ENNISKILLEN, COUNTY FERMANAGH, Northern Ireland – I confess that I didn’t know anything about Jim Treacy before I met him, when he pulled his cart into the fairway of the 14th hole at Lough Erne Resort to see how this first-time visitor was enjoying the course. I had been told by the marshal that Treacy does this often, wandering the course and visiting with guests at the resort he opened two years ago.
Treacy is a self-made man, a fact that quickly became apparent when I met him. There is no bluster, no pretense. Treacy grew up near Enniskillen, but made his fortune in the rugged, low-margin grocery business in Dublin. When I asked him whether Lough Erne was the first course he had built, he quickly replied, “First and last.” I took from that remark that Treacy is fully immersed in running the resort, and there’s the sense that he feels the need to prove himself every day to every customer.
If Lough Erne (www.lougherneresort.com) truly is Treacy’s “first and last” golf course, it’s both an impressive debut and a formidable legacy. Visiting golfers might overlook Lough Erne because it’s not a century-old seaside links. That would be a mistake. Lough Erne is convenient to the affordable and popular links of northwest Ireland, and while it’s not located along the sea, it does sit spectacularly along the lake from which it takes its name, fostering the sense that you’re playing golf on an island. And visitors to Ireland would be hard pressed to find more luxurious or scenic accommodations than at the resort’s hotel and spa.
Treacy got the idea for the resort after playing at Loch Lomond in Scotland. He saw the similarities between that inland, lakeside course, and the property near Enniskillen. Loch Erne Resort, however, sits on a better piece of land, with more elevation changes.
Nick Faldo designed the course, which makes good use of the lake for both strategic and scenic purposes.
“He is as he was as a golfer,” Treacy said of Faldo’s design work. “He’s a thinker, he’s pragmatic, and he sees things in a totally different way.”
Lough Erne’s terrain seems to be constantly changing. It weaves through lowlands and dense forest before arriving at the marshy fifth, a treacherous short hole. There is, literally and figuratively, a rising sense of drama as players make their way up to the panoramic sixth tee, with 360-degree views of the property and the lake. Even in Ireland, one would be hard pressed to find a prettier tee shot than the one presented at the par-4 seventh, which looks down the length of the lake. And it’s unlikely that Faldo – or any other architect, for that matter – will design a better or more beautiful par 4 than the 10th at Lough Erne, where the whitecaps lap the green, which sits on a peninsula, with sailboats floating in the distance. You can be forgiven if you feel as though you’ve been transported to one of the great old links in New England. Lough Erne culminates with a three-hole stretch along the lake, finishing with a beast of a par 3 situated directly in front of the clubhouse.
In building Lough Erne Resort, Treacy has showcased a part of Northern Ireland that most golfers would never think to visit, and would be the lesser for having missed.
“We had fighting here for 30 years,” Treacy says. “People didn’t think about beautiful it was.”
The fighting is largely, but not entirely, a part of Northern Ireland’s history. During my week-long visit in early August, there were three failed car bombings apparently perpetrated by fringe elements of the IRA.
The emotion is evident in Treacy’s voice when he talks of “The Troubles,” a decidedly European euphemism. The morning after I played at Lough Erne, Treacy gave me a history lesson, taking me to the site of the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen. On Nov. 8, 1987, as residents gathered at the town’s war memorial to remember fallen heroes, a powerful bomb exploded across the street, killing 12 people and injuring 63 more. One of the survivors was Gordon Wilson, whose daughter, Marie, died in the blast. In a BBC interview that night, Wilson told of holding Marie’s hand as she lay in the rubble. But what is most remembered is that Wilson forgave the terrorists who killed his daughter.
“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge,” Wilson told the BBC. “Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. . . . I will pray for these men tonight and every night.”
Treacy reveres Wilson, so much so that he created the Gordon Wilson Library at Lough Erne Resort.
“He was a man who was ahead of his time,” Treacy told me.
When you visit Lough Erne, you’ll very likely want to play the golf course, probably more than once. You might want to spoil yourself in The Thai Spa. Perhaps you’ll want to do some fly fishing or tour the property by helicopter or sea plane. You might even want to drive into Enniskillen, a quaint and colorful village that was teeming with activity when I passed through on a Saturday afternoon.
But while you’re there, allow for some quiet time in the Gordon Wilson Library. Remembering the dark times will only enhance visitors’ appreciation of Treacy’s glorious gift to this lovely part of Northern Ireland.