EMERALD GREENS, 5 of the Best Golf Courses to visit around Ireland
If you’re a fairway fanatic then Ireland is your nirvana.
The Emerald Isle can boast literally hundreds of top class golf courses, many of them ‘bucket list’ locations where the quality of the 18-holes is matched only by the stunning scenery and warm welcome on offer – carry on reading…
So how do you chose which courses to play? How do you put together an itinerary that guarantees making the most of links land and parkland that has nurtured Major winners Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, and former Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley?
That’s where we come in. Check out EMERALD GREENS, our Really Good Road Trip for Golfers. With pick-up points perfectly positioned, we will demonstrate how a camper van tour for you and your golfing buddies can combine fascinating people, places, and some of the best golf on the planet.
Here are five ‘drives’ you really must hit. Ideal for a weeklong golfing adventure, they allow for two rest days (or you can easily add extra courses in the vicinity if required).
1 – By Royal appointment
Just one hour south of Belfast sits one of the most celebrated golf courses in the world. Royal County Down regularly makes the top five best golf courses in the world list, this stunning links situated in the shadow of the magnificent Mourne Mountains. RCD has hosted the Walker Cup (2007), Amateur Championship, and a host of other leading events.
Retrace your steps to Belfast and take the Causeway Coastal Route (officially designated ‘one of the world’s great road journeys’) to the second regal links course, Royal Portrush. The only course outside Scotland and England to host The Open Championship (in 1951), the beautiful and challenging Dunluce links will again host a Major when Rory McIlroy (who holds the course record), Darren Clarke (who lives nearby), and Graeme McDowell (a native of Portrush) join the world’s best golfers to battle it out for the 2019 Open Championship.
Just two miles away is Portstewart Golf Club. Although founded back in 1894, the Strand course could be considered one of Ireland’s rising stars. Recent updates to the course and a magnificent new clubhouse has seen the venue’s status grow, in fact it looks almost certain to stage next year’s Irish Open.
This north by northwest golfing odyssey continues with a course none other than Major winner Sir Nick Faldo actually attempted to buy. Just 60-miles from Portstewart on the Inishowen Peninsula is Ballyliffin (the most northernly golf course in Ireland despite being in southern Ireland…yes, we know its bizarre!). Chose between the meandering humps and hollows of the Old Ballyliffin links course, or the sweeping majesty of the Pat Ruddy designed Glashedy. Choice is also a feature of the final leg on this Really Good Road Trip…Rosapenna. Travel south from Ballyliffin, through Letterkenny, then north again on the N46 and N13 to Downings. One and a half hours later you will reach Rosapenna where golf dates back to 1891. With three courses to choose from, we recommend the testing Sandy Hills championship course.
2 – Into the West
Close your eyes, take a pin, and stick it in a map of Ireland and wherever you land chances are there’s half a dozen great golf courses within a few miles radius. That certainly applies to the North West and West, so we’ve tried to help out by selecting a top five. First up is County Donegal, or Murvagh as it’s known to most folk in the region. Designed by Ireland’s foremost golf architect Eddie Hackett, and re-modelled (with sympathy to the original design) by the esteemed Pat Ruddy, it is a long, but fair challenge and one of Darren Clarke’s favourite layouts.
Less than an hour south along the N15 through Ballyshannon and Bundoran is County Sligo Golf Club. Situated in the heart of Yeats country, Rosses Point is home to the West of Ireland Amateur Championship (one of the four leading amateur tournaments held annually in Ireland). Renowned Ryder Cup player turned BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss described ‘The Point’ as: “A tremendous test for the high quality player, and great fun for the modest competitor.”
Further west in Sligo, about an hour from Rosses Point is Enniscrone. With fabulous views of Killala Bay, it is another classic Irish links course featuring some particularly dramatic dunes. Avid golfers who have found themselves shaken and stirred by this breath-taking course include a certain 007, Sean Connery. A further 50-miles west, overlooking Blacksod Bay and Achill Island is a real hidden gem. Carne is perched on the Belmullet Peninsula, County Mayo (next stop the Statue of Liberty) and is characterised by undulating fairways and soaring sandhills.
The final course in our selection requires a 100-mile drive through the rugged and unspoiled landscape of the West. Connemara Golf Club may be off the beaten path, but believe us it is worth the effort. Built by the local community at the urging of local parish priest Fr Peter Waldron (in order to help a local community suffering economic deprivation) it features wide fairways set against the backdrop of the Twelve Bens Mountains.
3 -Swing by the ‘ring’
Loved by visiting American golfers, County Clare and the Ring of Kerry boasts some of the most impressive courses to be found, not just on the Emerald Isle, but anywhere on the planet. Unless you happen to have about 12-months to do nothing other than play golf, it’s well nigh impossible to choose what venues to play and which ones to bypass. We’ll do our best.
First up is Lahinch, just 32 miles north west of Shannon Airport. Included amongst the course designers is Alister Mackenzie, the man responsible for Augusta National and Cypress Point. Lahinch is an enchanting place to play, varied and intoxicating, it stands next to the beautiful beach at Liscannor Bay. Just over half an hour’s drive from Lahinch along the N67 is the Greg Norman designed Doonbeg. Owned by Donald Trump (you may have heard of him!), it may be a relatively recent addition to Ireland’s golfing portfolio but you will never be able to tell. A classic nine out and nine back layout; Doonbeg (or the Trump International Golf Links at Doonbeg to give it it’s full title) twists and tumbles along Doughmore Bay.“If I spent the rest of my life building courses, I don’t think I’d find a comparable course anywhere,” said the Great White Shark.
Two hours (including one short car ferry trip) will bring you and your campervan into County Kerry and the incredible Ballybunion Old. Almost completely unknown until the legendary Tom Watson arrived to play in the 80’s (as part of his preparation for the Open Championship), it is now an absolute ‘must play’ venue. The back nine in particular is unrivalled anywhere, and the opening tee shot (with a graveyard just to the right) one of the most intimidating in golf (just ask Bill Clinton who cleared the headstones and hit the road beyond).
Just 16-miles north of Killarney lies the fourth of our five picks. Tralee may be famous to many for the annual ‘Rose’ festival, but is also home to an Arnold Palmer designed golf course with ravines, plateau greens and mountainous sand dunes. Last, but by no means least, is Waterville. Sixty miles south from Tralee, this American-owned course and resort was initially designed by Eddie Hackett and renovated by celebrated American Tom Fazio (of Pinehurst fame). Located on a strip of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from Lough Currane, is a magnificent course with strong associations with former professional Payne Stewart (who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 199). Stewart was made Honorary Captain of Waterville in 2000, and the venue features a life-size bronze statue of the American star.
4 – Special ‘K’
Just 34-miles north of Dublin (east of Drogheda) lies County Louth Golf Club (or Baltray as it’s better known). Home to the annual East of Ireland Amateur Championship, there is no greater test of putting in Ireland. With up-turned saucer greens that are lightning fast and difficult to hold with all but the best approach shots, this is a short-game specialist’s delight. Relatively unchanged since Tom Simpson and Molly Gourlay re-designed in 1935 the original lay-out (from 1891), this was the course on which current Irish professional Shane Lowry announced himself on the world scene, winning the 2004 Irish Open as an amateur.
Less than an hour’s drive away is another of Ireland’s hidden gems. The Island (Donabate, Dublin) was once the preserve of Dublin’s rich and only accessible by boat. Today anyone can test their skills on a course that is natural and very much in tune with its surroundings. Possibly the best course in Ireland ‘you’ve never heard of’. In contrast, less than 11-miles away, following the R126, R132, and R106 is a course most will be familiar with. Portmarnock has staged the Canada Cup (now the World Cup), Irish Open, and Walker Cup (featuring a young Phil Mickelson). Any permutation of the three available nine-hole stretches will be both challenging, and rewarding.
Ireland may be famous for those hard and fast links land fairways, but it also boasts some fine parkland. The superbly manicured Druids Glen(County Wicklow) has been labelled Ireland’s Augusta, and when you set your eyes on the kaleidoscope of colour that is such a feature of this championship course you will understand why.
Finally, another of the ‘bucket list’ courses – The ‘K’ Club. Venue for the 2006 Ryder Cup, who could forget the emotional scenes as a Darren Clarke inspired European team triumphed just weeks after the death of his wife Heather? Built on the grounds of the Straffan Estate, in addition to the Ryder Cup course designed by Arnold Palmer, there is also a second ‘18’, a self-styled inland links (The Smurfit Course)
5 – Un-Cork the bubbly
Like the ‘K’ Club, Carton House has two top class courses, The Montgomerie and The O’Meara. Voted ‘Irish Golf Resort of the Year’ in 2014, Carton House has staged the European Tour’s Irish Open on no fewer than three occasions. Just over an hour away in Wicklow is Pat Ruddy’sEuropean Club. Ruddy, Ireland’s greatest living course designer, bought, designed, and built this magnificent links. He is often on site, welcoming guests and adding a personal touch to what is an unforgettable experience. Thirty miles south of Dublin, The European Club (despite only being in existence since 1994) is ranked in the top 30 courses in the UK & Ireland.
Mount Juliet is the only course in Ireland designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, it’s rolling parkland and lush fairways a contrast to the more traditional links. Venue for the 2002 WGC Championship, won by a certain Tiger Woods (his only Irish success).
County Cork too, is a golfer’s paradise. The first of our two ‘corkers’ isFota Island. Situated on a 780-acre estate close to Cork City, Fota has twice hosted the Irish Open (won by Colin Montgomerie and Soren Hanson). However, if it’s drama you’re after, we might just have left the best to last. Old Head (Kinsale) is a course that occupies a diamond-shaped piece of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean (close to where the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat torpedo in 1917 with the loss of 1200 souls). Mind you, don’t think of playing here if you suffer from vertigo. It’s like playing golf at the edge of the earth.