Discover the Emerald Isle
Ireland has a rich golfing tradition. Great courses can be found in any part of this green island. But the highest concentrations of top courses can be found in three major areas: Southwest, Dublin, and Northern Ireland. Here is a closer look at the major offerings in each region:
A trip to Southwest Ireland is special in every way. The natural beauty of the land, from the Ring of Kerry to the Cliffs of Moher, has bewitched visitors for centuries. The timeless appeal of the Irish countryside and shoreline is the perfect palette for classic courses like Ballybunion and Lahinch. But relative newcomers such as Tralee and Old Head have made their mark with bold designs.
The capital of Ireland serves as a welcoming hub for golf adventures throughout the surrounding region. From links classics like Portmarnock to parkland designs like the K Club, Dublin offers something for every golfer. Off-the-course, the city beckons with attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Temple Bar, and St. Stephen's Green.
Across the border in Northern Ireland, lie two of the titans of the British Isles: Royal Portrush and Royal County Down. In 2019, the Open will return to Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Royal County Down, not to be outdone, is generally considered one of the top-3 courses in the world in most rankings. Nor are these courses the only reason to embark to Northern Ireland -- other superlative courses demand the attention of discerning golfers.
Herbert Walker Wind declared Ballybunion, "Nothing less than the finest seaside course I have ever seen." For most, Ballybunion is love at first sight. The massive dunes (the largest in Ireland) promise and then deliver an exhilarating round. The new fescue greens are delight. The back-nine is as bold and beautiful a challenge as you will find anywhere -- especially the superlative 11th hole. No trip to Southwest Ireland is complete without it.
Just up the coast from Ballybunion lies its main rival - Lahinch. With a design pedigree that includes Old Tom Morris and Alister MacKenzie, Lahinch makes perfect use of its location among the towering dunes of Liscannor Bay. There is no more unique or fun front-nine in all of golf. From the opening tee shot, to the blind par-3 fifth hole, to the false-front ninth, Lahinch will have you smiling. The back-nine is no slouch either. Just pay attention to the goats. If they are milling near the clubhouse, a storm is brewing!
Old Head may be the most scenic course in the world. A headlands course that juts out of a peninsula hundreds of feet above the sea, Old Head features dramatic carries and as much risk/reward as any golfer can handle. The sea surrounds you on all sides. The clubhouse is new and striking. If you choose to look elsewhere for your post-round meal and drinks, the nearby town of Kinsale is a delightful stop.
Near the southwest corner of the Ring of Kerry, Waterville is a quintessential links course. It is hard to pinpoint a "signature hole" on a course that meshes so well with its surroundings. Nevertheless, our golfers enjoy its par-3s and par-5s the best. For many years, Watervillle was an undiscovered gem. Now that the word is out, come experience it for yourself. The quaint village of Waterville makes for a wonderful home base.
This Arnold Palmer classic ought not be missed. The front-nine hugs the sea as it runs over classic links-land. Make your score early, because the back-nine at Tralee will test even the most skillful golfers. Routed through a warren of dunes, the finishing nine offers sweeping views but demands precision and power. You won't soon forget the stunning 16th hole, aptly named "Shipwreck."
OTHER SOUTHWEST GEMS
The Southwest offers something for every taste and budget. From traditional links tracts like Dooks and the Cashen course at Ballybunion to resort courses like Doonbeg to parkland gems like Adare Manor, the choices are seemingly endless. We will custom-design a perfect itinerary to fit your style, budget, and time constraints.
Just outside of Dublin, Portmarnock is one of Ireland’s very best links. Although it dates to the 1800s, Portmarnock is a rare links built on an abundance of land. Consequently, the course has been able to be lengthened to keep up with modern technology. Stretching up to 7,500 yards, Portmarnock offers a fair, but firm test. The greens are among the fastest in Ireland and the final 5 holes will challenge the very best. Bernard Darwin opined, “I know of no greater finish in the world than the last five holes at Portmarnock.”
If 18 holes are not enough for your group, then play 20 at the European Club. This unique and thrilling layout is set among massive dunes bordering the Irish Sea. You would never guess that you are only 30 miles of Dublin on this bucolic and unspoiled tract. The par-77 (there are two extra par-3s) features quality holes from start to finish -- including five that directly abut the sea. Try to beat Tiger Woods' course record of 67.
Not far from Portmarnock (and only 10 miles from Dublin), The Island Golf Club sticks out on a peninsula bordering the Irish Sea. Golf has been played here since the 1890s and the course has a rugged beauty typical of the very best Irish links -- which it surely is. Founded by a group known as the "Syndicate" (who were peeved that golf was prohibited on Sundays elsewhere), their spirit lives on this club built by golfers for golfers. Not to be missed on any golf trip to Dublin.
OTHER DUBLIN GEMS
Golfers who can resist Dublin's pubs, restaurants, and cultural attractions have plenty of other terrific golf options. The K Club played host to the 2006 Ryder Cup and is a perfect selection for those seeking a parkland gem. Portmarnock and Golf Links lies adjacent to Portmarnock Golf Club and many golfers choose to tackle them on consecutive days (or the same day). This newer course has proven itself worthy of the name. Further up the coast, County Louth is an underappreciated gem set along the coast with a layout very similar to Nairn.
ROYAL COUNTY DOWN
Many golfers rank Royal County Down as the best course in the world and we cannot argue. Sited between Slieve Donard (the highest point in Northern Ireland) and the Irish Sea, Royal County Down offers spectacular vistas from every hole. But do not get distracted from the challenge at hand. The fescue-lined bunkers are both visually intimidating and the extremely penal. There are few better feelings than bombing a drive and watching it trundle down the tight fairways of Royal County Down. The adjacent town of Newcastle is a lovely seaside vacation stop if you choose -- like many -- to play Royal County Down again and again.
Home to the 2019 Open, Royal Portrush is set to make its mark on the rota. The golf world will find it a worthy and compelling addition. Both tee shots and approach shots are tested by narrow fairways and small greens. Several holes run along the ocean affording -- on clear days -- views out to the Scottish islands of Jura and Islay. The adjacent town of Portrush offers plenty of opportunities for a post-round pint. The course has been recently renovated and updated in anticipation of the Open. Now is the perfect time to enjoy this stunning links before the rest of the world catches on.
Routed between gigantic dunes, Portstewart has one of the most memorable front-nines in all of golf. The elevated first tee sets up an exhilarating ride downhill through undulating fairways. Although the back-nine does not feature the formidable dunes of the opening nine, the challenge remains the same. An exciting round that cannot be missed on any trip to Northern Ireland.
OTHER NORTHERN GEMS
While in the north, why not slip over the border into Ireland and experience top-flight courses like Ballyliffin (the "Ballybunion of the North"), Rosapenna (another fine legacy of Old Tom Morris), and County Sligo. Or stay in Northern Ireland and enjoy the 5-star Lough Erne Resort which features two courses including a magnificent 18 designed by Nick Faldo.