Ireland has always been a magnet for golfers of every type ? and the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and Seve Trophy has brought the Emerald Isle right back into the spotlight. The K Club was a stunning venue for Europe's triumph against the USA and Royal County Down did a superb job in hosting the Walker Cup.
But it?s not just about these highbrow venues, Ireland is packed with courses, both old and new, to make any golfer drool.
Royal County Down
Royal County Down is one of the oldest clubs in Ireland, situated in Newcastle, where in the immortal words of Percy French "The Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea".
There are two courses, the Championship Links and the slightly less-daunting Annesley Links.
The Championship course is absolutely stunning as it weaves its way though gorse, heather and sand dunes and it's almost impossible to pick out any hole above the others, but the 3rd is extraordinary and the 9th is a truly magnificent par 4.
Many will argue that County Down has a serious rival as Ireland's toughest links course. Some will put forward the European, many will sing the praises of Royal Portrush. Portrush occupies a triangle of giant sand hills with views of the hills of Donegal in the west, the Isle of Islay and Southern Hebrides in the north and the Giant's Causeway and the Skerries in the east. The ruins of 13th century Dunluce Castle overlook the course and this gives its name to the course where the pick of the holes has to be the 5th and the 200-yard par-3 14th - aptly named Calamity.
Portstewart might live in the shadow of its more illustrious neighbour Portrush, but they are very different animals. In fact, there are many who favour Portstewart, which boasts three 18-hole courses, each offering something different ? there is no doubt that the opening five holes on the Strand are the top drawer... and the rest ain't bad either.
It's worth playing the course simply for the opening drive but some of the par 3s are excellent and the par 4s, which run down close to estuary and river are sublime, especially when played in the early evening light.
Besides the par-72 Strand, there is the Riverside, a par 68 with nine newer holes running down to the river and the Old Course, a par 64, which winds along the rocky shore east of Portstewart and where the club was founded in 1894.
In 1891, Old Tom Morris took a drive to enjoy the Donegal scenery and he ended up staking out the first Rosapenna links. Harry Vardon and James Braid also had an input down the line, but 100 years later, Frank Casey, the current owner, dreamt of a second 18 hole holes in the dunes alongside Tom's masterpiece and he called in Pat Ruddy, designer and owner of the European and many other courses. The result is a truly wonderful blend of the traditional and the new, set in a stunning location.
If it's at all possible Portsalon is even more blessed by nature ? the sands of Balymastocker Bay lie at one end of this beautiful links course that is surrounded by the spectacular Knockalla Mountains and sits on the shores of Lough Swilly. It's not long and there are blind shots, rollercoaster fairways and impossibly contoured greens. In short, it's eccentric and it's wonderful.
Ballyliffin has two outstanding, contrasting links courses and the arguments rage long and hard as to which is the best. The Old Links glories in its natural terrain ? you will never get a level lie ? and has been refined and improved by Nick Faldo. While the new Glashedy Links is fashioned around the dunes and is already famous, or should that be infamous, for its revetted bunkers and its opening three par 4s.
No less a spectacular course is Ardglass, which lies on the south-east coast of County Down. Unquestionably, it is a beauty, meandering its way out to a headland and then back again. Like Portstewart, the first five holes are fantastic with an opening drive that is just majestic. None of the holes are long at Ardglass, but that doesn't mean they are easy.
If like me you are inspired by the very names of these courses then one way of getting to play them is to use North and West Coast Links, which represents 11 courses ? Connemara, Carne, Enniscrone, Sligo, Donegal, Rosapenna, Portsalon, Ballyliffin, Castlerock, Portstewart and Royal Portrush.
North and West Coast Links operates a tee-time reservation service that covers all 11 as well other courses around Ireland and they also have an accommodation booking section, so check out their website www.northandwestcoastlinks.com.
Royal County Down
ADDRESS: Golf Links Road, Newcastle, County Down
TEL: +44 (0)28 4372 3314
ADDRESS: Dunluce Road, Portrush, BT56 8JQ
TEL: 0044 (0)28 70822311
ADDRESS: Fanad, Co. Donegal, Ireland
TEL: +353 (0)74 9159459
ADDRESS: Inishowen, Co. Donegal, Ireland
TEL: +353 (0)74 9376119
Rosapenna Golf Links and Hotel
ADDRESS: Downings, Co. Donegal, Ireland
TEL: +353 (0)74 9155301
ADDRESS: 117 Strand Road, Portstewart, Co.Londonderry, BT55 7PG
TEL: 028 70832015
ADDRESS: 4 Castle Place, Ardglass, BT30 7TP
TEL: 028 4484 1219
Where to stay
Slieve Donard Hotel
ADDRESS: Downs Road, Newcastle
TEL: +44 (0)28 4372 1066
ADDRESS: Prehen Road, Londonderry BT47 2NH
TEL: +44 (0)28 7132 1066
Ballyliffin Lodge and Spa
ADDRESS: Inishowen, Co Donegal, Ireland
TEL: +353 (0)74 937 8200
Northern Ireland Tourism ? www.discovernorthernireland.com
Blue Badge Tour Guide ? firstname.lastname@example.org
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