Road Trip - Ireland's Wild West Golf Courses

Courses and Travel

Our man goes in search of mythical links golf of the west coast of Ireland.

I have a list. It is well researched and draws from the work of others to make what I think is the definitive Top 100 courses these shores have to offer.

Eighty-ish have been ticked off, and I had highlighted a trip that would make significant inroads into the remainder: The South West of Ireland. Impenetrable, remote and too much ground to cover in a weekend? Not so. The counties of Claire and Kerry are well served by several low-cost airlines with frequent flights into Shannon or Kerry.

Our mid-morning flight gets us into Shannon and an hour later we are nudging balls around the putting green at Lahinch. Originally laid out in 1894 by Old Tom Morris, Dr Alister Mackenzie revised the layout in 1927 and it was broadly untouched until esteemed modern architect Martin Hawtree modernised the course in 1999.

Two of the original Old Tom holes remain. The par-5 4th, Klondyke, and the short 5th, The Dell, are both as they were 100 years ago. Blind shots abound and this pair of holes engenders significant postround debate among visitors and members a like. Personally, if they are good enough for Morris, Mackenzie and Hawtree they are good enough for me.

Lahinch Gof Club

Lahinch is a theme-park rollercoaster of a golf course and those who dare to ride it will leave exhilarated. As with any theme park exiting via the gift shop always leads to unavoidable expenditure and as you leave the golf course and are tipped on to Lahinch high street, there is a welcome inevitability about the Guinness on offer in this fabulous seaside
town.

Restorative sleep comes in The Lodge at Doonbeg (now officially the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel Ireland). With suites bigger than most London flats with the highest of specifications, this is world-class accommodation. The Greg Norman-designed course has a u-shaped routing and an extensive dune network that
place it high on any list of modern layouts.

The giant dune that forms the backdrop to the par-5 1st is a teaser for what is to follow, a layout set up for the travelling golfer, meaning it is more manageable, but no less interesting or spectacular than Lahinch. Variety comes through novel design, including a bunker in the centre of the 15th green, and a feeling of being somewhere special comes from excellent off-course Stunning views at Doonbeg ireland’s wild west road trip.

Doonbeg Golf Club

Our man goes in search of mythical links golf GG facilities, which promise to be enhanced even further through investment from the new owner – a certain Donald Trump. We eat well in the clubhouse and then we are on the road again, destination Tralee.

Our route involves a ferry across the Shannon Estuary at Killimer, and we are on the tee by 4pm. Foreboding: Noun. Def: A feeling that something bad is going to happen. That is how you feel standing on the 1st tee on a gloomy, blustery, gathering evening at Tralee. What unfolds is far from bad. It is pic.

Tralee is one of those pieces of golfing terrain where it is impossible not to build great golf holes. Twelve of the holes here are world class. The genius is perhaps that the holes that tie these classics together do not let standards slip too far.

The King himself, Arnold Palmer, designed the front nine and God created the rest – so the saying goes. Regardless of what you attribute to whom, the vista from the cliff tops of Tralee is magical. It’s exposed and it’s not an easy walk, but those who get over that 1st tee anxiety are in for a rare treat. A two-pint Pebble Beach if you will.

Tralee Golf Club

Speaking of which, the quality of the Guinness is half the reason for any trip to Ireland and our overnight stay at Ballygarry House in Tralee does not let us down. Bed arrives eventually but not before four middle aged men have passionately discussed the hypothetical merits of a) swinging and b) gate-crashing the next-door wedding reception.

Neither, of course, came to anything more than thick heads, soon mended by the beauty of the Ring of Kerry that defines our passage to Waterville, the sometime pre-Open hangout of Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara and the departed Payne Stewart. Noel Cronin, the general manager and an Irish story teller with a deep knowledge of the game, is the perfect host.

The starter holds you back from the 1st tee until the group in front is clear, leaving you to step out alone on to this mythical sliver of land. The feeling of isolation and privilege is a happy combinations. Looping around a peninsula, the links here are, put simply, one great hole after another. Laid out in the amphitheatre of a massive Irish sky, there
are flat championship-style holes, there are holes wound between spectacular dunes, there are short and quirky holes and there is a grandstand finish.

And what a finish. The 16th is the dictionary definition of a risk/reward, genius, quirky, short 4. The 17th is a testing,
spectacular 3. Finally, the 18th; a hole which perhaps best sums up the golf course, a signature hole in the truest sense of the word – beautiful to look at, all results possible, and a fair test of golf.

Ballybunion Golf Course

You leave with the feeling you have visited a world-class venue on the edge of the world. Our last stop is Ballybunion. We start with a night out that is spit and sawdust writ large. Welcomed to within an inch of our lives at the Promenade Boutique Hotel, we are furnished with Guinness, expected to join the singalong and made to feel like part of the furniture before we’ve even sat on it.

This is the battered old cliche of Irish hospitality being lived out for real in downtown Ballybunion. It is a night that goes on for too long and ends all too soon. An alarm call starting with ‘five’ is never pleasant, but the plan is to play the Cashen, the ‘second’ course here, before breakfast and then tackle The Old.

It may have been the afterglow of the evening’s entertainment but as I tumbled down, climbed up, ran round and peeked over the rolling dunes that form this crumpled landscape, I wondered how on earth the Old would surpass this land of golfing Mousetrap.

And so to the Old. I am supposed to write now that the 1st five holes are a big disappointment. In comparison to the other 31 holes on this property, I guess they are. I feel sorry for those five holes, the 13 that follow would put most to shame. It is a beautiful, blustery links day. We play the par 4 11th, that Tom Watson says is his favourite in the world.

We agree a property deal to buy a local hotel with our caddy. We make an eagle on the 16th. We share jokes about our landlady and we all have a shy at the short 4 last. We eat enough lunch for 10, and we guess the populations of European countries. It is that sort of day. Ballybunion makes you enjoy not doubt; it makes you appreciate not
question.

Waterville Golf Course

I went on this trip to tick some boxes, to get my tally from 78 to 83. Somewhere along the way I realised that is not what this is about. Visiting these golf courses in one go is a challenge, there is much driving to do and the golf is testing. But what a weekend.

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