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|Carton House may have the best 36 inland holes of any resort in Ireland. (Courtesy of Carton House)|
COUNTY KILDARE, Ireland -- The 2013 Irish Open was held at Carton House, a lavish and modern resort 30 minutes west of Dublin, in the same neck of the woods as former Ryder Cup venue The K Club.
Both are top-tier luxury resorts with opulent accommodations and fine dining, and the K Club is also famed for its excellent fly fishing. But those most interested in a golf vacation might lean towards Carton House. The two courses here, by Colin Montgomerie and Mark O'Meara, are easily superior to the twin works of Arnold Palmer that anchor the K Club.
Carton House's Montgomerie Course hosted the 2013 Irish Open and stretches 7,301 yards from the tips. The par-72 course is long and rolling, ambling over a blissfully home and building-free piece of wilderness, with the sole exception of grand Carton House itself -- hardly an eyesore.
A tough parkland test that foregoes trees for deep pot bunkers, its lush green fairways are flanked by high wispy brown rough and it often plays more like a links than a parkland design.
The bunkers are the key feature, positioned to challenge both tee shots and approaches using the prevailing wind, and the result is somewhat evocative of Royal Melbourne, another inland course with a distinct links feel.
The O'Meara Course at Carton House, which plays to "only" 7,006 yards, is currently undergoing a renovation to two of its outlying holes to prepare it for taking a turn hosting the Irish Open in 2014, and it will likely play longer.
It has a much more distinctly parkland feel, with many more trees, often shaping the individual holes, and more water, especially as it plays along and across the River Rye, with some stunningly crafted bridges spanning these hazards, a touch of Augusta in its beauty and grooming. But its collarless greens are still designed to be played with running approach shots if the golfer chooses, and seem almost painted onto the landscape, with nothing but shorter grass to differentiate them from their surroundings, making every approach shot a decision.
In contrast to the Montgomerie Course, the bunkers are much bigger and very shallow, easier to get in off the tee but much easier to play out of, often without any lips. Golf World magazine rated the signature par-3 16th, playing 111-180 yards over a lake to a peninsula green, among the 10 best holes in all of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
In every respect the Carton House is a luxury resort, and from the moment you enter the long driveway through a gate in the impossibly lengthy, high and solid stone wall that surrounds the entire 1,100-acre estate, you know you have arrived someplace significant.
The estate includes two full-sized soccer pitches, grass tennis courts, the golf courses, an elaborate indoor-and-outdoor golf academy, over 5 miles of mountain bike trails, angling, extensive walking paths and formal gardens, off-road driving, zip lines, and even a state-of-the-art obstacle course designed by experts from the U.S television series "Survivor."
While lodging and dining are quite pricey, as you might expect at a resort of this grandeur, golf is surprisingly inexpensive, with greens fees that never reach €100, even in peak summer season. Walking, trolleys and buggies (GPS equipped) are all available.
Carton House itself, once a grand private residence of the Earl of Kildare and now a hotel with 165 rooms and suites, dates back in its current incarnation to 1745, though the estate was occupied for some six centuries previously.
In the public areas at every turn there are high ceilings with extensive plaster reliefs, gold gilding, Asian silks, statues, original art, and all sorts of architectural and design details that would be virtually impossible to recreate today.
The guest rooms, most of which have private balconies, retain this same aristocratic air while being fully modern in terms of amenities, from the custom-made mattresses to the huge marble bathrooms with separate tubs and walk-in rain showers.
There are three restaurants at the hotel, including the fine dining Linden House, and another in the elaborate golf clubhouse.
Finally, there is the Aveda spa, one of the finest in Ireland, located in renovated stables that are separate from, yet still connected to the main house hotel. Facilities include full locker rooms and an extensive pool facility with sauna, steam Jacuzzi and a wide slate of treatments for men, women and couples.
It can be hard for golfing travelers to Ireland to justify forgoing the country's many great links courses to play inland. But if you do, or are simply traversing the island and want to take a break, it is easy to justify a visit to Carton House, which likely has the best 36 inland holes of any resort in the nation.
August 29, 2013
Larry Olmsted has written more than 1,000 articles on golf and golf travel, for the likes of Golf Magazine, T&L Golf, LINKS, Golf & Travel, Men's Health, Men's Journal, USA Today, and many others. He broke the Guinness World Record for golf travel and wrote Getting into Guinness, as well as Golf Travel by Design. He was the founding editor of The Golf Insider, and the golf columnist for both USA Today.com and US Airways Magazine.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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