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The famed Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club will co-host of The Great Irish Links Challenge.
The famed Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club will co-host of The Great Irish Links Challenge. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

Dream golf trip and tournament: Play the Great Irish Links Challenge

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer

If you've ever dreamed of competing on some of the great Irish links courses and doing it in a competitive format, The Great Irish Links Challenge, scheduled for May 22-25, is your opportunity.

Limited to the first 600 golfers who register, the event will be played on three top golf courses in Ireland -- Ballybunion Golf Club, Doonbeg Golf Club and Lahinch Golf Club, all of which were recently voted among Golf World magazine's Top 100 courses in the world.

The tournament, which is sponsored by TaylorMade in conjunction with Shannon (Ireland) Development, will begin with a welcome reception at the host course, Doonbeg, and end with an awards ceremony there.

Each team will consist of four players, and the format will be better ball using the Stableford scoring system. Each team will be broken into two groups to play along with another team as they alternate courses on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Players must have a verifiable handicap. Cost to play in the event -- which includes welcome reception, breakfast, transfers between courses and the Shannon Airport, awards reception and prizes -- is £545 per person (approximately $900 U.S.).

Joe Russell, general manager of Doonbeg, said the idea for the tournament was triggered by the fact that so many Irish courses were on the Golf World survey.

"We were all delighted to see nine Irish links courses featured," he said. "Obviously with the three of us being so close together there is an excellent opportunity to create a promotion such as this."

The Great Irish Links Challenge host courses

Ireland, not surprisingly, has more links golf courses than most of the rest of the world combined, save Scotland. What makes the links experience so unique is that as the wind off the Atlantic changes, the way you play the courses also drastically changes. Lahinch, Ballybunion and Doonbeg are all within 90 minutes of each other with Doonbeg being in the middle. Lahinch is 40 minutes north and Ballybunion is an hour south.

While Doonbeg doesn't have the history of the other two courses, it follows the same traditions and looks. Designed by Greg Norman, the club opened in 2002 and was named as Golf Digest's "Best New International Course that year." Located in County Clare, the course, like its links predecessors, follows the natural lay of the land for the most part, and the fescue, bentgrass and rye grasses are native to the area.

Ballybunion is located on the northwest coast of County Kerry, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The club has two courses, the new Cashen Course and the Old, the latter of which was ranked as the top course in Ireland by a British online golf publication. Originally founded in 1893, English golf architect Tom Simpson tweaked the course in 1936. With great views of the ocean, and twists and turns through grassy dunes, the Old Course is one of Ireland's top treasures.

The Old Course at Lahinch is also one of Ireland's favorites and often listed among the favorite courses of tour pros. Stewart Cink, who won the 2010 British Open, played Lahinch the week before.

"The first 10 holes at Lahinch are some of the coolest links holes I've ever played," Cink said.

Founded in 1892, the Old Course at Lahinch was adjusted in 1894 by St. Andrews' own Old Tom Morris and in 1927 by Alister MacKenzie, who designed Cypress Point and Augusta National. Classic designers combine with great natural terrain help make Lahinch one of Ireland's most treasured attractions.

Where to stay for the Challenge

Although it's not included in the entry fee, the Great Irish Links Challenge has partnered with a number of hotels and bed and breakfasts. The host venue is offering the five-star Lodge at Doonbeg, but players can also stay at accommodations at or near Lahinch or Ballybunion.

Besides hotels, there are also several guest houses available, such as the 19th Lodge in Ballybunion or the Dough Mor Lodge near Lahinch. More information can be found at www.greatirishlinkschallenge.com.

The schedule of events will begin on May 22 with a transfer from the Shannon Airport to the Lodge at Doonbeg based on individual flight schedules. Registration begins at 10 a.m. Breakfast each day is at 6 a.m., followed by the tournament rounds at 7. The event concludes with a dinner Wednesday evening at The Lodge at Doonbeg, followed by an awards presentation. Prizes, including crystal trophies to the overall winners, will be given for the first three places as well as the top teams at individual courses.

Upon registering, a 25-percent, nonrefundable deposit is required.

For more information or to register, visit www.greatirishlinkschallenge.com or call +353 65 9055602.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before joining the TravelGolf Network team in 2008, he held positions at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Read Mike's golf blog here and follow him on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

 
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