Up your Slieve Russell
lieve Russell lies somewhere between the middle of nowhere and the back of beyond. We’d been visiting Royal County Down in the Northern Ireland village of Newcastle and caught the Carlingford Ferry then another 2-hour canter through a succession of twisty, lumpy Irish B-roads and farming towns. There’s got to be a better way but GPS had to have its say.
On arrival and after that frustrating drive, the grand frontage of Slieve Russell like a mirage is an impressive and welcoming sight. The reception area not so much! Full of dark walnut-stained furniture and brown carpets, it makes for a rather gloomy introduction. But perhaps I was feeling a little grumpy after that elongated drive! Our room, in a newer wing was much bright with a magnificent view of the golf course and after a quick shower and a pre-dinner G&T in the bar, my mood began to ascend.
We’d been invited to the Irish Midlands to report on the inauguration of the Slieve Russell Hotel, Golf & Country Club - henceforth to be known as ‘PGA National Ireland’ allowing this resort and its reputedly excellent parkland course to join the panoply of fine facilities around the world that are endorsed by The PGA. It’s an impressive badge of honour! The association’s seven other branded resorts include The Belfry, Gleneagles, PGA Catalunya, Antalya Golf Club in Turkey, Argentario Golf Resort & Spa in Italy, Aphrodite Hills in Cyprus and Zavidovo in Russia.
We took an after-dinner stroll across the golf course to gain impressions and some photographs. The lakeside holes here put me in mind of its PGA counterpart in Antalya Turkey - the Sultan course, part of the PGA National Turkey otherwise known as Antalya Golf Club (I know - that’s a lot of different titles). The Slieve Russell course is credited to Irish golf architect, Patrick Merrigan who arisitically wove it throughout a magnificent 300-acre estate, cleverly curling itself around the lakes and drumlins of the County Cavan landscape into a delight of detailed drives and approaches. Things were definitely looking up!
The following morning, I played the back-nine in the chance company of a fellow Scot Bill and his wife, Eilean who’d made the journey from Dumfries and were staying at Slieve Russell for the best part of a week. They seemed happy enough at the prospect; must have got a good deal and he was playing golf every day.
Later, when the rest of my press contingent arrived, we played the entire track. It always takes me two or three rounds to appreciate a golf course but nevertheless, in a round and a half, Slieve Russell was creating an impression. The layout in some ways reminded me of The Belfry, the way it twists and turns with no two holes the same. In fact, I’ll venture to say it’s even better although it’s been a while since I’ve played that Solihull setup and I believe it’s much improved these days. There’s also a lot of attention to detail with lovely beds of flowering shrubbery and a wonderful presentation that keeps spirits high.
I came off beginning to understand why the PGA might want Slieve Russell as part of their cartel. It’s still in an out-of-the-way spot, there’s no doubt but it’s interesting how a resort like this somehow ticks the majority of significant boxes and attracts a steady, satisfied stream of customers. Given that the price is much lower - hotel resident pay between €30 and €40 for a round with hugely attractive DB&B packages available on their website, compared to the exorbitant prices courses like Royal County Down (£270, Lanich or Ballybunion charge for a golf outing. For those looking for a good deal, Slieve Russell continues to make much more sense!
You can combine your stay by adding in rounds at Lough Erne Resort near Enniskillen, 40-mins north of the border, Concra Wood Golf Club about an hour away and a few other local courses readily available to add flavour. By the way, there is also a well-equipped spa, conference centre and a 9-hole ‘PGA National’ Academy course so there’s plenty going on for those that want to base themselves here for a few days. I like it and if you want a great golf getaway at great prices, make your way to Slieve Russell.