The time has finally come. You and your friends have been talking about making the trek to Ireland for years, and after a couple years of the pandemic where we have all learned how much the value of being able to travel truly means to us, you’ve assembled your crew and you’re ready to make it happen. Now becomes the next major question: where do you start?
We find that often golfers think they can take on the process of planning their own trip, and while we find that can often be the case for domestic travel, when it comes to taking a golf trip to Europe, do yourself a favor and shell out the extra few dollars to do it the right way with a Tour Operator. Almost every course and hotel in Ireland has embraced the Tour Operator model and when it comes to getting tee time inventory, the best Tour Operators in the business will have you covered and help you navigate how to best plan your Ireland golf stay and play vacation.
Once you select the right Tour Operator for your group, now comes the most important question: where are you going? There are so many special golf courses available to play in Ireland, and the hardest thing you and your group will likely encounter is that it’s nearly impossible to get all of them in during one trip. For the groups that do try to take this task on, they find out very quickly how spread out some of the courses they may have highlighted are and to make it work you’ll likely have to change hotels almost every night and it really takes away from the experience of enjoying the culture in Ireland which is an essential part of the experience.
There are countless itineraries that you can put together for your trip, and during a recent experience in Ireland we decided to focus on building a trip that focused on Southwest Ireland with a few stops along the way.
Old Head Golf Club
If you’ve been doing some research on the best courses to play in Ireland, then there’s a good chance that Old Head is on your radar as a must play. Once you arrive at the game, you’ll quickly understand why that is. The setting for Old Head is, in a word, magical. As you pull up to the clubhouse you arrive at a modern designed facility that somehow has pulled off the appearance that it is one with the land as the design team chose colors and materials that fit the natural look of the land here. The resort features 22 rooms, with two more on the way soon, so even though it’s a bit of a drive down to this incredible facility located on the Southern tip of Ireland, you’ll have the ability to grab a room and make a night of it should you see fit.
Even as you approach the putting green here, you are surrounded by lush flowers and vegetation that immediately draw you in.
Your round starts off with a straightforward par-4 to ease you into your round and allows you to get your bearings as you begin your round. From there though…it’s on.
As you make the trek over to the second hole past some ancient ruins you get the grand reveal of holes along the ocean and immediately you know you’ve made the right decision to include Old Head as part of your golfing experience. Routed exceptionally well, you’ll find yourself weaving in and out throughout the round bringing you back inland and then back to the water to give you the grand cliff-side vistas that you won’t soon forget. The course features a collection of par-3s that are truly special, and as you cap off your round, you’ll want to be sure you leave ample time to enjoy a “proper pint” on the verandah of the clubhouse overlooking the 18th hole, the lighthouse, and the ocean.
Waterville Golf Links
Waterville is authentic Irish links golf. There’s a reason why even the best pros in golf make their way to this epic design that was built in the 1800s but later enhanced by Tom Fazio to fully showcase the beauty of this property.
Locals here will say that you should expect to encounter a “good wind” during your round. Prepare yourselves as that likely means 25-30 miles per hour winds with gusts exceeding that.
This course is incredibly fun all the way around, but things kick up a notch when you get to the finish here. The 16th hole is a short par-4 that likely only requires an iron off the tee as you tee off into a large hill, and once you make your way to the top of the hill the ocean reveals itself and you’re greeted by an amazing vista that will make you take a step back. Don’t lose concentration though as you are left with a difficult approach even with a short iron here into a small green.
The 17th hole, a devilish little par-3 that isn’t overly long but features a table-top green that is extremely difficult to hit and keep your ball on. Short, left, and long here all leave an incredibly difficult up and down for you. Even if you aren’t playing the back tees here (and for your sake, we hope you aren’t as it will make for a long, long day here), do yourself a favor and slide back to that tee box here as you’ll get an incredible view of the whole property as this the point where the design team figured out how they wanted to route the design.
The 18th hole is a medium-length par-5 that features the ocean up the entire right side of the hole and you can get home in two on with two well struck shots, but you are greeted by a tricky green that can be quite difficult to hold.
Waterville Golf Links
Dooks Golf Club
This course has a good chance to be your favorite surprise during your trip to Ireland. As you arrive at Dooks Golf Club, you enter a small pro shop with an incredibly friendly staff and you may be wondering where your Tour Operator sent you as it may have the feel of a local muni back home. Once you get on the course though, you’ll see how wrong you were.
The first hole features a straight-ahead par-4 that only requires a long iron for a short iron approach easing you into your round, and off in the distance you get a great view of the ocean. This alone would help you realize how much value this course provides at its lower price point than other courses in the area, but once you get to the tee on No. 2, you feel like you’ve fleeced their staff for the price you’ve paid and what you get.
From Nos. 2 through 14, you have incredible views and authentic links-style golf that require concentration and discipline as the wind will be gusting and fairways are tough to find. Be sure that you do though, as rough areas that may look somewhat gentle from the tee will quickly swallow your golf ball and have you hitting provisionals throughout your round.
Unlike other courses in the area, the finish is not quite as grand as the rest of your round here as the course routes its way back to the clubhouse away from the ocean. If you’ve ever been to Spyglass Hill, it has a similar experience to that in terms of you’ll definitely feel the holes are better earlier in the round than at the end. But please do us a favor and don’t let that diminish your experience in any way as this course was one of our favorites to play and it was one of the least expensive.
Dooks Golf Club
Parkland golf in Ireland as part of your trip? It’s a point of pride for many that they want to have the authentic Irish links golf experience in Ireland, and any of the aforementioned courses above will do just that for you. To be parkland golf and be included in a trip to Ireland, then you know it must be one hell of an experience to get golfers to agree to that. Insert Adare Manor.
Adare Manor is, in a word, grand. The facilities here are first-class from the moment you pull into the opulent grounds and the class and service of the experience provided are exceptional. Selected as the host facility for the upcoming 2027 Ryder Cup, this course is going to test the best players in the United States and Europe in a way that we cannot wait to watch.
Off the tee here, Adare Manor is incredibly fair. Fairways can actually be quite wide and it makes for a very friendly experience for guests playing here. Once you get to the greens though, that’s a whole other story.
First off, it’s important to note that the facilities here are flawless. From what I’ve seen in Ireland, this has to be the closest thing to Augusta National that you’ll find in the country. Everything is lush and green with gorgeous flowering throughout the course, and it makes for a nice addition into your links golf itinerary during your vacation.
We point this out though as the greens here are incredibly tricky and require all of your mettle when hitting an approach shot into them. There are a multitude of false fronts where the collar areas are mown to a level that is faster than the majority of golf courses are able to keep their greens at. Combine that with severe slopes (many of which filter towards the water on several holes) and all of the sudden what looked like an ample landing area can shrink up on you in a hurry.
After your round be sure to enjoy lunch or dinner in the Carriage House, and hopefully you’ve chosen to include a night or two (or three) here during your vacation as the facilities at Adare Manor and as 5-Star as 5-Star gets. The resort features include: luxury leisure and spa, paddle ball, fishing, archery, falconry, gun dog trials and clay pigeon shooting.
Other courses to consider
Depending on your group and your aptitude to travel in between rounds, here are some other fantastic courses to consider including during your visit:
- Galway Bay Golf Resort: This is one to keep your eye on over the coming years as they are about to undertake a massive hotel renovation project that is currently slated to be finished in 2024. The golf course at Galway Bay was one of the fairer tests we encountered in Ireland that featured some fun dogleg holes forcing you to commit to a line or play it safe and leave yourself a longer approach into some difficult par-4s and par-5s. Galway as a city is an absolute blast and is incredibly lively and fun, so we suggest a round here and a day or two in Galway if you’re so inclined during your visit.
- Enniscrone Golf Club: We cannot say enough good things about Enniscrone. It’s a bit of a drive to get there, but it’s totally worth it and you’ll feel like you’ve found a hidden treasure if you get here. Considered one of the best and most authentic links designs in Ireland, you’ll see quickly how they have earned that distinction during your round here. Even Open Championship winner Shane Lowry recently said that Enniscrone is one of the best courses in Ireland.
- County Sligo Golf Club: Also known as Rosses Point to locals, County Sligo arguably provides the best value for your dollar during your trip to Ireland. This is true, authentic links golf and serves as the host venue to the West of Ireland Amateur Championship, won by none other than Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry through the years. The winds can get quite gusty here, and with some massive elevation changes and shifting winds, holes that are downwind can play just as tough if not harder as the holes that are into the wind, and we’re talking about a 4-5 club wind at times.
There are so many incredible courses in this region of the world such as Tralee, Ballybunion, Hogs Head, and so many others that we will be sure to cover in more detail in later articles. We have only scratched the surface with where you can go during your trip here. In fact, the one thing we can warn you about is the second you get back from your trip over then your mind will begin racing as you start to plot and plan your next adventure across the pond.
The one thing we cannot recommend more highly is that you should fully take advantage of utilizing a Tour Operator when you start planning your trip. Sure, you could save a few dollars trying to take it all on your own, but the value you get from these experts is vital to maximizing your trip.
There are lots of groups you can work with where you’ll be in great hands, and our team has partnered up with Lyons Links as we find its service and knowledge levels to be among the best, and if you end up booking with Lyons mention GolfStayAndPlays.com to receive special benefits during your trip.
Enjoy, and happy planning!