On the far end of the picturesque Dingle Peninsula, where the locals speak gaelic and the wind hurtles in off the Atlantic, lies a beautifully natural golf course. Ceanne Sibeal does not get much airtime in any conversation about Irish golf. Infrequently recommended it is peculiarly underexposed to the golf tourist.
Surrounded by breathtaking scenery and the roar of the ocean from three sides, the course is draped over true links terrain albeit blessed with stumpy and inconsistent dune features unlike the clean towering dunes of places like Lahinch or Doonbeg.
Rather than compete with the natural vistas, the course quietly uses its minimalistic features; dykes, fences, mounds and drains, to maximum effect. Adding the vital but omnipresent ingredient - the wind - the course provides a stern challenge. From the approach played over a ditch to the first green it is apparent that drainage burns will feature throughout the course. They come into play on 13 holes, too many for my taste, but a challenging hazard to overcome nonetheless. The routing, on the whole, is agreeable although it is clear that the course has been needlessly stretched in places. For example the walk back to the 17th tee is not only clunky but an opportunity is missed to use turbulent land and create an amazing rendition of the narrows. The strong back nine is marvelously broken up with a tumbling short four, the 14th hole, which plays 340 yards down a severe slope and providing a real opportunity for the short hitter to compete and use his craft. The 16th green is a wild creature and is all class and whilst some greens lack interest, all the surrounds are mown tightly to provide real short game options. Over the years the turf has undergone great improvement and the firm playing surfaces were a credit to the club. It was a serendipitous turn of events that after visiting no fewer than five golf courses, our day finished dining, in Ballybunion, with the former greenkeeper of Ceanne Sibeal. Jeremy spoke passionately about the agronomy program the club has undertaken over the past decade and his explanation backed up my initial thoughts of the turf quality.
With good turf, wide unhindered playing corridors surrounded by whispy fescues and the expansiveness of the surrounds, Ceann Sibeal may be more akin to a links course in Scotland than it’s Irish neighbors.
Combined with the spectacular drive along Dingle peninsula – one of the most scenic drives in all of Ireland, this course is hugely unheralded. Whilst some commentators miss the towering Irish dunes and heroic golf holes, this is still a golf course that encapsulates the wonderful values of links golf. Whether it is the proximity, past issues with turf or a frosty welcome that holds the course back, I’m not too sure.
What I do know is that the expedition out to Ceann Sibeal is a must to be included in any golf tour through South West Ireland.
(Don't get stuck on the roads!!! And below, the architect, Mr Eddie Hackett)