Royal County DownGOLF IN IRELAND

Golf on the Emerald Isle: Irish hospitality and world-class links courses an unbeatable mix

By Brandon Tucker,
Senior Writer

Long gone are the days of Ireland playing second fiddle to its neighbor to the northeast and birthplace of golf, Scotland, as a links golf destination.

Today, the Emerald Isle features dozens of world-class links for the touring golfer and countless other local favorites - not to mention warm, hospitable B&B's on every corner. There's no mistaking Irish hospitality - making the incredible links golf all that more appealing. The coastal dunesland in most areas is often more rugged than Scotland and England's coastline, making the visuals and shot-making all that more exciting.

The southwest coast is Ireland's most popular tour, featuring the country's most visited links golf course, Ballybunion. Other 19th century gems Lahinch Golf Club and Waterville, coupled with modern marvels set on unspoiled links land Doonbeg Golf Club, Tralee Golf Club and Old Head Golf Links make for one of golf's must-play treks.

The Midlands region on the east coast, encompassing Ireland's capital city Dublin, features a destination ideal for those who want to stay near the action of a vibrant, metropolitan city, filled with pubs, sights and music. Ryder Cup host the K Club makes for one of Europe's most upscale parkland resorts, and links like the European Club, Royal Dublin Golf Club and Portmarnock Golf Club are all within an easy drive of the city center.

Peaceful for about a decade, Northern Ireland has re-emerged as a golf hotspot, now that "the troubles" have simmered. 2007 Walker Cup host Royal County Down and Ireland's only British Open venue Royal Portrush Golf Club make for a one-two punch that can't be beat anywhere in the world, complimented with lesser-known links like Portstewart Golf Club, Portsalon Golf Club, Castlerock Golf Club and Ardglass Golf Club.

The scenic A2 Coastal Route along the northeast coast is one of the world's great coastal roads, passing natural wonders like Giant's Causeway, ancient ruins like Dunluce Castle - and the world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery, Bushmills near Portrush. Although Northern Ireland is in the United Kingdom, it remains closely tied to the rest of Ireland - and there are no customs along the border, only a handful of currency exchange stands. Like the rest of the U.K., Northern Ireland uses the British Pound, while the rest of Ireland is on the Euro.

The rural Northwest coast is rapidly growing as force in the golf market, offering an incredible value on courses far less trafficked than that of the nearby southwest. The courses here are all less than half the cost of most other championship links in Isles. Ballyliffin features two remote links that are Ireland's northernmost and seemingly at the edge of the world. Rosapenna, Enniscrone, Co. Sligo and Connemara make for a tour of hidden gems that are easy to book at the last minute and leave you with plenty of Euros to spend at the pub that night. The secret is getting out in the Northwest. West Knock Airport began offering non-stop service through FlyGlobeSpan to Boston in the summer of 2007, and Jack Nicklaus is currently building two links at St. Patrick's Golf Links near Carrigart.

Ireland is a small enough island that ambitious touring groups can see everything from Royal Portrush to Old Head in one trip, but there are enough worthy links in every corner to justify an entire week in one region.

County Laois Golf Package
Dates: any time
Enjoy one night bed & breakfast in a deluxe guestroom at the Heritage Golf & Spa Resort, with an evening meal in the Arlington restaurant and a round of golf on the 18-hole, Seve Ballesteros-designed course. Guests have complimentary access to the health club with leisure pool, a 5-kilometer walking track, tennis court and Trim Trail.
Price range: €105
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