Galway Bay Golf & Country Club Golf Course - An Irish Golf Adventure

By Alan B. Nichols

Galway Bay Golf and Country Club Hotel and course

Rifling 3-irons on the practice tee while preparing for the 1999 Senior PGA Tour event in Columbia, MD, eventual winner Christy O'Connor Jr. talked about Galway Bay, the course he designed in Galway. "I'm really proud of that one," says the nephew of Irish golf legend Christy O'Connor Sr. and the architect of over a dozen courses on the Emerald Isle. "It's one of my favorites and you'll love it."

The Irishman's enthusiasm was understandable. O'Connor is a principal partner in the Galway Bay Golf & Country Club Hotel, of which the course is the centerpiece. While eye-catching views of beautiful Galway Bay and Galway City are everywhere evident on it, the golf course does not justify the highest acclaim. Yet, it is a good course and, if you stay at the comfortable 92-room hotel directly adjacent to it, you couldn't choose a better base to see the city and its surrounds.

The golf club and hotel are situated directly on the Bay's southern coastline just outside the quaint village of Oranmore about 20 minutes south of Galway City. Erstwhile agricultural land, the property lies adjacent Renville Park, a scenic wooded park with open fields where couples young and old take Sunday stroll and picnic and teenagers walk their dogs and toss frisbees. Among the wildlife are fox and deer.

With its commanding view of the Bay, the land caught the eye of O'Connor, who had lofty plans for the project. The course opened in 1993 and the hotel opened in 1997. The project also includes small family condo-style units situated along the first fairway.

Galway Bay hosted the '99 West of Ireland Open, a European PGA Tour event won by Constantino Rocca. It is definitely a major championship test from the back tees where it measures over 7000 yards. Yet, from the forward tees casual golfers will find it enjoyable and not overly taxing from a physical standpoint.

Galway Bay is a "parkland-by-the-sea" style layout, punctuated here and there with a few Hawthorne trees and wild bushes including white thorn, furz, hazel and sedge. Otherwise, it is quite open and therefore susceptible to the winds. Small remnants of ancient ruins are visible at various points on the course and adjacent the 13th tee box is the site of an ancient copper mine that predates the 16th Century. According to the brochure, a mystical fairy fort lies underground between the 2nd and 10th greens.

For all its putative mystical roots, Galway Bay is a pretty straightforward layout with a strong American design influence. In keeping with O'Connor's desire to create a good but fair test, the landing areas are wide and the middle-sized greens, built to USGA specs, are not overly tricky. Created mounds and lakes are a dead giveaway that this is not a course that was laid down on the earth just as it was found. According to the course superintendent, "The design of this course was aimed at the American market. Everything is cut, including the rough and natural areas, whereas on most courses over here those areas are left alone."

Situated only a minute's walk from the golf clubhouse that includes an informal grille, the hotel overlooks the course and bay beyond. It is a somewhat spare hotel featuring comfortable, if not elegant, rooms; a two-room dining area; a pub; and a large reception area with a fireplace.