Golf tourism on rise in Ireland
The American love of golf has created a new form of Irish business
We're putting Ireland up there to make us the Number One destination in Europe, contends Damien Ryan. One of the biggest pluses for us now is we have a lot of commercial courses here, which makes it more accessible than with member clubs.
The profile of visitors has changed dramatically, confirms Alan Reardon at Lahinch. At the start of the 90's Irish visitors made up about 48 percent of our business; that's now down to eight percent. The market spread is now 80 percent American.
The same shift is reflected nationally. Golfers from Britain make up about half of those who come to Ireland to play but the American share has grown to almost 35 percent, many of whom play premium courses. In tourism-speak they are valued as high-yield guests.' A high ratio of repeat business suggests the visitors get exactly what they come for.
It's a game where tradition runs deep. Golfers everywhere love to try the famous old courses and in Ireland they go for Royal Dublin (est. 1885), Lahinch, Royal Portrush, Portmarnock, Royal County Down, Old Head of Kinsale, Balmoral and Woodbrook.
Lahinch itself dates back to 1892 when Limerick businessman Alexander Shaw deemed the coastal sand hills an ideal site to set up a course. He then built with the assistance of Scottish officers from the Black Watch Regiment, and the first game was played on Good Friday, April 15 that same year. To commemorate the occasion the West Clare Railway put on a special train in order to give persons an opportunity to view the game and enjoy the sea air.
The course was originally divided by a road but in 1927 six extra holes were added on the beach side to bring the entire course by the sea. Some 36 years later the club developed land on the other side of the roadway to make up a second course, the Castle Course, for which green fees of 50 euro are less than half the fee to play the Old Course.
Of course the newly-built courses can't compete in terms of history and tradition. To win immediate profile and prestige the current trend is to hire an international golfing figure to design the course. Many of the new courses in Ireland have a famous stamp on them, such as Jack Nicklaus' design at Mount Juliet, Arnold Palmer's at the K-Club or Bernhardt Langer's design of the newer links course at Portmarnock.