There's something about a European city that appeals to us all and a European capital becomes only more so, taking on an almost seductive allure most find irresistible. It's the hustle, bustle and sheer excitement of it all. It's the wealth of history and culture, the shopping, museums, sightseeing, nightlife and restaurants and for many, simply living the European lifestyle for a while. This is fine, except for the golfer who may be looking to play a few rounds of good golf during their visit.
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If you are in London, Paris, Rome, Madrid or most other European capitals, there are certainly very good golf courses located relatively close to the city, but unfortunately, most are off-limits to visitors and it's unlikely you will be playing them. These are the very private golf clubs, where visitors are not welcome, unless they are personal guests and accompanied by a member. They are the clubs, usually located with a 20-mile or so radius of the city, with long waiting lists of well-heeled suburban residents who want to be members. Those who already belong, jealously protect the exclusivity they have purchased and are simply not willing to share their facilities with outsiders.
There are of course exceptions here and there, but they are few and far between, unless you head to Ireland, where, perhaps in keeping with the Irish character, golf clubs, even the most prestigious, march to a different drummer. There's no place on the globe where golf is appreciated more than in Ireland and none that can boast a greater selection of top-drawer courses, but here, golf is the people's game, not the exclusive domain of the privileged few.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in and around the capital city of Dublin, where even the most elite clubs have the welcome mat out for visitors, year round. There isn't a golf club or course that doesn't exude the genuine, warm Irish welcome, automatically associated with the Emerald Isle and its there for every visitor.
There's no question that Dublin ranks as the world's most golfer friendly capital, not only because of the availability and hospitality of all its surrounding courses to visitors, but also their proximity to the city. In Dublin, there's no need to be driving forever and a day to play the best, many are here, on the doorstep.
Fabled Portmarnock Golf Club still contended by many as being Ireland's top-gun and one of the world's most testing links, is located only 10 miles from the center of Dublin. Immediately next door is Portmarnock Links, not to be confused with its celebrity neighbor, but still an excellent links design from Bernhard Langer. Only a little further up the road is The Island Golf Club, one of Ireland's unsung golf heroes, a classic, historic links that deserves to be on every visitors must play list.
Even closer to Dublin is classy Royal Dublin, located barely 3 miles from the heart of the city - so close you could almost walk there -- and if you had to, the experience would still be well worth the effort.
Fancy pitting your skills against a Ryder Cup course? The K-Club, stage for the 2006 Ryder Cup Matches is only a half hour drive away from the city, located in the magnificent horse-breeding country of County Kildare. Head north from Dublin and within an hour you could be playing the championship links of County Louth Golf Club at Baltray, host to this year's Irish Open and a superb layout, ranked among the top 25 in Britain and Ireland.
Drive south from Dublin and the banquet of the city's world-class golf choices only gets larger. There are two superb layouts at Druids Glen (Druids Glen and Druids Heath) offering a perfect 36-hole day and you will still be back in town with plenty of time for a leisurely dinner and a little pub-hopping. Skip one of the courses at Druids Glen and drive 15 minutes further south and you'll be confronted by one of Ireland's (if not Europe's) most dramatic links challenges at The European Club. Ranked number 4 in Ireland, The European may lack some of the fancy bells and whistles of other Dublin clubs, but you'll never find a more testing links. This is golf the way it was intended and one for the memory book.
And this is still only the tip of the iceberg that is Dublin's unique collection of golf wonders -- more than 20 top class layouts, all located within an hour of any city center hotel, most much closer and they all genuinely welcome visitors, with no exceptions.
But this is Dublin, one of Europe's most fascinating capitals and golf is only one attraction among the many for any visitor, whether golf is in their vocabulary or not. For any who may have been yearning to experience some of the best golf in the world, but didn't want to abandon the family for such a self-serving dream, take hope. Dublin could well be the answer and the ideal place to spend a family vacation, where everyone's interests are taken care of -- and in grand style.
Dublin long ago shed the image of being a quaint but sleepy town and has become one of the liveliest in Europe. It still retains much of the Georgian charm that has always been Dublin, but new development is taking place everywhere, intermingling with the old in a style of its very own. Dublin remains a great historic city with strong links to world literature and the arts and there is plenty to keep even the most ardent sightseer busy.
The old city is best discovered on foot and a half day spent strolling from College Green to St. Stephens Green will reveal much of Dublin's rich past. Don't miss 16th century Trinity College, the impressive City Hall and Dublin Castle, dating from the 13th century.
There's Christchurch Cathedral, one of the city's finest historic buildings and St. Patrick's Cathedral shouldn't be missed either. Sightseeing is thirsty work, so along the way stop by Dublin's oldest pub, The Brazen Head (circa 1198) for a little refreshment.
There are allegedly some 800 pubs in town and every visitor needs to sample at least a few of them. Linger over a Guinness or two, meet the locals and soak up the atmosphere that makes these social gathering places special and so Irish. And when the sun goes down, Dublin switches into high gear with a nightlife as vibrant and varied as any place and it all goes on into the wee small hours. No surprise the Irish have never been considered early birds.
There is no doubt, Dublin has something for everyone and this year you can add one more attraction -- fantastic value. While our US dollar enjoys a strength not seen in many years, all of Ireland has become a bargain and nowhere more so than in Dublin. Today the dollar buys 20% more Euros, Ireland's currency, than it did even one year ago, making everything 20% less expensive. From hotels and restaurants to shopping, car rentals and everything else involved in a vacation, literally everything has been marked down by 20%, if you are paying in US dollars.
Add to this the super low, trans-Atlantic airfares that are being offered at the moment and that dream vacation to Ireland is no longer a dream and within the grasp of more Americans than ever. But these bargain basement prices are unlikely to last much beyond the end of this year, when economists and others in the know predict the US dollar is probably going to weaken. So grab the bargains while they're here and make 2009 your year for that special vacation, back to the Emerald Isle.
For a few more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your trip to The Emerald Isle, click here.
©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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