PGA National (Slieve Russell)

PGA National (Slieve Russell)

PGA National (Slieve Russell)



George Oldham experiences the PGA’s new Irish home

Having spent most of a long golfing life living inland and playing, and preferring, lush parkland courses to the relatively bleak links variety, the last decade has seen me experience the beauty of the Ayrshire coast. With courses the likes of Western Gailes, Troon and the incomparable Turnberry Ailsa on hand, I have come round to considering seaside golf to be superior. Thus, it was with no great sense of expectation that I accepted an invitation to celebrate the occasion of Slieve Russell’s affiliation with the PGA. However, if I was at all underwhelmed, I could not have been more wrong.

I was aware that Slieve Russell was a true championship course, having hosted many PGA and European Challenge Tour events, and that the PGA’s strict criteria for national headquarters require not only a golf course of the standard of the Belfry and Gleneagles, but a resort infrastructure which can support major tournaments, conferences and the many aspects of PGA involvement in growing the game.  

What I was totally unprepared for was the sheer scale and quality of the facilities, something that registers the moment you drive through the imposing gates and see the impressive classical façade of the hotel.

It isn’t only the scale of the 222-bedroom edifice; it is its evident quality. The bedroom suites are super-sized, even the en-suite bathrooms are the scale of a sitting room (and, of course, are finished in marble). The facilities are equally extensive, with choices of dining rooms and bars, a snooker room, gym, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms. There is a large standalone conference suite for corporate events and an attached attractive golf club overlooking the course. 

Outdoor facilities include the stunning championship golf course, a Par 3 course of equal quality, tennis courts, fitness and adventure circuits. All of which combine to make this a perfect family resort as well as a corporate and golf venue.

For Go Golfing readers, however, the prime interest will be the golf course, and for your correspondent, this course, despite the high praise I had heard in advance, was a revelation. Forming part of a magnificent 300-acre estate in a natural drumlin valley landscape of richly varied woodland and lakes, the 7,000-yard course is a visual treat and, despite the generous (and immaculate) fairways, a real challenge, requiring accurate approach shots, often over large greenside bunkers. Then there are the greens; like carpets but devilishly tricky to read.

Christy O’Connor wrote that despite playing the course many times, he could never wait to get back and rated the second as one of his favourite driving holes. It was standing on this tee, high above the valley below, trying to judge how brave I should be and whether I could cut the dogleg by clearing the river on the left and the bunker at the dogleg’s axis, that I was really gripped by this fantastic track. From this viewpoint I could see that the river then cuts right across the fairway before the tough second (or third) shot up the other side of the valley to a fiendishly bunkered green.

The high tee, giving a clear view of the dogleg below and to the raised green beyond is a common feature of the course, on which there is not a single weak hole. Many are memorable and some absolutely knockout. 

Christy believed that the back nine, where water comes into play on the 11th, 12th, 13th and 16th, is one of the finest stretches in Ireland. Certainly, it must be one of the most visually striking.

Slieve Russell, then, is a resort with everything – everything, that is but, perhaps, a convenient location. Ninety minutes from either Dublin or Belfast airport and some distance from the twin magnets of the north and south coast courses and resorts, the partnership with the PGA is a bid by the resort to raise its profile and attract more golfers to what is now being marketed as the Hidden Heartlands. 

It’s an initiative that deserves to succeed. Slieve Russell and the PGA seems a good fit; both are quality organisations and the joint product is peerless. Now that I have been made aware of it, like Christy O’Connor, I can’t wait to go back.

The new PGA-Slieve Russell affiliation

The PGA was formed in 1901 and is the world’s oldest professional golfers’ association. Based at Centenary House at the famous Belfry, the PGA now has more than 8,000 members including more than 1,600 working overseas in more than 80 different countries. The PGA is one of golf’s leading bodies and committed to growing and developing the game nationally and internationally through the expertise of its professionals. The PGA nationally and through its seven regional offices administers almost 1,000 golf event days annually. The Association was, in conjunction with Samuel Ryder and the PGA of America, the founders of the now world-renowned Ryder Cup.

All PGA-branded facilities benefit from the direct use of the PGA brand and its associated value built up over the last century. The affiliation serves as a highly valued international seal of approval and assures visitors and owners that the course and facilities are of the highest quality.

PGA National Ireland at Slieve Russell’s highly acclaimed 18-hole championship course forms part of the magnificent 300-acre Slieve Russell Hotel, Golf & Country Club estate. Created by highly-regarded Irish golf architect Patrick Merrigan, the course opened for play in 1992.

It has staged numerous major Irish PGA tournaments, while its annual PGA pro-am, which was first held in 1997, has featured a collective prize fund of €1.2million since it started – the highest paid PGA pro-am tournament in Ireland. In addition, the club has played host to two European Tour events when the North West of Ireland Open was held in 2001 and 2002.

Tony Walker, general manager at Slieve Russell, said: “The golf and leisure facilities that we have at Slieve Russell are among the best in the country, and rebranding as PGA National Ireland will further enhance our position at the forefront of Irish golf.

“These are exciting times for us and this new partnership with not only help to improve our profile domestically, but also to open up many new promotional opportunities abroad.”

PGA chief executive, Robert Maxfield, added: “We are delighted to welcome Slieve Russell to our exceptional list of PGA-branded properties. The PGA National – Ireland further strengthens the PGA brand’s reputation internationally and we look forward to promoting Slieve Russell to both PGA Members and golfers across the globe.”