I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to experience some of the world’s best golf courses and plenty of the those that sit at the business end of the list of my favourite courses happen to be in Ireland. From Northern Ireland’s County Antrim coastline, to the resorts in and around Dublin and the world famous links courses dotted along the South West coast, I’ve sampled my fair share.
Now…I’m fully aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that opinions are like…well everyone has one. But if you’re planning on heading to The Emerald Isle for some golf in the not too distant future, be sure to consider the courses below.
Here are my 5 favourite holes in Ireland and you could play them too! (And probably score better than I did…)
When it comes to views, no golf hole I’ve ever been on holds a candle to the 1st at Portstewart. The hole itself is stunning too.
As you make your way onto the opening hole of the amazing Strand Course, you don’t really need to take too much notice of the “No Practice Swings” sign because, quite frankly, you’ll probably miss it, instead standing there like some overenthusiastic late night reveller gazing lovingly at a greasy doner kebab while you gawp at the panoramic views of the enormous sand dunes known as “Thirsty Hollow”, the Atlantic mouth of Lough Foyle, and out towards the Inishowen Peninsula and beyond.
Once you’ve snapped out of it there’s the small matter of a tee shot played down to a fairway seemingly miles below the level of the tee. Once your drive has taken its time to plummet from the sky, the hole bends to the right, with the green beautifully framed by the dunes. With the wind whipping off the sea, this 425 yarder can be a bit of a brute, especially as your opening hole of the day.
It is nonetheless truly memorable and one of the best holes I’ve played anywhere in the world.
I’ll admit something now…
When planning my South West Ireland Links Tour in the summer of 2014, I whacked Tralee on the itinerary as a kind of filler course. One to make up the numbers after already signing up for rounds at Ballybunion, Lahinch and Doonbeg (Trump International Ireland these days).
Arnie’s Irish gem ended up being my favourite out of the lot and while there are plenty of amazing holes here, the par 3 13th is the one that sticks out in my mind as the most memorable.
There’s nothing quite like a do-or-die par 3 and the 13th – known affectionately as Brock’s Hollow – at Tralee certainly slots into that category. It’s only 160 yards from the back tee markers but rather than concentrating on a clean strike, you’ll most likely be wondering how you’ll go about retrieving your ball from the Irish Grand Canyon that sits between the tee and the green.
The dunes on the back nine at Tralee are mind-bogglingly big, and Arnie made full use of them here, with a green cut into the side of one of the biggest ones on the course, right near the summit. From the level of the tee / green to the bottom of the chasm between them, it seems like a hundred feet and I’m sure it’s probably pretty close.
Nothing but on the dancefloor will do here and that’s what makes it so exhilarating.
After a few holes at Ballybunion I’ll admit I was wondering to myself where the mighty reputation had come from…as soon as I got towards the end of the front nine, scoffed a hotdog from the halfway house and made the turn, I knew my initial fears were…well…quite ridiculous really.
The back nine at Ballybunion is a procession of world class holes and the par 5 16th was my favourite. It’s always nice to have a scoring opportunity late in the round and the 16th is an excellent risk vs reward hole, where the margin between a birdie and biting off more than you can chew en route to a double bogey or worse is a fine one.
It’s wise not to cut off too much of the corner from the tee, although longer hitters will be understandably tempted. Flirt with the bunkers you can’t see but know are waiting if you dare!
Safely in play, the 16th turns sharp left and heads back up the hill towards the clubhouse and neither the lay up or going for the green in two is an easy proposition as the dunes pinch inwards, making the hole appear somewhat like a bowling alley flanked by wild links rough.
As I said, this hole can be a nice little treat for your score late on in the round but one mishit shot and things could turn nasty for you in a heartbeat.
Pat Ruddy, the man responsible for many of Ireland’s best courses, originally built The European Club as his private play thing and I’m so happy he decided to share it with the wider world because it’s an awesome course.
Unusually the course has 20 holes and there are a couple which have been officially recognised among the best 100, and best 500 holes in the world. The 12th was my favourite though thanks in large part to a pretty bonkers yet very memorable feature…a 125 yard deep green!
For the sake of comparison, that makes the green on this hole longer than the entire 7th at Pebble Beach, the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon and just a shade under the total yardage of the 17th at Sawgrass…only in Ireland right?!
The putting surface aside, the hole is visually stunning too, running along the gorgeous Wicklow coastline.
It’s an odd feeling to finish on a par 3 but that doesn’t seem to matter on Mahoney’s Point at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. With Lough Leane sprawling out to your right, the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks (mountains) seemingly within touching distance and towering pines framing the green, this has to be one of the world’s most beautiful par 3s.
Usually playing into the prevailing wind, the tee shot here must be struck straight and true over the edge of the lake to the slightly elevated green. It’s a cracking little hole and the exclamation point on a truly memorable closing stretch of holes.
Have the camera primed and ready to go for this one!
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