This week sees the Irish Open return north of the Republic’s border for the first time since 1953 and to the mighty Royal Portrush for the first time since 1947. No doubt the decision to return to Royal Portrush was influenced by the considerable success of Northern Ireland’s golfing stars in recent years.
Graeme McDowell got the ball rolling with his US Open victory at Pebble Beach; Rory McIlroy continued the trend with his blow out performance at the very next US Open, played in Washington, and fan favourite Darren Clarke fulfilled a life-long dream by winning the famous Claret Jug at the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George’s.
The buzz surrounding this year’s tournament has no doubt got a lot to do with this success and it may well have saved the tournament which was struggling for sponsorship up until as recently as May 2012. All that seems forgotten now though as this is the most keenly anticipated Irish Open for years.
With such excitement surrounding the tournament, which kicks off on Thursday, we thought we would take a look at the 10 best courses to have hosted the Irish Open; world class courses which you could play on your next Irish Golf Break.
10 – Carton House
Carton House has emerged in recent years as one of the most exquisite golfing destinations in Ireland and beyond, as a result of two terrific, well-maintained courses, a top class hotel and an unrivalled level of service.
Messrs Montgomerie and O’Meara designed the courses at Carton House, both of which take the player on a journey through pristine Irish parkland. Monty’s effort at Carton House can only be described as a masterpiece. Taking his influence from his favourite courses, including Royal Melbourne, Royal Troon and Turnberry, the 8 time European Order of Merit winner has placed the maximum emphasis on strategic bunkering, which he believes is the key to building a good, fair challenge.
The O’Meara Course at Carton House will be a totally different proposition when the Irish Open comes calling next summer.
The O’Meara Course may not have the reputation of Monty’s gem, but the 1998 Masters and Open Champion has constructed a worthy supporter which will only get better. The 2013 Irish Open will be held at Carton House and the O’Meara Course has been given a major revamp in preparation for the event.
9 – Adare Manor
The distinguished golf course architect, Robert Trent Jones Senior, has left his mark on the 840 acres of the Adare Manor Estate by creating a truly magnificent championship layout.
This is the last course designed by the renowned architect, and is a parkland masterpiece. The centrepiece of the layout, and without doubt the focal point, is the 14-acre man-made lake that anchors the front nine. Along with the meandering River Maigue, the numerous hazards that the course is built around make it a thoroughly entertaining challenge for golfers of all abilities…just pack plenty of golf balls if you have the tendency to be a bit wayward from the tee!
There are few golf break destinations in Ireland that enjoy such a beautiful setting as Adare Manor.
The resort is also within striking distance of numerous fantastic courses, including Tralee, Lahinch and Waterville making it ideal for a golf tour as well as a weekend break where you stay in the on-site hotel.
8 – Fota Island
Set on an idyllic island amidst the beautiful scenery of County Cork, Fota Island is one of the finest destinations for an Irish Golf Break thanks in no small part to its three championship golf courses, the Deerpark, Belvelly and Barryscourt Courses.
Fota Island is set in a unique and stunning location in County Cork.
With names including Christy O’Connor Jr. and Peter McEvoy on the list of designers who have had a hand in the courses at Fota Island it is clear that a golfing experience of considerable quality awaits and on top of the beautiful golf courses, golfers visiting this fantastic resort can enjoy the brilliant Sheraton Fota Island Hotel which boasts top class restaurants and an amazing spa; the perfect place to recover after a taxing round!
7 – County Louth
County Louth fits well and truly into the category of hidden gems. While Ireland is famous for its collection of world class links courses – think Doonbeg, Old Head Links and Ballyliffin – there are a select few courses that, somehow, have flown under the radar.
Despite its undoubted quality, County Louth has managed to fly under the radar for years.
Better known as Baltray, County Louth was founded in 1892, but was subject to 1938 changes by Tom Simpson and more recently a 2003 redesign by Tom MacKenzie. Now measuring a more than 7,000 yards from the tips, County Louth is a stunning links course that, due to its exposure to the elements is sometimes ferocious and other times benign, providing a challenge for all handicaps.
There are no weak holes around Baltray, and with holes running in every direction, visiting golfers must tackle the wind from all angles. The hallmark of County Louth is the quality of its putting greens, which are widely asserted to be among the finest in Ireland. Though not well known, County Louth is a phenomenal experience, best enjoyed as part of a golf tour around Dublin and the east coast.
6 – Mount Juliet
Along with Druids Glen and the like, Mount Juliet can count itself among the finest parkland courses in Europe. Just a short drive south of the medieval city of Kilkenny is Jack Nicklaus’ only signature golf course in Ireland. The Golden Bear has created a stunning stadium course, one so good that it was awarded the American Express World Golf Championship in both 2002 and 2004.
Mount Juliet is a stunning parkland course and the fact that it was chosen to host two World Golf Championships is testament to its quality.
From the back tees the course measure in excess of 7,300 yards which is a tough proposition for even the longest hitters but golfers of all abilities can find their comfort zone thanks to a number of different tee positions. Once you have found yours you must safely negotiate undulating fairways, expansive water hazards and vast putting surfaces which are renowned for their true roll and speed.
No matter how far and wide you travel with your trusty golf clubs, you will be hard pressed to find a more breathtakingly beautiful location for a series of golf courses than that of the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club.
The three courses at Killarney Golf & Fishing club are set in one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
Killarney boasts three wonderful courses including the Lackabane, Mahoney’s Point and the Killeen, the flagship course at Killarney and host of the Irish Open as recently as last year. Mountains provide the most stunning of backdrops to all three courses, each of which is set on the banks of tranquil lakes and amidst age old trees and various other fauna that, at the right time of the year, provides the courses with brilliant flashes of colour.
The Killeen is the main attraction in terms of golf but the other two are more than worth the trip to this stunning corner if the Emerald Isle.
4 – Druids Glen
Druids Glen is one of the most famous golf venues on all of Ireland and rightly so. Situated just outside of the vibrant capital city of Dublin, this 5* resort boasts two excellent courses, the Glen and the Heath, both of which will thrill all kinds of golfers from start to finish.
The 12th at Druids Glen is an outstanding par 3 and one of the most recognisable holes on the Emerald Isle.
The Glen Course Glen though, was the course chosen to host the Irish Open from 1996 to 1999 and is the resort’s main attraction, often being referred to as “the Augusta of Ireland”, such is the beauty of this parkland gem. The course features numerous spectacular holes, the most famous of which is the 12th, a delightful downhill par-3 where golfers play over the now famous bank of flowers in the shape of a Celtic cross, but this is but one hole on a course full of classics.
3 – Portmarnock
While Portmarnock Golf Club may be confused by some with the newer Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links (which would be no bad thing as it is also excellent!) it is the classic links that has hosted the Irish Open in years gone by.
Portmarnock is one of the finest and most traditional links courses in the world.
Portmarnock’s incredible links land is home to one of the most revered golf courses in the UK and Ireland. Utterly exposed to the elements, this layout is not for the faint-hearted; there are no tricks or nasty surprises here, but there are countless extremely challenging holes. Tall rough and undulating fairways are to be negotiated en route to the exquisite putting surfaces, which are guarded by cavernous pot bunkers and vast slopes and swails. This is links golf at its finest and while that is more than enough reason to pay it a visit, the vibrant nightlife of Dublin is also just a stone’s throw away.
2 – Ballybunion
Ballybunion needs no introduction. Home to two outstanding links courses, that are considered by many to be among the best golf courses on the planet, this ancient golf course has long been one of the brightest jewels in Ireland’s crown and hosted the Irish open most recently in 2000.
The Old Course is the course that draws golfers from far and wide and this is no surprise seeing as the course merely reflects the turf on which it has been built; a magnificent stretch of the Irish coastline that is dominated by enormous dunes that characterise the course. At just 6,500 yards, the Old is not long, but there is a genuine premium placed on hitting the ball straight, as the penalties for straying off-line are harsh. This is a course for the golfing connoisseur, and fully justifies its position within the world’s best 25 layouts.
The immense dunes at Ballybunion provide an atmospheric test of golf that few other courses can rival.
It’s simple really, if the Cashen Course at Ballybunion Golf Club was anywhere else it would attract far more attention and plaudits than it does. After all, let’s be honest, it’s hard on a girl if her older sister is Angelina Jolie!
While the Old Course requires inventive shot-making, imagination and trajectory control, the Cashen Course requires acute precision, especially off the tee, as fairways frequently disappear around corners. The careless can easily run out of fairway which can lead to serious trouble as their golf ball becomes buried in choppy marram grass. A wonderful challenge from start to finish!
1 – Royal Portrush
While it was a tough choice between Ballybunion and Royal Portrush for the number one spot, Darren Clarke’s home course just shaded it. While the famous Dunluce links has long been considered one of the best golf courses in the world, along with Royal County Down which is conveniently within comfortable driving distance, it was suddenly shot back into the golfing limelight following the Ulsterman’s win at the 2011 Open Championship. This prompted calls for the R&A to reintroduce it to the Open rota – it hosted the golf’s oldest major way back in 1951 – and many believe this week’s Irish Open is being used as an audition of sorts.
Royal Portrush, host to this year’s Irish Open, is a constant feature in lists of the world’s best golf courses and a must play course for all golfers.
Whether or not this amazing links will once again join the Open Championship rota remains to be seen as the R&A investigate whether the site can handle the logistics of hosting one of the biggest tournaments in world golf. However one thing is clear, this is without doubt one of the finest golf courses on the planet and one that all ardent golfers should tick off their golfing bucket lists before they retire their clubs for good.
Bordered by the towering dunes that typify the shoreline of County Antrim, the golf course was originally conceived and realised in 1888, but the championship layout in its present state owes thanks to the 1947 redesign completed by Harry S. Colt. While it may not be the longest championship golf course, Royal Portrush is predicated on the fundamental essence of links golf; totally exposed to the elements, the course’s character is heavily dependent on the local conditions, and can change in a heartbeat.
This is not just links golf at its best, but golf in its purest form. A true classic that has, and will withstand the test of time.
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