Ireland's Waterville Links: the Best of the Best

July 25, 2012
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.

The West of Ireland is a sanctuary for all the island of Ireland stands for -- natural beauty, Irish culture, history and tradition. There are quaint fishing villages, bustling market towns, intriguing ancient cities and of course, the friendly Irish themselves, who have always stood as an eternal icon of the Emerald Isle. And because this is Ireland, golf is everywhere.

Waterville's pure links layout is guaranteed to surpass your wildest expectations.jpg
Waterville's pure links layout is guaranteed to surpass your wildest expectations.
Pretty views can distract but the challenge demands full attention.jpg
Pretty views can distract but the challenge demands full attention.
Watervilles rough is the real thing thick deep and unforgiving.jpg
Waterville's rough is the real thing thick deep and unforgiving.
Sam Snead considered Waterville one of the golfing wonders of the world.jpg
Sam Snead considered Waterville one of the golfing wonders of the world.
Big-hitters be warned Waterville expects finesse as well.jpg
Big-hitters be warned Waterville expects finesse as well.
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From County Donegal in the northwest to County Kerry in the southwest, this dramatic coastline, battered by the sea and winds since time immemorial, is one of Mother Nature's most imposing handiworks. Ruggedly handsome, it's filled with bays and inlets, massive sand dunes, coves, peninsulas, offshore islands and stunning cliff formations, towering high above. Far below, the constantly pounding Atlantic Ocean, slowly crafts then re-crafts the shoreline as it has since the beginning of time -- dramatic land and seascapes are everywhere.

Beautiful to look at, this is food for the eyes and for any serious golfer, so much more. There's every sign this is perfect linksland - that rare geological combination of sea, sand and wind, working in unison for eons, creating a unique shoreline and the stuff true links courses are made of. And sure enough, along these miles of windswept coast are some of Ireland's and indeed the worlds, very best.

Golf wisdom has long said that wherever you find one good links, there will be others nearby and this is as true along Ireland's west coast as anywhere and no place more so than in the two southwestern counties of Clare and Kerry. This is home to some of Ireland's most fabled links - Ballybunion, Lahinch, Doonbeg, Tralee and Waterville - names that bring tingles to the spine of any aficionado of the Royal and Ancient game. Look beyond the recognized names and there are even more links courses - less familiar gems, each quietly demanding their share of attention too.

Base yourself in the bustling town of Killarney, or if your preference is for quieter surroundings with fewer tourists, the nearby, delightful small town of Kenmare, either town will put you within striking distance of much of Ireland's prized links golf.

You'll also be on the Ring of Kerry, one of the most spectacularly scenic drives any visitor to Ireland can experience. It's an inspiring area of lakes, mountains and amazing views of the sea, every turn in the narrow twisting road revealing a picture-postcard vista, more breathtaking than the last.

Starting off from either Killarney or Kenmare and about halfway into the drive, you'll be in the charming seaside village of Waterville, a favorite summer retreat for a host of celebrities during the 1920's and 30's. Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin among others, all discovered this very special refuge and the beauty, peace and quiet their hectic lives craved for. Waterville is also home to Waterville Golf Club, one of Ireland's most spectacular links courses.

Golf has been played at Waterville since 1889, but it wasn't until the early 1970's that an Irish- American, John Mulcahy, saw the potential of the area and the rather rundown, 9-hole course that was then Waterville's only claim to golfing fame.

Bordered by The Kerry Mountains on one side and the open sea to the other, this seemed the perfect spot to build a true golf resort. The great Irish course designer Eddie Hackett was brought in and work commenced. The end result, opened in 1973, has firmly established itself as a favorite with visitors and locals alike.

At 7,200 yards and a par of 72, Waterville is definitely a big hitters course, but unusual for a links, it contains no blind holes, virtually flat fairways and apart from the sixteenth, almost no doglegs. Does this make Waterville a boring layout? Hardly, in fact the great Sam Snead said of Waterville, "This beautiful monster is one of the golfing wonders of the world".

The opening hole has been specifically designed to build confidence and reassure the visitor. Step onto the second tee and you know things are about to change as you are confronted by Christy's Choice, the hole selected by Christy O'Connor Sr., as one of his favorite 18 in all Ireland, a 469 yard par four which tilts ominously from left to right.

The excitement continues to build and as you go into the back nine, a change in scenery and challenge as you are taken into a world of wild sand dunes. Narrowing fairways weave their way through and among the giant mountains of sand, demanding an accuracy lacking in many a big-hitter and bringing a small sense of justice to those who never claimed length as a strong point. Then it's out into the open again with blustery side winds coming in off the Atlantic to remind one and all, this is a serious links that shows little tolerance for the unskilled player.

Perhaps the most memorable hole in this chain of challenges is the 17th, a 196 yard par three and one of the most difficult short holes you will ever face. The tee is located a dizzying 250 feet above sea level and once you have absorbed the stunning views, the task will be how to navigate your tee shot of almost 200 yards over uncharted dunes. To finish the 17th with the same ball may be one admirable objective, to come off the green with par, a reward unknown to most.

What Waterville lacks in history is more than made up for in the unrelenting challenge it presents. Add to that the variety and complexity of the tests, the spectacular inspiration it offers throughout and you will agree, Waterville is well deserving of its ranking up there alongside the very best.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to include the best of Ireland's golf and many other attractions into your vacation plans, click here.

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