herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Fairway to Heaven

Ian Mallon swings by the spectacular Lough Erne resort.

IT'S the sort of place where you can expect to be water-boarded in a buxom of Bordeaux wines, where you can snaffle on a smorgasbord of fine dining and where you can be as distracted from the glorious golf as easily as Tiger Woods at a wet T-shirt contest. It is the Garden of Eden of the golfing world.

If the angels themselves had gaily carried me from the first tee box o'er the lakes and vales that marry together to make up this magnificent resort, I couldn't have been happier.

After my round, as I plonked in one of the arm-chaired high stools that bedeck the bar area which look out onto romantic Lough Erne, with a fully replenished glass at the ready, I couldn't have been happier.

Well, I could've been. I should have brought my wife and that would have made it the perfect weekend.

Instead, I was here with a pal on a golfing break but I know my dear wife would love this place.

It's fair to say that Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh could very well be the K Club of the North -- in fact, the course itself is probably even better than that.

For good measure you can throw in a bit of Rory McIlroy (its touring professional), Nick Faldo (its course designer), Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart was perched at the bar when I arrived) and Buddy Smith.

The last one is my golf partner and fellow destroyer of this magnificent course -- and when I say destroyer, he scored pars and I just chopped up the fairways.

Our only handicap was the fine wines we consumed from the hotel's vast cellar the previous evening.

Now here I stood on the magnificent first hole of the Faldo Course. A dream come true.

You see my love affair with super golf resorts goes back to when I was a little chap, and could hit a golf ball a lot further and straighter than I do now.

I worked as a student at the K Club in Straffan, Co Kildare, and with that I was introduced to a standard of luxury and sporting excellence that has whet the appetite for life.

Wherever I'm fortunate to stay around the world in my guise as occasional travel writer, I always compare them to the magnificent K Club.

It was the first super club of its kind in Ireland and the first of a dozen or show American-style courses that fell from the cloud that was Celtic Tiger Ireland.

The K Club was one of a Holy Trinity of super courses which emerged in the early 90s, including Mount Juliet and Druid's Glen.



PRIVACY

Hollywood stars including Richard Gere and Paul Hogan stayed while I worked there in my college days. I even remember Ian Botham had a meltdown in the lobby when his hotel room wasn't ready, Van Morrisson and Michelle Rocca spent some time here too in the early throes of their relationship.



Soon all sorts of super clubs were popping around the country including The Heritage and Doonbeg.

But arguably the greatest and most ambitious of all of these is the Lough Erne Resort.

It's set on a 600-acre site between Castle Hume and Lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh.

It is often compared with the magnificent Loch Lomond and is just as natural looking as the great Scottish course.

Some golf destinations are a switch off for non golf partners.

Not this place. It's affable general manager Ferghal Purcell has created a destination with some of the best and most polite hotel staff I've come across.

The food here is divine. I enjoyed two beautiful dinners here with views to match the fine dining. Breakfast was the best I've had on this island.

And the rooms? Well, they are amongst the best appointed I've stayed in here. I just can't wait to return here with my better half, she'll adore the place, particularly the Thai spa.

It compares favourably amongst the best anywhere and the Thai masseues and amongst the most well-trained here.

However, the true test of any golf course is the course itself and there are some stunning holes here, with preposterous lengths thrown in to completely bewilder even the most hard-hearted.

Another highlight of the golf experience at Lough Erne is a spot of coaching by the brilliant Lynn McCool. She gave me some key tips about my own golf.

Indeed, my editor swears by a golf lesson he got off Lynn some time ago.

He rightly or wrongly (I believe him, of course!) claims to have a swing as straight as an arrow thanks to the hi-tech wizardry employed by Lynn at the Lough Erne resort.

It's easy to like Lynn. She's personable, full of good humour and with none of the guff you get from a lot of resort pros.

In fact, (she'll probably blackball me for saying this) I got on so well with Faldo's favourite coach, she even brought us to a terrific nearby golf shack/shebeen, which is a must-see for all visitors.

It's only when you speak to people about Lynn that you realise she is golf royalty -- best friends with Arnold Palmer and a good pal of our greatest golfer Rory McIlroy.

Lough Erne was named Golf Resort of The Year by the Irish Golf Tour Operators' Association amd now I can see why.

Most importantly, I want to go back and that is the true testament to any hotel and golfing experience.

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