Plan a golf getaway to the land where good luck never seems to run out.
By Eric N. Hart
While Scotland is credited with inventing the game of golf, Ireland was not far behind in paving its way to becoming a world leader for the sport. Its first golf club, Royal Curragh, opened in 1853; today, more than 400 diverse courses span Ireland and Northern Ireland. Here, we present some of the greatest greens on the Emerald Isle.
Travelers come to Ireland’s southern region from around the globe to take golf swings, Guinness swigs and pictures of surreal settings like the Wild Atlantic Way, with its enchanting towns strung together by webs of narrow, stone-walled roads and fields of multicolored flowers and grazing sheep.
More than 1 million visitors each year blaze the Wild Atlantic Way to marquee sites like Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, County Clare, with its world-class spa and five-star lodging options. Golf Digest’s “Best New International Course” was designed by Dr. Martin Hawtree and features ocean views on 16 of its 18 holes.
Arnold Palmer’s legacy lives on at Tralee Golf Club, located in County Kerry on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, 180 miles west of Dublin. Palmer completed the project, which spans rugged cliffs and windswept fields, in 1984, though the Tralee name dates back to 1896. The course is steeped in history with castle ruins dating back to as early as the 12th century.
Designed by local legend Eddie Hackett, Carne’s Championship Course is situated in the far northwest reaches of Ireland overlooking Blacksod Bay and the Atlantic. Though its host town of Belmullet is on the Wild Atlantic Way, the course is 200 miles from Dublin and therefore often mistakenly overlooked by golf groups. Take note and make the drive.
Another 20 miles up the coast from Doonbeg, near the haunting, fog-blanketed Cliffs of Moher, Old Tom Morris (in 1892) and Alister MacKenzie (in 1927) produced the world-renowned Old Course, one of two courses at Lahinch Golf Club (the second is the Castle Course). The Old Course is acclaimed for its sweeping seaside spread, roaming goats and tricked-up signature holes like the blind par-3 “Dell.”
About 20 miles north of Tralee, Ballybunion is one of Ireland’s most prestigious golf clubs, boasting unmatched history and peculiarity. The original course (the Old Course) existed as nine holes from 1893 to 1928. It was redesigned in 1995 by Tom Watson to improve playability between the ocean and the fascinating mid-course cemetery. The more challenging Cashen Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the early ’80s.
Northern Ireland may only make up one-sixth of the island, but it matches the southern portion in both natural and golf splendor. Filming sites for the HBO series Game of Thrones have made the north coast exceedingly popular, with highlights like the 40,000 basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
Royal County Down
Golf Digest named The Championship Links at Royal County Down, 32 miles south of Belfast, the No. 1 Course in the World. Built by Old Tom Morris in 1889, this 7,200-yard test of wills and skills is set against the ever-shifting, sandy landscape and Mother Nature’s temperamental crosswinds.
The private Royal Portrush Golf Club, 60 miles north of Belfast, was founded in 1888 with two 18-hole courses offering views that span from the nearby Dunluce Castle to the distant Giant’s Causeway. The club’s Dunluce Course was selected to host the prestigious Open Championship in July 2019.
Plan your Irish golf adventure today at tourismireland.com.