Like so many travelers, our 2020 trip including Southern Ireland was cancelled, so while in Europe this fall, we capitalized on our cross-pond flight and extended a mulligan leg to Dublin. The good news about the delay is that our dollar goes much farther today, almost equivalent to the euro. In our fourth country and sixth week of touring, our first day in Ireland began at 4 am with a taxi ride to the Rome Airport where it took a little patience to check our golf bags in. Patience is the first thing to pack regardless of your destination. And a smile is the best thing to wear when trying to resolve unforeseen issues.
In Dublin we scrambled through customs to pick up our bags and car, adjusting to a left-handed stick shift to drive on the left side of the road, maneuvering the roundabouts clockwise instead of counter, and mistakenly reaching the private Portmarnock by GPS before correcting the address to:
Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links
It is a no brainer decision to stay and play here when flying in or out of Dublin. First, because of proximity, just 15 minutes from the airport. Second, because of quality that applies to all aspects – accommodations, service, food, and golf. Lastly, because it is FUN.
Portmarnock Links was designed by Bernard Langer along the Velvet Strand of beach where the first transatlantic flight took off. We took off with a skip in our step on our first round in Ireland in too many years. Alas, here we were with the flag waving above the sea and wispy fescue waving above the fairway carpet. Tee markers are noted with lux, amor, pax meaning light, love, peace. It is indeed a very peaceful setting and the further you go, the more beautiful it gets with the tenth tee and more holes lining the beach.
The Snug Pub is a door away from the pro shop for a light caramel Guinness treat with the locals. Members were so fun sharing stories and laughs that it was difficult to leave them, but we had yet to check in. The lobby was lovely, and our room was amazing with a view of the course from one window and a view of the sea from the other. Why hadn’t we checked in earlier? Originally the home of the Jameson family, the namesake bar serves any beverage, but bartender Chris gave us a comparative sampling of Jameson’s original, the stout edition held in stout craft beer barrels, and the black barrel which is stored in a well charred barrel. All are triple distilled with distinct flavors.
Luxury permeates the hotel with dining at said Jameson Bar, the 1780 and the Seaview Portmarnock. Michael, the food & beverage director was hands on with a full house hotel on a Saturday night and many local walk ins without reservations. Serving and orchestrating his staff, everyone was happy with food and pairings. The seabass was extraordinary in the evening as was the breakfast buffet the next morning. We hated to leave the view and the ambience so early but that’s the quick tease, tour style of tasting so many flavors of life. We had a 10am tee time to make at:
The K Club
A guard at the gate greeted with, “You’re very welcome, sir and good lady.” With a light rain, umbrellas appeared at our car doors to whisk us inside, car keys and luggage surrendered. We noted that this was our 28th bed since departing home and the receptionist said, “You must be shattered.” The people of Ireland have a fun way with words. The K Club is striking with elegant décor and furniture you want to sit and relax in at every turn. Spacious bedrooms match the elegance with views of the river and course beyond.
The K Club is home to the Horizon Irish Open and the 2006 Ryder Cup where the US team was badly spanked, but Americans are treated very well today. Arnold Palmer designed two courses, North and South. Palmer North was soaked with a steady rain, and we might have been as well without all the proper gear for the first few holes. The opening tee box is lined with bright red geraniums and stacked with all the markers except the forward tees. The starter announced that the “ladies’ tee is a mile ahead.” Everything is first class at The K Club including the large wooden plaques depicting the layout, nickname, and yardages of each hole. Yes, yards, not meters which are conveniently noted with GPS on the electric trolleys. Autumnal heaven shown through the brilliantly leafed trees reflecting in the natural ponds and streams graced by swan families and more waterfowl playfully splashing and seriously prowling for the next fresh fish. The parkland style course is a true beauty and fair if you play your game and make putts; something the Americans didn’t do.
Seafood chowder and salad on the Sunday menu paired nicely with the frothy Guinness only found in Ireland. Stateside offers are not the same version.
An ideal morning ritual begins with a five-minute walk, in robes to the spa for a steam sauna and soak in the jacuzzi before the Irish breakfast buffet. Ready for the drive to:
Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Doonbeg
The road from Dublin to Doonbeg was filled with green pastures and bright fall confetti frosting the forests. The gigantic Dromoland Castle caught our eye on the way, so we sidelined to check it out. Director of Golf Eamonn O’Donnell gifted us with logoed Dromoland Castle Golf Club hats to wear on the Trump Doonbeg links to spoof his friend Brian Shaw, the Golf Director there.
Roads narrowed as we approached Doonbeg, making the drive more exciting with oncoming cars. It seemed like the middle of nowhere when we reached the guard who called ahead, and Paddy was ready to open our doors. The reception is tucked in a corner but walk through to the restaurants and the magnificent sea view smacks with wonder. Number 27 suite was steps away with a full kitchen, living room and gas fireplace downstairs, bedroom, and bath upstairs. After admiring our digs, we took off to the pro shop. Brian was unfortunately not in during our visit, but Kevin gave us a quick introduction to the layout and sent us off to explore the course. We walked a few holes and veered down to the beckoning beach for a stroll before previewing the rest of the course in preparation for our morning round on the windswept sand dunes, synonymous with true links golf.
Trump’s Bar and Restaurants are positioned to absorb the stupendous views and the servers are all friendly. The food and camaraderie are incomparable as all the golfers are wondering if they have enough balls to play the course where the fescue dunes are significantly high. You can’t go wrong with fish and chips and bantering with bartenders John, Sarah, and Jamie.
Trump Doonbeg is the new kid on the coast, celebrating its 20-year anniversary. Electric trolleys with speed control show yardage to the green as well as hazards, which is helpful with a little potluck to avoid all the pot bunkers. Across the wide blue bay lies County Claire with Lahinch and the Cliffs of Moher beyond. We quipped that Doonbeg trumps all but to be fair, that was before we went to:
The Cliffs of Moher, a UNESCO Geopark is aside from golf, one of the most famous sites in Ireland with vertical cliffs extending for miles over the sea and the Aran islands. For a low entry fee by car, the visitor center has a complete history and breathtaking hikes with the sound of waves crashing far below. Or take a cruise for a sea view; either way, expect your hair to fly in the wind. See the website for more info including places to stay in Clare and from there, you may drive to golf at Lahinch or Ballybunion and Tralee in Kerry County.
Lahinch Golf Club
This is a fabulous goat track, literally although when we visited, director Paddy Keane said the goats were getting a little feisty, so they had moved on for the season. Carry your clubs or take a regular trolley to the first tee right next to the pro shop, up down and around the hills to small valleys on the seaside links. It’s a challenging exercise after playing 18 in the morning at Trump Doonbeg and hiking 5-miles along the Cliffs of Moher. There’s nothing hidden about this golf gem except for the greens from the tees on many holes. Course knowledge is a premium. This is where Jon Rahm won the Irish open in ’19. Paddy cautions our readers that the courses in the southwest are mostly booked through 2023 as they are on:
Ballybunion Golf Club
This course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior has its own sea cliffs to walk with your sticks beginning with the famous graveyard off the first tee which starter PJ says even the pros are concerned about driving into. But there are plenty of other burial sites for balls in the mountainous fescue dunes. The course is closed to visitors in October, but John made an exception and kindly invited us to play a few holes. It was just enough to understand the beauty of Ballybunion. It’s a golf waltz through the grassy hills and vales with the seaside popping into play with the accompaniment of the roaring waves. It’s difficult to pick a favorite links course in Ireland when you have so many, like:
Tralee Golf Links
This is a treasure of the sea, designed by Arnold Palmer whose statue stands in the center of it all, with a castle, beach, and boulders in the Atlantic that extends as far as the eye can see. Drink in the entire view from the restaurant where we stopped for lunch on a sunny day before taking pics along the course. Random clouds swooped in with heavy winds and rain. A loose umbrella danced across the fairway through dunes out to sea and just as suddenly, a phenomenal, bright, full rainbow appeared that even the local members had never seen. It’s the Wild Atlantic Way. The sun then shone for our incredible course walk which made us want to stay on the Bay of Tralee, but we had to return to Dublin stopping to visit:
Yes, we had to kiss that Blarney Stone after all these years of thinking it was for good luck, but no, it’s for the gift of gab. The whole castle and gardens are impressive and the circular stone steps to the top of the tower are rigorous. The stone is positioned over an opening high above the ground and an assistant guides you to lie down and reach back almost upside down to kiss the wall. Done, all done, after six weeks of travel during which we wondered, will this keep us young or kill us. George Bernard Shaw’s quote over the local pub door gave the answer. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” So, one last stop:
Jameson Distillery Middleton
Recommended by everyone along our route, the Jameson Experience is a journey through the history of whisky production in Ireland on the grounds of the original factory where a turn of the century water wheel still provides part of the power. It is one of the largest distilleries in the world today, producing Jameson, Redbreast, Power and Middleton spirits.
While we had a blast driving the narrow roads on the left side across the country, and linking our own links, it is much easier to contact North and West Coast Links Golf Ireland to nail all the details of your Ireland golf trip. Did we return shattered and with the gift of gab? A bit jet lagged perhaps, yet we can’t stop talking about the trip of a lifetime.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?