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By hook or by crook: Golf in Ireland's sunny southeast

Zachary Michael JackBy Zachary Michael Jack,
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Dunmore East G.C. - County Waterford
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Dunmore East Golf Club in County Waterford boasts five holes with stunning ocean views. (Courtesy of dunmoreeastgolfclub.ie)

WATERFORD, Ireland - As Dublin turns drab in the ides of October, consider playing golf in the island's sunny southeast. Winter is a time when enterprising golfers follow the lead of Dubliners themselves and head down the N9 for ampler sun and easier tee times. A small city of approximately 50,000, Waterford serves as the best base camp for forays into golf-rich County Waterford.

Perhaps the best wintertime deal can be had at the family-run Dunmore East Golf Club on the bluffs overlooking the scenic fishing village of Dunmore East.

Featuring seaside golf along cliffs that, for shear drama, rival Pebble Beach's and at a fraction of the greens fees, the 18-hole, par-72 course boasts five holes with stunning ocean views, including the uber-challenging downhill 14th, at 200 yards a stern test played into an offshore breeze to the very edge of the shoreline. Shorter, but no less dangerous, is Dunmore East Golf Club's 120-yard 16th, where little more than O.B. stakes and barbed wire keep you and your short iron tee shot from a perilous but picturesque plunge into the North Atlantic.

Be advised, Dunmore East is not for the faint of golfing heart. Winter rules are likely to be in play from October onward. (Look for a sign at the clubhouse reading "Placing Everywhere.") The grass is long and lush, and the turf often soggy underfoot, making waterproof gear a necessity. On-course yardages prove difficult to find, making the Tony Jacklin "eyeball" strategy as your best on most shots. New and once-upon-a-time visitors to the Emerald Isle may be surprised to find their distances measured in meters thanks to the Republic's entry into the European Union.

Beyond the capricious and capacious winds, Dunmore East's defenses include plenty of out of bounds along the perimeter and, on the interior, low-growing, barbed semi-succulents (first-time visitors are often surprised to learn the Gulfstream supports tropical vegetation in Ireland) and the occasional flowering gorse.

Bunkers, poorly maintained and infrequently played, dot the golf course, but don't expect the turf-walled pits of the Royal and Ancient on this layout, which is decidedly not a links but, much like Pebble, a seaside track where fairway roll proves minimal and where undersized greens are better approached by air.

From the greens at numbers six, seven, and 17 and especially from the tee at the unforgettable 14th, look for the Hook Lighthouse far out on Hook Head, a dramatic spit of land across Waterford Bay in Co. Wexford said to birth the famous Cromwellian saying "by Hook or by Crook."

Waterford Castle Golf Club and Faithlegg

If manicured, parkland golf is more your bag, or if transportation to Dunmore proves a no-go, a short cab ride from the Waterford city center wait two mannerly alternatives for championship golf, the Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Club or the regal Faithlegg Golf Club.

Whether you tee it up or not, be sure to take the short, car-ferry ride across the strong currents of the River Suir to the privately owned, 300-acre island on which sits Waterford Castle and the 6,800-yard golf course designed by Ryder Cup competitor Des Smyth. Billed as "Ireland's only true Island golf resort," Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Club is long on romance and open to all for a pint of Guinness in the leather-upholstered lounge or for a jaw-dropping sneak peak inside the lobby and adjacent dining room. Paying visitors can stay and play at either the 800-year-old castle or the more modern holiday homes. For the a la carte golfer making a daytime visit to the Island, weekday, wintertime rates vary (don't be afraid to tease out the best possible rate at the pro shop), but can generally be had for under $50.

If a frothy round at the castle pub and the rhododendra- and azalea-covered parkland course leave you wanting more, make inquires at the clubhouse about the 3-Club Pass for additional, steeply discounted green fees at nearby Faithlegg and at the Jack Nicklaus-designed, top 100-rated masterpiece at Mount Juliet Golf Club.

The old saw that Irish golf is green and Scottish golf is brown holds true in Ireland's relatively lush wintertime playground, where romance, golfing magic, and, yes, sometimes even sun, unexpectedly abound.

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Former newspaper sports writer and editor Zachary Michael Jack is the editor of many essay collections on the environment and outdoor life. He specializes in writing about golf. Zachary is the author of "The Links of Evalon" and edited "Inside the Ropes: Sportswriters Get Their Game On."

 
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