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Golfing in Ireland

May 10, 2020

Ireland’s credentials are sky high when
it comes to golf

Golf is one
of those outdoor activities that will open on a limited basis on May 18. With
world-class courses in some of the most spectacular locations on the planet,
Ireland’s credentials are sky-high when it comes to golf. Journalist Barry Lotz
visited last year and managed to take in some marquee courses and some hidden
gems.

A trip to Ireland – why the Emerald Isle
offers, tourists, golfers, visitors and whiskey aficionados a visit full of
exploration, superb scenery, phenomenal golf courses and fun-filled pubs!

“Céad Míle Fáilte” 

(A Hundred Thousand Welcomes!)

Ireland Golf outdid itself in 2019.

This was the year that Irish golf took center stage. Not only did an Irishman,
Shane Lowry, win The 148th British Open, but Royal Portrush, the site of the
championship, received compliments from both the players and the attendees.

The R&A did an outstanding job in not only preparing the course, a “real
proper links”, but all the ancillary infrastructure — player friendly and
definitely visitor friendly. 237,000 tickets were sold and probably another
100,000 were needed. The Open shop was stocked to the rafters and the
merchandize flew out of the store as though they were giving everything away
for free.

A trip to the Emerald Isle, whether for a golf trip, a vacation, or a whiskey
experience, is definitely a bucket list item. The pace of life is remarkably
sedate and Irish welcomes really are as warm as the legend suggests. The
“greenness” of Ireland is everywhere you travel.
Ireland is famous for having a third of the world’s links courses, making
devotees of seaside golf chomping at the bit. 

As for whiskey lovers and enthusiasts, there are more than 30 whiskey
distilleries spread across Eire. The “water of life” has been distilled in
Ireland since the sixth century and with the iconic distilleries of Jameson,
Tullamore, Bushmills and D.E.W. beckoning, there is no better time to explore
the island’s whiskey story. Also take time to visit Glendalough, Clonakilty and
Echlinvilole to sample a new generation of whiskey makers.

As for golfing, Ireland has iconic venues such as Ballybunion, Portmarnock,
Royal County Down and Lahinch as their standard bearers, but there are so many
more outstanding courses that most golfers have never experienced. A review of
6 courses follows that merit your consideration and a visit in your future
travel plans.

Be familiar with the first rule of Irish golf: Ignore the weather forecast!
Showers are predicted every day, but I was lucky to have a total of just 5
hours of rain over the six courses I played during 7 days of golf. By being a
seaside links, the wind, of course, does blow often. Be prepared to learn how
to hit shots that stay below the wind and have patience to only hit a shot in
between gusts, if possible. As locals like to say, “The weather is as dry as
the locals’ humor”.

Ireland’s west side, also referred to as the Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s
longest defined coastal touring route, holds some terrific seaside courses that
are half as expensive and twice as much fun as better-known venues — and you
don’t need to call a year in advance for a tee time. This is the Ireland that
existed before Ballybunion became the Pebble Beach of Europe. In fact, the
western coast of Ireland can lay claim to the finest array of links courses in
the world (sorry, Bandon Dunes and St. Andrews).

The Wild Atlantic Way includes magnificent beaches, cliffs, bays and surfing
seas stretching from remote Malin and the northern headlands to near
sub-tropical waters and gardens ending in tranquil Kinsale Harbour in the
south. It is a must to explore!
And along the way it enables and enhances some of the world’s greatest links
golf!

The European Club

Without any fear of contradiction, playing The European Club was the highlight
of my trip!  The European Club is just 30 minutes south of Dublin. Not
only is the European Club ranked in the World’s Top-100 Golf Courses, but its
owner and designer, Pat Ruddy, the “Master of the Links”, is in my Top 100 most
interesting, magnanimous and fascinating people in golf, whom I have been
fortunate enough to meet and spend time with in their company.

Golf Magazine USA ranked The European Club in their World Top 100 Golf Courses
list in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. This is the course that
Padraig Harrington won the Irish PGA in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Rory McIlroy won
the Irish Amateur in 2006 and where Tiger set the links record at 67.

Pat Ruddy is synonymous with Irish golf —  from his personal collection
of over 6,500 golf books, to his exceptional golf design skills. Many courses
around Ireland have some sort of a Pat Ruddy touch. He is a walking
encyclopedia of every aspect of links style golf courses.

Golf Magazine, in collaboration with ten other international golf magazines,
nominated the course in their The 500 Greatest Golf Holes in the World, wherein
three holes are from the links of The European Club.

The par-4 seventh, measuring 470-yards, was named as one of the Worlds 100 Best
Holes. The par-5 thirteenth and par-3 fourteenth were named amongst the Worlds
500 Best Holes.

On a broader scale, nine of the Top-40 Golf Courses in Ireland, per Golf
Digest, have been designed or substantially redesigned by Pat Ruddy and nine of
his venues are listed in the Top-100 Golf Courses in Great Britain &
Ireland.  

Of all the courses I have played in Ireland on my two trips there, The European
Club, on the County Wicklow coastline, about 30 miles from Dublin is, by far,
my favorite. This is a course I could play every day. The flow of the course is
its USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Every hole follows a natural progression
and that of marvelous and thoughtful design.

The European Club is extremely challenging off the back tees and views of the
infamous railway-sleeper lined bunkers only add to the difficulty. Caveat:
Offline hits are prejudicial to say the least, but the saving grace is that the
beach is in play on the back nine!
The course boasts 20 holes (two additional par threes) and that back nine will
live long in my memory with holes like 11, 12, 15 and 17 utterly captivating.
The restaurant food is above par and the service exemplary.

Depending on the time of year, green fees range from €120 (November 1 to March
31) to €225 (April 1 to October 31 with July 1 – July 31 at €250). 

Rosses
Pt. Golf Course, County Sligo

18 holes, par 71, 6609 yards. Links.

This is an awesome golf course! It is often referred to as the “Grand Dame” of
Northwest Ireland golf courses. I daresay that if this course was located
elsewhere, other than northwest Ireland, it would join the ranks of “must play”
a la Ballybunion or Lahinch, as County Sligo is widely regarded as one of the
greatest championship links courses in Ireland. 

The 125-year old course is located in the picturesque village of Rosses Point
and known locally as ‘The Point’. The original 9-hole course, founded in 1894,
is now a world class 27-hole complex with modern facilities and a spacious
clubhouse.
 
The west side of the course is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean. The view to the
north is dominated by Benbulben; an impressive glacier cut rock formation
bearing a strong resemblance to Cape Town’s Table Mountain. The east has great
views of the Dartary Mountains, while the south vista is completed by
Knocknare.

The traditional links layout was designed by Harry Colt who was reputed to have
been influenced by the layout of St Andrews Old Course in his creation of
County Sligo. Colt utilized the natural contours of the dune-covered landscape,
rather than moving large amounts of earth during its design. On the fairways
you’ll play from crisp turf, while the undulating greens are defended by plenty
of deep sand traps. The end result is a course filled with dramatic flowing
fairways, elevated tees, and raised plateau greens.

The 7th, 8th and 14th holes are all stunning, due to the crossing of Mahon’s Burn
– a meandering stream awaiting any miss-hit shots! County Sligo, in my opinion,
serves the best fish and chips that I have tasted in Ireland!
 
Rates are between €115 and €205 depending on the time of year and hour of play.

I highly recommend the Radisson
Blu Hotel in Rosses Point, County Sligo
as the best place to stay. It is
modern, with great rooms and food service, especially at the bar.

Tel: 00353 71 914 0008 

Narin & Portnoo Golf Course

18 holes, par 73, 6269 yards. Links.

The Narin & Portnoo Golf Club was formed as a 9-hole course in 1930, until
it was extended to the full 18 in 1965. Many regard this to be one of the most
natural courses of all time, but it hasn’t quite received the recognition it
deserves. Maybe this is because of its remote location. 

Liam McDevitt is the new owner. Liam is from Donegal, but now based in New
York. McDevitt instituted a major redesign of the course and refurbishment of
the clubhouse. Gil Hanse of the United States did an exemplary job of turning
this truly spectacular setting into a true test of pure links golf. 

Golfers playing Narin & Portnoo Golf Course will need all their skills to
effectuate a range of different shots. With the course’s tight doglegs,
cavernous terrain, raised greens and twisting fairways, players will need to
have their wits about them if they’re looking to score well. The signature par
three is played over a gorge onto a two-tiered green where making par is
anything but easy.

If you’re looking to play a simple, old-fashioned and rewarding links course,
then Narin & Portnoo is the place for your golf vacation.

Rates are €60 during off season and €120 normally. Caddies are available, as
are carts (buggies).   

Donegal Golf Club

18 holes, par 73, 7453 yards. Links.

Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal Bay and a designated Special Area of
Conservation, it is one of the longest golf courses in Europe, measuring a
massive 7,453 yards from the championship tees. 

Donegal Golf Course was originally designed by Eddie Hackett, a legend of Irish
golf course architecture and is often referred to as the Muirfield of Ireland.
This links course is built on a promontory of 182 acres that extends out into
the Atlantic Ocean. The course, built on land of geological significance, was
inhabited in past centuries, and the earliest of Irish maps indicate this.

The original clubhouse was a caravan, to be replaced some months later, by a
railway carriage. In 1976, a new clubhouse was built.  We had lunch in the
clubhouse and the food at the restaurant was terrific!

The course, a par 73 for both men and women, consists of five Par 5’s, four Par
3’s and nine Par 4’s, stretching over 7400 yards from the tips, with five
regulation tees from each hole, plus a beginner tee. 

Over the years the course has been re-molded by the “Master of Links
design”, Pat Ruddy, with Pat still dropping by to lend his expertise to
the club and help it continuously evolve. 

The outside loop plays along the dunes and the ocean, providing stunning views
of the surrounding area. The inner loop is more protected, however, the
constantly changing sea breeze provides a continuing test for both pro and
amateur golfer. Despite its length, the course is an easy walk, broken up by
the outstanding views, wildlife and display of fauna and flora that continues
to change and evolve throughout the year.

Darren Clarke, the 2011 Open Champion and member of the Course, states that
Donegal Golf Club is “one of my favorite courses in the world”.

Donegal is an easy walk and a welcome break from the roller coaster dunes found
on other links courses. The panoramic views of Donegal Bay and the surrounding
countryside are sensational and the peninsula itself is steeped in local and
ancient history. One of my many favorite holes during my visit was Hole 5 –
Valley of Tears – 196 yards.

With no fairway, this par 3 is certainly a challenge. Aim at the bunker back
left from the tee. Fail to carry the valley, and you are left with a testing
shot from an extremely deep bunker. The bowl shape of the green is forgiving,
feeding the ball toward the pin, if it is placed kindly,
This hole gives up more holes-in-one here than any other hole on the course,
but just hit your best shot of the day to the green and walk on.
 
Green Fees 18 Holes: November – March €50, April &
October  €100, May – September €130
 

Cruit Island Golf Club

,
Kincasslagh, County Donegal

18 Holes, Par 68, Length 5141 yards

Roughly 40 minutes farther north from Portnoo on the Donegal Coast lies a golf
course that has been described as simply one of the greatest 9-hole courses on
earth. The course is set on the edge of the wild and rugged Atlantic Ocean —
next stop America! You will savor unrestricted panoramic views that will take
your breath away, especially its iconic 6th hole hitting over the Atlantic
Ocean onto the green on the cliff edge.  
 
The views afforded by Cruit Island are outstanding, on a par with world
favorites such as Pebble Beach, Old Head, Kingsbarn in Scotland, Pinnacle Point
in South Africa, and Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand. Cruit Island is a true
natural 9-hole links course where every shot must be methodically thought out.

Cruit Island Golf Club (pronounced “Crutch” Island), is purely and simply a
must visit. Place it on your bucket list.

What’s so great about the course is that you can play there for about one tenth
of the cost of the aforementioned “name” courses! Rates are €35 per person!
 

Concra Wood Golf Club

,
Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan

18 Holes, Par 72, 6635 yards

This was one of the nicest courses I got to play. So different from the true
links courses, yet overall most enjoyable in all aspects such as setting,
views, flow, operations staff and FUN to play. Concra Wood is a beautiful and
evocative setting for a golf course.

The golf course was designed by two of Ireland’s golfing legends: Christy
O’Connor Junior and Senior. Overlooking Lough Muckno, a lake, the shape and
flow of the golf course are perfectly complemented by the drumlins that roll
across the countryside. The wooded landscape tilts down into Lough Muckno. The
views are spectacular, stretching across the Monaghan Drumlins to the Cooley
and Mourne Mountains to the east, and the Slieve Gullion and Mullyash Mountains
to the north. And all the while you are surrounded by the lake and its
scattering of islands, including Black Island, Otter Island, Crane Island and
White Island. It is a unique setting that golfers, fishermen and walkers will
love.

This easy rhythm adds to the beauty of the course and its challenges, and it
will inspire every golfer who chooses to play here. Woods and trees stretch
their way elegantly around the course and between holes to give Concra Wood a
truly natural touch.

This challenging course! It is a tough walk and accurate driving will help your
score and prevent the loss of many golf balls in the water or gorse. There are
plenty of hills between tees and on some holes. I suggest a cart. The course
has a great club house with outstanding food and drink. 

Rates range from €50 to €85

Ireland is a great country for its outstanding scenery, friendly citizens,
plentiful whiskey and some of the best golf I have ever experienced. I look
forward to my third visit to Ireland in the not too distant future.

For more information about golfing on the island of Ireland visit www.ireland.com

Explore the world famous Wild Atlantic Way