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Not up for golf the day you arrive in Ireland? Take a falconry walk at Dromoland Castle.
Not up for golf the day you arrive in Ireland? Take a falconry walk at Dromoland Castle. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

Red-eye specials: Ireland's Dromoland Castle and Doonbeg make for proper stay-and-play on travel days

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

Upon a red-eye arrival into Ireland's Shannon Airport, the last thing any golf group wants is a long car ride to the first golf course. Two convenient stay-and-play golf resorts are Dromoland Castle and Doonbeg Golf Resort.

You may be red-eyed, achy and disoriented the morning you arrive in Shannon Airport on the west coast of Ireland, the nearest gateway from North America to Old World links golf.

Nonetheless, a travel day shouldn't mean a day off in Ireland. Your golf vacation time is precious, after all.

Flying to Ireland from North America, you'll likely fly overnight and arrive in Eire at the crack of dawn. You've got a full day ahead of you, even if you're stumbling through the airport at 7 a.m. like you've already put down six pints of Guinness.

But it's nothing a cool breeze, full Irish breakfast and a little adrenaline can't overcome.

A major rookie mistake is to make a long drive the day you arrive, whether it's down south to Old Head or up to Northern Ireland, especially if you're going to be behind the wheel navigating the often blood pressure-heightening roads of the isle.

So don't bother. There are nearby spots ideal for buffing out your grogginess: Dromoland Castle and Doonbeg Golf Club both feature five-star accommodations, championship golf and full practice facilities so you can see what swing got off the plane with you before hitting the courses.

Each also offers an outstanding Irish breakfast waiting for you upon arrival (the first bite of hot sausage is always worth the plane ticket alone), so hold off on the airport candy bar.

And after breakfast, treat yourself to a welcoming massage in either spa to get the kinks out of your back. It's the remedy to put jet lag back on stand-by.

Dromoland Castle hotel and golf club

Dromoland Castle, just about a 15-minute drive from baggage claim to the steps, is more than a five-star place to rest your head. The 18th century castle on 1,700 acres of Irish grounds is a proper introduction to Ireland - even if you're not on links turf just yet.

Irish royalty have sought refuge here for 1,000 years, while today it's an outdoor playground complete with a better-than-ever championship golf course fresh off renovations in 2003. The course rolls up and down along more than 400 acres, passing along lakes and hillsides and in view of the castle, most spectacularly on the par-3 seventh hole. If jet lag has you not quite ready to walk 18 holes, take a golf cart with GPS (green fees: 90-110 Euro).

Many Americans simply can't understand why they'd ever want to fork over cash to play parkland golf in the British Isles and Ireland. If you fall under that category, you can head to the state-of-the-art driving range in the morning and spend the rest of the day hunting pheasants - there are more than 30,000 on the property.

If you'd rather someone else did the hunting, David Atkinson runs falconry walks that take you through the woods with his predatory birds, though beware, sometimes the predatory animals make their own kills and bring their prize back to your feet. It's not for the faint of heart.

Doonbeg Golf Resort in County Clare

Less than an hour's drive to the resort if you beat morning rush hour, Doonbeg's Lodge is a fitting introduction to the links of Ireland.

The lodge debuted in 2006, and the two-story ocean view suites in the main lodge are especially catered to larger golf groups, and the view is invigorating enough to get you out of bed and into the dunes - and give your back a break by letting a caddie do the heavy lifting and navigation through this rough-and-tumble links.

Opened in 2002, the Greg Norman-designed pure links course lacks the history of its 19th century neighbor, Lahinch Golf Club, just 25 kilometers up the coast, though it'd be tough to tell which course is older (aside from Lahinch's very dated "Klondyke" and "Dell" blind holes that would never fly in the 21st century). The course is as tough as any of the southwest links courses such as Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville, so consider arranging for a links lesson with one of the pros on staff, and get ready for a week of bump-and-runs.

Doonbeg has fewer off-course activities as compared to Dromoland Castle. It's golf that steals the show, but you're just a few kilometers away from the small village of Doonbeg home to a few traditional pubs, as well as fishing and nature walks.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: It was announced Feb. 11, 2014 that the Trump Organization purchased the Lodge at Doonbeg and Doonbeg Golf Club. The course's new name will be Trump International Golf Links Ireland. Click here for more.]

Ireland's gateway: Shannon Airport is superior to Dublin Airport for golf travel

Unless you're going to be spending your entire Ireland trip around Dublin, flying into Shannon (SNN) near Limerick from North America makes a lot more sense.

For starters, fares are subsidized by the local development authority, so you can usually fly over cheaper. The flight is about 30 minutes less in duration (just about five hours from Boston), and the airport is much smaller and easier to get around compared to Dublin Airport. You'll be able to pick up your bags and rental car much easier, as well as check in on the way home much quicker as well (while also avoiding Dublin traffic if you're headed to the airport around rush hour).

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. 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 and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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