I have travelled the pretty much the complete coastline of Ireland twice on golfing trips and each time it seemed the most logical way was to start at Belfast and travel anti clockwise to finish in Dublin.
All jokes aside, the roads are still not that good and it takes you much longer to travel any decent distance in Ireland than it does in Scotland for example. And some of the signage is either not very clear or there aren't enough of them to assure you that you are on the right road. Whilst I have not been back for a few years, I also found that the food at restaurants etc was relatively expensive.
I don't wish to offend anyone but I would personally not be going to Ireland to golf anywhere except on links courses -and they have some great ones. So apologies, but I have not mentioned golfing locations such as Adare Manor, Druids Glen and Killarney. I wouldn't mind looking at Druids Glen because of Pat Ruddy's involvement, but to me natural courses, as distinct from contrived 'Americanised' courses, is what golf is all about. And,with few exceptions, I wouldn't hop on a plane to play a parkland course so I ignored Malone which I am told isn't too bad.
For the same reasons I did not previously mention The Belfry in central England or Celtic Manor in Wales.
North and North West Ireland
What better way to start your trip than Royal County Down at Newcastle just south of Belfast. After this it is anti clockwise all the way around the Irish coast.
There is scarcely a weak hole (maybe the 17th) and the setting is breathtaking with the Mountains of Mourne as a backdrop and the sea beside you at the start of the round. Heather, gorse, dunes, blind tee shots and very good fairways and greens - you can't ask for much more. The green setting at the 3rd amongst the heatherclad dunes is classic Irish golf. The par 3's are excellent and then there is the difficult tee shot at the much photographed 9th. The18th is deceptively difficult with its sloping fairway and twenty four bunkers. There are some really good links in Ireland but I feel comfortable in nominating Royal County Down as the best.
photo Royal County Down -3rd hole (photo courtesy Gary Prendergast)
Royal Portrush on the northern coast has two courses of which the Dunluce is the Championship links. I rate this as the next best links in Ireland and it is one of my favourite courses -even though each of my games there has been in terrible weather. Max Faulkner won The Open here in 1951 and hopefully it will return one day soon.
Many of the fairways are lined with thick bracken and gorse so anything wide may mean lost ball. The first two holes climb to higher ground which marks a stretch of great holes -the par 3 'Islay' with its exposed green, the well bunkered 4th with OOB along the right and the exciting 5th where you can risk taking on the dog leg and then the green perched on the cliff edge. The 13th is a good par 4 and the 14th is a positively frightening par 3 in any sort of wind. You play 210 yards uphill and anything slightly right will send your ball 50 yards down the bank and into thick rough. When driving at the 17th watch out for the large bunker on the right at the edge of the Valley Course. The closing hole is probably the only one that lacks some character. You will have played good golf if you can match your handicap at Portrush.
(photo Royal Portrush - par 4, 4th hole)
Just a few miles west on the northern coast are two more top quality links, namely Portstewart and Castlerock.
At Portstewart the Strand Course is the premier links and has a front nine to rival Royal County Down. The 1st hole sets the pulse racing but the 2nd through the massive dunes is even better. The 5th is Index 1 and is a superb par 4 of 461 yards with a narrow fairway amongst the dunes for the second shot. If it is windy then holding the plateau green at the par 3, 6th is a challenge. The next few holes are all good par 4's through dunes where accuracy is essential. Even though the back nine features little by way of dunes there are some good holes and a tough finishing par 4 that is uphill and well bunkered.
I hope nothing has changed as when I last played Royal Portrush and Portstewart there were no distance markers.
(photo Portstewart's par 4, 5th hole )
Nearby on the coastal road A2 is the often overlooked Castlerock. Whilst the holes away from the dunes are all quite good, those amongst them, notably 1, 7, 8, 9, 17 and 18 are really wonderful holes. There is something of a let down from the 2nd as you play along land that has more of a farmland nature, but this soon changes. The par 3, 5th will engage you with the railway line close by on the right and a burn angled across the fairway toward the left. The 9th is a terrific par 3 with the green set amongst rugged dunes. When you are playing the tricky 17th watch for the two bunkers set on top of each other. You could argue that the best is left to the last -what a finish! The tee shot from the base of the dunes needs to be kept straight even though the hole bends to the right. You then play up a steep hill to the green which appears alarmingly close to the clubhouse windows. Plenty of variety at Castlerock -definitely worth a game.
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- Ireland - North & North West Continued...
- Ireland - West Coast
- Ireland - South West
- Ireland - South East Coast
- Ireland - East Coast
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