The 2012 Ireland Golf Trip was my first visit to Ireland, my first taste of Irish golf, and my first time experiencing the “package” golf trip. I was eager to compare the great Scottish courses to their Irish contemporaries. Our trip lasted one week and included six rounds of golf.Those on the trip included my ever-present golf buddy Matt, his dad, and a group of his father’s friends (all of whom were from New Zealand). During the week, I experienced the New Zealander’s calming laid-back attitudes, along with their extreme generosity. A special thanks to Matt’s dad Nick, who made the trip possible.
Ardglass Golf Club
The trip began with a round in Northern Ireland at Ardglass Golf Club. Ardglass has a beautiful clubhouse that is part of an ancient castle. The first five holes on the course are stunning. The par-3 second was especially impressive with cliffs on the left and a forced carry of nearly 160 yards to reach the green. There was a noticeable lull in the quality of holes between the sixth and eleventh. This sag in remarkable holes left a slightly negative taste, but from the twelfth onward, the design regains form and finishes strong. The eighteenth provides a final chance for birdie with a beautiful elevated tee and a drivable green. If you are in the N. Ireland playing Royal County Down, I would strongly recommend making the effort to go play Ardglass.
Royal Portrush’s rating of fourteenth in the world speaks very strongly about the course. Our trip came to Portrush two weeks after the Irish Open. This meant that the greens were in excellent condition, but it also meant that much of the rough had been cut or trampled down by the galleries. This was great for me since my driver was slightly wild throughout the round! Very few weak holes could be found and my only complaint was the lackluster 18th hole.
When a course rater reviews a course, one of the criteria is “variety of the par fours.” This was one area where Ballyliffin’s Old Course was lacking. There was little variety between the par fours, and extremely high rough combined with strong winds made the day a grind. Upon finishing the round, none of us could recall a single hole we particularly liked (or even disliked!). The only hole that came to my mind was the par 3 sixth hole, which with its elevated green reminded me of the thirteenth hole at Muirfield. Nick Faldo had come in and redesigned (added a few bunkers) to a number of holes on the course along with completely redesigning one of the par 5s. None of the Faldo redesign holes were particularly interesting. We didn’t play the Ballyliffin Glashedy Links, but I hope it has a better selection of par 4’s. After looking through the photos from the day, none were especially interesting, which does speak to the quality of the course.
I would have greatly benefited from having played Donegal Golf Links prior to our round. Despite having a forecaddie for the group, multiple blind approach shots and blind tee shots led to bad results due to sheer ignorance about the layout. The par 3 fourth hole was extremely good. Bunkers left and high rough low right made the long par 3 challenging, but score-able. Donegal was an enjoyable course, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to play it again.
County Sligo offered the best views of any course played on the trip. Beautiful mountains framed one side of the course with water and beaches lining the other side. A high, elevated third tee provides the best chance to take the great view in. The course was not excessively long, but required thought and well positioned shots. I would strongly suggest a round at Co. Sligo to any visiting golfers.
Enniscrone was our last course and turned out to be the favorite of multiple people on the trip. Most of the holes are set within deep dunes, giving a secluded feeling on each hole. Six new holes were built ten years ago. Those six holes were extremely strong and took the course to the next level. Further, the six new holes were not uncharacteristic from the course and fit in well overall. My only complaint for the course was too many blind tee shots. Even with a caddie, I was confused on many tee boxes, and having seen the course before would have paid dividends. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera. Some of the holes were gorgeous, and you’ll have to take my word that a visit is necessary!
There are benefits to the “plan it yourself” golf trip, including freedom and flexibility. Having experienced both at this point, it is also very nice to be driven everywhere, have problems solved, and everything planned. If it is your first trip to the UK for golf, I would give serious to using a golf travel company (something I wouldn’t have said pre-Ireland…). I would recommend visiting Ardglass, Royal Portrush, Co. Sligo, and Enniscrone. We all had an excellent time, and I am already planning my next trip back to Ireland, particularly the southwest corner!