The Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, Ballybunion Golf Club in Kerry and Adare Manor in Limerick. All world-famous golf destinations in their own right and all located within a relatively small distance of one another. In terms of testing your own raw-powered drive and the yardstick in general, it's hard to find better courses anywhere in the world. Add to this some of the most spectacular vistas you'll find on any golf course and it's safe to say that golfing in Ireland's Southwest is as good as it gets.
Calling on designers and collaborators from a diverse range of golfing fields and relying on the stunning setting presented by mother nature, the Old Head Of Kinsale has grown to become one of the planet's most sought after golfing days out. Built on a 220-acre near chunk of land that reaches out over two miles into the Atlantic Ocean, with a lighthouse at its peak and the ocean surrounding you at all sides, it really is a golfing experience like no other. The par 72, 18 holes are broken down by five Par 5s, five Par 3s and eight Par 4s, nine of which play along the cliff tops. Enjoy oak lined locker rooms, a warm up range, a putting green and an area to practice your short game. There's also an executive helicopter service, should the mood take you.
Situated on the banks of the Lee in the Little Island area, Cork Golf Club intermixes its parkland character with many of the most enjoyable aspects of linksl and terrain. Throughout the year, the turf is firm and dry like a links course which makes shot making an interesting challenge. Designed by Alister MacKenzie in the early 1900s, this course makes good use of a landscape which was previously used as a quarry, with lots of interesting changes in elevation. Cork Golf Club, also known as Little Island Golf CLub, is full of character and brings local and visiting golfers back again and again.
Until the 1980s, when Tom Watson declared it one of the world's finest golf courses, Ballybunion was largely unknown to the outside world. Since that time, however, its carpark has been full of coaches and limousines as golf fans from all backgrounds pay tribute to a links course that truly sets the standard. Summer visitors should expect to book as much as a full year in advance.
In 2006, the completion of a four-year course redesign by architect Martin Hawtree saw Dooks emerge as one of the truly great courses in links golf. And yet it remains relatively unknown internationally. The good news is that the best-kept secret of Irish golf has very affordable green fees and comparatively quiet tees as a result. Against the charming backdrop of Dingle Bay, take on a links course that presents challenges for all golfers while remaining accessible for all abilities.
With so much challenging links golf to be had throughout County Kerry, the Killeen and Mahoney's Point courses in Killarney can be a welcome change, and both stand out for their distinctly Irish interpretation of parkland play. Originally built out of one Old Course, today's two courses show little evidence of dilution and both can be counted among the Emerald Isle's very best parkland offerings. The Killeen Course is noted for the outstanding quality of its greens. Mahoney's Point stands out because of its stunning views across the lake to the mountains beyond.
A uniquely Irish parkland, the Ring of Kerry course is woven into a landscape that could have been created for golf. From this high-up vantage point, players behold a scene of quintessentially Irish beauty, with Kenmare Bay below - bejewelled by tiny islets - and the Caha Mountains beyond. The playing surface is quite firm for a parkland, giving the play a slightly links-like feel. And the frequent threat of long grass and patches of gorse add to the sense that this perhaps more a hybrid than a pure parkland. However you categorise it, few will dispute that this is a fantastic course which makes great use of a challenging mountain landscape.
Visiting Tralee's rugged coastline before he began work on what would be his first and perhaps his finest European course, architect Arnold Palmer observed that he had never seen a more perfect place to build a golf course. A windswept links course with a fairly flat front nine, Tralee always holds the threat of challenging weather which can disappear as quickly as it emerges from the brooding Atlantic. According to Tom Clarke,
The back nine is the more dramatic overall, although the 2nd and 3rd ensure it doesn't have it all its own way – first an awe-inspiring 600-yarder doglegging round the cliffs, then a daunting par 3 on the very edge of the rocky shoreline.
Designed by John Mulcahy and opened in 1972, Waterville is famous for its gruelling, unforgiving length. But those who travel here to experience the punishment for themselves may be disappointed. The competition tees (7,378 yards) are more than 500 yards longer than the white tees and are usually off-limits to non-competitive players. This makes Waterville actually shorter than several of Ireland's top-name courses. Still, the disappointment will not last long and this traditional Irish links offers a great afternoon's golf to all who make the trip.