October 6, 2016
Simply put, Ireland has extraordinary golf everywhere including many of the world’s “best of the best” courses like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Waterville, Portmarnock, Lahinch, Old Head, K Club and Royal Portrush. However, these amazing layouts don’t tell the full story of an Irish golf vacation of a lifetime.
“In addition to our world famous courses, Ireland has numerous lesser known ‘must play’ gems that are sometimes overlooked on itineraries, but shouldn’t be,” says Mark Byrne, Carr Golf Travel Expert. “In the list below are locales to consider that all offer incredible value and quality, convenient tee-times, and a true taste of the magic of an Emerald Isle golf getaway.”
Ballyliffin Golf Club
The fact that County Donegal’s Ballyliffin Golf Club is the northernmost in Ireland merely adds to its alluring charms. The Old Links layout there has long been underrated; thankfully traveling golfers have begun including it on itineraries. And with the splendid accompanying Glashedy Links (designed by Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock in 1995), this marvelously violent golfing terrain has 36 holes to play on to your heart’s content.
What many love most about Ballyliffin is how wonderfully wild and wooly it looks. Before teeing off, venture up to the second floor of the modern clubhouse and take in the view of the two courses from the balcony near the bar. You’ll see the ground’s ripples and bumps and swales spreading off to the shoreline as fairways tumble along amid camelback-shaped dunes before giving way to greens looking like they are exactly where they need to be. It’s a visual primer on how links golf looks at its best.
Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort
The Old Tom Morris Links at Rosapenna in Northwest Ireland is superb. In 1893, Old Tom ventured out from his beloved St. Andrews to lend his design expertise on this enticing linksland bordering idyllic Sheephaven Bay. The layout features exceptional seaside golf that’s wholly natural and requires every club in the bag to be hit throughout the round. Old Tom sure knew what the heck he was doing.
The “new” Sandy Hills Links at Rosapenna, which opened in 2003, is a most worthy complement. Pat Ruddy, the esteemed golf writer turned esteemed course architect, created a layout permeated with a timeless feel as if it had been residing alongside the older course since Old Tom trod there more than a century ago.
Most holes travel through corridors framed by hefty sandhills creating an atmosphere of peaceful tranquility from the outside world. Many feature elevated tee shots hit down to serpentine fairways that pinball your drive with reckless abandon. The par-4 420-yard 6th hole at the far end of the course is a treasure. The drive plays over a crest atop which offers a mesmerizing vista of the bay, bucolic farmland across the way, and imposing Muckish Mountain straight ahead in the distance. It’s one of those holes to savor, but that’s the way many feel about all 36 at Rosapenna.
Dooks Golf Club
Dooks Golf Club celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2014 and is one of the Emerald Isle’s 10 oldest golf clubs. Home to the 6,586-yard 18-hole links course along rugged Dingle Bay in County Kerry, Dooks derives its name from the Irish word for “dunes.” Dooks is awash with natural beauty with beguiling Atlantic Ocean views from nearly every vantage point and framed inland by Ireland’s highest mountain range, the McGillycuddy Reeks. Despite the relatively modest yardage, ever-present southwest winds put a premium on the “Old School” method of keeping your shots low to ground. Numerous greenside collection areas await wayward approaches and compel imaginative bumps, chips and pitches.
A nine-hole layout for most of its first 80 years, it was expanded to 18 in 1970. The most recent renovations were completed by renowned golf course architect Martin Hawtree in 2006, elevating Dooks to “must play” status like neighbors Ballybunion and Tralee. Hawtree, whose resume includes acclaimed makeovers of Lahinch and Royal Dublin, rebuilt all bunkers, relocated tees and fairways, and shaped 16 new greens – 10 in new locations. A sporty par 71, Dooks is a fun test of golf that drips with an endless supply of charm.
Connemara Golf Links
Connemara Golf Club is hard on Ireland’s western shore near Ballyconneely, a picturesque village where the scenic splendor of Twelve Bens and rugged Atlantic Ocean coastline await. With acres and acres of gray boulders and exposed rock outcroppings dotting the landscape, this links course is a true test from the opening hole all the way through the breathtaking back nine. Many of the tee-boxes are atop the dunes, so the vistas are thrilling. Even better, there’s plenty of room on the rippling fairways to have a lash at it with a driver. Just hit it hard and go find it.
The famous Eddie Hackett worked here as a golf professional from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s and designed the course. As he did on all his Irish layouts, Hackett created courses the old-fashioned way, by traversing over the dunes by foot and selecting the course route by knocking stakes into the ground. He wasn’t a fan of bulldozers and Connemara is all the better for his earthy approach. None other than Tom Watson, five time British Open winner and former U.S. Ryder Cup captain, has called Connemara “spectacular.” It’s a wonderful example of what Irish links golf is all about.
Ardglass Golf Club
If you love historic architecture, you’re one up from the start at Ardglass. Its clubhouse is considered the oldest in golf, dating back to 1377. Perched on a peninsula 35 miles south of Belfast in County Down, Ardglass Golf Club dates back to 1896. The opening five holes dramatically hug the rugged coast line before turning inland. There were seven holes to play initially with two holes added a few years after it came into existence. It wasn’t until 1970 that the second nine was constructed. The result is another “must play.”
The wind at Ardglass is its primary defense. The wide open land enables the sea breezes to whip across the terrain, and the exposed topography offers expansive views of Northern Ireland’s beautiful eastern coast. Don’t get distracted by the scenery because you’ll want your full attention on the shot ahead. The second hole is a thrilling par 3 playing over the frothy sea and jagged cliffs. It’s a “do or die” endeavor with “Howd’s Hole” below swallowing up any shot not hit on the button.The stout 488-yard 11th hole is exceptional as it mirrors the curved beach on the entire right side with mounds of gorse lurking menacingly on the left.
Make sure to have a pint in the old welcoming clubhouse after holing out on the last. The locals are as friendly as they come, but you could say that about most anywhere on the beautiful Emerald Isle.
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