Nothing beats the Irish golf experience

October 06, 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.

You would have to search long and hard to find a place that has as much appeal to Americans, as Ireland. No country has stronger ties to North America, whether thru the roots of more than 40 million Americans with claims to Irish ancestry, or the strong links in commerce, culture and politics that have existed for centuries between ourselves and the island of Ireland.

Dublin's K-Club hosted the Ryder Cup in 2006.jpg
Dublin's K-Club hosted the Ryder Cup in 2006.
Ballybunion heads the list of championship links courses in the Southwest.jpg
Ballybunion heads the list of championship links courses in the Southwest.
Royal County Down is ranked Ireland's best and no. 10 in the world copy.jpg
Royal County Down is ranked Ireland's best and No. 10 in the world.
European Club is serious links golf for serious golfers but what a thriller.jpg
European Club is serious links golf for serious golfers but what a thriller.
Royal Portrush hosted The British Open in 1951.jpg
Royal Portrush hosted The British Open in 1951.
Ballyliffin's Glashedy Course is a treat for any connoisseur of links golf.jpg
Ballyliffin's Glashedy Course is a treat for any connoisseur of links golf.
Carne Links Course is the pride and joy of County Mayo.jpg
Carne Links Course is the pride and joy of County Mayo.
Waterville's rough is the real thing, thick, deep and unforgiving.jpg
Waterville's rough is the real thing, thick, deep and unforgiving.
The perfect ending to a day of Irish inks golf.jpg
The perfect ending to a day of Irish links golf.

The Emerald Isle certainly owes much of its popularity to the Irish people, virtually all of whom exude a God-given charm and genuine hospitality, unmatched by any other nationality. Perhaps one of the most likeable characteristics of all, the Irish never seem to take themselves too seriously, possessing an irrepressible sense of humor that has no equal, capturing every visitor's heart.

But Ireland is also a land with a rich history and colorful culture that stretches back to the very beginnings of time. It's a land of diverse yet always stunning natural beauty -- from the dramatically rugged coastline, and idyllic pastoral landscapes to the lakes, glens, forests and mountains. There are picture-postcard fishing villages, bustling country market towns and handsome historic cities, it's an ever-changing feast for the eyes and indeed, for all the senses. Ireland is a completely unique experience, to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest by one and all.

As strong as Ireland's many attractions are for practically every visitor, they are irresistible for golfers. The island of Ireland was made for golf, something the Irish discovered back in the mid-19th century, when they put their entrepreneurial spirit to work and began to fashion the first of what was to become one of the world's most envied collections of golf courses. Over one and a half centuries later the country shines brilliantly as the proud possessor of well over 400 courses, including almost one third of the globe's true links courses and more than its fair share of layouts ranked among the world's very best.

With such a prestigious inventory of courses, you might anticipate an accompanying sense of snobbery and perhaps, a somewhat less than friendly welcome for any visiting golfer, intruding on the members' space, but this is Ireland and nothing could be further from the truth. The legendary warmth of Irish hospitality is everywhere and never more apparent than in her golf clubs where each has a huge welcome-mat, permanently set out at the front door, no matter how grand or humble the club or its course might be.

There are simply no exceptions, whether its Ireland's highly regarded Ryder Cup venue at the K-club, sitting just outside of Dublin, world renowned Ballybunion in the southwest, or the island's very top ranked golf club, Northern Ireland's Royal County Down, the genuine heart-felt welcome awaits every visitor, is always here and the excellence of the golf is just a bonus.

This, after all, is Ireland, which marches to its own drummer -- golf is the sport of the people, informality reigns supreme and the congenial camaraderie every visiting golfer hopes to find, but rarely does in most countries, is not only always present, it's the centerpiece of Irish golf club life.

Are you convinced that Ireland should be the destination for your next golf trip? You should be, because an Irish golf trip will always be filled with fond memories enough to last a lifetime -- it will be a unique experience like no other.

If you have never golfed Ireland before, now is the time to start planning that first trip -- but be forewarned, one trip will never be enough and there are likely to be more, perhaps many more trips to follow, this is a country filled to overflowing with great golf. If you have played golf in Ireland before, then it's time to return and discover another part of this golf-heaven, where excellent, world-class courses are to be found in every corner.

Confronted with Ireland's banquet of golf there will be decisions to be made as to which part or parts of the country should be included and which courses should be played. You can't do it all in one trip and some will have to be left for future visits, so try not to overdo things, restricting yourself to only one or two hotel bases on a one week trip, or three or four hotel bases, if you are fortunate enough to be spending a couple of weeks in Ireland. Remember, the less time you spend driving Ireland's roads, the more time you will have to experience Irish golf, enjoy the sightseeing and get to know the Irish people and isn't that what your vacation is supposed to be all about?

Following is a thumbnail sketch of Ireland's principal golf regions, each containing its share of well respected, "trophy courses", together with a good selection of so-called, hidden gems, one or two of which are always well worth including on any golf trip. Each region offers fascinating sightseeing and all have an abundance of pubs and Guinness to help you wile away those après golf hours, with the opportunity to meet and get to know the locals.

The Dublin Region offers more than 30 quality golf courses, virtually all located within a 45 minute drive of any city center hotel and ideally suited to those who want to take advantage of a stay in one of Europe's liveliest capital cities with outstanding golf.

Among the many excellent Dublin golf options are, The K-Club, host to the 2006 Ryder Cup and consistently ranked among Ireland's top parkland courses; Portmarnock, arguably one of Europe's most challenging links layouts, The European Club together with the very special, Royal Dublin Golf Club are another two very highly regarded links courses, as is The Island and a little further north from Dublin, Irish Open host, County Louth.

Northern Ireland has enough world class golf to keep the most avid golfer more than busy for a month or more, but if you are looking for someplace to combine with a Dublin stay, tiny Northern Ireland, home to the top two courses in all of Ireland, fits the bill to a tee.

On every visitor's must play list will be those top two ranked links layouts, Royal County Down at number one and number two ranked, Royal Portrush, but Northern Ireland is much more than a two course country. Just a few miles from County Down is Ardglass, a delightfully testing links course and even closer to Portrush, Portstewart and Castlerock offer another pair of excellent links layouts. The capital of Belfast is surrounded by even more superb golf, headed by the prestigious, Royal Belfast Golf Club, the very first golf club to be established in Ireland back in 1881. All five of these gems call out to be played and if time permits, there are more that deserve attention.

But if you have itchy feet and are looking for greener pastures, it's only a two hour drive, along the coast, west of Portrush, passing thru historic Londonderry and back into the Republic of Ireland, this is where Northwest Ireland begins with rough and tumble, County Donegal and County Sligo waiting to show-off a different side of Ireland.

Northwest Ireland is a very special part of the Emerald Isle, where the Ireland of an age gone by comes to life. This is rural Ireland, where time passes at a slower pace and many of the locals still speak Gaelic as a first language. Golf in these parts is still very much undiscovered by visitors, despite a good percentage of these Northwest links courses being officially ranked among Ireland's best.

Experience the two championship links at Ballyliffin and even the most jaded golfer will only be impressed. Rosapenna is a pure delight and the lengthy links at Murvagh is nothing less. But don't miss Rosses Point or Enniscrone, a pair of links challenges that will test the most accomplished player to the extreme. The names may not be as familiar as in other, more visited parts of Ireland, but the quality of these Northwest links courses is consistently excellent and the surrounding scenery, some of Ireland's most stunningly dramatic.

Ireland's West Coast begins as County Sligo becomes County Mayo, a land of mountains, loughs, bogland and a coastline long battered by the Atlantic Ocean. Golf courses may not be as plentiful as in other regions, but the quality remains at the same, uncommonly high level. Base yourself in the charming, 18th century town of Westport and the best of the west's golf will be within easy striking distance.

The pride and joy of County Mayo is Carne Golf Links, located in the coastal hamlet of Belmullet, this is one of the last designs of the great Irish architect, Eddie Hackett and undoubtedly his best -- it's a true dazzler and a must play for every visiting golfer. Westport Golf Club, located just outside of Westport town, although sitting directly on Clew Bay, is officially a parkland course, but with spectacular views across water and mountains, provides another very special treat.

Traveling further south into County Galway, Connemara Golf Club offers a particularly tough links that will tempt every serious golfer. Give in to temptation and add this beauty to your constantly growing, "highly recommended" play list -- a thriller of a round is all but guaranteed.

The Southwest of Ireland and counties Clare, Kerry and Cork are synonymous with Irish Golf for good reason -- they contain some of Ireland's most fabled links jewels. Ballybunion, Lahinch, Tralee, Waterville, Old Head and Doonbeg are only the beginning of a seemingly endless honor roll. But don't overlook the parkland gems, especially Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, an Irish Open host, boasting three championship layouts. Chances are you will be staying in the lively market town of Killarney town for a few days and these courses are located only a few minutes from the town center.

If you come across a few course names in the Southwest that are unfamiliar, don't be deterred, this golf-rich region has a surprising number of excellent layouts that manage to fly under the radar of most visiting golfers. Among the courses to be on the lookout for are Dooks, Dingle, Skellig Bay, Ring of Kerry and Fota Island, each will provide an Irish golf experience to be treasured

No matter which parts of the Emerald Isle your travels may take you, very special golf will never be far away and the sooner you get that first taste of golf, Irish style, the sooner you will understand what a good thing you have been missing. Waste no more time and start planning your golf trip to Ireland, the land of a thousand welcomes now -- it will be one of the best decisions you have ever made!

Need some professional help and suggestions on how to get the very most out of your Irish experience, both on and 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.