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Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle: Experience world-class competition and the best of Irish golf and hospitality

Clive AgranBy Clive Agran,
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Killeen Castle will host the 2011 Solheim Cup Sept. 23-25. (Courtesy of Killeen Castle G.C.)

COUNTY MEATH, Ireland -- After the enormous success of the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club, it's perhaps not surprising that the Solheim Cup is following in its big brother's spiked footprints and being held in Ireland.

And in selecting Killeen Castle, a comparatively new course just 35 minutes from the center of Dublin, the women would appear to be borrowing the successful formula that worked so well for the men five years ago.

Located near the picturesque village of Dunsany and overlooked by the ancient Hill of Tara, Killeen Castle dates back to the 12th century. It's enjoyed a rich history that in many ways reflects Ireland's fluctuating fortunes.

It fell into disrepair in the late 17th century and was not restored until around 1779.

In the 19th century, the ninth Earl of Fingal rebuilt it in the style of a small Windsor Castle and it was said to contain 365 windows. On May 16, 1981, the castle was destroyed in an arson attack and was abandoned for many years until the present developers began converting it into a luxury hotel and spa.

Although the hotel isn't finished, the golf course most definitely is and has been open since April 2009. A Jack Nicklaus signature course that measures 7,600 yards from the back tees, it was designed and constructed by the great man himself.

Set in natural woodlands and parklands of almost 350 acres, more than twice the average size of a championship course, water features prominently on nine of the 18 holes.

In keeping with the Nicklaus philosophy of working with the natural landscape rather than against it, the course features stunning stonework which was quarried from the site and hand-tooled by expert craftsmen.

Of his creation, Nicklaus said: "As the course designer, I am proud to be part of what is happening at Killeen Castle. It is phenomenal, what with the castle as a focal point. You have wonderful facilities to stage the Solheim Cup or the Ryder Cup in the future. It is a very strong course and will be nicely matured for 2011."

It has already witnessed competitive action at the highest level when the Ladies European Tour visited it last year to play the revived Irish Open.

The Europeans will have another chance to check out the course when the Irish Open returns to Killeen Castle at the beginning of August, just six weeks before the big clash, and when the teams will have been announced.

Enjoy Solheim Cup action and Dublin too

The bulk of the supporters of both Solheim Cup teams will be staying in hotels in nearby Dublin. There's an enormous choice that includes three-star hotels such as the Mont Clare and Harcourt, both of which are among Ireland's friendliest and offer well appointed rooms and a wealth of amenities.

The Burlington Hotel, one of Dublin's premier hotels, has no fewer than 500 bright, contemporary bedrooms. Right in the centre of the city there the five-star Shelbourne Hotel. A truly luxurious establishment, it overlooks St Stephen's Green, which claims to be Europe's grandest garden square.

The journey to Killeen Castle from Dublin will be very straightforward with a "Rail and Ride" service taking spectators there by train and then shuttle. Not far from the Pace interchange on the M3, Killeen Castle is also eminently reachable by car. If you're simply going to the Solheim Cup with no thoughts of exploring anywhere other than perhaps Dublin, there's really no need to hire a car as Dublin boasts first-class rail and bus services.

But the very best way to get about the city and soak up the atmosphere is to walk. O'Connell Street, the University or along the River Liffey, everywhere you stroll there's plenty to see. If you're not sure which way to turn, follow the brown "Historical Walking Tours" signs. And if you grow weary and thirsty, remember that in Ireland you're never very far from a bar!

Plan your Dublin-area golf rounds now

If you want to escape, there are numerous sandy beaches very close at hand and, of course, the city is surrounded by the most glorious green countryside. And it would be verging on criminal not to visit at least a couple of the fabulous golf courses that are liberally scattered around. You can book advanced tee times on Irish golf courses via GolfNow.com.

It doesn't matter which side of the city you are, you're never far from a top quality course. To the north there's The Island Golf Club. Although relatively unknown, it is truly spectacular. A rugged links, it hugs the estuary and winds its way through land strewn with towering dunes. Also to the north of Dublin is Portmarnoch Links. A genuine championship course on the water's edge, it was designed by Bernhard Langer and is truly outstanding with the last three magnificent holes creating a wonderful climax to the round.

Head west and you hit a great belt of world-class courses, all of which are within striking distance of the city. They include, CityWest, which was designed by European Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor Jr. and is bristling with bunkers and water hazards. Palmerstown House Golf Club has the feel of a beautiful country estate and is always presented in perfect condition. The K Club, with its fabulous stadium-style Palmer Course, hosted the Ryder Cup in 2006 and is a wonderful challenge. And two Ryder Cup heroes -- Colin Montgomery and Mark O'Meara -- each designed a lovely parkland course at the Carton House resort.

Head south of Dublin and you will come across another popular destination with two top golf courses, Druids Glen. Simply stunning, it hosted the Irish Open from 1996 to 1999 and was voted the European Golf Course of the Year in 2001. Its sister course, Druids Heath, complements "the Glen" perfectly, being a distinctive links with heathland-style holes overlooking the Irish Sea.

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Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.

 
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