Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on golf in Ireland by guest contributor Barry Ward.
By Barry Ward
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
Copyright © Barry Ward. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
(CONTINUED FROM PART 1.) If you’ve the time, you should wander up the west coast where the counties of Galway, Mayo and Sligo have links that impoverish adjectives. En route, though, you must pop into Lahinch, in County Clare, where Old Tom Morris laid out “the St Andrews of Ireland.” I could tell a tale or two about this grand old links but I doubt you’d believe me…. OK. How about a blind par three and goats that forecast the weather? Told you.
The west coast is one of Ireland’s premier golfing destinations and its list of courses will tell why: Connemara, Enniscrone, Donegal, Carne, Ballyliffin and Rosses Point, where dinner at Aunties is a traditional imperative if you effect an escape from the club bar.
Another word of caution, though: allow plenty of time for navigation. You’ll frequently find yourself in the middle of nowhere, where the only sign of life is a solitary sheep which appears equally lost. Whatever you do don’t make eye contact or she’ll never leave you.
Great golf aside, there’s not a lot of activity hereabouts where the next stop west is Boston, USA. So golf tourism is a vitally important facet of the economy and the appreciative locals do a grand job in making you feel welcome. It’s a glorious bonus to outstanding golf. I once went to Connemara for two days and was trapped there for two weeks. I blamed the sheep. My expense claim took a bit of explaining but fortunately my then editor was Irish and most sympathetic.
That’s a quick Cook’s tour of golf holidays in the republic and we haven’t mentioned the K Club, venue for the 2006 Ryder Cup matches, or Mullingar, the Midland’s gem by James Braid, or Tullamore, where they lock the clubhouse doors when you go in for a post-round Guinness, or Woodenbridge, now 18 holes but a delicious nine holer when the timber clubhouse floated away after a storm prompted the river to break its banks: they say no one noticed until the Guinness ran out.
Then there’s the Mackenzie-designed Cork that’s a combination of parkland, heathland and links; and nearby Fota Island, and Rathsallagh, with its exquisite hotel, and Adare Manor, one of Ireland’s premier golf resorts with a course by Robert Trent Jones Sr. I really have had a misspent life….
Ulster’s Links and Parkland Beauties
And then there’s Ulster, up north. An indication of the quality that awaits here is that the Irish Golf Union, which commendably governs national golf without recognition of borders, has little difficulty in identifying Ireland’s number one links: they simply alternate each year between Portmarnock Old, Ballybunion, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush. Easy peasy, although the European Club is coming up fast on the rails.
That said, you’ll realise that County Down and Portrush, where Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy are members, are both in Ulster which has only 100 or so clubs. Most are parkland, and some beauties they have, too: Belvoir Park, Malone and Royal Belfast to scratch the surface. But I have fond memories of playing Royal Portrush, neighbouring Portstewart and nearby Castlerock over one glorious summer week on the Antrim coast. It’s an incomparable combination of links.
Those who prefer tournament golf on holidays would enjoy the Bushmill’s Blackbush tournament, played each June over the links of Portrush, Portstewart, Castlerock and nearby Ballycastle. It’s a 72 hole teams’ event with individual prizes too and huge fun if you like cutthroat golf. But go with a thirst you could hang your hat on and be prepared for 12-hour debates and lots of singing.
There are numerous such tournaments each year all over Ireland, staged by the regional tourist boards in conjunction with the local golf associations. They cater for all combinations of teams, male and female, pairs and fours and they don’t cut corners on the social side, either.
Or you could take the Royal Tour, playing the Royal courses of Belfast, Portrush, County Down and Dublin, where you could meet with Himself, Christy O’Connor Sr. Now there’s a blue-blooded itinerary for you.
And if none of that grabs you I’m afraid it’s back to the dart throwing.
Barry Ward is a veteran golf writer and the publisher/editor of www.posh-golf-travel.com, a guide to luxurious, family friendly golf resorts and destinations. He lives in golf-gorgeous Rutland, England.
(Photo: Courtesy of ctoverdrive, Flickr, Creative Commons license)