For most folks who journey across “the pond” to play golf, chances are pretty good they’ll want to play in Scotland at courses like St. Andrews, Turnberry and Royal Dornoch. While those courses and the enchanting towns they inhabit are steeped in history, those wanting a more diverse and dramatic golfing experience should consider Ireland, in particular its southwestern quadrant. While most of the courses there don’t date back to the 19th century, their styles do range greatly, providing golfers with one of the most unique “trails” the sport has to offer. Not to mention, journeying from one town to another transports the golfer around the Ring of Kerry, the ultimate collection of charming towns and dramatic vistas.
An Insider’s Guide To Ireland
When vacationing on the Emerald Isle, refer to pull carts as “trolleys.” Also, bring your handicap card, as starters often like to know your “stroke index.” If you’re playing with a buddy, the two of you will be known as a “two-ball,” not a twosome or a pair. Most courses don’t provide “buggies” (carts), so get in some walking prior to your trip, especially for the dune-heavy links courses. Also, as you’ll either hire a caddie or use a trolley, it’s okay to load your bag with plenty of rain gear. Chances are good you’ll need it. Locals are the first to say that the sun shines the most from July to September. The Celtic Tiger is roaring, and Ireland ain’t cheap. As of publication, one U.S. dollar equaled .77 of a Euro. Fly Aer Lingus, Ireland’s national airline. They have direct flights from a number of U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and New York._Ê_Ê_Ê_Ê
The Ring Of Kerry
Playing golf in Ireland, in particular the southwest corner (Counties Cork and Kerry) affords not just some of the world’s greatest golf, but also some of the world’s most charming towns. The drive from Waterville Golf Club to Old Head (aka, the Ring of Kerry) in particular, is full of the picturesque small towns whose photos grace the pages of guidebooks and Travel Channel programs. Be forewarned, navigating the Ring takes time, patience and, we might suggest, a small car. The roads are narrow and winding, and the topography changes dramatically from sea level to cloud-enshrouded mountaintops along the stretch. But the payoff is worth it. Towns like Smeen, Kenmare and Bantry are just a few examples of Ireland’s so-called “Tidy Towns”—clean, vibrant, charming villages with brightly colored pubs and restaurants. www.tidytowns.ie
_â” For more information and to receive a free vacation planning kit, visit www.discoverireland.com or call (800) 223-6470.
_â” For an online database overflowing with up-to-date information on Irish golf, visit www.golfadventureguides.com .
_â” Where Golf is Great. James Finegan’s big, thick, photo-rich love letter to Irish and Scottish courses.
|Where To Play
| Lahinch Golf Club
011-353-65-708-1003 | $185
The fifth hole, aka, “The Dell,” is a prime example of Old Tom Morris’ quirky vision. The green on this short par-3 is hidden behind an enormous dune, leaving golfers unsure whether their ball ended up on the dance floor.
Insider Tip: Wear comfy shoes._Ê_Ê
|Ballybunion Golf Club
011-353-68-27146 | $195
According to an 1897 Irish Times article, Ballybunion was dismissed as “a rabbit warren below the village, where a golfer requires limitless patience and an inexhaustible supply of golf balls.” With tall grass bordering its fairways, today’s golfers would be wise to bring an “inexhaustible supply of golf balls.”
Insider Tip: Hit low 3-woods off the tee to keep it straight and long.
| Doonbeg Golf Club
011-353-65-905-5602 | $250
Chances are good you won’t tee it up with a local here; the membership and guests are overwhelmingly American. There’s even a faux village built around the clubhouse, replete with cobblestone streets. Still, despite its modern flavor, the golf is worth it._Ê
Insider Tip: To get a plugged ball out of a Doonbeg bunker, shut the clubface of a sand wedge and make a full swing. At impact, the clubface opens and the ball flies out._Ê
| Waterville Golf Club
011-353-66-947-4102 | $195
The course, which overlooks Ballinskelligs Bay, waits until the back nine to really come into its own. In particular, holes 11 and 12 are two great tests, completely submerged in towering sand dunes where awkward lies and funny bounces abound.
Insider Tip: Mark your golf ball with your initials. Inside Waterville’s clubhouse, a glass case displays thousands of found balls for all to see.
| Old Head Golf Links
011-353-21-477-8444 | $350
Built atop a 300-foot peninsula 15 miles south of Cork, Old Head is, admittedly, dream golf at its finest. With 350-degree views of Courtmacsherry Bay, the golf course becomes almost secondary to the experience of playing a few feet from heaven. The twelfth, a 564-yard par-5 that asks you to drive over and then walk along a cliff, is beyond words.
Insider Tip: Tee off early, bring your camera and pray for sunshine.
| Adare Manor Hotel And Golf Resort
(800) 462-3273 | $190
Adare has probably never been in as good shape as it is now. As host of the next three Irish Opens (held this year May 17th-20th), Adare Manor is tournament tough. Still, even though it’s built on an 18th-century manor that’s perched along the River Maigue, it doesn’t have as many Kodak moments as its seaside brethren, but it’s a brute nonetheless.
Insider Tip: If you hate losing golf balls, hit it straight.
|Where To Stay
| Atlantic Hotel
Lahinch, County Clare
Request a room off the street. www.loguehotelgroup.com/atlantic
Waterville, County Kerry
The Huggard family has run this large seaside hotel for four generations.
Limerick, County Limerick
A Georgian house sits adjacent to a modern structure. Tastefully done. www.clarionsuiteslimerick.com
|Great Southern Hotel
You can ditch the rental car the night before and walk to the airport. www.greatsouthernhotels.com/airportshannon
| Acton’s Hotel
Kinsale, County Cork
The modest rooms sport breathtaking views of Kinsale Harbor.