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Great Golf on the Emerald Isle

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Moving beyond the coast, inland travel in Ireland begets great golf.

By Steve Habel

The idea that comes to mind when one thinks of playing golf in Ireland is of a sumptuous smorgasbord, with the greens greener than any green you’ll likely see anywhere else, the grasses high and waving in the cool breeze along the tops of huge dunes and the courses carved along the edges of the cliffs or the beaches, with the ocean or the sea so close one can rip a golf ball into the teeming surf. Yes, that notion pretty much exemplifies the “links” golf experience on the Emerald Isle and the game as it’s played along the craggy coastline that reaches along the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the North Sea to the north and the Irish Sea to the east in the pass that separates Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

But golf in Ireland is much more than the courses in the island’s edges. According to the Golfing Union of Ireland, an organization that dates back to 1891, there are more than 350 courses in the country. With a population of 4.5 million (about one -tenth less than that of Houston’s urban area), Ireland is the most densely populated country per capita in the world for golf courses. Just 49 of Ireland’s tracks are categorized as links courses. The rest are considered parkland courses and set inland atop and across the rolling hills and through thick forests, watched over by the mountains that seemingly mark every horizon. Some are routed along massive lakes, and others are segmented by roaring streams and wide rivers. Some are on ancestral land marked by seemingly endless gray rock walls and are routed past castles and ancient homesteads. Others are parts of grand resorts (the Irish do love their holidays) and are popular because virtually everyone in the nation has some knowledge of golf, and most are regular players.

Anyone who truly enjoys the game of golf owes it to himself or herself to keep a trip to Ireland on their bucket lists. Yes, the famed links courses (The European Club, Ballybunion, Lahinch and Old Head) are musts to any journey to Eire. Just make some room for the inland parkland courses as well. Here are four parkland destinations to keep in mind when teeing it up in Ireland:

Killarney Golf & Fishing Club

It’s hard to find a more stunning setting for golf anywhere in the world, so much so that the Killarney G&FC carries nicknames of “heavens reflex” and the “nearest golf club to heaven.” The backdrop of the course is Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland, and a handful of its holes are played on and over Lough Leane, the largest freshwater lake in the Irish Southwest.

Set just west of the charming town of Killarney in County Kerry in Southwest Ireland, the Killarney G&FC is unique in that it is considered the only true “lakeside” golf club in the country, and with that designation, it has attributes of both a seaside track and an inland course. The Killeen Course is the flagship track of the club’s three courses (the others are Mahony’s Point and Lackabane) and is a true Irish gem.

The Killeen Course has hosted five Irish Opens, most recently the 2009 and 2010 tournaments. Golf at the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club dates back to 1893, but the Killeen course was fashioned in 1972 by Billy O’Sullivan and Fred Hawtree, and was the second of the three tracks built at the club. In 2006, Killeen was again renovated, this time by Tom MacKenzie, who added new tees and bunkers and lengthened the track.

The track’s tree-lined fairways can seem confining (especially from the back tees) but they are actually very generous. Some of the holes adjacent to the lake are quite exposed to the fickle winds, and when the lake is not in play, ponds and burns often are, as water comes into play on 11 out of the 18 holes.

Druids Glen

Druids Glen Golf Club lies in County W icklow, about 20 miles south of Dublin in the tin y village Get away Powerscourt Golf Club Photos by Steve Habel. Fall_T4.indd 38 8/19/13 3:38 PM 39 of Newtownmountkennedy (yes, that’s one word). It is less than one mile from the Irish Sea and within shouting distance of the towering Wicklow Mountains. It is appropriate that Druids Glen is in County Wicklow.

The county is known as The Garden of Ireland, and the course is as breathtaking visually as any parkland course golfers will play. The course’s name, Druids Glen, originates from the Druids altar, a preserved stone located on a hillside to the right of the downhill and overwater par-3 12th hole. The course is laid out across the estate of the Woodstock House, which was built in 1760 by an Irish earl. The property features ponds, high banks planted with trees and shrubs, a walled garden and low-lying areas where streams meander over rocks. The course is turfed completely with bentgrass and is impeccably landscaped with all kinds of trees, shrubs and flowering plants.

The design makes masterful use of the terrain’s natural contours and elevation changes. Opened in 1995 and host to three Irish Opens, Druids Glen was fashioned by Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock, veteran Irish designers who were heavily influenced by both St. Andrews and Augusta National. As an example, the par-3 second hole is played entirely within a walled garden and mimics No. 17 of the Old Course at S t. Andrews, while the stretch of holes from 12 to 14 is called “Ireland’s Amen Corner.” The long dogleg-right par-4 13th hole ends at a green that’s a tiny island, a spot allegedly used by the Earl’s family as a place to swim and sunbathe.

Powerscourt Golf Club

Powerscourt Golf Club is part of a 1, 000-acre estate that dates back to the 13th century , when it was a stronghold for Anglo-Normans coming to Ireland. Just half an hour south of Dublin, set in surroundings of one of the fines t manors in Europe, Powerscourt is one of Dublin’s premier golfing venues, with two championship courses. The resort’s East Course, designed by Peter McElvoy, is the resort’s original course and hosted the 1998 Irish PGA and the 2001 Irish Seniors Open. Its routing is enhanced by the panoramic views of both the Atlantic and Sugarloaf Mountains. Some holes have links characteristics that contrast nicely with the parkland holes at the track’s beginning and end.

There are trees throughout the golf course, many of which are more than 200 years old, and the track’s multi-tiered greens range from mildly to severely sloped because of the dramatically undulating terrain. The West Course, opened in 2003 and fashioned by renowned designer David McLay Kidd, is currently rated among the top 20 parkland courses in the country. Its routing is even more challenging and hilly than its older sibling, and its intense elevation changes are further enhanced by strategically placed bunkering. The property also is the site of the la vish Powerscourt Estate, noted for its house (originally a 13th-century castle) and its lush 47-acre landscaped gardens.

Carton House

Carton House, one of Ireland’s leading luxury destinations, renowned for its exceptional hospitality on Dublin’s doorstep, hosted the 2013 Irish Open on its Montgomery course, one of two tracks on the massive property. Voted Golf Resort of the Year in 2008 and located just 14 miles west of Dublin city center and 30 minutes from Dublin Airport, Carton House not only features two of Ireland’s finest though widely differing championship golf courses, it is also home to a stylish hotel and luxurious spa and leisure suite.

The O’Meara Course, designed by American two-time major winner Mark O’Meara, offers a classic parkland experience, as it meanders through acres of glorious pastures and ancient woodlands. O’Meara is the older of the two courses, but only b y a year. The 14th through the 16th holes are a memorable stretch, as they play along the banks of the Riv er Rye. In 2005, this course hosted the Irish Amateur Championship.

The Montgomerie course, the battlefield for this year’s Irish Open, was designed by seven-time European Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, and is a 7,300-yard “linksstyle” track. It sweeps across firm fairways and through a maze of cavernous bunkers that surround its large, undulating greens and narrow fairways. The designer paid homage to some of the greatest links courses in the world, with skillful and abundant bunkering, which combine with blustery, prevailing winds to provide the maximum level of challenge.

Carton House’s 1,100-acre private parkland estate is an all-encompassing playground for leisure and corporate guests alike. One of the many unique attractions here is Shell Cottage, situated on the 16th hole of the Montgomerie Course and decorated with an endless assortment of seashells.


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