The Wild Atlantic Way – the longest defined coastal driving route in the world – is Europe’s final frontier before the mighty Atlantic stretches out towards the USA. Wild, rugged & unspoiled, this amazing stretch of the Irish coastline offers those visiting the Emerald Isle the chance to enjoy a seemingly never ending journey of discovery and some world class golf along the way.
Stretching over 1,500 miles from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork, there is something for everyone both on and off the golf course and while we’d all love to drop everything, pack the clubs away in the car and head of on a golfing odyssey of epic proportions, stopping at every course between the Old Head Golf Links and Ballyliffin, for most of us, that’s just not going to happen.
However with a number of famous golfing hotspots dotted the whole way up Ireland’s west coast, there’s nothing stopping us golfers from exploring the Wild Atlantic Way…if only a little bit at a time.
Inishowen Peninsula | Slieve League Coast >>
(Co. Donegal golf courses)
Sligo | Achill Island | Clew Bay >>
(Co. Sligo & Co. Mayo golf courses)
Connemara | The Burren | West Clare >>
(Co. Clare & Co. Galway golf courses)
Dingle Peninsula | Ring of Kerry | Old Head >>
(Co. Kerry & Co. Cork golf courses)
The most northerly point in Ireland, Malin Head, marks the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way and the beginning of the first of the golf friendly stages of this amazing stretch of coastline. Waves crashing in from the Atlantic have carved deep crevices – Hell’s Hole is a particularly spectacular one – into this rugged headland and it is here that countless bird flock to, riding the firm Atlantic winds towards the peninsula’s tip, known as Banba’s Crown. Here you can warm up for the first leg of your golfing odyssey by hooking up with Cycle Inishowen and taking a 45 minute bike ride, learning about the area’s wildlife, geology and history along the way. Now for some golf…
Located half an hour’s drive from Malin Head, Ballyliffin Golf Club, which lies just off Tullagh Point on the Atlantic edge of the Inishowen Peninsula, is often described as “the Ballybunion of the North” or “the Dornoch of Ireland”, high praise indeed! With two thoroughbred links courses – The Old Course and the monstrous Glashedy Links – on offer here, Ballyliffin is the perfect place for golfers to get in tune with the demands of links golf on the untamed west coast of Ireland.
Making your way along the Knockalla Coast Road you are greeted at the top by one of the most breathtaking views in Ireland; be sure to have the camera primed and ready to go! With views out over Portsalon, home to another excellent golf course, as well as Ballymastocker Bay, home to what was voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world in the not too distant past, this section of your road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way should prove to be unforgettable.
Edge your way west towards Sheephaven Bay and you’ll inch closer towards Rosapenna. This magnificent golf resort now boasts 3 amazing links courses keeping even the most ardent of links lovers busy for a few days.
Driving further south and tracking the coastline will bring you past Sliabh Liag which are among the highest cliffs in Ireland and it is here that you’ll enjoy some of the most spectacular panoramic views on your journey.
Alternatively, if you spent enough time in the company of Mother Nature and just fancy cosying up to a pint of Guinness in a traditional Irish pub, head directly south from Rosapenna towards Letterkenny. Here you’re sure to find something to suit your taste, whether you’re looking to enjoy a hearty meal and a nightcap in the form of an Irish Whiskey or indeed a night of Irish revelry and a few pints of Guinness!
After you’ve shaken off the cobwebs, make a beeline towards Donegal and the Murvagh Peninsula which juts out into Donegal Bay. Here lies a course that has enjoyed the privilege of having two of Ireland’s most influential course designers – Eddie Hackett and Pat Ruddy – sprinkle their magic dust on it; this stop off is a must for the ardent golfer. Following Ruddy’s more recent work; Donegal Golf Club is now a thoroughbred championship test. A word of warning: pack some tissues in your golf bag as the par 3 5th, aptly named “Valley of Tears” could well have you weeping should you miss the green to the right!
• Mens, Ladies & Seniors Irish Open Host
• Two Championship Golf Courses
• 40 mins from Derry Airport
• Three Championship Golf Courses
• Designs from Morris, Braid, Vardon, Colt & Doak
• 60 mins from Derry Airport
• Eddie Hackett Design with Pat Ruddy updates
• 7,456 yards from the back tees
• 90 mins from Derry Airport
• Established in 1891
• Pat Ruddy redesign in 2000
• 70 mins from Derry Airport
• Established in 1905
• Redesined by Gil Hanse & Jim Wagner
• 90 mins from Derry Airport
As we continue our journey along the Wild Atlantic Way we enter the heart of Yeats country (W.B.Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, becoming the first Irishman to do so). Rosses Point offers some of the most picturesque coastal views of any golf course in Ireland.
The Darty Mountains and the famous Benbulben (Sligo’s limestone “Table Mountain”) loom large on one side of the course and The Ox Mountains can be seen further to the south, providing an epic backdrop while Drumcliffe Bay sweeps its way around County Sligo golf course; the view from the 2nd tee in particular is truly breathtaking…in a more literal sense, so is the climb up the short par 4 2nd to reach it!
While Rosses Point is undoubtedly the highlight of County Sligo for golfers, Sligo itself, the cultural centre of Ireland’s Border Region, is a great place to sign off on this leg of the Wild Atlantic Way. Head to The Belfry Bar for award winning bar food, Fiddler’s Creek for live music or Kennedy’s Bar to enjoy some old worldly charm.
Watch thrill seeking surfers take on 100 foot swells from the safety of dry land at Mullaghmore Head which hosted Ireland’s first Big Wave contest in 2011, attracting daredevil surfers from across the globe. Tow-in surfing is surprisingly exciting to watch and after a couple of hours in the brisk Atlantic breeze, why not head back to the comfort of a traditional Sligo pub and the warmth of a turf fire? An interesting way to kick off your Irish golfing odyssey to say the least!
From Sligo, heading west along the Wild Atlantic Way will eventually lead you to Achill Island, the largest in Ireland. With its tall cliffs, bare mountains and sweeping sandy beaches, Achill Island is a great place to soak up Ireland’s rugged beauty and for a rather strange and somewhat spooky experience, why not explore the Deserted Village which, for no apparent reason, was abandoned in the early 20th century?
• Stunning views with Knocknarea mountain backdrop
• Established in 1931
• Designed by John McAlister, Eddie Hackett (updates)
• Designed by Eddie Hackett
• 27 Holes of Links Golf
• Just over 90 mins from Knock & Sligo airports
• Designed by Eddie Hackett & Donald Steel
• Ranked within the Top 20 Course in Ireland
• Less than 1 hour from Sligo & Knock airports
• Redesign by Fred Hawtree
• Irish Amateur Close Championship Host
• Located on the shores of Clew Bay overlooked by Croagh Patrick
• Designed by George Combe, Harry Colt (redesign)
• Established in 1894
• Championship Links measures 6,259 yards from the back tees
While Ballybunion is arguably better known to golfers outside of Ireland, golf at Lahinch actually predates golf at Ballybunion…if only by 12 months! Dr Alister MacKenzie – he of Augusta National fame – redesigned the course in the late 1920s and transformed it into the bona fide links classic it is today and following some ill advised changes to the course just 8 years later, the R&A’s go to man, Dr Martin Hawtree, resorted Lahinch’s Old Course to its former glory just before the turn of the millennium.
Just half an hour south of Lahinch sits a course, the quality of which belies its relative youth. Doonbeg was opened for play over 100 years after Lahinch but in a relatively short space of time, it has garnered a reputation as one of the finest links courses in the world.
“When I first looked at this site, I thought I was the luckiest designer in the world,”
said Greg Norman (the course’s designer) of Doonbeg and any golfer who ticks this course off their bucketlist can count themselves lucky too. Serving up some of the most spectacular links holes in the country including the diminutive but devilishly difficult 111 yard – expect to play anything from a wedge to a full blooded 3 wood depending in the wind direction – par 3 14th.
For a more tranquil test of golf, head directly east from Doonbeg and in less than an hour you’ll find the picturesque surrounds of Dromoland Castle.
Set within the magnificent 360-acre Dromoland Castle estate, this tranquil parkland layout is a far cry from the rugged links this region is famous for. Wending its way through age old woodlands, alongside the banks of great lakes and across trickling streams, Dromoland Castle, like the famous Killarney Golf & Fishing Club further to the south, provides an enjoyable contrast to the courses found closer to the coast and is definitely worth a visit; the setting is nothing short of spectacular.
If you have time, we’d recommend a trip from Doonbeg to Dromoland via the incredibly scenic Loop Head Drive. This driving route takes you along a narrow peninsula at the mouth of the River Shannon. All along the Loop Head Drive, waves smash into sheer granite cliffs, sending surf soaring into the air. When the sun is out there are rainbows a plenty and it’s truly a sight to see.
At the tip of the peninsula, the white letters EIRE have been cut into the grassy clifftop. This is a remnant of WW2 and best seen from the air. Climb the Loop Head Lighthouse and you’ll be treated to some amazing panoramic views from Kerry all the way to the cliffs of to the Cliffs of Moher; photo opportunity alert!
• Designed by Eddie Hackett
• Amazing scenic views
• Described by Tom Watson as "a true Championship Links"
• Established in 1895
• Ranked in the Top 50 Hidden Gems of Europe
• Irish Amateur Open Championship Host
• Designed by Christy O’Connor Jnr
• Measures over 7,300 yards from the back tees
• Amazing views of the rugged Atlantic coastline
• Irish Open Host
• Established in 1892
• Designed by Old Tom Morris, Alister MacKenzie & Dr Martin Hawtree
• Designed by Greg Norman & Dr Martin Hawtree
• Ranked in the Top 5 Golf Resorts in Europe
• Measures over 7,000 yards from the back tees
Golf has been played at Ballybunion since 1893 and among the largest and most imposing sand dunes in all of Ireland lays The Old Course, ranked by some as the best course in the country. The course eases you into your game over the forst 5 or 6 holes and then explodes into life, reeling off classic links hole after classic links hole.
Tom Watson loves the place and said:
“After playing Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think that the game of golf originated here. There is a wild look to the place, the long grass covering the dunes that pitch and roll throughout the course making it very intimidating. In short, it is a course on which many golf architects should live and play before they build golf courses. I consider it a true test of golf.”
The next golfing hurdle along the Wild Atlantic Way is another relative new comer to the golfing scene and another course that in its relatively short lifespan has come to be recognised as one of the most exhilarating in the country.
It is suggested that Arnold Palmer created the front nine at Tralee Golf Club and Mother Nature did the rest; a popular cliché among those responsible for some of the world’s most spectacular golf courses but then again, that’s the funny thing about clichés; they’re clichés for a reason, mainly because they usually ring true!
Arnie had this to say about the patch of land on which he has built his Irish masterpiece.
“I have never come across a piece of land so ideally suited for the building of a golf course,”
If you stick right to the coast heading South from Tralee, you will make it to Ireland’s most Westerly golf course, Dingle Golf Club, or, Ceann Sibeal to the locals. If this course makes it onto your itinerary, be sure to stop into Dingle Bay for lunch, where you can pay Fungie the Dolphin a visit, if he is still around. In 1983 Fungie chose Dingle Bay as his home and has stayed ever since, wowing those who come to say hello to arguably the world’s most famous bottlenose dolphin.
After spending some time in the midst of some of Ireland’s purest, untouched scenery with Mother Nature flashing her smile at every turn, you will will eventually be taken all the way to Waterville Golf Links; one of the finest links courses in the country.
Having had its mojo restored thanks to Jack Mulcahy’s acquisition and subsequent investment in the links in the late 1960s, Waterville offers the first pure links experience on your way up the Wild Atlantic Way. Three awe-inspiring par threes – the tee shot on the 17th is almost worth the trip to Ireland alone – and three awesome par fives are well supported by a series of excellent par fours in what makes up one of the most complete tests of golf on the west coast.
After you’ve had your fill of golf (we’re not sure that’s possible in this neck of the woods!) it’s time to explore some of Ireland’s most spectacular scenery. After a dramatic drive from Waterville, which first heads West then back out along the coast of the remote Beara Peninsula, with views across the mussel rafts (used to cultivate beds of mussels for easy collection) and seal colonies that reside in Kenmare Bay, the land comes to an end at the Dursey Sound where you can take a cable car (the only one in Ireland) out to Dursey Island to enjoy what are known locally as “Europe’s last sunsets”.
To reach Ireland’s most Southerly point, a similar journey to the one from Waterville to Dursey Sound is required. Stretching out dramatically into the great vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, Mizen Point offers some serious photo opportunities with breathtaking views at every turn.
Learn about the Mizen’s amazing geology at the dynamic visitor centre, take the famous 99 Steps towards the Mizen Head Signal Station and, if you’re brave enough while walking across the arched bridge that connects the signal station to the mainland, take a peek straight down towards the water, keeping an eye out for seals, dolphins and humpback whales as you go.
Once satisfied that you’ve squeezed every last drop out of some of the most rugged and remote parts of Ireland, and of course when the memory card on your camera is full to the brim, one of the country’s true bucketlist golf experiences awaits.
Described by some as “Pebble Beach on steroids”, Old Head Golf Links is simply breathtaking. Laid out on a narrow headland that juts a full two miles into the Celtic Sea; Old Head literally offers golf on the edge of the world and a thrill ride from the 1st tee to the 18th green. Have the camera (and plenty of golf balls) at the ready for this one.
Kinsale also has more to offer than the supercharged golf experience at Old Head. You could say Kinsale itself is comparable to a mini version of Killarney. There is a very Irish feel to the place with a warm welcome and good craic to be enjoyed everywhere you turn. Some even refer to it as the culinary capital of Ireland so foodies will be right at home here as well.
With endless options when it comes to things to do away from the golf course, an abundance of routes you can choose to take depending on your golf courses of choice, and a seemingly never ending procession of charming coastal villages, each with their own unique collection of lively local pubs, the final stage of the Wild Atlantic Way will no doubt prove to be an unforgettable Irish golfing experience.
• Two Classic Links Courses
• Irish Open Host
• Designed by Tom Simpson & Robert Trent Jones
• Designed by Arnold Palmer
• Ranked as one of the finest links courses in the World
• Measures just under 7,000 yards from the back tees
• Designed by Eddie Hackett
• Located on the Dingle Peninsula offering amazing views
• Europe's most western golf course
• Designed by Eddie Hackett & Ron Kirby
• Overlooking the scenic Kenmare Bay
• Par 73 measuring 6718 yards from the back tees
• Established in 1889
• Designed by Eddie Hackett, Claude Harmon & Tom Fazio
• Measures over 7,300 yards from the back tees
• Designed by Ron Kirby, Paddy Merrigan & Liam Higgins
• Located just 40 mins from Cork Airport
• Described as "The most breathtaking yards in golf"