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A Pre-Christian stone alter was discovered during Glen near the 12th green.
A Pre-Christian stone alter was discovered during Glen near the 12th green. (East Coast & Midlands Tourism)

Move over, Ballybunion: Parkland golf resorts booming in Ireland

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer

COUNTY KILDARE, Ireland - For decades American golfers have flocked to the Emerald Isle to frolic among the dunes.

Ireland's shores host roughly one-sixth of the world's true links golf courses, and many of them are world-class.
Royal Portrush.
Royal County Down.
The list is as long as golf tradition in the British Isles.

Parkland golf? It was just for the locals.

Not anymore. A booming economy is creating a cosmic shift in Ireland's golf landscape. The lure of the links will never subside for foreigners. But these days, visitors have a lot more choices. More lavish, more manicured, more Americanized choices.

Parkland resorts are blooming throughout Ireland's magnificent countryside. Golfers can still stay at tiny bed-and-breakfasts with cold showers and stiff mattresses, but creature comforts await at these fabulous modern hotels.

The catalyst of the building boom is the K Club, arguably the most luxurious golf resort in all the British Isles. With its two Arnold Palmer designs and Ryder Cup cred (it will host this year's event), the K Club's success has prompted other lavish links alternatives, especially around Dublin proper.

The K Club will always be the leader, but other parkland resorts have emerged in recent years offering similar amenities, including great courses, fabulous food, spas and more.

Druids Glen Golf Resort

The next time the Ryder Cup Matches come to Ireland, Druids Glen Golf Resort in Newtownmountkennedy merits consideration as a venue.

Roughly 30 minutes south of Dublin in scenic County Wicklow, Druid's Glen boasts a championship-tested course that hosted the Irish Open from 1996 to '99. The Pat Ruddy/Tom Craddock design has challenged some of the world's top golfers, including Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Seve Ballesteros, John Daly, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Retief Goosen and Sandy Lyle.

The Druids Glen golf course derives its name from the discovery of a pre-Christian stone altar during construction, in the thickly forested area overlooking the 12th green. A statue of a Druid marks the site. The clubhouse, Woodstock House, is also historic, dating back to 1770.

A second course, Druids Heath, opened in 2003 a mile away on an exposed, windswept plateau high above the Irish Sea. The views from the opening holes are memorable, but be warned: Druids Heath plays several shots tougher than its low-lying sister course. The best hole, the 171-yard 14th, is a par 3 carved from a natural quarry.

The resort's 148-room Marriott hotel, opened in 2002, has two eateries, Druids Restaurant and Flynn's Steakhouse & Fairways Grill, plus a pool and leisure and spa facilities.

Roganstown Golf & Country Club

Located in Swords, just four miles from Dublin Airport, Roganstown Golf & Country Club is a great way to kick off or finish your Ireland golf vacation.

Roganstown House is believed to date to the 1820s and has been in the hands of the McLoughlin family since 1916, but only recently was the property transformed into a golfer's playground.

Joseph and Denise McLoughlin, the third generation of the clan to live in Swords, hired Irish golf legend Christy O'Connor Jr. to sculpt a 6,588-yard par-71 layout to complement their stylish 52-bedroom Georgian manor. The Broadmore River flows beside the course, and water guards all but six holes.

"[Roganstown] has all the charm of a country estate, with mature trees and water," O'Connor, one of Ireland's golf legends, enthuses on the course's Web site. "The site, on gentle rolling terrain with natural running water, has allowed me to be truly creative and I've exploited water to the full."

The hotel offers both a casual bar area for dining and a high-caliber restaurant, McLoughlins. The leisure club has a pool, steam room, sauna, gym and spa.

The Heritage Golf & Spa Resort

It may be situated an hour southwest of Dublin, but The Heritage at Killenard in County Laois looks less like a typical Irish course than one of the flat, bunker-laden layouts of Florida.

Five lakes and a stream bring water into play on 10 holes on the 7,319-yard Seve Ballesteros/Jeff Howes course. And the resort amenities definitely call to mind a high-end Sunshine State retreat.

The hotel has opulent rooms, with beds bigger than some tee boxes. The Arlington Room steakhouse and Italian-oriented Sol Oriens boast distinctly different menus. The 7,000-square-foot spa offers more than 70 treatments.

There's also an indoor pool, a cinema, a Ballesteros golf school, a nine-hole par-3 course and, uniquely, the Indoor and Outdoor International Bowls Stadium, where golfers can learn the nuances of lawn bowling.

The only knock on the Heritage - or perhaps its biggest blessing - is its relatively isolated location. There are no other championship-caliber courses in County Laois and few tourist destinations, although fly fishing, horseback racing and hiking in the Slieve Bloom Mountains offer recreational opportunities.

You can't go wrong by choosing any one of these resorts. All have their merits: Druids Glen offers the best golf, the Heritage the best rooms and Roganstown the best access to those cherished links courses, such as The Island Golf Club and Portmarnock. All are similar in price and in the high quality of their restaurants. All have enough amenities to keep the family or a non-golfing spouse well-fed and entertained while you're on the course.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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