Hidden gems and must-plays for the ultimate golf pilgrimage

Doonbeg Golf in Ireland, obviously, has existed for quite some time, and it continues to flourish in a pure state. Walking is the preferred mode of transportation; scores are more often measured by Stapleford scoring and matches than stoke play. Par is relative to the wind and weather conditions of the day, not the number on the card. Here, traditions are revered and respected. Unfortunately, most visiting golfers don't spend enough time in one place to get to know the area's history let alone its unique flavor. Rather than spending all your time driving from one area of a country to the other, only playing the big name courses, we recommend that instead, be it your first time or not, pick one area and play a variety of the courses—inland and links—trophy and hidden gems, for a real once-in-a lifetime experience. Slow down your trip, meet some locals, learn the history of the area and the courses, discover the perfect pub and become a regular for the week, even play your favorite course twice.

No matter where your dream itinerary takes you on the Emerald Isle, the best advice is not to delay a trip over the Pond for any reason (even the unfavorable current exchange rate), but especially not because you couldn't secure an advanced time at Ballybunion. Just go as soon as possible and begin to explore the hundreds of courses and meet some locals who may become lifelong friends, both of which will give you a new perspective on your game.

There a number of fabulous golf resorts with distinctive personalities, many converted from castles and manor houses and with great on-site golf. Unlike the U.S., many private golf clubs allow outside play during certain days of the week, so that you can also stay in accommodations without on-site golf as well. One major advantage of booking into a golf resort is being able to schedule weekend tee times when many of the clubs have "members' only" play and competitions. Check the links in this article for some of the best full-service golf resorts in Ireland with on-site golf that make perfect bases from which to explore the other courses of the area.

What To Bring

When traveling to Ireland in March or July, think layers. Temperatures are milder than one might expect in early spring and late fall, and may be cooler than one expects in the dead of summer. Rain will occur, but unlike wet weather in the U.S., precipitation is never extreme enough to cancel out rounds. In fact, if you are prepared, playing in the rain can be an enjoyable experience.

Essential items to pack:

_Ê_Ê 1. A great rain suit, two pairs of rain gloves (nothing improves playing in the rain than the ability to grip the club) _Ê_Ê 2. Two pairs of golf shoes (both should be well worn in—you will be walking and this is no place for new shoes) _Ê_Ê 3. A few sweaters (you'll buy at least one trophy logo sweater there) and a pair of warm golf gloves (even in summer) _Ê_Ê 4. A blazer and tie (some clubs have a dress code for lunch and in the better resorts & restaurants coat and tie are the preferred uniform for dinner) _Ê_Ê 5. A letter of introduction from your club pro and your USGA handicap card (especially if you did not book through a tour operator) _Ê_Ê 6. A low lofted driver for the wind, a lob wedge for bunker play, a Gustbuster umbrella that lets the wind through and, believe it or not, good sunscreen—it does get very sunny and it also helps with windburn.

Things to leave home:

_Ê_Ê 1. Your staff bag (you or your caddy will be walking) _Ê_Ê 2. Hard-sided golf club cases (cars in the Ireland are small—think Geo Metro) _Ê_Ê 3. Shorts (even when the temperature reaches 80, they are frowned upon at most top-end clubs) _Ê_Ê 4. Your cell phone (the most economical way to go is to buy an inexpensive cell phone at the airport shop, or local store, and pay as you talk—it's worth it to schedule dinner reservations, and call ahead for added tee times and hotel direction) _Ê_Ê 5. Your idea you will be playing from "the tips"—here, championship tees are just that _Ê_Ê More Information

Tourism Ireland Northern Ireland and Ireland have recently combined their tourism efforts to take one of the world's best tourist boards in golf to a whole new level.

Cork Kerry Tourism

Ireland West

Tour Operators These are the best of the best when it comes to arranging the perfect golf vacation to the Emerald Isle.

Irish Links Tours & Travel (800) 824-6538

Haversham & Baker Golfing Expeditions (800) U-TEE-OFF

PerryGolf (800) 344-5257

Traveling the Fairways (800) 414-8519

Jerry Quinlan's Celtic Golf (800) 535-6148

Ireland Must-Plays

Ireland has many magnificent courses; it has even been said, "the best courses in Scotland are located in Ireland." However, unlike Scotland, and to a certain extent England, the championship courses of Ireland are not tightly bunched together, and the roads are meant for leisurely journeys admiring the scenery, not races between tee times.

Western Ireland The collection courses on the west coast of Ireland may be the most hauntingly beautiful layouts found anywhere on the planet. They are unspoiled and somewhat undiscovered due to their remote location, but more than worth the effort. They are also well suited to combine with either a west coast Scotland itinerary by ferry or with the Northern Ireland courses in an itinerary from Shannon to Dublin around the top of the Emerald Isle.

ConnemaraConnemara Clifton, Co. Galway CarneCarne Belmullet, Co. Mayo EnniscroneEnniscrone (with new holes by Donald Steel) Enniscrone, Co. Sligo SligoCo. Sligo Golf Club Rosses Point, Co. Sligo Donegal GCDonegal GC Murvagh, Co. Donegal RosapennaRosapenna (Old Tom Morris and Sand Hills Links) Downings, Co. Donegal

Ballyliffin Ballyliffin (Old Links and Glashedy Links) Ballyliffin, Co. Donegal

Southwest and South Ireland Ballybunion Old is getting as difficult to score a tee time on as the Old Course at St. Andrews, so plan ahead and good tour operators can assist getting guaranteed tee times there as well as at popular Old Head and Doonbeg. Be sure to sprinkle in some lesser-known gems as you pick off your "must plays."

BallybunionBallybunion Ballybunion, Co. Kerry Old HeadOld Head Kinsale, Co. Cork WatervilleWaterville Waterville, Co. Kerry TraleeTralee Golf Club Tralee, Co. Kerry Fota IslandFota Island Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork Ring Of KerryRing of Kerry Killarney, Co. Kerry DoonbegDoonbeg Co. Clare LahinchLahinch GC Lahinch, Co. Clare Killarney Golf and Fish ClubKillarney Golf and Fish Club Killarney, Co. Kerry

Dublin Area Dublin is Europe's new "It" city. It has everything—hotels, music, art, shopping, history and free-flowing Guinness in the many colorful pubs, which are now nonsmoking. It also is surrounded by some of the world's best golf.

Carton HouseCarton House (Montgomerie & O'Meara) Maynooth, Co. Kildare PortmarnockPortmarnock Portmarnock, Co. Dublin Druids GlenDruids Glen Newtownmountkennedy, Co.Wicklow The European ClubThe European Club Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow K ClubThe K Club Straffan, Co. Kildare LouthCounty Louth Drogheda, Co. Louth Mt. JulietMt. Juliet Thomastown, Co. Killkenny

Northern Ireland Northern Ireland offers some of the most serene and beautiful golf experiences and is home to two of the World's Top 100, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down.

Royal PortrushRoyal Portrush Portrush, Co. Antrim Royal County DownRoyal County Down Newcastle, Co. Down Castlerock GCCastlerock GC Castlerock, Co. Derry Royal BelfastRoyal Belfast Belfast PortstewartPortstewart Portstewart, Co. Londonderry ArdglassArdglass GC Ardglass, Co. Down Belvoir ParkBelvoir Park Belfast Malone Malone Belfast

Where To Stay_Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê In addition to the locations featured under "Where To Play," consider these outstanding accommodations when traveling to Ireland.

_Ê Where To Stay _Ê _Ê Aghadoe Heights Hotel Lakes of Killarney, Co. Kerry This small independently owned, immaculately presented hotel is winning awards faster than Annika wins majors. Located in the Lakes of Killarney, it is fast becoming a favorite of golfers to Ireland who appreciate fine lodging as much as their championship golf. Butler Arms Hotel Waterville, Co. Kerry This family-owned hotel in the Ring of Kerry, is the perfect base from which to discover the great golf of Ireland's southwest. The charming town of Waterville and its famous links course are both just minutes away. Sheen Falls Lodge Kenmare, Co. Kerry Only 30 minutes from the lively town of Killarney is the tranquil haven of Sheen Falls Lodge. This five-star retreat is the ultimate in country comfort and luxury with a world-class spa. Killarney Killarney, Co. Kerry There are two fantastic options in Killarney, the Killarney Park Hotel ( or the Killarney Royal Hotel ( Both offer exceptional service and cater to golfers who especially appreciate the spa facilities. Glenlo Abbey Hotel Galway, Co. Galway One of Ireland's most exclusive 5-star hotels is located in the vibrant city of Galway, gateway to the spectacular links courses of the northwest. There is a resident pro on site, as well as a double-green 9-hole lakeside golf course, but you'll stay here for the fabulous service and luxurious accommodations. www.glenlo.com_Ê Hayfield Manor Cork, Co. Cork This small luxury hotel is located only a mile from the center of Ireland's third-largest city, Cork, and yet it is a convenient base for Old Head and Fota Island. The Merrion Hotel Dublin One way to sample the best that Ireland has to offer is to stay in central Dublin at the five-star Merrion Hotel and travel out to play the many close-by championship courses. _ÊMoy House Lahinch, Co. Clare This small charming country-house hotel sits on 15 acres overlooking Lahinch Bay. _ÊThe Bushmills Inn Bushmills, Co. Antrim, N. Ireland Originally an old coaching inn, The Bushmills Inn has been faithfully restored into a wonderful comfortable hotel. The town is home to the world's oldest distillery, and Royal Portrush is the closest of several championship courses. Slieve Donard Hotel Newcastle, Co. Down, N. Ireland Perhaps the most recognizable scene in all of Irish golf is the view back down the ninth fairway at Royal County Down looking back toward the Mountains of Mourne. And if you look closely at the picture, you will see the spire of the recently renovated Slieve Donard Hotel. _Ê _Ê

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