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Of the six golf courses mentioned in this article, one (Lahinch) is in County Clare, four (Tralee, Ballybunion, Waterville, and Killarney) are in County Kerry, and one (Old Head) is in County Cork.
Fly to Shannon Airport, which is some 45 minutes by car from Lahinch, two hours from the County Kerry courses, and two and a half hours from Old Head.
The following airlines have nonstop flights to Shannon Airport through the end of September (unless end date is specified): Aer Lingus flies daily from Newark and JFK; three days a week from Boston. Continental flies daily from Newark. Delta has service three days a week from Atlanta, and beginning July 15th a fourth day from Atlanta and three days a week from JFK. American Trans Air offers service in Coach Class only from JFK three days a week, through September 11. Airlines also offer one-stop service through Dublin.
Where To Stay
For Lahinch Golf Club, Adare Manor ($290—$480, including service; 61-396-566, fax 61-396124) and the Dunraven Arms ($162—$217; 61-396633, fax 61-396541), both in Adare in County Limerick, about a 90-minute drive from Lahinch and 45 minutes from the airport. (If you play Lahinch last you'll have a short drive back to Shannon.) For the Kerry courses, base yourself in Killarney at the Killarney Park Hotel ($128—$606; 64-35555, fax 64-35266). Two other good, albeit less central choices: the Park Hotel Kenmare ($384—$622, with service; 64-41200, fax 64-41402) and Sheen Falls Lodge ($349—$608; 64-41600, fax 64-41386), both in Kenmare. For Old Head, the place to stay is Hayfield Manor Hotel ($244—$447, including service; 21-315600, fax 21-316839) in Cork, a 45-minute drive from the course. Another good choice, but some 35 minutes farther away, is the Longueville House Hotel in Mallow ($211—$225; 22-47156, fax 22-47459).
You can organize this tour yourself, but it's easier to let Jerry Quinlan's Celtic Golf (1129 Route 9 South, Suite Six, Cape May Court House, NJ 08210; 800-535-6148) do the work for you. The company specializes in customized golf trips to Ireland and arranges air and ground transportation and accommodations, as well as confirmed teetimes at these and other top courses. The cost of a trip is about $9,500 per couple, including business-class airfare to and from Shannon Airport.
The Blarney Cup Courses
We made a beeline from Shannon Airport to the edge of County Clare and the first tee of this course, said to be Ireland's most delightfully eccentric linksland. Lahinch's charm and challenge stem from the constantly changing elevations as the course roves among high grassy dunes, and from the numerous blind shots and narrow approaches. The course used to be renowned for the wild goats roaming it: Local myth held that if you saw one it foretold rain. Don't believe such blarney. We started in sunshine and ended in an Atlantic howler and never saw a goat. But what a sheer joy to play anyway. The 150-yard sixth, The Dell, the world's greatest blind par-three, in itself is worth the journey. You aim at a dune topped by a white stone marker that is moved every day. The green, scarcely five paces deep, is hidden between the folds of the dunes. The ultimate test of trusting one's swing. Greens fee: $68. 65-81003; fax 65-81592.
Frequently called the Heart of Irish Golf, Ballybunion Old, the most famous course in Ireland, is set on magnificent dunes near the mouth of the River Shannon. On a visit in 1968, Herbert Warren Wind called this the finest seaside course he'd ever seen, and Tom Watson claimed that playing here before the British Opens purified his soul. It's run amazingly well for a place that seems, at times, overrun by American golf groups. The club staff is unfailingly polite.
Though the course plays just a whisker over 6,500 yards—short by American standards—the small greens and constant wind, the high dunes and sandy gullies, make it a real adventure, particularly the back nine. The majestic par-four 11th, which begins the march home to the clubhouse, plays 453 yards, but it feels like the longest hole in creation if the wind is in your face. We played in a force-seven gale (sustained winds of about 40 m.p.h.), which provided the unique opportunity to hit a driver on the 131-yard, par-three 14th. Holes 16 and 17 are two of the finest sharp doglegs you'll ever play. The teeshot at 18 makes you fire your ball at the clubhouse, where smiles, pints of Guinness, and plenty of sympathy await you. Greens fee: $81. $
Tralee Gold Club
If this gem, just north of the Dingle Peninsula, had a luxury hotel (or even a reasonable facsimile) near it, it would be hosting a major competition. Ireland's "newest" linksland, designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay in 1982—83, bears favorable comparisons to both Turnberry and Pebble Beach—with a little of Cypress Point thrown in for good measure. The first nine, built on ancient grazing lands, seems a bit humdrum at first glance, although two holes stand out—the spectacularly challenging second, a long par-five, which bends around the shore and ends up at a small green perched almost on the cliff, and the photogenic third, a difficult 161-yard par-three whose green is built in the lee of a 16th-century-castle gun turret. A slight pull or push on either hole is instant death. But the real test here begins after the long uphill 11th, when you face a series of high dune holes, lengthy forced carries, small greens, murderous slopes, and shifting winds. They dance above Banna Strand, the adjacent wide white beach—gorgeously on display at 17. My favorite links course of the trip. Greens fee: $61. 66-36379; fax 66-36008. www.tralee-golf.com
Killarney Golf and Fishing Club's Killeen Course
This beautifully manicured site of the 1996 Curtis Cup matches wanders along the shores of one of Ireland's most beautiful lochs, and ducks in and out of small forests. It made for the most enjoyable walk of the trip. The par-four fourth, gets the lion's share of press because its championship tee is built on a small rock island in the loch, but I found half a dozen other holes to be subtle masterpieces of design and routing. The course looks soft but has sharp teeth, as I learned at the 17th, a sly tribute to the Road Hole at St. Andrews: It's a long par-four turning slightly and rising to a crowned green fronted by a deep bunker. As I was teeing off here at dusk, my mates suddenly told me to look left at an unexpected member of the gallery—a mature stag with an antler rack that could have carried two golfbags. He watched me hit my best shot of the day. The club, which also has two other courses (one of which is brand-new), offers world-class brown-trout angling. Greens fee: $54. 64-31034; fax 64-33065. www.killarney-golf.com
Waterville Golf Links
With its narrow fairway and pinching dunes, the 11th hole at this renowned course, ironically called Tranquility, is said by many to be the finest par-five hole in all of Ireland. I made a snowman here after a run of pars that had me thinking that I would bring this seaside links, at 7,200 yards one of the longest golf courses in Britain or Ireland, to heel. What sheer Yankee folly!
Catching Waterville on a rare day when the sun shone and the wind was still was like walking into a watercolor of gorgeous scenery. Golden beach fringes the course on two sides, and the hills of Kerry rise up in the distance. The long fairways take their toll if you don't have a long roll-up shot in your repertoire. My back-nine score was as horrible as my front-nine was grand. But on both ends the views were stunning, and afterwards the club bar was crowded with members who understood that it is easy to be bewitched by Waterville's beauty—and humbled by its length. Greens fee: $81. 66-74102; fax 66-74482. www.watervilleproshop.com
For further information about accommodations and transportation in Ireland, contact the Irish Tourist Board, 345 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10154; 800-223-6470; 212-418-0800. www.ireland.travel.ie
About This Guide
Prices Prices In U.S. dollars.
Hotel Prices High-season double occupancy, from the least expensive double room to the most expensive suite. Taxes are included, but service is not unless specified.
Greens Fees Rates given are for one round of play during the high season, although most apply year-round for those courses that remain open.
Telephone Numbers The country code for Ireland is 353. The city code is included with each number.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS) For assistance with your travel to Ireland or any other destination, call 800-443-7672. From abroad, call 602-492-5000 collect.
Disclaimer: The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in July/August 1999, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.