PGA National Ireland, Slieve Russell

Dan Walton  

Slieve Russell Hotel, Golf & Country Club was unveiled as PGA National Ireland during the summer, becoming only the 8th PGA National designated resort in the world. The designation is recognition not just of the highly acclaimed 18-hole championship course, regarded as one of Ireland’s best parkland courses, but also of the quality of the facilities that make up the 300-acre Slieve Russell Hotel, Golf & Country Club estate.

 These include the luxurious 222-bedroom hotel, state of the art conference centre, golf academy including a par three course and adventure golf facility as well as its award-winning spa facilities.

Set just 90 minutes from Dublin and two hours from Belfast, the Patrick Merrigan designed golf course lies at the heart of the Slieve Russell Hotel, Golf & Country Club estate. With its clever design wrapping attractively around the lakes and drumlins of the County Cavan landscape. The back nine contains some of the best holes in Ireland, with part of the 50 acres of water that make up the Slieve Russell estate playing an intricate part in the design.  

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The PGA National Ireland designation follows a period of sustained strategic investment by Slieve Russell to grow its business not just on the island of Ireland but also internationally. The strategy has seen the property carry out a major investment plan in recent years to upgrade both the golf course and the many other facilities that has seen Slieve Russell establish itself as one of Ireland’s leading hotel, golf and country club resorts. 

These include on-going improvements to the greens, tees, fairways and bunkers as well as the development of the Golf Academy to include state of the art video equipment allowing for detailed swing analysis. There has been a total overhaul of the now state of the art banqueting, conference and event facilities and a major upgrade of the Ciuin Spa. Further investment to upgrade all of the 222 hotel bedrooms is underway and will cement the Slieve Russell as the premier business and leisure tourism venue in the North East of Ireland. 

Tony Walker, General Manager at Slieve Russell Hotel, Golf & Country Club said: “Since the opening of Slieve Russell Hotel, Golf & Country in 1992, we have worked continuously to ensure that our golf and leisure facilities are amongst the best in the country. It is a huge honour to have been selected by the PGA to be designated as PGA National Ireland, one of only eight PGA Nationals around the world. Golf is one of the strands of our business here that we have invested heavily in the quality of the course and the condition of the course, over the last number of years. If you look at our golf offering, not only do we have our 18 hole championship golf course, we also have the nine hole Par 3 course, our driving range and of course our resident professional, Gordon Smyth.

18th Hole

We believe in becoming PGA National Ireland is reflective both of the quality of the course and of the facilities which we have invested in and upgraded significantly in recent years with significant plans to continue to do so cementing our position at the forefront of the Irish golf and leading tourism venue for both domestic and international visitors.”

The PGA chief executive, Robert Maxfield, who has been working with the team at Slieve Russell for the past 14 months flew over for the official launch of PGA National Ireland said, “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.”

We have been working with the Slieve Russell for over a year now and we work on the basis that we very much want to get to know the people we will be working with. There is only one PGA National in each country and this is the eighth. The Belfry and Gleneagles are other PGA National courses, so the Slieve Russell is joining a pretty elite club.

It’s not just about the resort, it’s not just about a great golf course. It’s about a great team of people, great service and we have got very comfortable with them. The service they offer, the facilities they offer, the golf course is absolutely brilliant – it’s world class.

Less than a two-hour drive from both Dublin and Belfast, this 222-bedroom hotel features a 13-treatment spa rooms, a leisure centre, three restaurants and a conference centre that can accommodate anything from 2 up to 1,200 delegates.

It is no wonder that it is such a popular venue for weddings, events and conferences. Set amidst a magnificent 300-acre estate, the hotel has the perfect blend of accessibility and the peace and quiet that you can only get from being located in the Cavan countryside in Ballyconnell.

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PGA National Ireland is the jewel of golf in Cavan, which is known as the Lakeland County.

There are reputedly 365 lakes in the county, one for every day of the year, and 50 acres of them are on the highly acclaimed 18-hole championship course at Slieve Russell Golf Club.

The course was expertly designed by Paddy Merrigan in 1992, and it is very much parkland golf at its very best. Good strategy is required to navigate the trees and lakes - 6 holes feature water - as well as heavily contoured greens. 

It is no surprise that the course is so admired by PGA Professionals, and the Slieve Russell Masters Pro-Am on the PGA of Ireland circuit celebrated its silver anniversary in 2017.

The Slieve Russell’s resident Head PGA professional, Gordon Smyth, is happy to share the course with his fellow pros. Originally from Kells, Smyth grew up at Headfort, training for 10 years with European Senior Tour player Brendan McGovern.

An Ulster coach for the Golfing Union of Ireland, he teaches out of the state-of-the-art academy at Slieve Russell with its impressive short-game areas, covered driving range, with V1 Digital Coaching Analysis. He feels that Slieve Russell stacks up well to the best courses in Ireland.


“Becoming PGA National Ireland is a really proud day for the entire team here at Slieve Russell, recognising as it does the not just quality of the Championship Course but the other golf facilities and academy we have built up over the years. We believe our designation as PGA National Ireland is reflective of this work and to join a club of just eight PGA National designated resorts worldwide including, the likes of The Belfry and Gleneagles is a huge honour and reflective of the quality of Slieve Russell as a venue for golfers of all levels and abilities.”, said Smyth.

“The course matured so well, since it began 26 years ago. We have 14 staff working on the course, from gardeners to greenkeepers,” Smyth says.

“You have to be in the right place to score well, it’s not length really. They say if you can get past the first five holes here, you have a chance, because it opens up a bit. It’s a great challenge.”

While PGA National Ireland requires precision, it is still a very enjoyable course for all levels of player with some standout features. From the 6th hole, you can see large windmills from the mountains in Ballyconnell, before you head to the 7th hole, a par 3 which features a dramatic drop down to the green, and where club selection is crucial.

The 12th and 13th holes stand out, with the 13th hole iconic for its heavily-photographed ‘SR’ bricked logo visible from the tee, all done by hand. The 13th hole measures 500 yards from the medal tees, and doglegs around Lough Rud, and often entices you to take on more of the lake than you should. It is a vintage risk-reward par 5.


Before you break for the clubhouse, there is the daunting 16th hole to face. The tee shot to the par 3 is all over water, and with the wind in play, caused many professionals to falter when it hosted the North West of Ireland Open, a hybrid Challenge-European Tour event, in the mid-2000s. 

Golf stars like Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson have played the course in the past, with the Swede once shooting a smooth seven-under-par 65 when he played there.

They also have the Golden Triangle Package with courses in neighbouring counties, Concra Wood (Monaghan) and Headfort (Meath), which features a two night stay in the Slieve Russell and three rounds of golf.

The club are doing all they can to attract new member and younger members. “You need the young people to stay in the club to make it a club,” Smyth says.

The next generation of golfers in Cavan should be inspired by the feats of Slieve Russell’s Ambassadors, Leona Maguire, and her twin sister, Lisa. 

The Maguires live only around the corner, and have an exceptionally strong work ethic and have represented the club proudly internationally and at collegiate level in the States with Duke University and now professionally. 

 “The two twins are amazingly driven. It’s unbelievable what Leona has done in college and in the pro ranks”

“People don’t talk about it as much as they should. It just shows that ladies golf isn’t put on the same pedestal as men’s golf, which is sad in a way.

Vic Open Magurie Leona_ADP7560“She will definitely compete with the best players in the world. She’s played in the Olympics, she’s played in everything and won at everything. 

“I came here in 2007, they were about 12 or 13 and they were starting to win by that stage.

“The great thing is that when anyone thinks of the Slieve Russell, they think of the Maguires, and it is great to have them representing us.”

“The Maguires have put Slieve Russell on the map,” adds Tony Walker. “It’s great to see a young lady golfer doing so well.”

Tony Walker has been working at the hotel since 2002. Originally from County Armagh, Walker has vast experience in the hospitality industry, and has worked for hotels such as the Nuremore Hotel in Carrickmacross, the Grand Hotel in Tralee, Jury’s Hotel Group in Dublin and the Park Lane Hotel in London.

“The hotel has transformed since I got here in 2002,” he says. “There were 158 bedrooms then, we now have 222 rooms. We built a spa back in 2005, which was the up-and-coming addition to the hotel business.

“We built a state-of-the-art conference centre in 2004 and recently invested in a total refurbishment of our ‘Cranaghan Suite’, which covers an area of 936 square metres, consisting of two stylish conference suits, three adjoining syndicate rooms, a spacious reception area and private entrance as part of our 20/20 plan.”

“We are recognised as a wedding hotel, leisure resort, a conference and event venue as well. In the next five years, I see our business changing,” Walker says.


“We may become less reliant on weddings, doing more conference and event business, as well as growing our golf and leisure business.

“We have a fantastic product. We would be recognised as a paradise for golfers in many ways. We have a Championship course voted among the best in Ireland and now we are PGA National Ireland.”

“We want to grow that business; we would like to get that message out to play PGA National Ireland. Not enough people have played it, it’s a hidden gem.”

It would be wise to heed that advice. The four-star Slieve Russell Hotel is an essential place to experience. With an immaculate golf course and excellent service, it is a course and hotel not to be missed.  



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