The missing links

With an astonishing one third of all the world’s links courses, Ireland is an island paradise for links golfers. Think that’s good? There’s even better news.

For most of us, the finest links courses in the world remain tantalizingly out of reach. We might grab little peeks of them through the gates or perhaps we’ve seen Rory or Tiger destroy 18 holes on TV, but that’s as close as we get.

Not in Ireland.

The whisper among golfers about easy access to Ireland’s links courses is turning into a roar. A look at courses like Royal Portrush on the Derry-Londonderry coast or Old Head Kinsale, bang on Ireland’s south western edge, might lead you to believe that this is membership only territory. It’s not.

Here are six open-to-all classics to whet your appetite.

Royal Portrush, County Antrim

It may have started life with only 9 back in 1888, but it was only a matter of a year before Royal Portrush was an 18-hole charmer. Among others, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson have stalked the greens here on Derry-Londonderry’s enchanted coast while the ‘Royal’ part of the club’s name derives from its patron the Prince of Wales (later to be known as King Edward). When 2011 PGA champ Keegan Bradley arrived here for the Irish Open in 2012 he described it as a homecoming. You may well relate.

Trump International (Doonbeg), County Clare

A great links course looks like it was made by nature itself. In the case of Doonbeg that’s the reality. Designed by the great Greg Norman, the majority of fairways and greens were simply cut to fit: no landscaping needed. Named one of the top courses in the world by Golf Magazine, the five-star resort sits right on the Wild Atlantic Way, and with 16 of the 18 holes within sight of the ocean the changing wind conditions ensure each round is unique. Something you’ll notice on your second round. And your third, and your fourth…

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Portrush

Royal Portrush Links

Waterville, County Kerry

The setting is one of the best I've seen for golf”. So says Tom Farzo, the legendary golf course architect. The man charged with ‘Tiger-proofing’ the Augusta National knows his settings when it comes to golf. So when he began working with Waterville to update the century-old course in 2002 the pairing was something of a dream team. Waterville demands the quality that is seen in all great links golfers: imagination. You won’t get around this course simply by hitting clean and long. A little ingenuity and craft is demanded. But isn't that what makes links golf so special?

Royal County Down, County Down

“Every blade of grass is perfectly manicured, but a layout that feels perfectly unmanipulated”. In one sentence, eulogizing about the perfection of Portrush, Golf Magazine had cracked the secret to a perfect links course. Under the shadow of the Mourne Mountains, the course – made up of the Championship and Annesley links – has taken 114 years to get to where it is today. In that history, a 61 scorecard by local 16 year-old Rory McIlroy stands out as a red-letter day. In a recent interview about that momentous moment, McIlroy was asked what he remembered of the round: “Basically, every shot”. If you’re looking for unforgettable links golf, you’ve found it.

Lahinch & Ballybunion, County Clare and County Kerry

To maintain a 100-year-old links course or build a fresh take on links golf? A question facing many links clubs. Lahinch simply had their cake and ate it, with the Old Course and Castle Course combing modern touches, like extra bunkers and mounting, with old-style triple-tiered greens. Meanwhile when Ballybunion welcomed guests like Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods to its links course the rest of the world began to discover what the people of County Kerry already knew; that one of the world’s finest golf courses lay on the south west coast of Ireland.

The journey doesn’t end here. Your dream links tour could also include any of the following clubs: Killarney Golf Club, Rosses Point, Ballyliffin, Tralee, Dooks, Rossapena, Narin, Portnoo, Old Hea, Portstewart and Lough Erne Resort.

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