Top 5 Hidden Gems in South West Ireland

In a region full of golfing gems, there’re some hidden ones you must play!

The coastline of South West Ireland ripples with links royalty, but this part of the Wild Atlantic Way boasts many other courses which will surprise and entertain in equal measure. Some sit on the ocean, while others lie inland in enchanting Irish settings.

  1. Galway Bay

Galway Bay sits away from the main run of links in this south west region. The course coasts along the waters of the bay, 35 miles north east of Doonbeg and opposite the city of Galway. It is an intriguing hybrid of seaside golf that drifts gently down to the ocean and introduces numerous links-like traits. The barren, shaped landscape was definitely crafted with links in mind: many bunkers are revetted and the glorious, raised greens often require bump-and-run.

Yes, the wind here can be strong – and one look at the small bent trees will indicate the prevailing wind direction. With superb levels of maintenance and wide fairways, Galway Bay is a very enjoyable course to play, but beware of the many bunkers and a few inland water features.  Two lazy loops of nine holes, several holes played along the sea and a top-class clubhouse make for a wonderful golfing experience.

  1. Dromoland Castle

This five star hotel is close to both Lahinch and Doonbeg, and is therefore a popular place to stay. The resort’s classy parkland often gets over-looked as golfers seek out the coastline. Considering its setting in over 400 acres of mature woodland, it would be a shame to miss such elegance. The course sweeps over naturally rolling terrain, through and around dense trees and over natural lakes, streams and marshes.

The back nine is thrilling and terrifying in equal measure… the driveable par four 15th is followed by the Index 1 16th. The par threes are all strong and then there’s the giant tree in the middle of the 18th fairway.

The spectacular 16th century baronial castle makes a dramatic impact on that closing hole, but also on the course’s signature par three 7th. From a high tee up in the woods your tee shot will soar towards the castle. It is the shot of the day.  

  1. Ceann Sibeal

At almost the farthest point on the Dingle Peninsula, Ceann Sibeal is one of Ireland’s most isolated golf courses… and one of its most beautiful, too. The Three Sisters watch over the course, their cliff top peaks rising above the links, and the views are endless in every direction.

The hillside that falls away from these cliffs is home to a subtle, low and deceptive links, designed by Eddie Hackett (the back nine) and Christy O’Connor Jr (the front). Ceann Sibeal demands your total attention as not only is the rough unforgiving but a burn slips across 11 holes and is, in a word, treacherous. It is also magnetic and while the course is not especially long, the routing ensures that the wind will hit you from every angle. You’ll need meticulous course management to play this crafty links

  1. Skellig Bay

Skellig Bay is under new (American) ownership and no details are yet available as to what is planned for this seaside/headland course… except that it will be renamed. Old stone walls and cairns give the plush wide fairways tremendous character as well as a unique aura. The walls stretch for miles across this headland, high above the sea and overlooking the village of Waterville.

The fairways are generous, even hypnotic, especially with such vistas scattered all around. That comes from Ron Kirby, the designer at Old Head of Kinsale. Change is in the air but whatever the redevelopment, Skellig Bay is a perfect foil for the brilliant links at Waterville, on the other side of the village.

  1. Bantry Bay

Bantry Bay may be off the beaten path as golfers head from Co. Kerry to Old Head of Kinsale, but for those who want to drive the Wild Atlantic Way and hug the coastline, the pretty fishing village of Bantry will appear along the route, 50 miles west of Kinsale. The course is perched on a high rolling landscape above the sea and the village. The setting is glorious, with views spilling across the bay to mountains and peninsulas.

The course is a strong test, using the big rolls of the landscape to full effect. This may be parkland but there are blind shots to be tackled. That said, this is a course to take out the driver and swing hard, watching the ball soar against stunning backdrops.

The greens are in keeping with the rest of the course: big and sloping, so expect to be tested all day long.

So when you come to contemplating a trip to South West Ireland, which every golfer must do at least once in their lifetime, remember to look beyond the big names and instead pull out a few of these lesser known gems. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Please request a quote if you are interested in playing any of these courses as part of your vacation with the golf travel experts at 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. I loves golf… but just not all the way from the back tees. My blog can be found at TheIrishGolfBlog.com.