Ireland’s golf courses are a mecca for golf lovers and with the Irish Open just over, we decided to look at the best places in the country to tee off. There are about 440 golf courses in the country, including about a third of the world's links golf courses. According to Golf Ireland - the national golf tourism association - the Emerald Isle has more golf courses than any country of comparable size on the planet.
No wonder the sport is a major draw for tourists with hundreds of thousands of golfers traveling to Ireland each year.
In recent years, the country has hosted many of the world's biggest golf tournaments including the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup and, of course, the ever popular Irish Open. The world-famous K Club also hosted the Smurfit Kappa European Open between 1995 and 2007, one of the flagship events on the European Tour.
Many of Ireland’s golf courses are attached to some of the country’s most luxurious castles, hotels, and resorts. There are also plenty of country guesthouse retreats as well as B&Bs, which can be more affordable. Some golf courses in Ireland also have self-catering units attached to them, ranging from traditional Irish thatched cottages to modern apartments.
The three main golf courses worth checking out on the East Coast include Ballymascanlon Golf Club in Co. Louth, Portmarnock Golf Club, Co. Dublin, or Carton House in Co. Kildare.
Ballymascanlon Hotel Golf and Leisure Club is a hidden gem just 50 miles from Dublin and Belfast and only three miles north of Dundalk. The course sits at the foot of the Cooley Mountains, set in 130 acres, with panoramic views.
Carton House in Co. Kildare is one of the best historical golf hotels in Ireland. Dating back to the 17th century, Carton House was formerly the ancestral home of the Fitzgeralds, the Earls of Kildare.
The golf club itself is situated just 14 miles west of Dublin City Center and offers two championship golf courses.
The Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links Golf Club is considered one of Ireland’s premier golf resorts. Bernhard Langer designed the course, which covers 180 acres of classic terrain. The course’s website says that the dunes and natural terrain should please the most ardent links purists, with elevated tees and greens, blind approaches and doglegs. If these don’t keep you on your golfing toes, then the sea breezes will.
The K Club – the other name for the Kildare Hotel and Golf Club – is perhaps Ireland’s most elite golf club. It contains two of Europe’s finest championship courses: the Palmer Course and the Smurfit Course. Arnold Palmer designed both.
In 2006, the Palmer Course staged the Ryder Cup, the first time the competition was held in Ireland. A visit to the K Club doesn’t come cheap, however. A one-night stay, which includes breakfast, four-course dinner as well as a round of golf on one of the championship courses, comes to $385.
The County Louth Golf Course, which is about four miles from the town of Drogheda at the mouth of the River Boyne, is rated as one of the top 100 courses in the world by Golf Digest. It is also one of the top 25 courses in Britain and Ireland and is in the top six on the island of Ireland.
The course is almost surrounded by water with the Boyne to the south and the Irish Sea to the east. This is links golf at its very best, with only the muted murmur of a ship’s engines to break the sounds of nature.
Nearby is Seapoint Golf Club, in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth, which is set on 260 acres of links land. There is an abundance of natural vegetation and dunes awaiting any errant shot. Water comes into play on five of the holes. The back nine drift close to the sea and are characterized by uneven fairways, thick rough and deep bunkers, requiring accuracy both off the tee and onto the greens.
Co. Laois also boasts a number of golf courses including Abbeyleix, Rathdowney, and Portarlington.
The Heritage, at Killenard, Co. Laois, is another prestigious course in the area. Seve Ballesteros and Jeff Howes designed the course, which is based on a rolling landscape with views of the Slieve Bloom Mountains providing the backdrop. The course is particularly notable for its water features, with five lakes and a stream running through the course.
Carlow Golf Club (www.carlowgolfclub.com) is billed as one of Ireland’s top parkland courses. This 27-hole course is a great test of golfing prowess. Rosslare Golf Club (www.rosslaregolf.com) is often called a hidden gem because of its location on a narrow peninsula, with the Irish sea on the one side and Wexford Harbour on the other. At the Faithlegg House Hotel and Golf Club in Co. Waterford, you’ll find an 18th-century mansion with a wonderful championship parkland course designed by Irish architect Paddy Merrigan.
A golf stop in the northwest should include Portsalon Golf Club, in the remote northern part of Donegal. Here, you’ll find some spectacular scenery, which oozes with character.
Enniscrone Golf Club (www.enniscronegolf.com) in Co. Sligo has a course blessed with awesome scenery, a beautiful beach, rugged dunes and a mountainous backdrop. The Slieve Russell Hotel Golf and Country Club also opened up in the early 1990s and was recently ranked among the top 20 inland courses in Ireland.
Northern Ireland has some amazing golf courses. Royal County Down, which is on the coast, has some absolutely captivating scenery, at the base of Slieve Donard, one of the Mourne Mountains.
Not too far away is the Royal Portrush Golf Club, in Co. Antrim. This is home to one of the best and most challenging links golf courses in the world, the Dunluce Links, and the Valley Links. It is the only club in Ireland to have hosted the British Open. According to Val Smyth, a member of the winning Irish team at the European Seniors’ Team Championships in 2007, this course offers “a great challenge for golfers. The scenery is absolutely amazing.”
Also in Co. Antrim is Ballycastle Golf Club, founded in 1890. The club lies at the foot of one of the Glens of Antrim, Glenshesk, and the course offers a challenge with a variety of terrain that combines parkland and links holes. The opening five holes are parkland bordered by the Margy and Carey rivers, while the short third hole is adjacent to a 12th century Franciscan Friary. From the sixth to the eighth hole, the course is a links area known locally as "The Warren." The beach and the Sea of Moyle bound this area of rolling dunes. The ninth, a testing par 4, leads to the upland sections. The remaining eight holes command panoramic views of Fair Head, Rathlin Island, the Mull of Kintyre, Glenshesk valley, Knocklayd mountain and the town of Ballycastle.
Other golf courses to consider while in Northern Ireland include Foyle International Golf Center, which has a championship standard par 71 course. The course is set on the outskirts of the historic walled City of Derry, overlooking the Donegal hills.
The Shannon region is famous for having some of the best-known golf courses in the country, with clubs like Lahinch, Doonbeg, Dromoland Castle, and Adare Manor. It also boasts some lesser-known gems that offer the golfer a good challenge amid beautiful scenery.
Woodstock Golf Club (www.woodstockgolfclub.com) offers a beautiful parkland course with lots of natural and historical features. Limerick County Golf and Country Club (www.limerickcounty.com) recently received a massive upgrading making it one of the premier clubs in the country.
Although North Tipperary is more renowned for hurling than for golf, Nenagh golf course (www.nenaghgolfclub.com) is awash with gorgeous views of the Tipperary countryside.
The counties of Cork and Kerry enjoy a unique beauty that makes them famous across the world. This region is ideal for golfers who enjoy combining dramatic scenery with challenging golf.
Ballybunion Golf Club (www.ballybuniongolfclub.ie) in Co. Kerry has been praised by some of the game’s top professionals. It provides both a good, fair test of golf and a place of spectacular natural beauty.
Killarney Golf and Fishing Club is widely considered one of the jewels of the region. Here there are three championship courses nestled among the splendor of the lakes of Killarney and set against the backdrop of the MacGillycuddy Reeks, Ireland's highest mountain range.
Mahony’s Point, the shortest of the three courses at 6,800 yards, is a lakeside course with spectacular views. The late Golf Hall of Famer, Gene Sarazen, described its 18th hole as “one of the most memorable holes in the world.”
Lackabane is a parkland course with plenty of water hazards. And Jilleen offers both spectacular lakeside scenery and a very challenging course. When Nick Faldo won the Irish Open here in 1991, he was one of only three players to finish under par.
Tralee Golf Course, which was designed by Arnold Palmer, is one of the finest links courses in the world. “I may have designed the first nine,” Palmer said, “but surely God designed the back nine.” This was the first golf course in Europe Palmer designed and arguably, his finest.
Located in the remote but historic townland of Ballyferriter, Co. Kerry, Dingle Golf Links is carved from the natural landscape of one of the most unspoiled parts of Europe. The hazards include features laid down long before the game of golf was invented including a winding "burn" that twists and turns through the entire course.
Waterville Golf Club in Co. Kerry is surrounded by the sea on a piece of land that edges out into the Atlantic – a course very much shaped by the elements.
Bantry Bay Golf Club, in the neighboring county of Cork, is a championship course that overlooks the spectacular Bantry Bay. The late course architect Eddie Hackett and golfer Christy O’Connor Jr. designed this course.
Finally, there is the Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale. Its practice area occupies 180 acres, while the remaining 40 acres include unspoiled cliffs to frame the course (rising in places to over 300 feet). A lighthouse, which was built in 1853, is situated on the southern tip of the headland behind the 18th tee. The remains of two earlier lighthouses can still be seen near the seventh tee. Stretching over 7,200 yards, the par 72 course comprises five par 5s, five par 3s and eight par 4s. It is surrounded by the ocean on all sides and commands the most spectacular and stunning views.
More information can be found on Irish golf courses at Golf Ireland.
* Originally published in August 2016.