|Nineteenth century Lahinch Golf Club in County Kerry is one of southwest Ireland's popular must-play links. (David Cannon/Getty Images)|
Ireland's most popular golf tour can be found in the next door counties of Clare and Kerry on the southwest coast, home to many dramatic links courses between such spectacular natural sights as the Cliffs of Moor and the Ring of Kerry.
It's also an especially American-friendly pocket, where you'll find bronze statues of Arnold Palmer at Tralee, Payne Stewart at Waterville and even President Bill Clinton in the Ballybunion village center.
Residents in its many seaside towns, like Lahinch, Killarney and Tralee, boast warm hospitality and a unique "craic," a term they use to describe their love of pub banter.
And thanks to new and renovated golf clubs in recent years, it's a destination that, while hardly unknown to tourists all over the world, just keeps getting better.
Ballybunion Golf Club (Old): Thanks to endorsers ranging from famed golf writer Herbert Warren Wind to President Bill Clinton, Ballybunion has become the links course to play in Ireland. The 19th-century club boasts some of the world's most severe links land, as well as a championship pedigree that has seen many of Ireland's top events pass through this little vacation village.
Lahinch Golf Club: The village of Lahinch has earned the nickname "The St. Andrews of Ireland" due to its long history of golfing obsession, though it's also become a surfer's haunt, thanks to the often rough-and-tumble shores at Liscannor Bay. The 19th-century Old Course, has been influenced by Scots Old Tom Morris, and Alister Mackenzie, and features arguably links golf's most famous back-to-back blind shot holes: the par-5 "Klondyke" and par-3 "Dell."
Tralee Golf Club: This golf club is over a century old, but the golf course itself was moved from town center to a new spectacular location outside of Barrow in 1984. It was worth the trouble, because Tralee boasts what many label as Ireland's most spectacular back nine, thanks to its infamous, penal par-3 holes, "Shipwreck" and "Brock's Hollow."
Doonbeg Golf Resort: A new, but all-too-natural pure links complement designed by two-time Open Champion Greg Norman, this track lies just to the south of Lahinch in County Clare, making for a splendid one-two punch. Lahinch may still get more respect as a golf course, but Doonbeg's new lodge is already becoming Ireland's premier stay-and-play locale.
Waterville Golf Links: This links has been a fixture on Ballinskelligs Bay since 1889. Since then, the course has seen its share of transformations and even dormant years, from the reign of Irish architect Eddie Hackett in the 1960s to - most recently - Tom Fazio.
Old Head Golf Links: Located to the southeast of Kerry in Cork, Old Head is a bit of a hike from just about anywhere, making up the southernmost point of the renowned dining and vacation village of Kinsale. The golf course is a new creation on an exposed 180-acre promontory that sits up to 300 feet above the crashing sea, making for as dramatic a stage as there could ever possibly be in the game.
Dingle Golf Club: Commonly known by its gaelic name Ceann Sibeal, remote dingle is Europe's most westerly links, dating back to 1924. It's dunes aren't as soaring as Ireland's best, but it's a pleasant walk and still a good test as a par-72 track over 6,600 yards.
Dooks Golf Club: This is the "player-friendly" links of the southwest and its mascot, an innocent, smiling frog proves it. Dooks opened in 1889 as a pleasant nine-hole links along the south shores of Dingle Bay before expanding to 18 holes in the 1970s.
Ballybunion Golf Club(Cashen): When word spread about Ballybunion, demand on the Old deemed it necessary to build a second in 1981. Robert Trent Jones Sr. took the task of building a links that will never get the respect of the precious next door Old, though the Cashen boasts plenty of pure links holes of its own.
Adare Golf Club: Set on the 840-acre Adare Manor estate in Limerick, which is also home to a five-star castle hotel, this was Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s last golf course design in 1995. At over 7,400 yards, and with water hazards on 14 holes (much of it thanks to the River Maigue), it makes for a formidable Irish Open host.
Dromoland Castle Golf Club: This historic castle hotel features stately five-star accommodations and amenities like a spa, pheasant hunting and falconry, all within about a 15-minute drive of Shannon Airport, making it a popular start or end point to any golf tour in the region. The golf course, which circles around Dromoland Lough and overlooks the castle at certain points, is at its best in its 40-plus year history, following a recent 5 million renovation project to the course and facilities, including a state-of-the-art, lighted and fully-automated practice center.
Killarney Golf & Fishing Club: The best of this tranquil three-course facility on the lake and with views of the MacGillycuddy Reeks is the Killeen, a former Irish Open host in 1991-92. Despite it's difficult reputation during the event, the course was renovated and strengthened in 2006.
I recommend flying into Shannon Airport (SNN), just outside of Limerick on the southwest coast. Along with being on the same side of the southwest links, Shannon is a much smaller airport than Dublin, so its easier to get around and queues are usually not as long. The airport is also subsidized by the Irish government, so flights are often cheaper.
November 2, 2009
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. 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.
The Dromoland Castle Hotel in County Clare, Ireland is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a luxury destination in grand style. The main building, completed in 1835, remains one of the most authentic castle experiences in all of Europe. What's new at this historic Irish retreat ranges from small details, such as a new logo, to big additions -- the purchase and $1.5-million renovation of a nearby inn.
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