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From Notre Dame football to Springsteen: Lots of reasons for an Ireland golf vacation

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
Lahinch Golf Club - Old Course 16th
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The 16th hole on the spectacular Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club. (Courtesy of Lahinch G.C.)

With a little creativity, any reason could be a good one to book a golf trip to Ireland.

A milestone birthday? Let's tee it up at Ballybunion Golf Club. A mid-life crisis? Getting older just allows you to move up a set of tees at Lahinch Golf Club. A wedding anniversary? As long as your non-golfing spouse doesn't mind you playing Old Head Golf Links without him or her. How about a special event already on the calendar?

Marty Carr, the CEO of Carr Golf Travel, said traditionally only the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup have a major impact on golf tourism in Ireland. Still, that doesn't mean you can't buck the trend.

"The Irish Open and the British Open don't have a big impact like the (Solheim and Ryder Cup) do," Carr said. "The other big events like the Titanic (festival) and the Tall Ships (in Dublin Aug. 23-26) don't, either. There is the odd round of golf around it. It might be the spouse trip where the husband goes to a big name course."

Ireland has had a magical run of tournaments to attract golfers -- the 2006 Ryder Cup, the 2007 Walker Cup, the 2011 Solheim Cup. Unfortunately, those were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that probably won't happen for another 20 years or more.

Those looking for an excuse to visit Ireland in 2012 will notice that the calendar of major events caters more to history buffs, sports fans and music lovers than golf fans. Spending a St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is a must, but frankly, that's not the best time to play golf.

Those golfers visiting Ireland on a family, couples or business trip or for a special event will find booking individual rounds much easier and affordable through GolfNow.com.

"The value of Irish golf is probably better than it has ever been," Carr said.

Here are some events to consider making this year's trip to Ireland transform from dream to reality:

Ready for some football?

What college football fan wouldn't love to go see the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on Navy at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sept. 1? The atmosphere at the "Emerald Isle Classic 2012" will be off the charts. The Irish know how to throw a party, and for one night, they're sure to fall in love with "American football."

Golfers could easily squeeze in rounds to play Dublin's finest links courses before or after the game. The most highly rated is Portmarnock Golf Club. Those on a tighter budget can still get the links experience at the nearby Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links.

County Louth Golf Club, also called Baltray, is both affordable and championship in caliber. For drop-dead scenery and the biggest dunes, the Island Golf Club remains the best choice.

A taste of Northern Ireland

The Irish Open is a regular European Tour stop, but its parkland venues haven't done much to attract a buzz in recent years. That changes in 2012 with the tournament's return to Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. The tournament will run June 28-July 1, a perfect time to enjoy summer golf.

This will be the first time Royal Portrush has hosted the Irish Open since 1947 and its first major tournament since the 2004 Senior British Open. The club famously held the 1951 British Open, the only Open contested outside of the British Isles. The Irish Open hasn't been held in Northern Ireland since 1953.

The Irish Open has struggled to attract top pros in recent years as well, but it's all but guaranteed that Northern Ireland's major champions Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will tee it up this summer.

Golf fans can score morning rounds at grand links such as Portstewart Golf Club and Royal County Down Golf Club and be back in the afternoon to watch some great golf.

Carr said Royal Portrush is hot right now.

"It is getting tight on the availability," he said. "You've got the Darren factor, and his kids play there, and the Rory factor, too. It is their time (in the spotlight)."

A Titanic trip

Put nearby Belfast on your short list of cities to visit in 2012.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic being built in the Belfast shipyards before its tragic maiden voyage ended April 15, 1912, killing 1,507 people. The Titanic Belfast, a state-of-the-art, interactive museum, will open March 31, 2012, kicking off the Titanic Belfast Festival 2012 that will last until April 22.

Belfast has emerged from the dark years of "The Troubles" to becoming an engaging city, even though the reminders of the problems between the Catholics and the Protestants still linger. A bus tour provides a fascinating look at the wall that divided the city and the paintings and murals that memorialize the victims of the violence.

Mixing music with golf

There are only a few bands with followers loyal enough to travel half-way around the world for a concert. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band is one of them.

The Boss will play at the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin on July 17-18. Dublin is one of the greatest cities in the world to hang out for a week or more. Tourists can explore the Temple Bar, a nightspot where bars and restaurants line narrow, cobblestone streets. Or you can go medieval by being naughty (a pub crawl) or being nice (a tour of historic churches).

The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin continues to be popular for the free pint in the Gravity Bar at the end of the tour. The bar, at the "head" of the pint-shaped building, provides panoramic views of the city.

Carr Golf Tournaments

Golfers who wouldn't dare to put down the sticks for a single waking moment in Ireland should consider hooking up with Carr Golf Travel.

Carr Golf hosts several great golf tournaments in Ireland, notably the 23rd annual World Invitational Father & Son Golf Tournament at Waterville House & Golf Links on Aug. 8-12 and the fifth-annual World Invitational Father & Daughter Golf Tournament July 9-12 at Doonbeg Golf Club.

The Celtic Couples Challenge Sept. 24-28 also offers great family bonding time. The Couples Challenge will tour the Southwest of Ireland, visiting Ballybunion's Old Course, Dooks Golf Club, Tralee Golf Club and Waterville.

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Royal Portrush Golf Club - Dunluce Course - No. 14Bruce SpringsteenNavy footballWaterville Golf LinksIsland Golf Club - hole 15

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 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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