Golf on the Emerald Isle of Ireland

By Jo Maes, EGTMA

Ireland has more than 400 golf courses. Some of them get all the media attention and are bucket-list courses. But there are many other courses where the locals play and are becoming “must play” courses as the word gets out. I will take you on a little journey, and if you go to Ireland, make sure to play them.

Carne Golf Links is carved out of the Atlantic Ocean’s Irish Coastal Dunes

We start on the most westerly point in Ireland, as far away as you can get from Dublin. This course is probably the first one you can set eyes on, weather permitting, when heading across the Atlantic. Carne Golf Links is something special. Virtually carved out by hand from a local initiative to protect this rural community from slowly dying. It’s very remote, but it’s links golf on steroids, towering dunes, meandering fairways, carved out greens, bumps and hollows. It has it all. The fact it gets more and more recognition allows them to improve the quality of the course. If you are looking for a genuine Irish links golf experience, Carne is as good as it gets.

High dunes frame each hole at Enniscrone Golf Club

Along the west coast of Ireland, making our way North, we pass Enniscrone which was founded in 1918. A similar experience to Carne with the same links characteristics and surrounded by water, the course has been modified over the years by Donald Steel and is now a must play. Links golf tests you as it’s so difficult to judge distances with no real references. Ah, it’s up that bank and by the time you get where you think your ball landed, the landscape is completely different. There is an argument to get a local caddie. Consider staying at the Mount Falcon Estate with its stately manor house and great local cuisine.

Heading farther North, you’ll pass Donegal Golf Club or Murvagh as it’s known locally. Ireland’s longest links course at 7,400 yards originally designed by Eddie Hackett and surrounded by the Ocean and Donegal Bay, it has a mix of flat and undulating links holes. Paul McGinley is redesigning the course to bring it up to stand the test of modern times and it’s a tough one when the wind blows, which is most of the time.

Rory McIlroy approach on the Glashedy Course at Ballyliffin

We then head to the most Northerly golf course in Ireland at in the Ballyliffin Golf Club. At time of writing, it is hosting the R&A Amateur Championship and has already hosted an Irish Open. They are ambitious on the Inishowen Peninsula and who can blame them, next stop, the Open Championship. It was Nick Faldo himself who, in his quest to find or build the best links golf course on the planet, helicoptered into Ballyliffin and immediately offered to buy it off the members. “No can do,” they said and with currently 36 championship holes and another 9 hole Par 3 course, this is as fine a golf complex as one can find in Ireland. By the way, the first ever Dane, Jakob Scov Olesen recently won the R&A Amateur Championship on the Glashedy Links which is my personal favorite. It’s fabulous off the tee as regardless of how the wind blows, there is always a bunker waiting for you. It is an honest golf course but does test you with every shot. Every hole provides a different challenge and with superb greens, it’s always a joy to play. Don’t forget the Old and also, the Par 3 Pollan Links, take wedge and putter and make your way around the perfect little links par 3’s. You certainly deserve a pint of Guinness after that.

Once you land in Dublin and make your way west to take on the world renowned links courses, you might want a bit of a breather before the real golf work starts. Apart from the confidence wrecking links golf, Ireland offers plenty of lush green and equally as enjoyable to play, parkland courses. We all remember the 2006 Ryder Cup where Darren Clarke played a major part and that was played on the Arnold Palmer designed North Course at the K Club. Under new management, all the facilities but, in particular, the course, has undergone some serious renovations to make it playable all year and as parkland courses go, the North Course is a magnificent one.

Continue farther west, the Farnham Estate near Cavan town offers the perfect halfway house. A Jeff Howes designed golf course laid out among the extensive grounds is a tale of two halves: the front nine explores undulating meadows and the back 9 takes you through dense woodland. The golf offering is complemented by an extensive hotel and spa built around an 18th century and historic manor house. 

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