The Irish Experience: A dream vacation for all

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February 25, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

Ask any golfer to pick their dream vacation destination -- a place where they would most like to go for the golf trip of a lifetime - and chances are that Ireland will be the first choice of many.

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Dublin's oldest pub dates from the 12th century but a few more have opened since.
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Belfast City Hall is one of many sights to be seen in Northern Ireland's lively capital.
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The European Club ranked Ireland's No. 4 layout and it's still climbing.
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Royal County Down - Ranked Ireland's top links for the past dozen years.
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Ballyliffin's Glashedy Course is a treat for any connoisseur of links golf.
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Doonbeg Links reveals Greg Norman's passion for the game with this truly inspirational layout.
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The Old Head Links is a true sparkler and a must play for all.
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Waiting for the cloud to settle is an Irish pastime much loved by visiting golfers.
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Deciding to make this land of 100,000 welcomes the focus of a very special golfing experience is not rocket science, but a very logical choice. Whether this is to be your first trans-Atlantic golf trip or your twenty-first, Ireland has everything it takes to make this a trip like no other and all with that unique splash of Irish fun and good-times that sets the Emerald Isle apart from the rest.

Even if Ireland did not boast one of the most impressive collections of world-class courses on the globe -- which it does, including a healthy serving of fabled, seaside links layouts and magnificent, unheralded gems -- it would still attract visitors like bees to a pot of honey.

Ireland's wide-ranging appeal extends far beyond only golf, creating the real possibility of a golf trip with no guilty conscience. Just think, this could be a golf trip where your non-golfing, better half will be thrilled to come along -- and she will have a least as good a time as you, perhaps even better!

From some of the most dramatically beautiful coastlines in all of Europe, to pastoral landscapes that have inspired poets, painters and writers for centuries, Ireland is a gallery to some of Mother Nature's most brilliant artistry. The Lakes of Killarney, The Cliffs of Moher and Northern Ireland's intriguing Giants Causeway, are only a small sampling of the multitude of not-to-be-missed, natural wonders that abound on the handsome island of Ireland.

By contrast, the thriving cities of Dublin, Cork and Belfast, rank among Europe's most vibrant. There are bustling market towns and picturesque small fishing villages everywhere and with a rich history dating back almost 11,000 years, some of Europe's most fascinating archeological sites, centuries old castles, ancient churches and monasteries. It's more than enough to keep the most ardent sightseer intrigued for as long as they have time to spare. Choosing Ireland was the easy decision, now comes the more difficult choice -- which part of Ireland should it be?

Small as this green island may be, it's much larger than most first time visitors anticipate and you won't be able to cover everything in a single trip, so resign yourself to the fact that you will be returning and it will make this decision much easier. There's not a corner of Ireland that doesn't have its own character and fascination and golf is everywhere, so wherever you choose will never be wrong, but this thumbnail introduction of the choices should be of some help.

Dublin is one of Europe's liveliest capitals, filled with an energy few other major cities can match, yet it retains a sophisticated elegance that makes it an immediate favorite with practically every visitor. Excellent restaurants, superb shopping, museums, art galleries and a dynamic cultural scene, all wrapped up in a thousand years of history - and that's only the beginning of Dublin's wealth of attractions.

Want to see some of Ireland's most alluring countryside? Take a day excursion and drive south of the city to Wicklow, the garden of Ireland, with enough picture-postcard scenery to satisfy the most ardent sightseeing fiend. Drive west to handsome County Kildare, the heart of Ireland's horse breeding country, it's nothing less than spectacular and if you love horses, include a visit to the National Stud. If you're looking to squeeze a round or two of golf into your Dublin stay, it couldn't be easier.

There are over 20 world-class golf courses located within a half hour's drive of the city center, including some ranked among Ireland's very best, so take your pick. Portmarnock Golf Club, The K-Club of Ryder Cup fame, Royal Dublin, The Island, The European Club and Druids Glen, together with a choice collection of other gems, are all waiting with open arms to show you what real Irish golf and hospitality is all about.

Northern Ireland may be no larger than the state of Maine, but what a treasure trove of golf and intriguing sightseeing is contained within the borders of this tiny British outpost. The capital of Belfast begins to rival Dublin for its vitality, effervescence and every other city attraction imaginable, all on a smaller, very manageable scale.

The stunning beauty of the Antrim Coast is legendary and the coastal route from Belfast to Portrush is ranked as one of the world's Top 10 Drives. But Mother Nature's handiwork in this part of the country is always superb, from the wonder that is the Giants Causeway, another natural marvel that simply cannot be missed, to the dramatic Glens of Antrim. There are magnificent, historic stately homes to explore and some of The Emerald Isle's most spectacular formal gardens to be admired. And to quench the thirst brought on by so much sightseeing, a stop at the world's oldest whisky distillery at Bushmills is just what the doctor ordered.

The two top ranked courses in all of Ireland, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush are going to be at the very top of every golfer's Northern Ireland play-list, but don't overlook the other golfing pleasures that reside here. Portstewart, Castlerock and Ardglass are just three of the links gems that deserve attention, together with a healthy selection of wonderful inland challenges, including Royal Belfast, Ireland's oldest golf club.

The Northwest & West From Counties Donegal and Sligo to Mayo and Galway, this is the Ireland of yester-year where old rural traditions not only survive, but thrive and life moves at a slower pace. Sparsely populated, the rugged coastline and windswept mountains proudly display some of the country's wildest scenery and with plenty of drama.

Steeped in 5,000 years of history and Celtic myth, this is the land that inspired W. B. Yeats, Ireland's poet laureate and is home to the celebrated Aran Islands, perhaps the most famous bastion of traditional Irish culture. If you are looking for more genteel surroundings the elegant 18th century town of Westport is well worth visiting as is fast growing, Galway City, whose youthful university population brings life to the medieval streets and cozy pubs.

Golf courses in this part of Ireland are as dramatic as the windswept coastal locations they occupy, all perfectly prepared over the centuries for only links golf. From Co. Donegal's Ballyliffin, Rosapenna and Murvagh to Co. Sligo's Rosses Point and Enniscrone, to Co. Mayo's Carne Links and Westport to Connemara and Galway Bay, golf in these parts is in a league of its own. These links wonders may not have the name recognition of some others, but they are among the best in Ireland. Discover them before the masses start arriving, while they still reflect the isolated tranquility of this peaceful, unspoiled corner of Ireland.

The Southwest has long been a favorite Irish arrival point for American golfers attracted by the wealth of trophy courses in the region. Established names like Ballybunion, Lahinch, Doonbeg, Waterville, Killarney and Tralee have been joined more recently by Ring of Kerry, Dooks, Dingle and visitors are discovering more hidden gems each year. Golf maybe a King in the Southwest of Ireland, but the region attracts even more visitors who have absolutely no interest in chasing a little white ball around a golf course.

The spectacular beauty of the region extending from Co. Clare to Co. Kerry is legendary and the stuff travel posters are made of. From the hauntingly handsome Cliffs of Moher to the nearby Burren, a massive limestone plateau, with its own unique flora and fauna, adapted over centuries to the inhospitable environment, nature's wonders are everywhere.

The Ring of Kerry is an especially magnificent 100 mile drive that starts and ends in the bustling town of Killarney, winding its way around, the stunning scenery of the Kerry Coast. Mountains, lakes, dramatic sea and landscapes, all interspersed with charming small fishing and farming villages.

Explore the market town of Ennis and its many antique shops and small boutiques. As Ennis is also a center for Irish music, enjoy a Guinness or two in a couple of the fun pubs where local musicians play traditional Irish music either scheduled, or often, with impromptu sessions.

If you are staying in Killarney, a lively town filled with all manner of pubs and dining establishments, promise yourself at least a couple of treats to experience the quality of today's Irish cuisine - it compares with the best of any European country. For a change of scenery and more excellent dining opportunities, take the short drive over to the small 17th century town of Kenmare one evening. This charmer has established itself as something of an Irish center of gastronomy during recent years.

The South. If you have Irish roots, your original Irish relatives probably took a ship from the port of Cobh in Cork Harbor, to sail to the New World, so a small pilgrimage to this area should be on the itinerary. The city of Cork, Ireland's second largest, is filled with history, a vibrant cultural scene and it's another important center for traditional Irish music, so explore it in depth and enjoy.

Nearby is Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone and also the delightful small port of Kinsale. This is not only one of the prettiest towns in all Ireland and another center for gastronomy, but a wonderful place to stay for a night or two if the spectacular Old Head Golf Links is on your play list- and it should be. Other courses to be played in the area include Irish Open venue, Fota Island and a magnificent new layout at Moy Valley.

Traveling further east along this south coast, the historic city of Waterford shouldn't be missed and for the ladies, a chance to shop for some of the world famous crystal. It's only a short detour inland to discover Kilkenny, arguably the best preserved medieval town in Ireland and a sightseeing delight. If you are in the mood for golf, the often overlooked, championship parkland course at Mount Juliet is just a few miles down the road.

Make no doubt about it, Ireland is quite special, both for golfers as well as those with no particular love of the Royal and Ancient game at all. Only making a good thing even better, is the excellent value for money, which Ireland offers. Irish hotel rooms, car rentals, green fees, restaurants and every other element involved in your trip are at their lowest prices in years. Add to this the strength of our US Dollar today and Ireland delivers more bang for your buck than practically any other European country. It's reason enough to take the good lady along and at these prices, you can afford to do so in style.

For more ideas and some expert help in getting the most out of your trip to Ireland, call Golf International at 1 800-833-1389 or click here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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