Top 10 Golf Courses in South West Ireland

10 of the best, from one of the very best golf destinations on the planet! Listen to our very own Sean Fahey (Golf Travel Specialist) talk about his experiences of this special golfing region
 

 

The courses along this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way are revered the world over: Ballybunion, Lahinch, Old Head, Waterville… all names that trip off the tongue and leave golfers salivating with anticipation. Here are 10 to make you start planning your Irish golfing odyssey. (Note, that I’ve not included the magnificent Adare as it’s closed until mid-2017 for a $30 million upgrade.

          1. Ballybunion Old Course

Ballybunion sits high on the Co. Kerry coastline, its 36 links holes famous the world over. The Old course is magical but it wasn’t until the 1980s when it enchanted Tom Watson that the world took notice.

This is links golf in its purest, most natural form… which just happens to play over stunning dunes. There is variety too, as the calm start builds to a crescendo, with the exceptional back nine ducking and diving through the biggest dunes. And then there are the five nerve-wracking par threes (130 to 214 yards).

Greens sit on high plateaus and down in dells, fairways glide between muscular shoulders and dunes jealously embrace greens. It promises an almost mystical experience.

ballybunion  

           2. Waterville

Waterville sits at the far end of the Ring of Kerry. In a picture-perfect setting of mountains and ocean, the course just happens to be picture-perfect, too. Holes flow in a sensuous rhythm over and through rumpled dunes. If it wasn’t so rugged you might think this landscape had been created just to host a golf course. That’s how perfect it is.

The opening hole is named ‘Last Easy’, so be prepared for the sweet challenges this links throws at you. Holes become ever more dramatic but the many raised tee boxes will help you assess what lies ahead. Your biggest challenges are wrapped around the greens.

Holes 16 to 18 above the sea are exceptional but you’ll never forget the par five 11th (Tranquility) and the par three 12th (Mass Hole).

waterville

          3. Tralee

Tralee is home to some of Ireland’s most stunning holes as well as dazzling scenery. The clubhouse sits at the highest point, showing off the course below. From here it is easy to see why course designer Arnold Palmer quipped, “surely God designed the back nine.” This is breath-taking stuff above beaches and azure waters.

The landscape of towering dunes and deep hollows present a perfect setting for fairways and greens alike, and you can expect some steep putting surfaces to test your short game prowess. Anything askew will slip away off these velvet surfaces. It is a wonderful driving course, although considerable caution will be needed on that most dramatic of back nines.

Keep your camera handy.

tralee

        4. Lahinch

The names of Old Tom Morris and Alister MacKenzie assure golfers that they will be playing one of the world’s finest links.

Lahinch is one of the oldest links on Ireland’s west coast, and it frequently draws the world’s best golfers… often ahead of the Open Championship. With its hypnotic fairways weaving between medium sized dunes, its never ending variety and its exceptional (and tricky) greens that is little surprise. There are few better places to test your links prowess.

This is pure links from start to finish with a central ridge of dunes next to the sea promising the most drama. These include the course’s most renowned holes – Klondyke and Dell – both untouched since Old Tom Morris first created them.

lahinch

         5. Old Head of Kinsale

No one does drama quite like the Old Head of Kinsale. The course sits on a peninsula which drops into the Atlantic like a pearl earring. Golfers will discover tees and greens perched on 300 foot cliffs and this is no place to find you have a fear of heights… nine holes look straight down on the raging sea. At least two shots are hit over yawning chasms… and that’s before you take the wind into consideration.

Despite this, the golf here is not designed to be punitive. This is about luxurious golf over elegant, generous and sweeping fairways. It is a pleasure to play and you’ll struggle to lose a ball… assuming you don’t find the ocean.

old head kinsale

        6. Dooks

Dooks boasts Ireland’s most enchanting setting with views spilling in every direction across the Macgillycuddys Reeks, the Dingle Peninsula and the waters of Castlemaine Harbour. You can enjoy every ounce of it from the 2nd green.

In 2014, Dooks celebrated its 125th anniversary and it still embraces many of the quirks and character that made it such an entertaining links to play… although it now also boasts a more professional air. Indeed, Dooks may well have the best greens in Ireland.

The course might be a touch short but that won’t detract from the variety of the holes which slip down to the waters of Castlemaine Harbour. It is a course where brains over brawn will yield the most satisfying results.

dooks

       7. Ballybunion Cashen

It may be hard to believe that the Cashen course is blessed with dunes even more spectacular than the Old course… but it’s true. It doesn’t have the cachet of the Old, and many query its links pedigree (thanks to greens which make bump-and-run almost impossible), but that doesn’t stop it being tremendous fun.

The Cashen was designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior, and opened in 1984. The dunes will toss you back and forth as you figure out how to reach those high greens and the back nine (14 to 17 especially) will deliver something truly epic as you finish above the beach.

cashen 

       8. Cork Golf Club

The name of Alister MacKenzie – of Augusta and Cypress Point fame – will lure many golfers from around the world, and recent upgrades by the club have reintroduced some important MacKenzie features. The revised bunkering gives holes additional character and depth, especially when viewed from the tee.

The course might be described as parkland but there is tremendous variety here as holes coast alongside the waters of Cork Harbour before dipping into a limestone quarry. These are the holes for which Cork is renowned, but there is an old school charm to the entire 18… and you will be tested constantly on the tricky greens. Be sure to visit Seve’s Tree, a Spanish Chestnut planted in 1983 to celebrate the legend’s 332 metre drive.

      9. Doonbeg

Originally and intriguingly designed by Greg Norman, the course is now being revised by Martin Hawtree. It is due to reopen in 2016.

Norman spent days walking the landscape and despite being restricted in what he could do (a rare snail in the biggest dunes had to be protected), Doonbeg displays flashes of genius. He let the big dunes shape the holes and this has resulted in some stunning shots and fantastic green settings –namely on the 1st, 6th and 15th.

The layout weaves in a rough figure of eight, employing the beauty of Doughmore Bay on several occasions. From the 9th you’ll have a glorious view back to the five star resort.

doonbeg

       10.Fota Island 

Fota Island is one of Ireland’s plush resorts with a big hotel, exceptional facilities and a 27 hole golf course. It has hosted the Irish Open three times and it sweeps through mature and spacious woodland. The resort covers 580 acres of the island so it is an idyllic setting. It may not, however, be that quiet as the Fota Wildlife Park is the island’s only other resident… and the lemurs and monkeys can create quite the racket at feeding time.

This is a sweet round of golf where the trees, the lakes and the fairways are big and generous. This is about pleasure not punishment and the significant elevation changes show off holes to full advantage – on the famous par five 18th most notably.

fota island

South West Ireland is well renowned as a golfing destination, but it stands above the rest; as you’d be hard pushed to find another region (or coastline) in the world that hosts such an array of world class courses and golfing heritage. Bucket list trip? Put it at the top of your list!

Request a quote if you are interested in playing any of these courses as part of your golf vacation to South West Ireland with Golfbreaks.com.

Kevin Markham

I am an Irish golf writer, blogger and photographer. In 2008, I traveled around Ireland in an RV playing every 18-hole golf course for a book entitled 'Hooked: An Amateur's Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland'. Now in its 3rd edition the book introduces all 340 golf courses and rates the experience awaiting golfers. A second book, 'Driving the Green', is a light-hearted story of my travels.