Dublin has it all, including spectacular links golf

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October 22, 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.

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The Island - 120 years old only 15 minutes from Dublin and still unknown to most.
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Royal Dublin - one of Ireland's most prestigious golf clubs always has the welcome mat out for visitors.
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Serious bunkering and blustery winds make every round on Royal Dublin an adventure.
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Royal Dublin's impressive club house is one of the most hospitable you will ever find.
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Portmarnock Golf Club dates from 1894 and boasts one of the world's finest links.
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Portmarnock reigns supreme over Dublin's golf.
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Portmarnock's 15th hole with Dublin in the background.
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Portmarnock's championship links belongs on every golfer's must play list.
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Any golfer who has not yet experienced links golf for themselves, doesn't know what real golf is all about, but things can change very quickly once that first links course has been played. The thrill of battling not only the course, but Mother Nature and the elements as well, is all but guaranteed to convince even the most jaded player that they have discovered the Holy Grail of golf and they will be addicted -- links golf is that special.

Nowhere is this unique links appeal quite as special as in Ireland, home to almost one third of the world's entire inventory of links layouts, including more than a fair share of the world's best. If you are yet to be introduced to the wonders of the links, there could be no better place for an initiation than Ireland and the capital city of Dublin.

Dublin is a rarity among European cities -- not only is it filled with a rich history and culture, excellent shopping, wonderful restaurants and an amazing collection of over 800 pubs, its also surrounded by more than 30 excellent golf courses- and they all welcome visitors! It's a diverse collection of top-ranked, inland and seaside links courses that have hosted many of the most prestigious tournaments, including The Ryder Cup, The Irish Open, The Walker Cup and next year, The Solheim Cup - and most of these courses sit within a 20-minute drive of the city center.

With links golf on your mind and almost 20 links courses to choose from, choices will have to be made and the following trio should each be strong contenders for your attention.

The Island Golf Club and its magnificent links course have been sitting in the same location, just a scant 12 miles from the heart of Dublin, for well over a century, yet despite its proximity to the capital, the course remains unknown to most visiting golfers.

This is a good old fashioned links that saw its first light of day back in 1890, though nobody seems to be too sure who was responsible for the original design. It sits on a slim peninsula of land that defiantly separates the Irish Sea from the waters of Broadmeadow Estuary, just to the north of the city.

Not quite an island, the sea and estuary surround the course on three, almost three and a half sides, creating the ideal linksland, with the Island Golf Club as its sole tenant. Gigantic sand dunes, fast running fairways filled with undulations, small fast greens and a blustery wind blowing in from The Irish Sea complete the picture. This is old fashioned links golf at its best and one for the memory book.

Until 1990, the course had an abundance of blind holes, a fact that irritated many of the local members, so in its centenary year, with the able assistance of English architect Fred Hawtree and the great Irish designer, Eddie Hackett, modifications were made, resulting in today's brilliant layout.

Reminicent of a crusty, West of Ireland links, or even the toughest of Scotland's seaside layouts, The Island delivers a real links test -- unforgiving but always fair. This is one to delight even the most experienced links aficionado, so if you miss this beauty, you will be missing a real treat.

Royal Dublin Golf Club was founded in 1885 and is one of Ireland's oldest and most prestigious clubs. Located on Bull Island, a nature reserve set in Dublin Bay, only a brief 3 miles from Dublin, the original course design was by the renowned British architect, Harry S. Colt.

During the past few years, noted designer, Martin Hawtree, has undertaken improvements to Royal Dublin, bringing it to modern-day standards and a true championship length of 7,250 yards from the back tees. There has also been some aggressive sharpening of Royal Dublin's teeth with additional contouring of the greens and some special work on the five closing holes, sometimes criticized in the past as being anti-climactic. The critics have been quelled, unless they start complaining the finish is now too tough!

Improving on the work of a genius can never be easy, but Hawtree has managed to succeed and with flying colors. The Royal Dublin of today stands shoulder to shoulder with the very best on the Emerald Isle.

It's a classic, out and back layout, reminiscent of a top Scottish links, not often found in Ireland. The exposed, island location is relatively flat, making the wind, always unpredictable, a particularly important factor, complicated further by narrow fairways and extensive stretches of out-of bounds -- accurate drives are demanded.

Generally the front nine plays down-wind, making the back nine much more difficult, though bear in mind, the swirling winds coming off Dublin Bay are always cantankerous and defy generalizations. Nothing about Royal Dublin is easy or to be taken for granted. If you don't do well on the front-nine, nothing short of a miracle will help you on the back, which at best is a very stiff test, even for the professionals and at worst, a pending disaster for mere mortals.

Royal Dublin is an especially strong links and it would be difficult for even the most ardent links connoisseur to find fault, but there are several aspects to the course that deserve special mention, not the least of which is the bunkering, a Harry Colt specialty.

The greenside bunkers are set perfectly, almost to the extent of being deviously so, visitors will likely spend more time than planned, extricating themselves from these dangerously deep, steep-faced monsters. Miss the greens and you are all but guaranteed to find a bunker. Even an approach shot that lands on the putting surface, but doesn't hold, is seemingly sucked into yet another bottomless pit.

The fairway bunkers are only slightly kinder, but don't expect anything like the pussy-cat fairway traps of home -- those slight indentations that serve more as decoration than a hazard. With any Harry Colt design, nothing is built into a course without a purpose and the purpose is always the same - to make players think and execute, then add a few more strokes to the scorecards of those who don't.

Adding even more spice to Royal Dublin's challenge is a meandering stream that comes into play on more than one occasion, serious rough that must be avoided at any cost and a couple of blind drives. There's no question this is an exceptionally demanding examination of links golf that will keep any player on their toes from the opening tee, through the 19th hole. To conquer it you will need the precision of a brain surgeon, the ability to use every club in the bag, putting skills and a good short game. If you also have a sense of humor, make sure you bring it along as well, it can only help.

Portmarnock Golf Club may give the impression of being a plain Jane of a golf course. It lacks the spectacular sand dunes of Ballybunion and has neither the dramatic cliff-top setting of Portrush nor the majestic backdrop of Royal County Down's, Mountains of Mourne. At first glance Portmarnock appears to be relatively flat, perhaps even boring. The views are generally uninspiring and you may well start wondering what all the fuss is about. But as the saying goes, beauty is only skin deep and looks can be very deceiving.

What Portmarnock lacks in physical beauty, it more than makes up for with character, intelligence and pure integrity. This is one of the fairest links courses in existence with hardly a blind shot to be found. There is no trickery and no unpleasant surprises, just an honest to goodness test made all the more difficult by the typical wind, blowing in off Dublin Bay. Expert bunkering, superb greens and rough that is to be avoided at all costs, makes Portmarnock true links golf at its most impressivet.

There are good reasons why this has been the selected site for more professional tournaments than any other course in Ireland. It has hosted The Irish Professional Championship more than half a dozen times; The Irish Amateur on 11 occasions; The Walker Cup and The World Cup. In 2003, Ireland's premiere golfing event, The Irish Open, returned to Portmarnock for the 13th occasion. No course in Ireland holds more impressive credentials.

Many thought Portmarnock should have been the Irish course to host Ireland's Ryder Cup in 2006 and it's a great pity, perhaps even an injustice that it wasn't. But good guys don't necessarily come in first and it was a downright shame when Portmarnock, the best course in the Republic, was ignored.

Situated a short 20 minutes drive north of Dublin, Portmarnock occupies a narrow, flat peninsula, jutting into Dublin Bay. Surrounded by water on three sides, it is very much subject to the temperamental moods of the winds coming in from the Irish Sea. From a soft sea breeze to stiff 20-mile an hour plus winds, the changes you are likely to encounter in a single round can confuse and bewilder the inexperienced links golfer, but for those more accustomed to this kind of golf, the challenge is taken to new heights.

The championship course measures over 7,000 yards from the back tees, but the visitor will not have to be confronted by quite such a monster. The more than healthy 6,800 yards you will be faced with, is only a little easier and more than enough for most. I highly recommend that you not attempt to tackle Portmarnock's test until later in your trip, after the opportunity to prepare yourself on a few challenges that are somewhat more lenient.

From the relatively gentle opening three holes, the fourth presents a change of direction and the beginning of the real test. It gets no easier from here on in and it will be essential to avoid the rough, which at times is waist high and totally unforgiving.

On the front nine, the par-5 sixth and par-4 eighth are truly outstanding. On the back, the 14th was described by Henry Cotton as one of the greatest par fours in golf and the 15th received similar accolades from Ben Crenshaw who considered it to be the best short hole on earth. Hopefully by the time you reach this point in your round you are prepared for the closing trio, one of the strongest combinations of finishing holes you will ever be faced with.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to include more of Ireland's top courses in your trip, contact the Ireland experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 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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