Golf on the Emerald Isle; as good as it gets!Article by: John Fenstermaker
If you're a diehard golf enthusiast, you’ve always dreamed of a golf trip to Ireland. Make no mistake, golfing in Ireland does not disappoint. During our trip, we decided to chronicle our journey throughout the Emerald Isle to perhaps give those coming after us some insight on what it's like to golf trip in Ireland. Perhaps, along with our pitiful attempt at dry humor, we can also give some appreciation of the nuances of what might be experienced in Ireland outside of the world-class golf.
The flight, as you might expect, is long and exhausting. To compensate for a long, treacherous flight, however, we were welcomed to Ireland with open arms and a pleasant, nonexistent customs. We were able to go quickly from the plane to the rental car agency with ease. Booking a rental car, however, is not without its stresses. Make sure you have a small fortune available, as you will likely be forced to place a €5,000 security deposit on the car. On top of that, plan to pay about double the rate you had expected if you plan to add a second driver. As you walk out through the parking lot of available rentals, you will undoubtedly ask yourself, "Couldn't I just have purchased one of these tiny cars for the same as the security deposit?" Be aware…a midsize vehicle in the United States is much larger than a midsize vehicle in the Republic of Ireland. Fortunately, we were able to secure a Nissan Qashqai, which is a crossover compact SUV that was able to fit our golf clubs. Even if you want to spend the extra money for a vehicle with more room, be careful to not get one that is too large because you might regret trying to drive a large vehicle on the roads that are just barely wide enough for two vehicles side-by-side (literally with a few inches to spare). Driving on the opposite side of the road, sitting on the opposite side of the car and shifting with your left hand all add to the challenge of not committing vehicular suicide on these small roads.
One of the first questions you'll have to ask yourself is how to deal with the inevitable jet lag that you'll face upon arrival. We chose to simply ignore it, which surprisingly worked out pretty well. If you go on a golf trip to Ireland, you might as well golf, even after little to no sleep on a 17-hour flight. We went directly from Dublin Airport to the K Club. Upon changing in to our more appropriate golf attire from our travel clothes in the members locker room of another club, we were welcomed with open arms by the K Club staff with complimentary bananas and apples, as well as a "buggy" (golf cart), which was, of course, an appreciated gift for two weary travelers.
The K Club was a solid track to start out the trip and it did not disappoint. The course record is held by Darren Clarke with a 60. Unfortunately, our dreams of breaking that record were shattered after the 13th hole. But we still managed to enjoy the abundance of Ryder Cup memorabilia, and the scenery of the impressive, massive hotel on the property surrounded by a typical European courtyard. In addition, to the golfer who likes to dive after his balls that end up in the water, you need not be afraid of drowning, as each water hazard is supplied with its own life preserver. Life preservers at every water hazard was a Gurus' first.
After our round at the K Club, it was time to journey south to prepare for our next day of golf. A word of advice for the new driver in Ireland: First, take money (have plenty of coins) for tolls; second, when you see a place to eat, stop and take advantage because the next place is unlikely to be close by. We were forced to stop at a gas station for food, but much to our surprise we were able to partake of a home cooked meal. We were invited to try a typical Irish meal which was essentially stroganoff with fries (minus the salt). Also, don't bother to ask for ice or a refill with your soft drink, because neither exists in Ireland.
On this first day of driving across the Irish landscape, we were lucky to be able to be on a main highway with a speed limit of 120 km/hr. We were even luckier that we were able to follow another car that was going 180 km/hr, and we were only slowed down by the occasional toll booth. When you’re slowing to approach a toll booth, don't forget you're in a manual transmission so that you can avoid killing it 10 yards before you reach the toll booth operator. Shockingly, the Nissan Qashqai doesn’t do 5 km/hr in sixth gear.
We arrived at the Seafield Farmhouse B&B late on our first evening in Ireland, and we couldn't have been met with a friendlier face to accommodate us on our first night. Eileen has owned the Seafield Farmhouse B&B for 28 years and her hospitality shows it. She showed us to our room and thanks to the comfortable accommodations, we were asleep within 15 minutes of arriving. We were scheduled for an early tee time the next morning, and even though we had to leave before breakfast would be served, Eileen left us each a banana, rhubarb yogurt, a protein drink and homemade biscuits for breakfast. We couldn't have asked for a more hospitable place to stay on our first night in Ireland, and we highly recommend the Seafield Farmhouse for those who are coming to visit Old Head Golf Links.
On our way to Old Head, we were greeted with Irish fog. Visibility was minimal and as we navigated the mounds of sand blown on to the roads by the frequent winds, we had no idea whether a wrong turn would land us in the ocean. But we made it safely and enjoyed the sandy scenery.
Old Head Golf Links is an epic experience, truly one of the best in the world. The course is surrounded by lots of ruins. It would have been nice to see them, but the heavy fog continued throughout our round and we had about 100 yards of visibility through the entirety of our round. Nonetheless, we loved the course which should tell you a little bit about just how good it is.
We then left Old Head and embarked on a three hour drive to Waterville. We experienced all four seasons during that drive, Irish weather at its finest.
Waterville Golf Links supplied a great 18 holes to finish off an epic first full day of Irish golf. During this round, we had the pleasure to not only experience the beauty of the Irish landscape, but we also were able to be subject to incredible friendliness of Dutch golfers. We were hit in to by a threesome of Dutch golfers, who apparently didn't know how to say "fore." We politely let them through on the next hole and attempted to converse with them, but they were involved in an intense competition and didn't have time for small talk. By letting them through, that put us in the group between them and their wives. Their wives were much more willing to talk. They had enjoyed watching the competition in front of them.
After completing our round, we were able to talk to some awesome people at Waterville Golf Links. Although at times we were only able to understand about 40% of what was said to us, we continued to be impressed by the friendliness and hospitality of the Irish people.
In classic golf-trip fashion, we starved ourselves the entire day. On our way to our next destination, we were able to stop in a hole-in-the-wall place for a huge, delicious doner kebab. We highly recommend finding one of these; we had 3-4 during our trip.
During that evening's five hour drive to our next destination, we only had our life flash before our eyes four times by coming inches away from hitting oncoming traffic, especially when driving head on towards a semi with flood lights (which they all had). One piece of advice we should give is to make sure that you go in to the correct lane of the toll booth. Like true rural Americans, we drove into the wrong lane and then reversed out of it, right past a sign that said, "Do not Reverse!" The attendant that was watching us was not amused. We tried to lighten his mood by asking, "Can you tell that we're not from around here?" He wouldn’t have it. With his stern counsel to be careful, we were again off.
We finally arrived very late at the Yeats Country Hotel. This is a quaint, comfortable hotel just across the road from County Sligo Golf Club. You can't get a more convenient place to stay during your visit to Rosses Point. We had a whopping four hours to sleep and the hotel receptionist laughed when we were the last to check in and the first to check out. We had an early tee time across the road, but not before we were able to enjoy a true Irish breakfast at the hotel. We were greeted with a wide variety of traditional Irish breakfast items, including black pudding, a savory type of blood sausage.
With our stomachs full, we were ready for our next round. This time, we had the good fortune of playing a round in true Irish wind. With the mix of 40 mph winds and firm fast conditions, Billy was able to consistently hit a downwind 300-yard 3 wood. But with a head wind, you were lucky for a 4 iron to go 130 yards. Consistently, due to the wind, striped tee shots would end up in the rough and errant shots would end up in the fairway. To add insult to the injury of playing in the high winds, Billy had been feeling under the weather since the flight. Thankfully, a towel was supplied by the golf links presumably for cleaning clubs but ended up being a durable tissue for Billy to blow his nose in more times then we cared to count. In addition, Mentholatum had the dual purpose of soothing the raw nose and also keeping the arm pits from chaffing.
After our round at County Sligo, we drove an additional hour to enjoy the second round of the day at Enniscrone. Once again, this round was in windy conditions, but if you’re planning on golfing in Ireland, you’re planning on playing in suboptimal weather conditions.
With another day of golf in the books, it was time for another long drive, this time to Belmullet. There we stayed at the Drom Caoin (pronounced "queen") B&B. This little gem is owned by Mairin and Gerry Murphy and boasts a close proximity to Carne Golf Links. We were politely shown to our room and had a restful night’s sleep. During breakfast, we were accompanied by a couple of guys from Canada. They had been playing 18 holes a day and we told them we were taking it easy by only playing 27 holes that day. Together with the Canadians, we enjoyed another traditional Irish breakfast with sides of cereal and fruit compliments of Mairin. As we left, Mairin also provided us with a bag with a bottled water and granola bars, once again showing us that true Irish hospitality.
During our 27 holes at Carne Golf Links, we again enjoyed a 40 mph winds. By this point, we had grown accustomed to inclement weather. This was another enjoyable round, highlighted by one particular putt on the 12th hole. Billy was 8 feet from a hole and he decided to take a detour of almost 30 feet up a hill and then back down the hill right into the hole. Celebration ensued.
We then commenced our 4.5 hour drive to Northern Ireland and arrived at Fir Trees B&B. Patricia, the owner, was very welcoming, despite our inability to park appropriately on her driveway that was on a 10% grade. When we apologized for the parking, she kindly replied, "If the parking doesn't bother you, I'm okay with it," but not before we had to chase a water bottle down the hill that had gone astray from the car. Once again, after a restful night in very nice accommodations, we enjoyed a traditional Irish breakfast from Patricia and her husband. This time, we had the pleasure of eating with a man from Belgium who had come to Ireland with only his bike. He was in the process of cycling from Dublin to Belfast to see his brother. He had attempted to do this trip the year before, but he had to stop due to rain.
With that morning being a Sunday, we opted to seek our weekly edification at a small LDS church in a strip mall in Dundalk, Ireland. We were accompanied by 24 other people in this quaint sacrament meeting, including only one family with children. We had some difficulty understanding the speakers, but we were uplifted nonetheless and quickly realized how spoiled we are with the congregation size in Idaho.
The rest of our Sunday afternoon was enjoyed by playing on the world-class golf course, Royal County Down. Initially, the weather was a bit rainy. With Royal County Down expected to be a highlight of the trip, we attempted to move our tee time to the next day. Upon requesting to move our tee time, the polite receptionist replied in her Irish accent, "Tomorrow if full, and so it is. I can't move the tee time, and so I can't." Fortunately, the rain was minimal, and we were able to enjoy our round on a top-notch golf course that quickly became obvious why Rory McIlroy sings its praises.
After our round, we were delighted to be presented with the opportunity to eat at an all-you-can-eat Indian style buffet at a restaurant called New Cinnamon. The food was delicious. We would highly recommend stopping in for a bite to eat after an amazing round of golf at Royal County Down.
Our next destination was the d Hotel in downtown Drogheda, located just a few minutes from County Louth Golf Club. This hotel boasted a modern feel with a plasma screen TV and complementary Wi-Fi. We enjoyed the view as well, as the our room overlooked the River Boyne. Certainly, a pleasant place to stay when visiting County Louth.
Following a restful night of sleep, we arrived at the County Louth Golf Club. We were the first to arrive and were started by the superintendent. Because we were so early, we had the opportunity of being accompanied by the maintenance crew throughout the first four holes. Despite the few distractions of the greens being mowed while we were putting and couples walking down the fairway by our side picking up divots, we enjoyed the round on another solid track. Our only regret was that because the Pro Shop wasn't open when we arrived, we had to wait until after to get a logo ball. Disappointingly, they sold out of logo balls just before we came in to purchase one.
Because we were the first on the course at County Louth, we were able to finish our round in 3.5 hours and drive to Royal Portrush, another highlight of our time in Northern Ireland. The views there cannot be beat, and although the routing was mixed up because of some construction in preparation for hosting an upcoming Open Championship, Royal Portrush certainly met our expectations of being an awesome course.
Following our 36 holes of golf that day, it was time for the 6 hour drive towards Ballybunion. Here is another tip for your drive across the Emerald Isle: Make sure you upload music to an iPod. If you rely on Irish radio to give you adequate musical entertainment during your long drives, you will be sorely disappointed. If you're in the mood for nonsensical talking from DJ's, then this is your place to listen to the radio.
We arrived late that evening at the Cashen House. Situated right across the road from golf course, this B&B provides the best accommodations during your trip to Ballybunion. This warm B&B is clean and comfortable, with very nice rooms, including bathrooms with both a tub and a shower. The breakfast the next morning was once again an incredible spread of traditional Irish breakfast. There is no shortage of cereals, yogurt and fruit to complement the bacon, eggs, black sausage and tomatoes. They even serve french toast. This is an amazing place to stay, especially if you are a couple of buddies on a golf trip.
The weather the next day was very nice during our round at Ballybunion. There is a graveyard next to the opening hole, and you really get a good feel of what Irish golf is meant to be. It is not often that you get to tee off over a putting green, which you do about three times at this course. It is definitely worth the visit to Ireland, even if you were going to only play this course.
Our next drive was to Trump Doonbeg. This drive seemed to be the most difficult and was wrought with multiple wrong turns and multiple detours. After one turn, we were stopped by a kid who was smoking pot. "Nope, not going this way," he said. We were forced to turn around yet again, but we finally arrived safely at Doonbeg.
By the time we got to Doonbeg, the starter was very concerned with our ability to be able to make it through all 18 holes by the time it became dark. He was gracious enough to give us several gems of advice, including, "Play forward because they turn the dark on at 8," and "Stay out of the love grass!" We would love to explain what the love grass is, but we were so shocked by the filth of his explanation that we dare not repeat it.
Even with the starter's concerns of us not getting done on time, we had caught up to the group in front of us by the 6th hole. The course itself was nice, but wasn't the best that Ireland has to offer. It didn't help that the signature hole was closed in September for a crappy alternate hole, and the 18th hole doesn't quite live up to the hype that is expected, but Doonbeg is certainly worth playing.
After we left Doonbeg, on our way to our next destination, we again decided to stop for another kebab. We decided on the kebab after going to a bar across the street that was advertising food. When we walked in and we got a weird look from the people there, it didn't take us long to realize that we were not welcome there and we reconsidered and walked across the street for a kebab. It was during this stop for a kebab that we discovered that there is very little emphasis placed on accompanying french fries with any sort of dipping sauce. We attempted to ask for ketchup and mayonnaise, and in disbelief, the man reluctantly handed us two of the skinniest packets of ketchup that we had ever seen along with some mayo. The ketchup to mayo ratio was severely in favor of the mayo. We sat down and began to eat and eventually mustered up the courage to go and ask for more ketchup. This time, we were sent back with three packets of malt vinegar. Based on the flack we got from asking for ketchup initially, we were too frightened to ask for more. Finally, my hunger helped me find the courage yet again to ask for some more ketchup. Upon arrival to the counter, I was again greeted with malt vinegar. After a 1-2 minute discussion, I was finally able to convince the man that malt vinegar and ketchup were indeed two very different things. For the record, we would not recommend dipping your french fries in malt vinegar.
Later that evening, we made it to the Meadowlands Hotel. We were greeted by a very nice Irish woman named Aisling (pronounced "Ashling"). She was the genuine, stereotypical, home-grown Irish girl with red hair who was as kind as can be. She explained that the old hotel had been torn down, but they kept most of the fixtures and decorations to put in the new, rebuilt hotel. This is a very welcoming hotel, full of lots of sitting rooms, with very nice, comfortable and spacious guest rooms. It is hard to find a more charming atmosphere than is provided by the Meadowlands Hotel. We slept well there, after enjoying a BBC production talking about things that happened in the 70's. Oh, how the world has evolved in the last 40 years.
On the docket for the next morning was Tralee, an underrated Arnold Palmer design that boasts excellent views and fantastic golf. Unfortunately, we woke up to rain with 20 mph winds and gusts up to 30. Again embracing the Irish weather, we put on our rain gear and sallied forth. We were completely drenched by the end of the second hole, and we found out that our rain jackets were undoubtedly ineffective against the sideways rain. The entire round, we were following a married couple in front of us. Remarkably, even with our brisk play, they stayed up to speed and they celebrated with a hug and a kiss on the 18th green as they finished. We also felt so accomplished after finishing our round that we considered reenacting their celebration, but we decided to just hurry to the clubhouse instead.
It took us the next 20 minutes in the warm shower to thaw out. Although the water sensor turned off every 2 minutes, we were able to successfully complete our shower and find a plastic bag for our wet clothes. We were then quickly off for Lahinch Golf Club.
Designed by Alister MacKenzie in 1928, Lahinch Golf Club is a quirky yet memorable authentic Irish links experience. The most memorable is perhaps the complex that involves the 4th, 5th and 18th holes. The approach on 4 converges in to one spot with the tee shots on both 5 and 18. With 4 and 5 lying perpendicular to 18, there is a theoretical chance for 3 balls to collide at once. Fortunately, to avoid such a situation, there is a flag man standing on the Klondyke Hill of the 4th hole directing traffic. He is polite enough to also offer commentary of the golf being played around him.
As one familiarizes oneself with the rules at Lahinch, it is quickly discovered that they are very concerned with the pace of play. Written on the scorecard are 8-10 rules regarding the pace of play. We found this ironic given that the pace of play was so bad that the group behind us bailed after 9 holes. We were stuck behind 3 groups and the back nine took us 2:45 to play. We were hoping to make it to see the Cliffs of Moher that are close by to Lahinch, but due the slow pace of play, we were unable to take in the site.
That night was spent in the Deeside Manor. This was a very spacious and very clean B&B. Deeside Manor also boasted perhaps the most comfortable beds that we had experienced in Ireland. We showed up at midnight and had a nice, brief chat with the owner and two British gentlemen. We were shown our room and got 5 excellent hours of sleep. Since we left early the next morning, they were also gracious enough to leave breakfast out for us. Overall, the Deeside Manor was very peaceful and is a quick drive to Portmarnock Golf Club.
We were hosted next by the Portmarnock Golf Club the following morning. After our round, they were gracious enough to give us a ticket for complimentary lunch. Disappointingly, we were told by the waiter that the ticket was only good for 10 EUR. After having our eyes on a nice sandwich, we both then were forced to order a side salad.
For that afternoon, we were then welcomed by the European Club, which was our last and probably our most entertaining round for the trip. We were greeted warmly by Patrick, who was funny and welcoming. He kindly offered a buggy and warned us that the smell of gas might be a little overwhelming. It was, but we were ready for it. "Better to smell gas," Patrick had warned us, "but if you smell electric, run like [heck]!" Although the Irish wind made it difficult to reach par 4 greens in two strokes, the European Club was a pleasant surprise and a solid track to finish the trip.
After our last round at the European Club, we made our way in to Dublin. Traffic was a little on the brutal side, and we utilized the bus lane when needed to hasten our journey. Our final night in Ireland was spent at the Croke Park Hotel. Situated in downtown Dublin, across from Ireland's largest stadium and Europe's third largest stadium, the Croke Park Stadium, this hotel has easy access to all things Dublin. We had a quick 20 minute walk to the Temple Bar District, where we were able to find some souvenirs and also our last Kebab of the trip. We walked back to the Croke Park Hotel and devoured our food while we enjoyed a game of Rugby. Once again, as was the norm after a nice night of sleep, we woke up to a wonderful breakfast. The Croke Park Hotel did not disappoint in providing a nice traditional Irish breakfast spread.
We then had a quick drive to the Dublin Airport. With ease, we were able to return the rental car. Getting through customs was also a breeze.
Bill Murray once said, "My favorite place to play golf is in Ireland. It's the most beautiful country to play golf in. And when you come as a guest, you're treated like a king." We echo Mr. Murray’s thoughts on visiting the Emerald Isle. You can't beat the golf and the hospitality is amazing. If you’re at all considering a golf trip to the Republic of Ireland, it’s time to take the plunge and go. It will not disappoint!