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.
There's something about Ireland that never fails to capture the hearts and often the souls of every visitor. It's not a single attraction, but an almost magical combination of many different appealing factors that together and in just the right proportions, make the Emerald Isle so uniquely irresistible to one and all.
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An important part of the magic potion is the fabled warmth of the Irish people, with their spirit of fun and infectious love of life. No less impressive is the spectacular and amazingly diverse scenery, ranging from ruggedly dramatic coastlines to rolling green hills, majestic lakes and stunning mountains. There are large vibrant cities, bustling medieval market towns, delightful country villages and small fishing communities along the coast, simply oozing with charm.
Ireland is filled with a rich, colorful history reaching back to the beginnings of time, with an accompanying culture that is nothing less. From medieval castles and monasteries to the friendly pubs, traditional Irish music and folklore, Ireland maybe small but it's jam packed with a never ending array of intriguing things to see and do. This is a country with a huge heart and an even larger welcome mat that is permanently out for everyone and for visiting golfers, this is the Nirvana of your dreams.
With well over 400 courses scattered across the country, Ireland is spoiled for golf, but it's not only the quantity of courses, it's the consistently high quality of these layouts that will amaze. No matter whether your trans-Atlantic flight arrives in Dublin, Belfast or Shannon, there will always be excellent, world-class golf nearby.
But Ireland is far more than only golf - Ireland is an experience and something to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest, both on and off the golf courses. If you are taking this vacation to relax and escape the hum-drum of everyday life at home, look to Ireland's Wonderful West and you will discover the real Ireland of yester-year, together with a handsome collection of some of her most precious golf gems.
Extending from the rugged coastline and wildly dramatic landscapes of County Donegal in the north, to neighboring County Sligo, filled with early history, Celtic myths and close associations with the poet, W.B. Yeats, natural beauty is everywhere. The spectacular windswept mountains of Counties Galway and Mayo, overlook land inhabited for more than 5,000 years. Still rural, traditional and sparsely populated, low stone walls and peat bogs fleck the countryside as far as the eye can see. By contrast, the youthful population of Galway City, the region's fast growing university town, brings a vibrancy to the medieval streets, traditional pubs and smart restaurants.
Flanking the lower reaches of the mighty River Shannon, the counties of Clare and Limerick offer their own brand of Irish charm. Rolling farmlands, bustling resorts, market towns and fascinating strongholds dating from the middle ages, all have historic tales to tell. And nowhere does traditional Irish music thrive quite as vibrantly as in the pubs, cafes and other informal gathering places, surrounding the Shannon.
County Kerry marks the southerly point of this diverse region of dramatic, rocky headlands, jutting audaciously into the Atlantic Ocean and colorful fishing villages nestling in the shelter of small bays and coves. An outpost of Gaelic culture, poetry and music are intrinsic to Kerry life as is the great outdoors and sports of all kinds -- Gaelic football, hurling, rugby and especially golf. But it's the grandeur of Kerry's scenery, from the unspoiled Atlantic coastline to the Lakes of Killarney that has long attracted visitors.
Perhaps it's this magical blend of history and culture, heritage and tradition, magnificent seascapes and glorious countryside that makes Ireland's west so uniquely appealing, almost seductive. Add the legendary Irish welcome that only gets warmer the further west you go and you have the makings of a perfect vacation, whether golf is to be a part of your trip or not. And if golf is to be included, you couldn't have chosen better.
Excellent golf courses abound, including half of the top 30 layouts in the entire Republic. From Ballyliffin and Rosses Point in the north, to Enniscrone, Westport and Connemara along the Western shores. In the southwest, Lahinch, Doonbeg, Ballybunion, Tralee and Waterville are only the beginning of the impressive list of world-renowned links challenges that call Kerry their home. But it's not only the top ranked, championship layouts that tempt golf's aficionados to Western Ireland from around the globe.
One of the many great golf attractions of Ireland's West is the wealth of true hidden gems waiting to be discovered throughout the region, their names often unfamiliar to even the most seasoned international golf travelers. These are wonderful courses that have managed to avoid the spotlight and still fly undetected, beneath the radar of most visitors. They could be the real champions of Irish golf, those precious jewels we all hope to discover, but seldom do.
This is where a very special Irish golf experience awaits every visitor. From the hospitality and camaraderie of the local members, which flows so naturally in the clubhouses, to the enjoyable rounds of golf they are only too willing to share with a new found friend, to the after golf critique and story telling, all done over a shared glass or two. This is where lifetime friendships are made and your fondest memories of Ireland are formed. Perhaps only in the small clubs of Western Ireland are such things still possible.
You can get a wonderful taste of Western Irish hospitality at the Narin & Portnoo Golf Club, sitting on the southwest coast of County Donegal. It may have a strange sounding name, but this delightful club offers an excellent round of good old-fashioned links golf and as warm a welcome as you will ever find. The length of 6,865 yards would normally be more than enough for most mere mortals to contend with, but with the unrelenting winds that can (and usually do) howl in from the Atlantic unmercifully, it may feel a good thousand yards longer. Fortunately, a selection of tees, allows everyone to play within their game, but it remains a testy challenge for most.
Filled with variety, each hole presents a totally different set of problems and it's the player with the ability to use every club in the bag who will have the advantage as the track takes its meandering path through magnificent sand dunes. Totally unpretentious, Nairn & Portnoo is a no-nonsense, what you see is what you get layout, with some stunning vistas thrown in as a bonus.
Wildly good looking with an exceptionally high standard of maintenance, this is a beauty to savor and enjoy to the fullest, you never know when you might have the chance to play such a dazzler again. Just make sure you save enough time for a couple of drinks in the clubhouse and get to meet the locals - they'll not be shy about telling you where you went wrong on your round.
Carne Golf Links, located in County Mayo, is the home of Belmullet Golf Club, another gem where there's a large welcome mat waiting outside the front door. It may take a little extra effort to reach this extraordinary piece of golf architecture, but believe me; it'll be well worth it. Barely 17 years old, Carne made it onto Golf World's, Top 100 Greatest Golf Courses in Britain and Ireland listing just a few year's ago, but not in a modest, quiet way. It sky-rocketed from nowhere, immediately jumping into 43rd position, leaving Old Head, The K-Club Palmer Course and more than a few dozen other notables in its wake.
Audacious behavior to be sure, but for any who have had the pleasure of playing this magnificent links layout, the overdue acknowledgement of a masterpiece destined to rise much higher in the rankings was well deserved. But this recent success has not gone to the member's heads -- they remain as warm and welcoming as they have been since the club first opened in 1993.
And there are many more similar stories of often under-rated golf courses, eager to welcome visitors and the opportunity to show-off their courses and hospitality. They are scattered throughout the west, from Donegal to Kerry. Some may sit a little distance from the well-trodden path, but many are not, living un-noticed in the shadow of more famous neighbors. Seek these gems out and you will be well rewarded and learn why golfing pilgrims from around the globe are drawn to Ireland's Wonderful West, like bees to a pot of honey and this year there are likely to be more bees than usual.
Making the Irish honey only sweeter in 2010 is the astounding value Ireland offers at the moment. Not only is the US dollar riding a wave of sustained strength against the Euro (the currency used in Ireland) but after a few years of leaner times, local prices have also come tumbling down in an effort to attract more visitors. Hotels, restaurants, green fees, car rentals and practically every other element that is part of a golf vacation, are more reasonably priced than they have been in years.
Good things never last forever and as soon as positive results are seen from the price reductions, you can bet dollars to doughnuts, that prices will be on their way back to normal. It's the early bird that catches the worm, so act quickly and make 2010 your year to experience Ireland's Wonderful West and you could be rewarded with a very special travel bargain.
For a few more ideas on discovering the golfing treasures and special value of the West of Ireland, contact the experts at Golf International by calling 1 800 833-1389 or, click here.
©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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