Taming 'Satan' a highlight of divine year at Rosses Point
Anyone who has borne the brunt of West of Ireland Championship weather at Rosses Point will be familiar with that feeling of standing at the gates of hell.
For all it's wonderful charms, the County Sligo links can be a forbidding beast when the hailstones are coming at you from an oblique angle that's only matched by the flagsticks and the stooped backs of the hardy competitors.
It can be a war of attrition for the spectators, never mind the intrepid protagonists so it's little wonder that the club's early members named parts of the original course after corners of the world where flying missiles were a very real threat, such as the Tugela River and Peter's Hill in KwaZulu- Natal Province in South Africa, where Sligo members of the Connaught Rangers lost their lives during the Boer War.
Last weekend, some members took to what was dubbed "Peter's Hills" to the right of the famous 17th green to play a recreated version of the old fourth hole known as 'Satan'.
It was part of the nine-hole course laid out on the Greenlands by George Combe, the founding Hon. Secretary of the GUI and first Honorary Life Member of Rosses Point in 1894, later modified by Col. James Campbell.
A description of Satan", which was played to what is now the green at the par-three fourth, read: "Tee the ball on Peter's Hill, then a carry of about 160 yds across a deep gully called 'The Tugela' to a platform on the other side leaving a 100 yard shot to the green well placed on a hill."
This "sporting" par-four hole measured 260 yards - a considerable distance in the days of hickories and gutta-percha balls - and "Peter's Hill" and "Tugela" refer to the battles in the Boer War where soldiers from Col. Campbell's Sligo Militia, as well as many dock workers who were employees of the Sligo Steam Navigation Company of which Campbell was a director, lost their lives.
They were part of the Connaught Rangers regiment who suffered heavy casualties in those battles and Campbell named these features in memory of their bravery.
The Connaught Rangers were known as "The Devil's Own," a title earned for their ferocious fighting spirit and the hole was called "Satan" in their honour.
Indeed, a photo of the Tugela River crossing today with a flat-topped mountain in the distance has an uncanny resemblance to the view from the tee on Peter's Hill looking across at Ben Bulben.
According to Co Sligo: "The spectacular hole was abandoned in 1929 when Harry Colt redesigned the links and the abandoned tee on Peter's Hill, a name long forgotten, succumbed to clumps of bentgrass and the tenacious creeping juniper plant over the last 90 odd years.
"The bunkers guarding the 4th green were filled in and the green was extended backwards to accommodate Colt's design which approached from a different direction. The lower part of the present green and the run-off area comprised the original green."
As part of the club's 125th- anniversary celebrations this year, club Captain Kevin Flanagan and Lady Captain Mary Durcan were joined by members young and old to play the hole recently, starting in watery sunshine before putting out in a hailstorm.
The Captain donned plus-twos and tweeds and wielding hickory clubs, he found 'Satan' every bit as testing as the 17th on the toughest of days, using a modern ball.
"It was lovely if challenging," Kevin said. "My sister has hickories on the wall at home that have seen better days.
"I took them down and gave them what's likely their last outing."
It's been a memorable year for the club and the Captain, who is preparing to welcome his Milltown counterpart John Flavin for a match on November 15 before passing on the baton to 2020 captain, John McHugh.
The 2019 season will be remembered for the Irish Amateur Open, Ireland's win in the Senior Women's Home Internationals and the first strokeplay staging of the West of Ireland Championship.
As for 'Satan', the original tee has been cleaned up and a flag placed close to where it would have been in 1894, offering members a chance to climb the winding path to Peter's Hill and play across the Tugela to the green and honour those Sligo heroes of yesteryear.