Ballybunion, Doonbeg, Waterville, Tralee... What on earth are you waiting for?
This is the dream ticket in a fabled isle
It’s the names that grab you: Tralee and Lahinch, Dooks
and Dingle. Doonbeg and Waterville. These are mystical,
almost mythical golf courses, the kind of destinations that
seem as though they’ve been plucked straight from the
pages of some ancient fairytale. But no. These clubs are all
too real, all too vivid. Indeed, they are not so much golf
courses as living golf legends.
They know they’re on to a very good thing in the southwest
of Ireland, but while the holy trinity of County Kerry,
County Limerick and County Cork have long been a prized
destination for tourists who regularly return to enjoy the
breathtaking scenery and, of course, the celebrated craic,
it’s the astonishing array of courses that have golfers flocking
here in their thousands to test themselves on some
truly fabled championship layouts.
Yes, the golf in this blessed enclave of the Emerald Isle is
impossibly and implausibly good. Indulge yourself with a
Killarney Golf Tour, for example, and you’ll soon appreciate
the variety and quality of golf this corner of the Republic
has to offer. You could do worse than make your camp at
the 4-star Lake Hotel, on the banks of Lake Killarney, before
treating your game to the delights of The Ross and Dingle.
If you’re feeling brave, up the ante with a knock at the
world-renowed Ballybunion or Tralee.
Ballybunion, of course, needs no introduction.
Spectacularly sited on the north-west coast of County Kerry,
it is home to two stunning courses, the Old and the Cashen,
both of which are guaranteed to tantalise and tease with a
heady mix of natural links ingredients – tumbling fairways,
undulating greens, impressive dunes and fearsome
bunkers. At nearby Tralee (a relative newcomer, the course
opened in 1984), you can experience Arnold Palmer’s first
foray into Europe, and this most picturesque of links has
established itself as one of the must-play tracks in the area.
How good is it? Well, Arnie had it about right when he said
of Tralee: “I may have designed the first nine, but surely
God designed the back nine”.
It’s this divine landscape that really makes the whole
experience in Kerry and these, for the most part, are courses
that give you a game of golf as it should be – rugged,
untamed, spectacular and entirely natural. From the wild
beauty of Waterville (where Tiger Woods likes to practice en route to the Open in July) to the more verdant pastures of
Mahony’s Point, this is a county that has something for
everyone, irrespective of handicap or budget.
It’s a similar story in County Cork where you’re sure to be
dazzled by the likes of Old Head at Kinsale, which is built on
a dramatic 22-acre diamond of land that stretches into the
Atlantic Ocean, or by Fota Island, a secluded 780-acre private
island resort with three championship courses near to
Cork’s international airport. And while these big shots tend
to grab the headlines, there’s a cracking undercard of clubs
and courses dotted around ‘The Rebel County’, including
Water Rock, Lee Valley and Cork, also known as Little Island.
Bordering both Kerry and Cork, meanwhile, is County
Limerick. It’s yet another sublime destination with more
than its share of golfing greats and it’s also a place, like
Tralee, that has seduced another of the game’s biggest
names into working their magic there. Like Palmer, the
Australian legend Greg Norman was attracted to the outstanding
natural beauty of the region and his design at
Doonbeg on the Atlantic Coast is one of those courses that
appears so natural and so lived in that it looks like it’s been
there for centuries, and not just ten years. That said,
Mother Nature also played a huge part in the Doonbeg
design as 14 of its greens and 12 of its fairways needed no
other design intervention from Norman than a simple
mowing of the grass.
The perfect contrast to the wilds of Doonbeg, however,
can be found inland at Adare Manor, a parkland course
dominated by the striking Desmond Castle and the ruins of
the ancient Franciscan friary. Set on the banks of the River
Maigue, this 5-star resort boasts a 7,453-yard championship
course (designed by no less a legend than Robert Trent
Jones Senior) set amid mature woodland and with a 14-acre
lake dominating the front nine holes. As a venue for the
Irish Open in 2007 and 2008, it’s not only established itself
as a Tour standard venue but it’s also won plaudits right
across the game. Golf Digest magazine, for example, voted
it as the Best Parkland Course in Ireland. High, and thoroughly
deserving, praise indeed.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine