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Irish golf might be riding the crest of a wave in recent years, with Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell all adding their names to an ever-increasing roll call of major champions in the last 15 years.
However, Ireland is also punching above its weight when it comes to golf courses, with some of the finest in the world located on this small island just a short hop from mainland Britain.
There are around 500 golf courses scattered around the 32 counties that make up the island of Ireland, from Royal Portrush on Northern Ireland’s northernmost coastline round to Waterville in the south-west of the Republic.
The history books show that golf has been played in Ireland since British soldiers took the game over the Irish Sea in the mid-19th century, with records of matches played on a course set on the Curragh – an area of common land near Dublin – dating back as far as 1852.
The Curragh Golf Club was set up six years later and is believed to be the oldest in Ireland, predating Royal Belfast and Royal Dublin by almost 25 years.
From established to potential Open venues, Ryder Cup host clubs past and present, to a golf course consistently ranked as one of the very best in the world, Ireland has everything you could possibly ask for when booking your next golf trip.
Let’s break down some of our favourites that the two countries have to offer…
Par 71, Yards 6,475
There aren’t many golf courses that can lay claim to being the best in Ireland. The recently-remodelled Jameson Links at Portmarnock Resort is certainly one of them. Set in north-east Dublin, on its own peninsula which stretches some two miles along the Irish Sea coastline, Portmarnock is Dublin’s only coastal resort and is a premium experience from the moment you pull in, to the moment you leave. This is a natural links with an opening hole that is as good as any you will ever play, while the back nine is as brutal as it is beautiful.
Par 73, Yards 7,456
If you like links with a view then Donegal is right up your street. Spread out across the Murvagh peninsula and in the shadows of the Bluestack Mountains, you’ll be swept off your feet by the what’s on offer at this relatively new golf course. Opened in 1973, Donegal features two challenging loops of nine – one anticlockwise and then one clockwise, meaning each hole plays differently, and keeps you on your toes as the wind sweeps in off the Atlantic. The par-three fifth, many say, is one of the best short holes in Europe.
Royal County Down
Par 71, Yards 7,206
Well, what can we say that hasn’t been said already? Not just one of the finest golf courses in Northern Ireland, or the entire island, but the world. There’s a reason the Championship course is regularly on or at the top of any course-ranking list. Generally considered the most scenic course in the British Isles, in one direction the Bay of Dundrum disappears into the Irish Sea and across to the Isle of Man, and in the other is the looming sight of Slieve Donard and the Mountains of Mourne. Quite simply a bucket list course for every golfer.
The soon-to-be three-time Open venue is about as fine an experience as you will have on a golf course. Be sure to spend extra time soaking up the history (and the local ale) in the clubhouse. More info
There is parkland golf in Ireland, too, and none more breathtaking than the 2027 Ryder Cup venue. A typical Robert Trent Jones Sr design, expect cloverleaf bunkers and lots of water. More info
Generally considered the best course in the Republic, the Ballybunion experience starts long before you get to the course, which itself sweeps through breathtaking dunes. More info
If you can’t get on Portrush, then just round the corner you’ll find the mesmerising links of Portstewart. Jon Rahm once called the front nine “the best in the world”. Who are we to argue? More info
Where to stay
There aren’t many better places to base yourself for a golf trip than the Bushmills Inn (bushmillsinn.com). Now a four-star boutique hotel with one of the finest menus you’ll sample on the island, this 17th century coaching inn is perfectly located, with the stunning links of Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Castlerock and Ballycastle all just a short drive. Away from the course, Bushmills is also home to the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, while the Giants Causeway is just a stone’s throw away. If it’s a city break you’re after, the Buswells Hotel (buswells.ie) in Dublin comes highly recommended, and if you’re on the other side of Ireland, the five-star Adare Manor (adaremanor.com) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Things to see and do
As far as capital cities go, there aren’t many more vibrant and welcoming than Belfast and Dublin. The former offers the Titanic museum, above, while Game of Thrones fans can take a tour to see where much of the series was filmed. And you can’t go to Dublin without visiting the Guiness Brewery. If you want something a bit more chilled, Donegal is a pleasant coastal town steeped in history, with plenty of nice places to eat and drink too.
Where to eat
Whether you’re staying at the Bushmills Inn or not, be sure to eat there. The award-winning menu, using the finest locally-sourced ingredients, has something for everyone. If you find yourself in Cork, Elbow Lane Brew & Smokehouse (elbowlane.ie) is a must-visit and you certainly won’t be leaving with an empty stomach! And if there’s something with a Michelin star on the agenda, Bastible (bastible.com) offers a modern dining experience in a vibrant part of Dublin, while The Muddler’s Club (themuddlersclubbelfast.com) in Belfast offers a more trendy vibe.
Ireland has five international airports – Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Shannon, and Knock – and served by British Airways, Aer Lingus and Ryanair among others. All of Ireland’s major cities are linked by a rail network, but to see the true beauty the island has to offer – on and off the golf course – we would recommend hiring a car. If you’re not in a rush, why not take the longer, scenic route? Or the coastal road? There are not many places on earth to sit back and soak in the scenery.
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