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Ten reasons to plan a golf trip to southwest Ireland

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
Tralee G.C. in Ireland - hole 16 green
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Tralee Golf Club in County Kerry is among southwest Ireland's modern classics. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

Southwest Ireland is the most desired destination for golfers heading to the Emerald Isle.

It's a simple, six-hour overnight flight from New York to Shannon, a small airport easy to navigate. The links courses there are legendary places (Lahinch and Ballybunion) with modern classics such as Doonbeg and Tralee thrown in. The parkland golf courses at Adare Manor, the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club and Fota Island have all hosted the Irish Open.

Off the course, the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry and Blarney Castle remain three of Ireland's top attractions. Be warned, though: The southwest tends to be wetter than the rest of island. Be sure to pack your rain gear.

Here are the 10 reasons to plan the ultimate golf trip to southwest Ireland:

Legendary links

Ballybunion Golf Club's Old Course starts off with the first fairway adjacent to a cemetery. The carnage on the scorecard comes later, when golfers enter the maze of massive dunes for the rest of the round.

The quirks of links golf comes to life at back-to-back par 3s on the back nine. Downwind, the short 14th hole can be had with a wedge. Turning around into the gale, the tee shot at No. 15 might command driver.

Lahinch Golf Club's Old Course has roots dating back to Old Tom Morris in 1894 and Dr. Alister MacKenzie in 1927, but a redesign by Martin Hawtree completed in 2003 brought the 6,950-yard club up to modern standards.

Blind shots at the magical Klondyke and Dell holes have withstood the passage of time. The 475-yard, par-5 fourth requires a blind second shot over Klondyke Hill. Old Tom conceived the Dell hole, the 154-yard fifth, featuring a sunken green in a bowl surrounded by dunes.

Luxurious resorts

The Lodge at Doonbeg near Lahinch straddles the line between over-the-top elegance while still honoring humble Irish traditions. The crackling fire that greets visitors in the lobby burns peat logs, done by local farmers for generations.

The accommodations range from mammoth suites with private upstairs bedrooms to separate links cottages just a short walk away. The Greg Norman-designed Doonbeg Golf Club has been softened over the years into a scenic retreat along the beach. Treasured moments come from navigating blind shots, avoiding the bunker in the middle of the 12th green and hitting the sliver of a green at the 100-yard 14th hole.

Doonbeg's Lodge was built to look like it's been there forever, but the 62-room Adare Manor, finished in 1862 after 30 years of construction, is the real historic treasure. The manor was designed as a "Calendar House" with 365 stained-glass windows for each day of the year, 52 chimneys for each week of the year, seven pillars in the lobby for the days of the week and four towers for each of the seasons. The service and setting within these walls is second to none.

Architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. made great use of the Manor House and River Maigue for aesthetic purposes at Adare Manor Golf Club, especially to finish the round. The river forces golfers to cringe at the par-4 15th hole and the par-5 finishing hole.

Castle comforts

Staying at the Dromoland Castle, just minutes from the Shannon Airport, feels like taking a time machine back to the Middle Ages with modern comforts.

The castle, dating back a thousand years before it was revamped into a hotel in 1962, was named one of the top 25 golf hotels outside of the United States by Golf Digest. The rooms are spacious, modern and inviting, not drafty and dreary like most ancient castles.

Wander down long hidden hallways to peruse paintings of the O'Brien family and the castle decor. A sparkling spa and a parkland course rated among the top 25 in Ireland complete an A-list of amenities.

Feel the Payne at Waterville

Waterville, one of more remote links in Ireland, paid tribute to the tragic death of Payne Stewart by erecting a statue in his honor.

Stewart fell in love with Waterville, a small fishing village that loves its links, too. Tom Fazio redesigned the course in 2006, cementing its status among the top 20 links in the world.

Stay at the nearby Waterville House & Golf Links, a four-star, 18th-century manor house, for a true Irish golf experience.

Delightful discoveries

If they were anywhere else in the world, the courses at Dooks Golf Club and Tralee Golf Club would be considered the darlings of the destination. In southwest Ireland, they sometimes get tossed aside when itineraries are made.

Don't make that mistake. Dooks has a low-key vibe on a world-class stage on the shores of Dingle Bay in the shadow of the Dingle Mountains. Tralee, Arnold Palmer's first design in Europe, is even more photogenic with the back nine among the best loops in all of Ireland.

Parkland pleasures

Killarney Golf & Fishing Club and Fota Island Golf Club, near Cork, are the biggest golf clubs in Ireland with 54 holes each.

The Killeen course, host of the 2010 and 2011 Irish Open, leads the way in Killarney, although Lackbane, opened in 2000, and Mahony's Point, opened in 1939, uphold the club's standards of solid golf with excellent playing conditions.

The Killeen House Hotel, just five minutes from the courses, treats golfers like family. Fota Island's original Deerpark course hosted the Irish Open in 2001 and 2002.

Wild weather

I once played Doonbeg in a four-club wind where half my group walked in after nine holes. Another time, I saw so much rain at Waterville I could relate to the club's name.

Wild weather is just part of the experience of playing in Ireland. Always bring a full rain suit and a good attitude when playing links golf, no matter which month you visit.

If you catch a nasty day, just trudge on, finish your round and retell the tale that will grow taller as you get older.

Wonderful walks with caddies

One of the great joys of links golf is that most courses require you to walk, unless you have received permission from the club in advance.

With blind shots, howling winds and ball-grabbing fescue, it's best to take a caddie on a links. You'll score better and enjoy the round more. Local caddies can be great company, telling stories of their most famous and worst customers.

Ride the Ring

Tourists choose two ways to explore the Ring of Kerry, a circular network of roads in County Kerry.

Some say a bus tour is the most stress-free way to cover all 179 kilometers. Others believe the trail, which starts from Killarney and moves around the Iveragh Peninsula, is best done at a leisurely pace on your own. It's loaded with scenic outposts, castles, churches and curious stops.

More tourist attractions

The Cliffs of Moher, just 10 minutes north of Lahinch, stretch more than five miles along the coast, dropping more than a tenth of a mile to the Atlantic Ocean below. They are strikingly beautiful.

Kissing the Blarney Stone, a bluestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle near Cork, endows "the gift of gab." Use this new-found talent to brag about what is sure to be a wonderful trip to the Emerald Isle.

More photos

Lahinch Golf Club Old Course: The DellDoonbeg Golf ClubAdare Manor Hotel and Golf ResortOld Course at Ballybunion - hole 1 - cemetery

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Old Head

    mikebrassil wrote on: Jan 17, 2014

    I agree with the above, Old head is a must play if visiting the South West.
    Also of note, Ceann Sibeal aka Dingle links, a little off the beaten track and admittedly not in the upper echelons of the aforementioned links masterpieces at Tralee,Ballybunion,Lahinch.Dooks,Waterville and Old Head.
    Don't forget the Cashen course at Ballybunion which is a great course in its own right in no way overshadowed by it illustrious elder sibling.



    sandra nyhan wrote on: Jan 21, 2012

    It would be remiss not to mention the 'hidden gem' that is the unique 9 holes of Castlegregory Golf Links which is situated just 20 minutes from Tralee. Surrounded by sea, lake and over-looked by the magnificence of Mt. Brandon, it is a pleasure awaiting the discerning visitor to Kerry.


  • Old Head?

    NJ Golfer wrote on: Aug 9, 2011

    How can you miss mentioning Old Head on a trip to southwest Ireland? True it might be more "south" than "west," but going to Old Head and staying in Kinsale should not be missed on any trip to this area. The 3-4 hour drive is well worth it.