Ireland's Tralee: Links golf doesn't get any better

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April 14, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Editor's Note: The following article is written by David Brice, President of Golf International. Established in 1988, Golf International specializes in the design and operation of quality golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, France, Spain and Portugal. The articles written by David represent trips available to Golf International customers. Click here to learn more about Golf International.

The bustling market town of Killarney is a popular base with golfers playing the big name courses of southwestern Ireland. Centrally located and possessing its own unique charm, Killarney also offers an excellent selection of hotels, pubs and restaurants, providing golfers with a wonderful opportunity to experience some good Irish craic. For the uninitiated, craic is the gaelic word for the fun and good times for which the Emerald Isle is so famous, sometimes helped along by a glass or two (or more) of Guinness, Irish whiskey or some other libation.

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Tralee is one of Ireland's most dramatic links designed by Mother Nature and assisted by Arnie.
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Handsome and packed with thrills - Tralee belongs on every gofers must-play list.
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Mammoth sand dunes cantankerous winds and the open sea all come into play at Tralee.
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Tralee's 16th green barely clings to the cliff-edge.
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The 17th - Ryan?s Daughter - is named after the movie that was shot here.
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Forget sea breezes at Tralee - here the wind really blows!
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The morning after a night of celebrating, these bleary eyed merry-makers, no longer quite so merry, will be driving themselves off to play Ballybunion, or along the narrow, winding, Ring of Kerry road, to play Waterville. These are golf's trophy collectors; eager to add a couple of extra notches to their belts, as two more of Ireland's fabled links courses are added to their growing list of conquests.

With thoughts that the Kerry mission has been accomplished, they will be speeding off to pick up more prizes, their sites usually set on Lahinch and Doonbeg, located in nearby County Clare. If only they had lingered a little longer in Killarney they could have spent another night celebrating and played a couple of the three very fine parkland layouts that practically sit in town at The Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. But the prize catch was situated little more than 30 minutes away from Killarney, one of Ireland's most highly regarded and inexplicably, too often overlooked links layouts at Tralee Golf Club.

It's ironic that a links of this caliber, ranked among the British publication, Golf World Magazine's highly regarded, "Top 100 Greatest Golf Courses in Britain & Ireland" doesn't garner greater appreciation among American golfers. The Peugeot European Golf Guide lists Tralee as one of Ireland's best 10 layouts and any golfer who stumbles across this crackerjack, comes away with a nothing but respect, even reverence for it. Why Tralee doesn't share in the glory heaped upon Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville, remains one of the great mysteries of Irish golf.

Whatever the reasons for its low profile might be among golfers on this side of the Atlantic, the Irish don't buy them. Tralee was recently voted as Ireland's Course of Year by the trade association for Ireland's professional golf travel companies, a group who we must assume knows their own product intimately. And I can only agree whole-heartedly with the Irish - play Tralee just once and you'll discover what an outstanding links it is.

Tralee Golf Club has a history dating back to 1896, starting out with a 9-hole layout in town. There would be two more moves, each to new 9-holers, before the members decided that enough was enough, they needed their own course and it must be a full 18-holes. In 1980, a spectacular, 165-acre seaside site was located in Barrow, some 15 miles outside of town. The purchase was made and in a move that took the Irish golf establishment by surprise, our own Arnold Palmer was contracted to design a layout that would be memorable. With the mission accomplished in grand style, Tralee Golf Club made its fourth and final move to the new Barrow course in 1984.

The first thing that strikes the arriving visitor is the stunning good looks -- the vista is simply magnificent and comparable to the world's most handsome courses - Royal County Down and Pebble Beach included. But far more than just good looks, Tralee presents a challenge that similarly; ranks up there alongside the most revered courses on the planet.

During his prime playing years, Arnold Palmer was renowned for his creativity, imagination and perhaps more than a small dose of audacity. With significant help from Mother Nature, all of these attributes and more, come shining through at Tralee. This was Palmer's first design outside of the USA and most agree, even 26 years on, it remains one of his very best.

Measuring a shade over 6,900 yards from the tips and playing to a par of 71, the setting is sensational and the course as daring as could have been imagined for the rugged stretch of coastline it occupies. In many ways Tralee gives the impression of being two separate courses, rolled into one, with a front and back 9 that are as different as chalk and cheese. The first half is somewhat easier, though some may be disheartened to learn that it's still far from a walk in the park.

The opener is an exacting par 4, requiring a second shot that takes you to the edge of a precipice, one of several greens precariously perched overlooking the Atlantic... and the fun is only just starting. The second, a dogleg right, sweeps along the cliff-top; the third requires a short but frightening tee shot across rocks with pounding waves below -- and so it goes into the turn where the surroundings change dramatically and the real test begins.

The eleventh takes you into a strange new world of gigantic, wild sand dunes and Mother Nature comes to the fore. Wind and dunes combine with Palmer's devilishly formidable design to bring humility to even those who have never been humbled. This is no country for the faint hearted and only the brave will survive. This is the time when everyone needs to pull their A-game from the bag -- conservatism must be put aside and in order to survive, the daring spirit lurking somewhere inside us all, must be called upon.

The holes play across chasms, over ravines, between around and over dunes, the likes of which have never been seen before. Be especially wary of the Atlantic Ocean, which lies in wait, ready willing and eager to eat up any wayward shot as you once again maneuver along the cliff top. And constantly, the erratic wind, blowing as hard as most have ever experienced before.

When you eventually reach the comfort of the very welcoming clubhouse, battle worn and weary, you will have the feeling of not only having played one of Ireland's most testing links, but also perhaps of playing against Palmer himself. You will certainly have played a round of golf to be remembered for many years to come.

There can be no doubt that Tralee is more than deserving of its ranking among Ireland's very best and for that matter, the best in the world. Miss the opportunity to play the course that Arnie helped Mother Nature design and you will be missing one of golf's most inspiring experiences. For a few suggestions on how to include Tralee on your Irish golf trip, contact Golf International at 1 800 833-1389, or click here.

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

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