Drawing on its rugged landscape and stunning coastal views, golf in the West of Ireland is easy on the eye yet challenging on the mind. Concentration and pre-planning are of the utmost importance on some of the most demanding courses in Ireland. Many of the courses in the West were originally developed over 100 years ago, with more recent alterations adapting them to suit the modern game.
Greg Norman's first links course is a testament to how skilfully he transitioned from player to parkland architect and then to links designer. In a setting which closely resembles Lahinch just 20 minutes up the coast, Doonbeg offers stunning ocean views on no fewer than 16 holes, 6 of which lead right to the water's edge. Every hole has its own unique character here, with the par threes and short par fours being particularly memorable. Encouragingly wide fairways make the course quite forgiving but, with thick rough growing to knee length, be warned any shot straying beyond the primary cut will be gone forever.
Welcome to one of the most debated, eulogized and generally talked-about courses in all of golf. The Lahinch Old Course bears the fingerprints of no fewer than three architects, with Old Tom Morris putting in the original groundwork (1894) and Martin Hawtree making modern-day refinements to a course whose best features are largely credited to Alister MacKenzie and his 1920s redesign. Perhaps the most notable challenge on this course is one for which no mortal designer can take credit: the wind and weather at Lahinch are hugely unpredictable factors which come and go quickly, affecting play enormously. Discussion in the clubhouse will likely centre around the two most famous holes, the fourth and fifth - known as 'The Klondyke' and 'The Dell' respectively. Here, steep hills and blind shots will give visitors much to talk about and much to blame.
Set against the famously rocky and windswept Co. Galway landscape, the fabulously remote Connemara Golf Club offers great rewards to visitors who are prepared to travel this far west. It is made up of three loops of nine holes, with the A and B loops making up the Championship course. Playing this traditional combination, expect a front nine that is gentle, open and forgiving. From the tenth tee onwards, prepare for a punishing nine holes that are among the most challenging you will find anywhere. If you can shoot to your handicap on the back nine, then you have earned your reward in the clubhouse.
You will struggle to find a more remote golf club in Ireland than Carne - Eddie Hackett's swansong which was opened in the early 1990s. After a spectacular career, Hackett went out on a high and those who make the long journey to get here usually go home persuaded that this ranks among his best work. Like most of the links courses which bejewel Ireland's west coast, Carne is set against a backdrop which is rugged, windswept and enchanting. After a challenging outgoing nine, the journey back to the clubhouse will feel a little more forgiving - but not much.