Golf is one of those outdoor activities that will open on a limited basis on May 18. With world-class courses in some of the most spectacular locations on the planet, Ireland’s credentials are sky-high when it comes to golf. Journalist Barry Lotz visited last year and managed to take in some marquee courses and some hidden gems.
A trip to Ireland – why the Emerald Isle offers, tourists, golfers, visitors and whiskey aficionados a visit full of exploration, superb scenery, phenomenal golf courses and fun-filled pubs!
“Céad Míle Fáilte”
(A Hundred Thousand Welcomes!)
Ireland Golf outdid itself in 2019.
This was the year that Irish golf took center stage. Not only did an Irishman, Shane Lowry, win The 148th British Open, but Royal Portrush, the site of the championship, received compliments from both the players and the attendees.
The R&A did an outstanding job in not only preparing the course, a “real proper links”, but all the ancillary infrastructure -- player friendly and definitely visitor friendly. 237,000 tickets were sold and probably another 100,000 were needed. The Open shop was stocked to the rafters and the merchandize flew out of the store as though they were giving everything away for free.
A trip to the Emerald Isle, whether for a golf trip, a vacation, or a whiskey experience, is definitely a bucket list item. The pace of life is remarkably sedate and Irish welcomes really are as warm as the legend suggests. The “greenness” of Ireland is everywhere you travel.
Ireland is famous for having a third of the world’s links courses, making devotees of seaside golf chomping at the bit.
As for whiskey lovers and enthusiasts, there are more than 30 whiskey distilleries spread across Eire. The “water of life” has been distilled in Ireland since the sixth century and with the iconic distilleries of Jameson, Tullamore, Bushmills and D.E.W. beckoning, there is no better time to explore the island’s whiskey story. Also take time to visit Glendalough, Clonakilty and Echlinvilole to sample a new generation of whiskey makers.
As for golfing, Ireland has iconic venues such as Ballybunion, Portmarnock, Royal County Down and Lahinch as their standard bearers, but there are so many more outstanding courses that most golfers have never experienced. A review of 6 courses follows that merit your consideration and a visit in your future travel plans.
Be familiar with the first rule of Irish golf: Ignore the weather forecast! Showers are predicted every day, but I was lucky to have a total of just 5 hours of rain over the six courses I played during 7 days of golf. By being a seaside links, the wind, of course, does blow often. Be prepared to learn how to hit shots that stay below the wind and have patience to only hit a shot in between gusts, if possible. As locals like to say, “The weather is as dry as the locals’ humor”.
Ireland’s west side, also referred to as the Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s longest defined coastal touring route, holds some terrific seaside courses that are half as expensive and twice as much fun as better-known venues — and you don’t need to call a year in advance for a tee time. This is the Ireland that existed before Ballybunion became the Pebble Beach of Europe. In fact, the western coast of Ireland can lay claim to the finest array of links courses in the world (sorry, Bandon Dunes and St. Andrews).
The Wild Atlantic Way includes magnificent beaches, cliffs, bays and surfing seas stretching from remote Malin and the northern headlands to near sub-tropical waters and gardens ending in tranquil Kinsale Harbour in the south. It is a must to explore!
And along the way it enables and enhances some of the world’s greatest links golf!
Without any fear of contradiction, playing The European Club was the highlight of my trip! The European Club is just 30 minutes south of Dublin. Not only is the European Club ranked in the World’s Top-100 Golf Courses, but its owner and designer, Pat Ruddy, the “Master of the Links”, is in my Top 100 most interesting, magnanimous and fascinating people in golf, whom I have been fortunate enough to meet and spend time with in their company.
Golf Magazine USA ranked The European Club in their World Top 100 Golf Courses list in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. This is the course that Padraig Harrington won the Irish PGA in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Rory McIlroy won the Irish Amateur in 2006 and where Tiger set the links record at 67.
Pat Ruddy is synonymous with Irish golf -- from his personal collection of over 6,500 golf books, to his exceptional golf design skills. Many courses around Ireland have some sort of a Pat Ruddy touch. He is a walking encyclopedia of every aspect of links style golf courses.
Golf Magazine, in collaboration with ten other international golf magazines, nominated the course in their The 500 Greatest Golf Holes in the World, wherein three holes are from the links of The European Club.
The par-4 seventh, measuring 470-yards, was named as one of the Worlds 100 Best Holes. The par-5 thirteenth and par-3 fourteenth were named amongst the Worlds 500 Best Holes.
On a broader scale, nine of the Top-40 Golf Courses in Ireland, per Golf Digest, have been designed or substantially redesigned by Pat Ruddy and nine of his venues are listed in the Top-100 Golf Courses in Great Britain & Ireland.
Of all the courses I have played in Ireland on my two trips there, The European Club, on the County Wicklow coastline, about 30 miles from Dublin is, by far, my favorite. This is a course I could play every day. The flow of the course is its USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Every hole follows a natural progression and that of marvelous and thoughtful design.
The European Club is extremely challenging off the back tees and views of the infamous railway-sleeper lined bunkers only add to the difficulty. Caveat: Offline hits are prejudicial to say the least, but the saving grace is that the beach is in play on the back nine!
The course boasts 20 holes (two additional par threes) and that back nine will live long in my memory with holes like 11, 12, 15 and 17 utterly captivating. The restaurant food is above par and the service exemplary.
Depending on the time of year, green fees range from €120 (November 1 to March 31) to €225 (April 1 to October 31 with July 1 – July 31 at €250).