to be the goal.” He cited Augusta National as the example to follow. “They work harder at improving every year — improvements not just changes,” he said. “Every five years there is a different form of golf. From Ballesteros on to Woods and now it’s McIlroy’s time. That’s why all great venues are transformed.

“It’s my dream to have a great championship links giving immense pleasure and lifelong happy memories for generations to come.

“Not just beautiful and historic but capable of hosting any event.”

He added: “We aim to move County Sligo back to the very pinnacle of world golf, a place where Sligo deserves to be.”

Members voted overwhelmingly to proceed with the work. It will commence in the winter and take nine to 10 months, according to Men’s Captain Anton Murphy who proposed the motion. It was seconded by Lady Captain Deirdre Connolly.

The links was redesigned by the legendary Harry Colt in 1927. This will be the most significant readjustment since then, making it a test for the finest golfers who are now equipped with all the benefits of advanced club and ball technology. 

In brief, the following improvements are to be made to these holes in phase one:

  • HOLE ONE: A new championship tee shaping a different line for the drive; a new mound straddling the fairway; an extended green and a new bunker to match the existing one on the right.

  • HOLE TWO: Most significant will be work to bring the out-of-bounds wall more into focus for big hitters and a much larger green. There will also be a new fairway bunker on the left.

  • HOLE THREE: A new green behind the existing one will extend the hole by some 60 metres.

  • HOLE FIVE: Another par five that is too short by modern standards. This will be converted into a dog-leg right by placing a new tee in the “roundabout” on the road to Bomore. The green will also be enlarged at the back.

  • HOLE SIX: The fairway will narrow near the shelter hut with two new bunkers nearby.

  • HOLE SEVEN: The stream lining the left of the hole will come into play more; a new fairway bunker and an extension of the green towards the shelter hut will add some “white knuckle” pin positions.  

  • HOLE EIGHT: A new tee 30 metres behind the existing one to lengthen the hole and work to enlarge and add bunkers.

  • HOLE 10: This hole is to be lengthened by 65 metres by building a new championship tee behind the existing one and increasing the length and width of the green. Greenside bunkers are also planned.

  • HOLE 11: This will become more of a dog-leg by creating a new championship tee 30 metres back and to the right. A large fairway bunker will be excavated on the left of the fairway.

  • HOLE 12: The drive here is too close to the ninth green so the medal tee moves forward and right. The fairway will also move right some 20 metres. More bunkering.

  • HOLE 18: The most significant change is for championship players to tee up from the ladies’ tee on hole five. The green is to be dropped slightly at the back and extended. Some of the contours of the fairway will be changed to create a “speed ramp” to slow down long running balls. Also green side bunkering to make some pin positions more nervy.

Members also approved a motion to confer honorary life membership on Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley.

Irish Golf Desk will be publishing a detailed analysis of the changes in an interview with Pat Ruddy soon.