If you’re into golf, you’re into Ireland. Home to some of the oldest and most prestigious courses, this little island of just over five million people also boasts more than a third of the world’s links courses. North, south, east or west, you’re never far from some unforgettable golf.
Names like Ballybunion, Royal County Down, Waterville and Portmarnock are sure to conjure up stirring images of dramatic dunes and high waters among the links aficionados, but much of Ireland’s golfing treasure is yet undiscovered by international visitors, and therein lays the true beauty of any trip to the Emerald Isle – getting out and finding those hidden gems.
A golf trip to Ireland means losing yourself amongst the savage bunkers and the impossibly high dunes. Searching for the narrow ribbons of green, generously called fairways, which thread their way through the untouched splendor of the rugged coastline.
And away from the course? You’re spoiled for choice.
You can enjoy the sights and sounds of the Killarney National Park, where the beautiful Muckross House and Gardens, abundant wildlife and a historic location are all a breathtaking treat, or explore the Ring Of Kerry, the mythical circular route around the magnificent MacGillycuddy Reeks, through many passes and valleys and along the shore of Dingle Bay and Kenmare Bay.
Dublin’s many museums and galleries are a match for any in the world – as are the capital’s bars and restaurants. Anyone who enjoys a sip or two will be well-looked after at the Old Jameson Distillery or the Guinness Store House, which both combine the long, interesting history of this ancient city with a glass or two of its most famous products.
In Ulster, assuming you can drag yourself away from the likes of Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, the Giant’s Causeway is unforgettable. Situated on the north coast, this unique attraction is an area of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, all the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. Mixed with the Atlantic Ocean and the ancient Irish landscape, there’s simply nothing else like it on earth.
On the docks of Belfast, meanwhile, you can explore the fascinating history of the city’s shipyards in the newly opened Titanic center, where the world’s most famous ship first came to life. All this, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg – if you’ll excuse the Titanic pun – when it comes to what Ireland has in store for you. Because while it definitely is packed with more cultural and social activities then you could shake a putter at, they’re not what you’ll have come for. You’ll be wanting the golf.
Golf perched perilously on the edge of the Atlantic or nestled in picturesque bays. Greens vying for supremacy with the encroaching dunes and fairways so natural and narrow that you’ll need your best game just to hit them. Golf hewn out of a primordial landscape, seemingly with no more than a little elbow grease and a lot of imagination by the game’s forefathers all those years ago. Golf, say the Irish, as it should be.
Some perennial favorites include Waterville in Kerry, Portmarnock in Dublin, Royal County Down in County Down, and Rosapenna in Donegal. But these headline acts are just where the fun begins.
Not far from the grand old links of Waterville, themselves over 100 years old and of the rarest quality, you’ll find Ballybunion and Tralee. The world-famous Ballybunion is located on the north on its own beautiful stretch of beach and dunes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and boasts two wonderfully challenging and unique links – the Old Course and the Cashen. The former was first played back in 1893 and is still an unforgettable experience 120 years later, and the latter is a Robert Trent Jones masterpiece.
And what of nearby Tralee? Well, perhaps the course’s designer Arnold Palmer put it best when he said: “I may have designed the first nine, but surely God designed the back nine.” The King’s first – and some say greatest – work in Europe offers up an Atlantic view from every hole and a thrilling round to match any on earth.
Northern Ireland’s golfing royalty in County Down and Portrush brings golfers from far and wide and have been winning admiring glances for over a century. The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush combines merciless rough and unforgiving greens into one of the game’s truly great layouts. Dunluce was home to the Open Championship the only time it left mainland Britain, and last year hosted the European Tour’s Irish Open, so it can offer a rare championship pedigree, too.
The Championship Links at Royal County Down is a course considered by many to be the greatest in the world and is often first on the list for golfers planning their vacation to Ireland.
Located in the truly magical setting of the Murlough Nature Reserve, the course unfolds against the magnificent backdrop of the Mountains of Mourne and along the shores of Dundrum Bay.
But like Portrush, Royal County Down is only a gateway into a whole heap of golfing possibilities. You might not have heard about Ardglass, Castlerock or Portstewart, but you can take it from this writer that they’re not to be missed.
The fair city of Dublin has an embarrassment of golfing riches. Few, if any, modern capitals can offer the same quality of courses within such easy reach. Globally renowned links like those at Portmarnock Golf Club, Portmarnock Links and the esteemed Royal Dublin are only minutes from one another – and they’re only a hint of what’s in store.
Palmer’s historic Ryder Cup course at the opulent K Club, the wonderfully idiosyncratic links at the European Club and the hidden grandeur of the Island Golf Club are all within reach.
Exploring the timeless landscape, meeting the warm people and sampling the best food and drink that this special land has to offer, you’ll be captivated and charmed. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip that people never only make once in a lifetime. After you’ve been, you’ll want to plan the next visit as soon as possible.
Luckily, there’s help on hand. Because Golf Digest Irish Tours – a new collaboration between Golf Digest Ireland and Conde Nast in New York – tailors incredible Irish adventures, just for you.
As any good caddie will tell you, nothing beats local knowledge. And as the team behind Ireland’s biggest golf magazine, they have it in spades. Great relationships with the country’s golf clubs built up over years of working together mean that Golf Digest Irish Tours can confidently say they’re offering you the best tee times at the best prices.
Organizing that dream trip to Ireland with a reliable and experienced company makes sense. Clubs can be remote – and drives between one town and another can often take longer than you might realize, because as you’ll see when you’re out on the west coast of Ireland, wide and straight highways are few and far between.
You want old-world charm in the heart of a quaint, rural village? No problem. Five-star, downtown luxury more your thing? They’ve got that covered too. So what are you waiting for?
– By COLIN O’BRIEN
For more information, visit golfdigestirishtours.com.