Irish Magic, complete with leprechauns and great golf

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July 13, 2011
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.

They call it Ireland's Wonderful West, and even taking into account just a touch of Irish exaggeration, it's easy to understand how the entire westerly half of the Emerald Isle captures the hearts and often the souls, of every visitor. This is the essence of everything that is Irish - it's the real Ireland we all dream of.

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Ballybunion - the pride of Co. Kerry and all of Ireland is only one must play among the many.
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Ballyliffin - 36 holes of affordable, prime Irish links pleasure.
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Rosses Point in Co. Sligo demands attention.
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Carne Links evokes a dramatic, mystical quality that only adds to the thrill of playing here.
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Doonbeg Links reveals Greg Norman's passion for the game with an inspirational layout.
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Traditional Irish Music thrives in many pubs across the country and good-times are always guaranteed.
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The perfect ending to a day of Irish links golf.
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From the rugged coastline and wildly dramatic landscapes of Donegal, to County Sligo, filled with early history and Celtic myth, ancient monuments and its close associations with the poet, W.B. Yeats, natural beauty is everywhere. The spectacular windswept mountains of Galway and Mayo, look over land occupied for more than 5,000 years. Still rural, traditional and sparsely populated, low stonewalls 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 town's medieval streets, its 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 well 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 the glorious links courses at 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 golf 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.

Jam packed 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 with 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 12 years old, Carne made it onto Golf World's, Top 100 Greatest Golf Courses in Britain and Ireland list just a couple of year's ago, but not in a modest, quiet way. It sky-rocketed from nowhere, immediately jumping into 43rd position, leaving Old Head Links, The K-Club's 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 the trophy courses. Seek them 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.

The West of Ireland is indeed filled with Irish magic and even if you don't happen to catch a leprechaun, you can still share in the treasure he holds, which is the wealth of excellent golf courses that call this part of Ireland home.

For more ideas and suggestions on including some Irish magic in your trip, whether on or off the golf courses, contact the Ireland experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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