Leprechauns, Guinness and great golf: Ireland has it all

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December 08, 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.

Ireland is never far from the thoughts of any golfer dreaming of traveling "Across the Pond" to experience some of the best golf in the world and with more than one third of the world's entire supply of true links courses to be found in Ireland, why not? The Emerald Isle is not only firmly established as a golfers haven, but so much more besides.

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Lahinch has been compared to a roller-coaster ride for good reason.
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Old Head enjoys a stunning cliff-top location on its own peninsula.
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Rosses Point Links - Spectacular golf in the middle of Yeats country.
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Enniscrone offers rugged beauty and a test to match.
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Ballyliffin's Glashedy Course the pride of Donegal is a treat for any connoisseur of links golf.
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Northern Ireland's Royal Portrush - The only Irish course to ever host The British Open.
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Dublin's Portmarnock championship links belongs on every golfer's must play list.
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Druids Heath with sister course Druids Glen offers a 36-hole day to remember.
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This is a land of literature and fine arts; it's a country filled with history, culture and traditions and for many Americans, the country of their roots. From it's magnificent cities, intriguing towns and villages to its ancient castles and great abbeys, magnificent scenery and friendly pubs, Ireland seems to be blessed with everything, not the least of which is the Irish people, some of the friendliest you will ever find.

They call it the land of ten thousand welcomes and nowhere else on the planet exists a more congenial, good humored people, to whom heartfelt hospitality comes as second nature. The famous Irish welcome is everywhere -- from taxi drivers and shop-keepers, to hotel and restaurant staff, to the locals you chat with in the pubs, to the members at the golf clubs you will be playing. This is what makes the Irish golf experience so unique and pleasurable and why so many of us return to Ireland year after year. We all learn that it will take years, if not decades, to experience all of the Irish courses that call out to be played and twice as long to play them all just one more time.

Boasting more than 400 courses, Ireland is a land of golfing plenty. But not only is golf in bountiful supply, these are quality courses that can only impress and as diverse a collection as exist in any country. Only Ireland can claim the world's highest concentration of true links courses, those wind battered, seaside challenges, where Mother Nature has served as the architect in charge, taking centuries to complete her task. They occupy every nook and cranny of thousands of miles of rugged Irish coastline, each holding as stern a test of real golf as any player could wish.

But links courses are only the beginning of the Irish golf story. There are a multitude of other layouts that come in a dizzying array of styles and shapes. Some have been carved out of mountainsides, others through valleys and alongside rivers, while still others have been built around lakes, along cliff-tops, through forests and in historic country estates. There are championship courses ranked among the world's very best as well as hidden gems with names less familiar, but filled with character and spirited enough to push even the most accomplished golfer to the extreme.

No matter how you look at it, Ireland is a mind-boggling banquet of golf, so where do you begin and end a golfing odyssey to this land of golfing plenty? A few simple suggestions learned over more than 22 years of planning golf trips to the Emerald Isle, may be helpful, especially for the first-timers.

Firstly, don't overdo things by trying to include every championship course with a name you recognize. If you do, you will be spending more time driving around the country, checking into and out of hotels, than you will be playing golf.

Instead, take a map of Ireland and divide the country into 4 equal quadrants by drawing a line from north to south and another line from east to west. There is more than enough golf in each of these quadrants to keep even the most addicted, 36 holes a day eager beaver golfer more than busy for a full week, and then some. Extend your trip to 10 or 14 days and you can begin to think about including two of the four geographic sections on your map.

Secondly, don't limit your golf to only those big name, championship links courses, where you are likely to find more of your fellow countrymen than locals and the true Irish golf experience may be missed. Include at least a couple of layouts, whether links or inland, with names less known, where the locals play. It will bring another dimension to your trip and some very special memories. There are a few particularly good gems Golf International highly recommends, mentioned later in this article, or check with friends who have visited Ireland before -- everyone comes home with a "special find" or two.

Finally, do spend some time discovering the other Ireland, away from the golf courses. This is a charmer of a country, literally packed with history, glorious land and seascapes, intriguing towns and villages, all inviting exploration with rich rewards for those who take the time -- don't miss the opportunity.

The southwest quadrant of your map may hold the greatest appeal to golfers on their first Irish trip. This is home to some of the most famous names in links golf with Ballybunion, Lahinch, Waterville, Tralee, Old Head and the more recent addition of Doonbeg, topping the list. But there are many more, including some very special treats with unfamiliar names such as the stunningly handsome, Ring Of Kerry Golf and Country Club, an irresistible beauty with a bite that may surprise even the most seasoned golf travelers.

There's a pair of outstanding links courses on the Dingle Peninsula -- Dooks and Dingle, (also known as Ceann Sibeal) that shouldn't be missed and for those who may be looking for some respite from the windblown shoreline, two noble parkland challenges at Dromoland Castle and Adare Manor.

Traveling up to the northwest of Ireland, Rosses Point, Westport, Connemara and Enniscrone are the established links courses, though they are still relatively unfamiliar to American visitors. For those with a yearning for exploration, drive further into the northwestern tip of Ireland and some real links treasures lie waiting to be discovered. Carne, Donegal, Narin Portinoo, Rosapenna and the two superb links at Ballyliffin, may require a little extra driving, but they all provide plenty of rewards for the effort, together with a taste of the Ireland of yesteryear.

It's only a 20-mile drive from Ballyliffin to the border with Northern Ireland at Londonderry and the golf riches of the northeast quadrant of the island. Topping the list of Northern Ireland's must play courses are Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, two of the very best layouts in all of Ireland. Before tackling the best of the Emerald Isle, prepare for battle on a couple of the neighboring gems. Castlerock, Portstewart and Ballycastle, sit within a few miles of Portrush and each offers an excellent test of links golf, while Ardglass, sitting close to Royal County Down, does nothing less.

Continuing southward toward Dublin and the southeastern quadrant, don't miss County Louth Golf Club in Baltray, an amazing 100-year old links by the great English designer, Tom Simpson. Appreciated by every connoisseur of the game who ever plays it, this is one of Ireland's great unsung heroes, deserving of far greater recognition, but somehow manages to escape all publicity, remaining a true, hidden gem.

The fair city of Dublin marks the northernmost border of the southeast corner of Ireland and with well over 20 courses within a half hour drive of the city center, is really deserving of being a golf region in its own right. The K-Club of Ryder Cup fame, Portmarnock and Royal Dublin are among the established names, but even the capital city has its share of excellent courses unfamiliar to most visitors.

The Island Golf Club is a remarkable links that has stood within view of the city for over a hundred years and why this tough layout is not on every visitor's itinerary remains a mystery of Irish golf. The same holds true for another centenarian parkland course at Woodenbridge on Dublin's south side.

Journeying further south, yet still within an hour of the city are two outstanding inland layouts, Druids Glen and Druids Heath, both of which have taken a rocket ride to golf stardom since opening in 1995 and 2002 respectively. It's only a few miles further to reach The European Club, another relatively young, but frighteningly demanding links, now ranked # 4 in Ireland and a must play for any serious golfer.

Courtown, Rosslare and St. Helens Bay are three more unfamiliar names that all offer a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Ireland's unique golf experience in an informal, relaxed setting, where the emphasis is on the enjoyment of the game, rather than how well you may play it. And if it was the city of Waterford and fabled Waterford Crystal that brought you to the southeast of Ireland, don't miss the chance to play nearby championship course at Mount Juliet. This is a truly spectacular, vintage Jack Nicklaus design, where Tiger Woods won the WGC - American Express World Championship in 2002 and Ernie Els took the 2004 title. If Mount Juliet was good enough for them, it's certainly good enough for the rest of us.

If you have been dreaming about a golf trip to Ireland, isn't it time to turn that dream into reality? Put the planning process in motion now by contacting the Ireland golf travel experts at Golf International by calling toll free 1 (800) 833-13889 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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