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Ireland's popular southwest golf links are slashing prices, luring back golfers for 2010

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Tralee Golf Club - No. 13
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Golf courses in Ireland's southwest like Tralee Golf Club are offering discounts and 2-for-1 specials. (Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

If you looked into booking an Ireland golf vacation a few years ago but package prices were too high, it's about that time to check back in.

In the last 12 months, the Emerald Isle has seen a massive "reset" of prices at many of its hotels and golf courses, especially the high-end niche that has taken a especially brutal beating in the travel industry.

For over a decade, many of Scotland and Ireland's golf courses have raised their green fees 5-10 perhaps year-after-year, but the bubble finally appears to have burst. Golf packager PerryGolf estimates that the average package cost in Ireland has come down about 25 percent in the last year. On top of that, properties and packagers are scrambling to offer new incentives to book a golf tour in Ireland.

"The economic downturn is making all of us work harder for the money," said Gordon Dalgleish, president of PerryGolf. "And we have to be more creative with our pricing."

That creativity has led to the introduction of many different specials, from free replays to three-course package deals.

One of the greatest examples is the dramatic Old Head Golf Links on the southern coast. The course famous for its promontory setting with 360-degree sea views was asking up to €295 a round. This fall, it dropped to €160, which included a free replay. For 2010, Old Head will charge just €200 throughout the summer.

Two-for-one specials and package deals are popping up all over the coast now, like at Tralee Golf Club in County Kerry. One of the most incredible packages to come out of the southwest in some time came this October: a last-minute deal offering rounds at Tralee, Ballybunion (Old) and Waterville for just €290 combined.

Part of the reason the southwest links are so thirsty for visitor play is because the clubs have become dependent on that influx of outside cash, which is often used to upgrade the course and facilities and keep the members happy. The model is different in the United Kingdom and Ireland compared to most United States clubs. Members are willing to give up their golf course to visitor play on a near-daily basis if it means their dues will stay low and the money will be reinvested in the club.

"20 years ago, visitors were given little more than a wire hanger and a cold locker room to get dressed in," Dalgleish recalls. Today, the links courses on the beaten path of visitors have gorgeous facilities, which usually include full, plush locker rooms.

Famous Ballybunion is a prime example. After golf writer Herbert Warren Wind anointed Ballybunion as one of the world's 10 best golf courses in 1971, the club saw a massive increase in popularity and put the money to work. Now the club boasts a second 18-hole links designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the Cashen course, a full driving range, numerous practice greens and one of the most impressive clubhouses in Ireland.

There's even a helipad right next to the first tee for high-rollers.

Northern Ireland prices continue a slow climb; northwest value-gap reduced

Look to the golf courses in Northern Ireland and you'll be surprised to see their green fees haven't come down much. In fact, they're still gradually going up.

Enjoying a spin-off of tourism in recent years from the peace treaty of 1998, Northern Ireland isn't slumping like the southwest, which enjoyed a steady climb. In fact, Royal County Down is now asking £160 on summer weekends, up from last year's £150. Royal Portrush has also steadily raised rates. So don't expect to find any massive markdowns on Northern Ireland golf tours.

But being on the pound, American visitors will still find a slight discount given the current exchange rate compared to its $2-to-£1 in the first half of 2008.

Ireland's northwest clubs on the other hand have always been more affordable and have made a push in recent years to attract more American visitors to their spectacular links such as Ballyliffin, Enniscrone and Rosapenna. But their niche as the "value destination" appears to have faded a little now that the next door southwest links have scaled back.

Most courses in the northwest charge between €55-90 during peak times, but it's usually more expensive to get to these remote links compared to the southwest, which are all within easy driving distance of Shannon Airport, Ireland's cheapest and most convenient for those coming from America's east coast.

Northern Ireland and northwest Ireland don't appear to be scaling back their prices quite yet, so 2010 is going to be the year to take advantage of southwest Ireland at a discount.

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Old Head Golf Links - hole 4Royal County Down golf course
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Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.

 
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