Ireland of Ballybunion, Doonbeg & Adare Golf Vacation Packages
A Report from Ireland
By Peter Hellman
Classic Golf Tours
I took my annual trip to Ireland in late November. Now, I know that is not the best time for a golfer to make a visit, but it's a good time for a golf tour operator to see what's new. Many of the golf oriented guest houses and small hotels are closed and if the owners aren't off in the southern hemisphere or Florida for a holiday, they have lots of time to show us around. Most golf courses are open as well though some will require that you play your ball off the fairway on the first cut and others may only be open to members. Larger hotels that cater to more than golfers continue to be open.
My itinerary took me to Lahinch, Doonbeg, Ballybunion, Killarney, Adare and Dublin. Though the purpose of the trip was to visit and inspect hotels, guest houses and golf courses, I did play a round of golf. David Walsh, owner of the Tides Guest House in Ballybunion and a member of the Ballybunion Golf Club, invited me to join him for a round on his home course. What a treat! David is a two time Golfer of the Year at Ballybunion and I could not have asked for a better golfing partner.
I won't take you on a hole by hole description of the course, but don't let the first five holes lull you into thinking that this course is a yawner. It's true these holes are nothing spectacular, but they open the door to some of the best links holes in golf. Seeing the course for the first time, one is amazed that golf is even possible over this terrain. The thick grassy dunes are everywhere and they are high, really high. With plenty of left and right dog legs and elevation changes, the narrow fairways are like green ribbons laid between towering dunes. Playing the dunes is special, but it requires a high degree of accuracy off the tee and to the green.
Though the course has been around since 1893, it wasn't until 1971 when Herbert Warren Wind, the famous golf writer, proclaimed Ballybunion to be one of the 10 top golf courses in the world that golfers took notice. This might be partially due to Ballybunion's location. It's tucked away in a far western corner of County Kerry off narrow country roads and away from any major city.
Now, if isolation is an indicator of great golf, you have to put Doonbeg into the group. Despite its goal to become a major U.S. styled golf resort, Doonbeg is located off tiny roads (more appropriately called lanes) that have made driving in Ireland infamous. Greg Norman's Doonbeg is close to finishing a huge building project. In addition to its tough golf course, Doonbeg will have luxury accommodations designed for its many U.S. based members and guests. The new digs will open to guest in April.
There is some good news for self-drive golfers in Ireland this year. Though the country has done much to improve many of its roads and added "dual carriageways" (freeways) in the last ten years, driving in Ireland is still a challenge. Not only are many of the roads extremely narrow, but you drive on the wrong side of the road, holding a steering wheel located on the opposite side of the car and compete for road space with a great deal of traffic (the fruit of Ireland's economic boom). With Hertz recent (I was one of the first to use it) introduction of its Never Lost GPS system this year, driving and finding your way will become a lot easier. Though not perfect (it's calibrated in miles and road signs are in kilometers) and at a cost of about $13 per day (it's not cheap), it is still a navigation aid you should consider.
There is more good news waiting for you in Ireland in 2006. Properly planned, next year's trip could cost less than in 2005. One reason is that the dollar has strengthened about 10% meaning you can buy a lot more for your dollar in 2006. Second, many golf courses, hotels and guest houses have kept prices at 2005 levels or increased them only moderately. There is one caveat, however, and that is the Ryder Cup. Expect to pay a lot more if you are any where near the K-Club in September. Ryder Cup packages that include event tickets, hotel and a round of golf at nearby course start at about $4,000 per person.
There is some news from Lahinch as well. Though Lahinch has had several quality guest houses and small hotels, it has always lacked a good hotel with enough rooms to accommodate a group of golfers. With the recent opening of the remodeled 60-room Lahinch Golf & Leisure Hotel, Lahinch can now boost quality accommodations for just about any sized group. Their two bedroom suites are ideal for a group of four as they include a common living area and a stripped down kitchen. For a bit more style and Manor House type comforts, you can't beat the Moy House just south of town.
Finally, not all of the great golf in Ireland is along its rugged coast. Though links style golf is what we think of when talk turns to Irish golf, there are plenty of parkland style courses to choose from. One of the best is Adare Golf Course. Located on the grounds of the luxury Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort, this Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed course opened in 1995 and has earned rave reviews by all who have played it. Fortunately, you don't have to stay at the Adare Manor Hotel to play the course. My choice is to stay in the picturesque village of Adare. The Dunraven Hotel located just across the street from the entry gates to Adare Manor and has just the right style without the high price. If you are flying home from Shannon, I will often recommend ending a trip in Adare. Not only will you board your flight with wonderful memories, you are only 40 minutes from the Shannon Airport making it an easy drive to catch your flight home.
This is a great time to start planning your golf trip to Ireland in 2006. Tee times at the best courses are still available now but don't wait too long. But, if the Irish golfing bug has you right now and you don't mind a bit of wet and cold (thankfully no snow), you might want to give Ireland a try this winter. The grass is always green in Ireland.