Worldgolf Travel

An Irish Golf Experience

by Faust Capobianco

On my latest jaunt to the Emerald Isle, we began in Northern Ireland, working our way South into Dublin. This is my recommended route as it is much more convenient for the tourist, since roadways seem more extensive and better developed than in the Southeastern portion of the Republic of Ireland.

After flying into Belfast's international airport, our group jumped into two mini-vans and began the drive to our first destination, Royal Portrush Golf Links, a trip which lasted approximately 90 minutes.

Royal Portrush Golf Links

This complex, which was the recent venue of the Senior British Open, offers two tracks to visitors. The Dunluce, which is the marquee links course, is nestled amongst coastal hills. From several points on the golf course Scotland is visible on a clear day. The course was in good condition and challenging, with moderately fast greens. It truly was a classic set of links. The rough was punishing, but not as severe as one may encounter.

Several holes offered interesting plays, but nothing radical. The local caddies were very knowledgeable, with the remainder of the staff friendly and accommodating. As for the second course, the Valley links, it looked pretty, but fairly flat and simple. Apparently, this optional layout boasts the world's oldest natural links hole, in the Guinness Book of World Records (unless my caddy was speaking of an entirely different "Guinness Book"). A great place to start, especially since it offers an entire day of golf at one spot.

Royal County Down Golf Club
Newcastle, Northern Ireland

In my estimation, and those of countless others, the crown jewel of Irish golf (appropriate, considering it is situated in the Loyalist north). It also happens to be a fixture in the top ten of many international course ratings. Situated below the Mountains of Morne, this golfing haven provides an incredibly scenic round, it's links shrouded in mist had a profusion of gorse bushes. In a way I can't really describe, this golf course has a look unlike any other.
The colors are different, with darker hues being more prominent. The way in which the holes mesh with the landscape differs, as well. While most tracks roll along the contours of the land, this layout seems to be sculpted into it. The beauty belies it's ferocity, though. You will hit more blind shots here, than on any other course in the island. Not the place for big hitters, either. Precision is what counts here, for the rough is certainly rough. As an example, a low handicapper on our trip - who broke 80 four out of seven rounds - took a 91 here, and the scorekeeper was forgiving.

Did I mention the wind? The caddies here are certainly a saving grace, helping the visiting golfer navigate not only drives and approaches, but also with interpretations of hidden breaks on County Down's large greens.

Dundalk Golf Club
Dundalk, Republic of Ireland
This is what is called a parkland course, resembling your garden variety Northeastern or Midwestern course in the U.S. Here we got a break, being miles from the shore. No real wind, no hills, but some trees. A pretty golf course, but ordinary. Certainly not what we came for. It is on the way to Dublin though, and may be used as a way to get one's game worked out after two rounds on the links rack. The people were very courteous. I also found it interesting that visitors have right-of-way over members.

Portmarnock Golf Links & Hotel
Portmarnock, Ireland
This golf complex was recently constructed by IMG, and sits adjacent to the old Portmarnock Golf Club. Located just fifteen minutes outside of Dublin's city center, the hotel is extremely convenient and was our base for the next three days. Certainly an American style hotel, all the amenities were provided, and them some! The Inn has an exquisite restaurant and five bars. The place is truly a secret, but I'm sure IMG won't allow that to remain so.

As for the golf course...wow! Designed by Bernhard Langer, this track is a mix of rough links elements (dunes, gorse bushes, high grasses, wind) and American style manicuring. The elevated greens are undulating and quick. The irrigated fairways are buffered by some light rough, then the heavy stuff. As for bunkers, no matter what your weight, you'll feel svelte after being surrounded by these potbellies. Like County Down, precision is the key here, as hazards have been put in play for average and expert golfers, alike. A truly challenging, but fair golf course. All of us had a lot of fun during this round. I only wish I could have played it more than once.

Portmarnock Golf Club
Portmarnock, Ireland

Another Irish golfing treat. A beautiful links course, nearly in the class of Royal County Down. No tricks, just straightforward golf. Perhaps in the best shape of all the courses we played, it is truly amazing that the fairways play so well without comprehensive irrigation. A fairly long course, made up of three nines. You see a little of everything here, but with less severity.

The key at Portmarnock is the wind. I've now played three rounds here, and the wind changes this course more than any other. Also, the best pro shop of any I visited. The head pro, Mr. Joey Purcell, is a real gentleman. A must for anyone planning an Irish golf trip. Only a five minute drive from the Portmarnock Hotel.

Royal Dublin Golf Club
Bull Island, Ireland
Nine holes straight out and nine holes straight in. Can we get any more basic than that? Situated on an island, you are faced with a constant wind. In fact, this track is laid out with the wind in mind. Since the prevailing wind blows toward the Clubhouse, the front is shorter than the back. Luckily, the wind was blowing contrary to this pattern when we visited.

A lush course with some interesting holes. Number 18 was the most perplexing, being a true 90 degree dogleg right. If you play it as it lies, you can't reach this par 4 in two. The other option is to cut off the corner on the approach, flying OB and a moat or two. On two other par fives, you are also asked to tee off from OB...please, no worm burners here. The caddy master and starter at Royal Dublin were unbelievably accomodating. Although a club with a great deal of history, we were overwhelmed with how we were treated. There seemed to be a genuine concern on their part that all were comfortable and accommodated. They just couldn't do enough. Also, the greenest course we played. ( Yes, I said that with a straight face).

A tip based on my experience: If you can afford it, get a driver for the trip. By renting a mini-van with driver, your group can focus on the golf and let him worry about navigation to the courses, as well as culinary pit stops. All-in-all, the trips have been extremely affordable.

I just can't overstate how beautiful the country was, and how welcoming the people were. Their openness even makes you overlook the need to pass through British border checkpoints, with the mandatory heavy machine guns pointed in the car windows.

County Kildare Golf Package
Dates: June 1, 2014 - December 31, 2014
Located just 20 minutes from Dublin, Carton House Hotel in Kildare is one of Ireland' best spa hotels. The "One Night Stay and Play" golf package lets you enjoy one night's bed and breakfast with a three-course evening meal and a round of golf per person on Carton House's O'Meara or Montgomerie Courses.
Price range: $268
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