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Ireland - South West

 Continuing south on the N67 you will soon reach the Greg Norman designed Doonbeg. Whilst the links is on an estate of 400 acres most of the holes are alongside the coastal dunes and stretch for one and a half miles around the crescent shaped Doughmore Bay. There are some very good holes right from the start. The 5th green is beside the beach and the short par 4, 6th is dangerous especially if the wind is up.

The two least attractive holes are 10 and 12 which lie on flat ground near the boundary wall. The 13th is a very photogenic par 5 and is followed by the mischievous short 14th. I t is only 111 yards to the elevated beach side green but you will be lucky to find your ball if you miss it. The closing holes are challenging, especially the drive on the 18th where a dune blocks a low drive and the OOB fence is close by to the right. Doonbeg is a very good test of links golf - my only problem is that if you are not an American you might feel a bit like a foreigner here. (I felt the same at Waterville).

                (photo - par 4, 6th at Doonbeg)

On the south side of the River Shannon estuary lies the famed Ballybunion. If you are playing here for the first time you will no doubt have a feeling of great anticipation. Be patient because it is not until the 7th that the Ballybunion you imagined begins to emerge. From hereon every hole is wonderful, particularly the par 4, 11th and three great par 3's at 12, 14 and the 15th -212 yards over dunes to a split level green.

The three closing holes are all dramatic tee shots with the 16th and 17th featuring large dog legs at the point closest to the shoreline.

There is also a second links, The Cashen, designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior and open for play in 1982. Although shorter than the Old Course, the Cashen is considerably hillier with many narrow and undulating fairways. Given the difficult terrain and ever present wind it is a legitimate criticism of the Cashen that the greens are perhaps a little too small. The back nine has some very dramatic holes, particularly from the 13th to the 17th but there is little margin for error. I particularly enjoyed the thrill of the par 3,16th and the shot into the green at the 17th. Worth a game if you are fit and daring.

           (photo - approaching the 11th on the Old Course at Ballybunion)

 Due south is the Arnold Palmer designed Tralee. The 3rd plays over rocks to a green near the remains of a fourteenth century castle and the 8th is in a peaceful beachside setting but it is the back nine that contains the most memorable holes. At the 11th tee, 'Palmers Peak', you are at the highest point. From the 12th to the 17th there are some exhilarating holes through the dunes. At the approach to the elevated 12th green the fairway is extremely narrow with grassy chasms awaiting if you miss on either side. The 13th is a scary par 3 but the short 16th is even better. It is appropriately named 'Shipwreck'. At the 17th the hole runs above the beach used in the filming of Ryan's Daughter.

Some don't like Tralee but I enjoyed the mixture of the serene and the wild.

    (photo -The 12th  is rated the hardest hole at Tralee -you can see why.)

Dingle is the most westerly course in Ireland and is located near the small town of Ballyferriter on the north arm of Dingle Bay. I know there are some good holes near the beach on the back nine but the day we played here the weather was absolutely diabolical and you could not see more than about 75 yards through the horizontal rain. I did not see any great holes on the opening nine although the 4th and 9th were ok. From what I saw I can only say that Dingle represents good 'holiday golf' but nothing special.

If you haven't heard of Dooks then write it down now as a must play. Dooks is on the south side of Dingle Bay near Glenbeigh. What a wonderful peaceful setting beside the sea and with mountains in the background. Whilst Dooks is predominantly a links there is a heathland feel on a number of holes.

The 1st is a lovely starting hole and the par 3, 4th beside the sea is stunning. The 7th plays through some low dunes and the back to back par 5's at 9 and 10 demand accuracy to avoid heather and thick rough. The short par 4,12th is fun but danger lurks if you finish left in the scrub and gorse. The 16th is rather different with a pond and a stand of conifers as potential hazards. This is an enchanting links with an indefinable unspoiled natural charm.

At Dooks we had at least three seasons in one day. We teed off in bright sunshine but with black clouds hovering. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes were played in strong winds and torrential rain and for the rest of the round it was relatively calm and sunny. The photo below of the 1st is not a trick photo - that is exactly how it looked before the brief deluge.

        (photo - Dooks opening hole)

Continue along the N70 and you will reach Waterville, one of the longest courses in Ireland. The Waterville I played in 2003 was in need of some improvement but the 2006 version was a pleasant surprise with the links in great shape and with several new holes. Waterville has four top class par 3's -the 4th, 6th, 12th and 17th. Of these, the 17th 'Mulchay's Peak' is probably the best. The 11th is a superb par 5 that winds through the dunes and the 16th plays to an attractive green beside the River Inny and Ballinskelligs Bay. The par 4, 16th dog legs following the adjacent beach and the 18th can be a tough last hole into the wind. The fairways and greens are first class on this enjoyable monster.

     (Waterville's 17th, 'Mulchay's Peak')


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