Perhaps more than any other links course, County Sligo Golf Club—or Rosses Point, as it is more commonly known—is infused and inspired by its natural setting. This charmer in the northwest of Ireland is surrounded by the romantic scenery that William Butler Yeats, the greatest of Irish poets, made famous: the semicircle of sea, the ring of limestone mountains and knobby hills, and looming above it all, Ben Bulben, the somber anvil of a mountain that dominates the landscape.
The course lies at the far end of Rosses Point, a neck of land that juts into Sligo Bay five miles past Sligo town. Prim rows of B&Bs lead to the pointy, porticoed, black-and-white Tudor clubhouse. Just across from the clubhouse and practice ground are Oyster Island and its pepperpot lighthouse, and Coney Island, after which its more famous New York relative is reputed to have been named by a homesick Sligo sailor. In the channel that leads to Sligo harbor is a 180-year-old marker named the Metal Man, which Yeats called the “Rosses Pointe man who never told a lie.”
Taking its name from the Gaelic sligeach or “place of shells,” Sligo has a long seafaring tradition. It’s an attractive town highlighted by Georgian architecture and bisected by the Garavogue River, which lends a certain Continental cachet. The Yeats Society Building is at Douglas Hyde Bridge, and just down the road is the Sligo County Museum and the Niland Gallery, which includes a collection of paintings by Yeats’ younger brother, the artist Jack Yeats.
The Sligo Golf Club was founded in 1894 by Lt. Col. James Campbell and a group of British officers in the Duke of Connaught’s Sligo Own Artillery. The original nine holes were laid out by George Combe, the first secretary of the Golfing Union of Ireland. The second nine was added in 1907 by the Colonel’s younger stepbrother, Willie Campbell. Credit for the present day course, however, belongs to Harry S. Colt, the peerless English golf course architect of the day: He remodeled the course during a week-long visit in June 1927 for a fee of £50.
The first four holes run along high ground above the clubhouse, followed by “The Jump,” the par-5 5th hole that plunges from the tee to a plane of barrier dunes along the sandy beach. From the high point by the 3rd tee, the golfer is greeted with a spectacular panorama of Sligo Bay and its lighthouse, across Coney Island to the green summit of Knocknarea, topped by the burial mound of ancient Queen Maeve
The par-4 7th hole, which turns at a right angle from the sea to face Ben Bulben, is named “Ewing’s Profile,” after Cecil Ewing, a Sligo native and one of Ireland’s most accomplished amateur players. Each year since 1923, Sligo has hosted the West of Ireland Open Championship, which Ewing captured 10 times from 1930 to 1950.
The real soul of Rosses Point, though, is the loop of holes made up of Nos. 9–12, the last a tumbling par 5 that runs straight out to land’s end and Sligo Bay. This stretch overlooks the Drumcliff estuary that flows under the vast shelf of Ben Bulben and offers views deep into the Glencar Valley, site of a hidden waterfall.
Yeats died in 1939 and is buried in Drumcliff churchyard, across the estuary from Rosses Point. The simple tombstone is inscribed with the epitaph that Yeats wrote for himself at the end of one of his last poems:
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago; a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase,
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
on life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
From cradle to grave, Yeats was touched by the people and the stirring landscape of County Sligo. Invariably, visiting golfers over the years have been similarly affected.