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|Photos don't do justice to the cliffs and coastline of Old Head Golf Links in County Cork. (Courtesy of Old Head Golf Links)|
This must be an April Fool's joke. Or a writer on his fifth glass of Irish whiskey.
The fact that Ballybunion and Lahinch just missed being included in this story about Ireland's most scenic courses speaks more about the competition than anything.
Ballybunion and Lahinch are beautiful by every definition. Dunes and ocean views deliver serene settings of the highest magnitude. Lahinch even has a castle to serve as eye candy and an aiming point.
The truth is, gorgeous courses are a dime a dozen in Ireland. I could easily include Dooks Golf Club, the O'Meara Course at Carton House, The Island Golf Club, Carne Golf Links, Rosapenna's Sandy Hills, Waterville Golf Links, the Old Course and Glashedy Course at Ballyliffin Golf Club and others.
It takes a real supermodel to be considered what I'm calling the "Delicious Dozen," the prettiest golf courses in all of Ireland.
I'll start with my favorite. Tralee has it all -- panoramic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and beaches, cliffs that come into play on the second hole and castle ruins worth exploring behind the third green. The back nine offers up one epic hole after another.
I might catch some grief for this one because there are a few holes on this parkland playground that look like any American country club. But the stretch of the back nine along the River Maigue with the striking Neogothic Adare Manor in full view are unforgettable. The 7,453-yard golf course ranks as the final jewel in the crown of Robert Trent Jones Sr. It was the last major project on which he worked, opening in 1995.
Photos don't do justice to the cliffs and coastline of Old Head Golf Links, which occupies a 220-acre, diamond-shaped promontory that juts into the Atlantic Ocean. Its iconic black-and-white lighthouse sits at land's end. Tees and greens are cut so precariously close to 300-foot cliffs that only red ropes and signs that read "Do Not Pass" stand between you and a watery plunge. Golfers who don't like heights need not apply.
Blind shots make Royal County Down a wicked test, but players don't seem to mind because everything looks so stunning. The Mountains of Mourne and tumultuous dunes, lined with golden gorse and purple fescue, become a kaleidoscope of colors in the morning and at twilight.
The inland views are just as memorable as the holes hugging the Irish Sea. The rolling countryside of Wicklow is so scenic it is called the "Garden of Ireland." The European Club's wooden-plank bunkers -- a devilish touch by owner/architect Pat Ruddy -- add visual contrast but play oh-so-intimidating.
Another course cut from the "Garden of Ireland," Druids Glen has been called the "Augusta National of Europe." The Irish Open host from 1996-99 delivers immaculate playing conditions. The flora and fauna mix with water features to create some picturesque moments, especially on the back nine.
Golfers can see five Irish counties on a clear day from several elevated tees on the front nine at County Sligo G.C. The back nine introduces up-close encounters with Benbulben Mountain and Drumcliffe Bay. This landscape inspired the great works of poet W.B. Yeats.
Greg Norman's links has matured wonderfully since 2002. Doonbeg Golf Club is now more playable, a trait that allows golfers to cherish the setting along Doughmore Bay even more. Sixty-foot-high dunes line the first hole, a great first impression, but my favorite spot is looking down the beach from the 14th green back at the magnificent stone Lodge at Doonbeg.
The first five holes at Ardglass dance along rocky cliff tops above the Irish Sea. A clubhouse converted from a 13th century castle adds even more character to this unique 6,268-yard, par-70 course set in a sleepy fishing village.
The host of the 2012 Irish Open and the 1951 British Open continues to be an iconic tournament venue. The fifth hole on the Dunlance Course at Royal Portrush provides the best scenery, staring down the coast to the Dunluce Castle. The scene on the 17th tee is menacing, however. The fear of hitting into "Big Nellie," one of the largest bunkers in the world, is on everybody's mind during the backswing.
The opening shot from an elevated tee on the Strand Course at Portstewart reveals a rousing front nine. The club added new holes in 1992, a stretch from nos. 2-8 that winds through some of the Causeway Coast's most stunning dunes.
Like Portstewart, Enniscrone Golf Club also benefited from a major redesign. In 2001, British architect Donald Steel added six new holes through some of the largest dunes in the world. The ninth hole skirts Scurmore Beach. Feelings of grandeur can occur throughout the day.
July 16, 2013
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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