COUNTY SLIGO, Ireland -- The walk to the second green at County Sligo Golf Club will leave golfers breathless -- both figuratively and literally.
It's a difficult walk up the hill of this short par 4. The green is perched high atop a ridge, where panoramic views spread across five Irish counties. It's the first of many heart-stopping moments when playing this iconic Harry S. Colt links.
This landscape, highlighted by Benbulben Mountain, inspired the great works of poet W.B. Yeats. It's this canvass that makes County Sligo a bucket-list course for anyone coming to Ireland.
"It has an old-fashioned charm," said Maggie Robinson, who was working inside the pro shop for her husband, Head Professional Jim Robinson, during my visit. "People come to play it because it is a Colt course."
County Sligo: The history
County Sligo, also called Rosses Point, started out as a nine-hole links in 1894, making it one of the oldest clubs in Ireland. In 1907, its updated 18-hole routing was so well regarded that it began hosting the West of Ireland Championship in 1923. Colt – gaining more fame by the day – was hired to revamp the links in 1928. Three years later, a classic was born. County Sligo has hosted rounds by Tom Watson, Byron Nelson, Nick Faldo and others.
Colt's original layout remains mostly intact today, although Martin Hawtree continues to work with the club, reshaping and adding bunkers, along with building six new tees that stretch the layout to 6,373 meters (roughly 6,900 yards). Colt disciples flock to the course to honor and enjoy its timeless purity.
The Bomore nine -- a par 35 for juniors and beginners -- and new practice facilities were added in 1999.
Playing County Sligo Golf Club
After a mundane start through two holes, elevated tee shots punctuate the third and fifth holes, two vulnerable par 5s. Burns dissect the fairway of the difficult back-to-back par 4s at No. 7 and No. 8.
County Sligo Golf Club's back nine introduces stirring coastline views of Benbulben and Drumcliffe Bay. Aim at the lighthouse off the coast to find the green of the par-5 12th hole. Burns again plays a role at the fun, par-3 13th and demanding, par-4 14th hole. Be forewarned the fairway of the par-4 17th runs out at 250 yards, leaving an arduous uphill approach back up the ridge that holds the second green and fifth tee.
"It's more difficult, and it's got better holes," he said.
County Sligo Golf Club: The verdict
County Sligo is every bit as good as every major links I've played on the Emerald Isle, including Royal County Down Golf Club, Royal Portrush Golf Club's Dunluce links, the European Club, Ballybunion Golf Club's Old Course, Waterville Golf Links and the Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club.
Arguably, it's the most playable of them all, and its remote location makes it the most affordable, too.
What's not to love?