I once took a call from a member of the H&B Expeditionary Forces who’d traveled with us twice–once to southwest Ireland and once to the Scottish Lowlands. He began our conversation by saying, “Major, I’m ready to play true links golf again on some courses I’ve not played as yet. Before you recommend anything, remember that I’ve already played Ireland.”
I responded, “Mycroft”, (we don’t use real names here) “as I recall you spent a week in Ireland playing the courses from Old Head to Lahinch. You could spend another three weeks on the Emerald Isle playing a different links course every day and never play a single one you played on that first trip.”
And so it is about Ireland. The maps below show 25 courses ringing the Irish coastline that we think are worthy of leaving home to play. The total number of Irish courses we recommend is actually closer to 35 but we simply couldn’t squeeze them all onto the small map. The island has four golfing regions, each with a sufficient supply of fine courses to sustain your need for an overseas golf fix for at least a week. And you don’t have to confine your Irish expedition to only one region. In a week, you can cherry pick the best of two or three but not all four.
Dublin & Environs
Dublin is the best choice for those who want to limit their accommodations moves as well as those who plan to immerse themselves in the Irish culture. You can play eleven different courses, never change your lodging and never drive more than an hour to the course. If you stay in Dublin’s northeast suburbs, four fine links courses will be right on your door step. Baker’s Blog explores them all in The Best Golf Near Dublin.
In the evenings there are Dublin’s many and varied pubs which have raised conversation and conviviality to the level of an Olympic sport. The restaurant choices range from a Michelin one star to a small place that makes perhaps the best Irish stew on the island. Add a plethora of museums, historic sites and shops and you’re sure to agree the Good Life in Dublin is truly great. The only drawback to the Dublin region is that it has the smallest supply of true links course of all the Irish regions–just five. On the other hand, the parkland offerings are as good as it gets.
If you want to play the two highest rated courses in Ireland, then you’ll need to go to Northern Ireland to play Royal County Down and Royal Portrush Dunluce. The former is stunningly beautiful and currently Golf Digest’s #1 course in the world. The latter is the only course off the island of Britain ever to host The Open Championship (1951) and is set to do so again in 2019. While you’re in the northeast, you can play six other fine links without much driving and only one accommodations change. But we caution you not to bring along companions whose luggage does not include golf clubs. Although we think this is the best region for links golf, we find it the least interesting for tourists. Despite years of searching, we’ve haven’t found sufficient off course activities to sustain one’s interest for more than three days or so.
Perfect Pairing: Morning play on the links of Portrush, Portstewart or Castlerock. The afternoon spent exploring Dunluce Castle and the Giants Causeway, a geological formation so unusual UNESCO has designated it a World Heritage Site.
Even though you may not recognise the names of any of the courses in the northwest and none has yet achieved a worldwide ranking, permit me to assure you this is outstanding links golf. These are the kind of rugged, natural and largely undiscovered courses that attracted visiting golfers to the British Isles in the first place. And because they are somewhat undiscovered, the region’s single most attractive feature is it’s value. A week spent in the northwest costs about $1000 less than a comparable week in any of the other three regions. But don’t wait too long to discover the northwest for yourself. The region recently bested every other part of Europe to be named Golf Destination of the Year by golf’s global travel trade organization. More golfers and higher prices are certain to follow.
Perfect Pairing: Play the natural links of Donegal Golf Club near Murvagh then drive to Donegal Town to shop for Irish tweeds at Magees. They feature those patchwork tweed caps your neighbours back home are certain to eny and you’ll appreciate on a biting, windy, cold Irish sort of morning.
If you plan to travel with tourists who don’t play golf, then you must spend at least some time in the southwest. Between the stunning scenery, the castles and the other historic sites, they’ll have plenty to do whilst you’re trudging around the course. The distances between courses and the poor road quality in this region mean you’ll spend more time driving in the southwest than you would in the other regions but your reward is four world ranked links and several other fine courses. This is the gorgeous seaside golf for which Ireland is justifiably famous. In fact, if there is another course in a more spectacular setting than Old Head we’ve not seen it. The views from Lahinch, Ballybunion, Tralee and Waterville aren’t far behind.
Perfect Pairing: Golf at Tralee preceded or followed by a meal at the nearby Oyster Tavern, the best seafood restaurant in the area. Order the pan-fried John Dory.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
Your guide to the greatest golf holidays in Ireland