Scotland may be the birthplace of golf, but Ireland is the home to its wonder years.
The attraction of Ireland’s courses is due in part to their difficulty. Because of the country’s natural topography, most of the island’s greens are links courses--built on coastal dunes with few trees. The courses challenge golfers to take strokes against ocean winds and amid uneven terrain.
“The average 10 handicapper would be a 20 handicapper in Ireland,” says Ian C. Jack, president of SGH Golf, a Ohio-based travel company that specializes in golf travel.
While the country's courses have been known for centuries, increasingly golfers are venturing to Ireland for more than a sporting challenge--they are going to take advantage of extravagant accommodations that adjoin many golf courses and appeal to American tourists.
A guest of Ashford Castle could spend the day taking golf lessons from Tom Devereux (the Castle’s resident teaching professional who taught Rudy Guiliani’s son to drive a golf ball) on the estate’s nine-hole course, cruising on the estate’s Inchgoill Lake for a private picnic on one of the lagoon’s 365 islands, or getting bird-shooting lessons from Ireland's first school of falconry.
Dromoland Castle, once the home of Irish sovereigns, has covered the heads of more modern royalty as well. President George W. Bush and the Beatles have both stayed in the Presidential suite, a sprawling five-room spread with views of the nearby lake, and walked amongst the royal portraits that decorate its halls.
Most of the castles and spas near the world-renowned courses are also known for exceptional service for out-of-towners who want to sleep in luxury before and after trips to neighboring golf clubs.
Clontarf Castle, a five-minute car ride from the Royal Dublin Golf Course, has in the past arranged for helicopter transport from a nearby spa for a guest. The Killarney Park Hotel, near the Killarney Park Golf and Fishing Club, specializes in charming guests with local flavor, as when a famous American songstress’ desire to explore the local countryside was met with visit to the hotel porter’s personal sheep farm.
Of course, one can’t forget the beauty of Ireland’s links.
Many of the isle’s courses have views of the sea, like hole 8 on the Royal Dublin course, and eye-catching displays of pristine greens and natural gardens.
Ireland also has “probably more golfers head for head than any other part of the world,” says Paul Muldowney, chief executive of the Royal Dublin Golf Club. The emerald isle is home to golf superstars like Darren Clarke and Padraig Carrington. And many courses, like those at the K Club, are designed by Arnold Palmer.
In fact, the best time to travel to Ireland is when the flowers are in bloom, during the high-season of May through September. But Jack urges tourists to travel in the early months of the high season.
“September is the busiest month for tourism by far,” says Jack, “but you want to be over there meeting Irish, not Americans…they are a lot more fun and tend to drink a lot more.”