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Designed by Arnold Palmer, Ireland's K Club will host the 2006 Ryder Cup Matches.
Designed by Arnold Palmer, Ireland's K Club will host the 2006 Ryder Cup Matches. (Kiel Christianson/TravelGolf)

Golf in Ireland: Take on these Irish favorites

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

Ask any of today's golf course architects and you will hear a similar refrain: A truly memorable course begins with a dramatic piece of terrain. And in Ireland, the rugged, seaside landscape is the setting for a some of the world's most picturesque and challenging layouts.

The Emerald Isle, as Ireland is often called, offers a mind boggling cross section of century-old classics designed by the likes of Old Tom Morris, Harry S. Colt and W.C. Pickman and modern layouts from big names like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones Sr.

This variety is just one of many reasons why more and more golfers are heading to Ireland. This little green jewel of a country may be home to just five million residents, but it boasts more than 350 golf courses. By anybody's definition, those odds are a golfer's paradise.

Ireland puts its own stamp on the links game by offering many off-the-beaten-path, seaside courses worthy of national bragging rights. Moreover, Irish links courses are not as crowded with summer tourists as courses are in Scotland. Whether you choose to stay near the capital of Dublin or head west to the coastal towns, hundreds of courses on some of the world's most suitable land await you.

Must-play courses in Ireland

Ballybunion: The Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club may be more well known, but the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Cashen Course built in 1980 has become an Irish favorite. "The finest piece of links land I have ever seen and perhaps the finest piece of links land in the world," said Jones of the land. The variation of land at Ballybunion sets itself apart from any other course. The Atlantic Ocean borders one side and River Suir on the other, making for tumbling, undulating, natural terrain.

Royal County Down: More than 100 years before Arnold Palmer put his American stamp on the isle, Royal County Down in Newcastle was open for play. Old Tom Morris laid this track down in 1889 on some of the finest, most suitable land for golf in the world. Royal County Down is considered one of the most beautiful courses in the world, set against the water and rocks of the Dundrum Bay and the Mountains of Mourn. Royal County Down is frequently named the finest course in Ireland.

Royal Portrush Golf Club: This classic course was one of the first built in Ireland in 1888. It is also the one and only Irish course to host a British Open. There are two courses at Portrush, 60 miles northwest of Belfast: The world famous Dunluce Course and its lesser-known but challenging nonetheless Valley Course.

Portmarnock: Portmarnock is one of the country's first courses, erected in 1894. It is universally considered to be in the elite class of classic links golf. Unlike many links designs, Portmarnock has no two back-to-back holes playing in the same direction. The Irish Sea borders Portmarnock on three sides, adding to harsh wind conditions and unbeatable scenery. The final five finishing holes are considered to be some of the world's finest.

K Club: Twenty miles from Dublin is the Kildare Hotel & Country Club. Designed in 1995 by Arnold Palmer, this golf course is dubbed the "K-Club" by locals. Palmer's blend of modern architectural theory, mixed with gorgeous Irish landscape, has turned the K-Club into one of Europe's most spectacular venues in less than a decade. While the course is not on the windswept Irish seaside, water does come into play on several holes thanks to the River Liffey. This course quickly built a reputation as one of the finest parkland courses on the island. It will host the Ryder Cup matches in 2006.

Solid seconds

So many courses are in Ireland, no one travel story can do justice and pinpoint every worthy club. With that in mind, here is just a dose of some of the other tier-one tracks.

Enniscrone Golf Club: Enniscrone has had a quarter-century to age on a superior links design in the town of Enniscrone, just west of County Sligo. A recent facelift in 2001 has given the course six new holes on the dunes of the Atlantic.

Mount Juliet Golf Club: Jack Nicklaus designed this parkland course in Thomastown in 1991. The course has been described as the "Augusta of Europe" as it rolls on green landscape alongside the River Nore. This course, along with K Club, were trailblazers in sparking the modern, parkland course movement in Ireland.

County Sligo Golf Club: For those who want to leave civilization behind, the northwest coast of the isle awaits. Small, seaside villages dot the coastline and all have plenty of golf for visitors looking to stay awhile, and also for traveler who are just playing through. County Sligo Golf Club is your best bet if you are only visiting the coast for a day or so. It features a classic links design, built in 1927 by Harry S. Colt. County Sligo wins over first-timers in a hurry. After two uphill par 4s, the par-5 third provides a breathtaking view of the sea below, and plays steeply down to the coastline. The 17th at County Sligo is famous among countrymen as well, and is widely considered one of the best par 4s in Ireland.

Doonbeg Golf Club: The site for Doonbeg seemed almost too perfect. How could this land, on the coast of Doughmore Bay have not been developed into a links course as soon as the golf scene landed on the shores of Ireland? A hundred years in the making, Greg Norman finally began his crafting in 1997 and finally in 2002, Doonbeg was ready to make an international statement. The greens at Doonbeg are steep and the high, fescue rough is severely penal. Only a year old, once all the design kinks have been sorted out, Doonbeg will be a classic.

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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