OK. We know Scotland is the home of golf. Golf courses in every small town and all that. Historic links courses built up and down the coastlines. Good good.
But it turns out Ireland is no slouch when it comes to links land. Some of the most picturesque, awe-inspiring courses in the world are in Ireland. In fact Ireland is home to almost 40% of the world’s genuine links courses.* That means there are more than 50 links courses in Ireland, not to mention the other 350 or so that are not of the links variety. Rates are quoted in Euros.
By far the most famous golf course in Ireland is at Ballybunion, in the Southwest corner of the island, in the county of Kerry. In fact there are two 18s. The Old Course, founded in 1893 is consistently rated among the world’s top 10 courses. Tom Watson (who obviously knows how to get quoted, and is also the Millenium Captain of the Club) once called it “the best in the world.” (€110) The Cashen Course, built in 1981 among the more dramatic dunes on the site, is the more difficult of the two, and noteworthy for its small greens and tight fairways. (€75)
Other well-known links courses in the southwest include Tralee (€130), designed by Arnold Palmer to be a golf destination (and therefore expensive), and Lahnich (€110), originally designed by Old Tom Morris (of St. Andrews) and Alistair Mackenzie whose imprint was also left on Augusta National, Pebble Beach, and Cypress Point.
Meanwhile, the northwest area of the country is blessed with some outstanding golf courses as well. Ten of these courses have come together to form the North and West Coast Links. At the eastern end of the loop is Royal Portrush just west of Derry in Northern Ireland. Ranked in the top 20 in the world, and host of many major tournaments, there are two 18s at Portrush with the Dunluce course costing €138 a round in 2003.
You’ll find another outstanding 36 hole links layout not too far along the coast at Ballyliffin. Referred to as the “Dornoch of Ireland”, green fees range from €50-€70. Nick Faldo called Ballyliffin “the most natural golf links I have ever played.”
Donegal County, in the extreme northwest corner of the island, is the home of some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in Ireland — including the highest sea cliffs in Europe. It is also where you will find Donegal in the town of Murvagh. This is one of Europe’s longest 18 hole courses at more than 7200 yards. Built among the impressive coastal dunes, Donegal is another masterpiece of nature. Green fees are in the €50 range.
Contact the North and West Coast Links and ask them for a copy of their excellent brochure.
If you’re in the Dublin area (on the Irish Sea side of the island), the most famous course is Portmarnock. First opened in 1894, many golfers rate it as Ireland’s finest links course. Laid out within the curve of the coastline formed by the Howth peninsula, it offers stunning views of Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island, rising sharply from deep waters. At €165 – €190 it is also pretty pricey.
When you’re in Northern Ireland you’ll want to check out Royal County Down, located at a relatively remote site 30 miles south of Belfast in Newcastle. This is a first class course which has been the site of many major championships, and will host the 2007 Walker Cup. Green fees are also surprisingly reasonable — €95 on the Championship Links, and €18 on the much less intimidating Annesley Links.
Royal County Down near Belfast in Northern Ireland …”This, arguably the greatest of links courses, is the polar opposite of a typical American golf experience. It’s as different as George Will and Will Smith.”
-Joel Zuckerman, WorldGolf.com
“It would be advisable to pre-book the more famous Ireland golf courses especially during the summer months. Based on reviews received by Golfeurope, golfers rave about many of the lesser known clubs so one should take the time to visit a selection of these. Indeed the more famous golf clubs sometimes charge exorbitant green fees and demand pre-booking or impose other explicit or implicit restrictions. Its golf snobbery, charge a lot and make people feel privileged to play. Exclusive and expensive are not the same as excellence. This is rare and not indicative of the Irish. The point being that in Ireland, you don’t have to tolerate this behaviour given the wide choice.”