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President Clinton once described Ireland’s Ballybunion Golf Course in County Kerry as his favorite in the world. “I love it,” Clinton told Golf magazine. “It’s perfectly Irish: beautiful, rough, and a lot like life - you get breaks you don't deserve, both ways. You just have to keep swinging and know it will all even out.”
It’s hard to beat the seal of approval of an American president, but many professional golfers have lined up to enthusiastically to endorse Ballybunion and Ireland itself as the world's number one golfing destination. Here’s a list of the top 10 Irish links:
1. The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare
Having hosted several European Opens, The K Club really put its name on the map as the venue for the 2006 Ryder Cup. Golfers from around the world flock to this famous upscale resort set on the 550-acre grounds of a historic Georgian mansion, located just 40 minutes from Dublin. After a round on the course you can relax in the 20,000-square-foot K Spa, or grab a tasty bite at Legends Restaurant, overlooking the 18th green and the lake. If you ever tire of golf, you can try some of the resort’s many other diversions, such as clay pigeon shooting, horseback riding and fly-fishing.
2. Ballybunion Golf Club, County Kerry
You’re advised to book well in advance (and preferably a year in advance) if you're a non-member hoping to play Ballybunion in the summertime, because this is the Mecca of Irish links golf. Located on the rugged Atlantic coast south of the Shannon, the par 71 course occupies 6,638 yards of rolling land and sand dunes that seem naturally made for links golf. Many professional players often stop here en route to the British Open to hone their games on the spectacular dunes.
3. Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort, Downing’s, County Donegal
Yes its remote but the natural greens and sand dunes of the rugged Atlantic coast set the scene for a dramatic golf experience. It was none other than Saint Andrew’s golf legend Old Tom Morris who immediately recognized the pure potential of this location in 1891 when he laid out the first eighteen holes. The club’s 53-room hotel overlooking the Bay of Sheephaven has added new upscale suites and a spa. Rosapenna is off the beaten track, which makes this one a hidden gem.
4. Old Head Golf Links, Kinsale, County Cork
Designed by a team of prestigious players and course designers including Ron Kirby and Paddy Merrigan, Old Head is the first place to go for challenging, wind-blown golf in a breathtaking setting. You’ll find a sophisticated but laid-back group of players at the gorgeous clubhouse, which has picture windows and a gourmet restaurant. Brand new are the club’s 15 contemporary guest suites, spa and a fitness center, and all available to non-members who have paid greens fees.
5. Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, County Down
Royal County Down is one of the Ireland’s oldest and most prestigious courses, and it hosted the Walker Cup in 2007. The terrain ranges from large dunes where the sounds of crashing waves accompany the players, to emerald valleys and fairways lined with gorse and heather. Some of those holes are consistently rated among the best in the world. Non-members are made very welcome on visitors’ days. Just a minute from the club is the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa, a recently renovated 178-room Victorian-era hotel that has stylish, contemporary interiors, a great fitness center with a large indoor pool and a spa.
6. Adare Golf Club, County Limerick
Adare hosted the Irish Open in 2007, 2008 and 2009. It’s set on the 850 acres of the Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort, an aristocratic castle estate with formal French gardens that was converted into a luxury resort in 1988 by its current American owners. Adare is now a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. Given that the owners and the course designer are American, the championship course is more American in style, with manicured greens, three manmade lakes, and cloverleaf bunkers. Beyond golf, Adare’s visitors can enjoy the spa and swimming pool and partake in horseback riding, fly fishing and clay pigeon shooting.
7. Druids Glen Golf Club, Newtownmountkennedy, County Wicklow
Druids Glen has also hosted the Irish Open for four years in a row. The landscaped course is spread over 400 magnificent acres in County Wicklow. The club’s name was inspired by the pre-Christian stone altar discovered near what is now hole 12, which is now watched over by the statue of a druid. A stately 400-year old mansion serves as an elegant clubhouse. Druids Glen also has a golf academy, and a second championship course, Druids Heath, was opened in 2003. Wicklow is just 30 minutes from Dublin, but overnight guests can stay at the Glen Marriott Hotel and Country Club, which has a fitness center and a spa.
8. Portmarnock Golf Club, Portmarnock, County Dublin
Portmarnock has a demanding, snakelike course that stretches along a windswept peninsula jutting into the Irish Sea. It’s only 12 miles north of Dublin city center and the club is very welcoming to guests. The recently renovated grand clubhouse has a restaurant and a bar that is open to non-members. Be sure to order some Jameson whiskey, as the club was founded by one of the Jameson’s forbears on land once owned by the family. Golfers looking to stay close by should opt for the 138-room Portmarnock Hotel, which has a spa and a conference center.
9. Ballyliffen, County Donegal
Ireland’s most northerly links, nestled in dramatic landscape of the Inishowen peninsula under a magnificent skyline. Glashedy Course in Ballyliffen was designed by Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock and is regarded as one of the best courses in Europe by golfing experts. The neighboring Old Course is still in use. It challenges players with very irregular fairways.
10. Lahinch Golf Club, County Clare
Lahinch is sometimes known as the Saint Andrews of Ireland. The links is situated on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The combination of bracing air and wind from the sea is one of the enduring attractions for golfers who ply their skills on two magnificent championship courses. The Club offers two quality courses, the Old Course and the Castle Course. The golf course was established in the 19th century and was a design of Old Tom Morris. Comprehensively redesigned in 1927, the course is on dunes generally considered unsuitable for golfing. Lahinch these days is also known as a surfer’s paradise. One’s golfing education is not complete until the challenge of playing Lahinch is taken on and thoroughly enjoyed.