Late April last year, my son and I set off on a 10-Course golf loop around Southern Ireland to marquee destinations including The European Club, Old Head, Rosscarbery Pitch & Putt, Waterville, Dooks, Tralee, Adare Manor, Doonbeg, Portmarnock and the Island Club.
It was Dylan’s (19) first ever trans-oceanic trip. He’d always wanted to go to Scotland for The Old Course, but also understood that — course for course — I considered Ireland slightly better. “Take the top 20 Ireland golf courses and stack them head-to-head against the top 20 Scotland courses. The grass is just greener in Ireland for me.”
“No brainer?” he asked.
“No,” I replied, conceding I haven’t played half of Scotland’s best, and The Old Course IS my favorite course in the world. “But dozens of Irish courses and tourism agents have offered to host us this year, so … ”
“Let’s go to Ireland.”
• • • • •
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
In case you don’t already know, a LOT goes into planning an 8-day golf trip, especially in the “COVID-Recovery” era. Oftentimes, as journalists, we sit back and do literally nothing to make our incredible itineraries happen — rounds, hotels, meals, rental cars, flights. But then, when they’re over, we act as if we know it all and did it all ourselves. Yeah, no … GolfTripExpert or not, even knowing Ireland as well as I do, I wouldn’t begin to take credit for all these incredible tourism agents do for us. I’d be remiss not to give FULL respect to the generous people who allow us the opportunity to experience the highlights we share with you.
A lot of places in Ireland had to close due to COVID. Many of them — restaurants, hotels, shops — have yet to reopen. I had an aggressive itinerary in mind for this trip, but (reading the room) was willing to accept much less. “Don’t go out of your way for us,” I told Bernard and Rory, my good friends and representatives for Tourism Ireland and Golf Ireland with Failte Ireland (who deserve far more credit than they get for their phenomenal promotional efforts).
“I make no such promises,” Rory replied.
Trip Of A Lifetime
What Rory put together was nothing short of a miracle, and nothing less than the best Southern course lineup imaginable. I’ll note that due to course maintenance and event conflicts we had to skip Hogshead, Lahinch and Ballybunion this time. But, never once did we feel shortchanged anywhere in Ireland (beyond the airport’s currency exchange booth). “You’ve already seen the best — North and South,” Rory said upon delivery of the itinerary. “I just wanted your son to love this country as much as you do.”
Might not be possible, but certainly an A+ for the effort, sir! Thank you so so much!
• • • • •
This Is A Long Form Story, Essentially Organized into 10 Chapters …
I would LOVE it if you’d read it all the way through … but … you are alternatively welcome to scroll down to the specific golf club you want to read about (included in this order):
- European Club
- Old Head of Kinsale
- Rosscarbery Pitch & Putt
- Adare Manor
- Portmarnock Hotel & Links
- The Island Club
• • • • •
THE EUROPEAN CLUB
Good friend, best-selling author, and fellow Ireland lover, Tom Coyne, warned me about him. “I’ve played golf with many storytellers, but nobody quite like him. Give him a minute and he’ll take an hour.”
I laughed, thinking if I didn’t want to keep listening I’d just walk away. But you don’t walk away from the legendary Pat Ruddy. He will chase you down.
I make it sound ominous, but it’s the furthest thing from that. One of Ireland’s most generous souls is also a renowned architect. Should you ever get the chance to play some of his greatest hits — European Club, Rosapenna, Ballyliffin — you should leap at those opportunities.
40 Miles From Dublin
We got to the European Club way too early, fresh off a 5AM arrival in Dublin. Figuring we’d just have breakfast at the club and hang out until our 11AM tee time, we drove the easy 40 miles down from Dublin — my son’s first experience on the “wrong side of the road.” Only problem … nothing was open. “No problem, actually,” the head golf professional stated. “I’ll make you breakfast.” Didn’t matter that I said insisted otherwise, that he was crazy busy, and the kitchen was closed. He juggled his many jobs then fed us. “Sorry, I have to run,” he said, dropping heaping plates down on the table. “I have to…”
I waved him off. He had to do literally everything else.
“Pat will be right down,” he called over his shoulder. Pat?
“Who’s Pat?” Dylan asked.
“Not sure.” At 6AM on a Sunday morning I was expecting St. Patrick more than I was expecting THE Pat Ruddy. But then, given the way that his staff and friends talk about him, St. Patrick and Pat Ruddy could be one and the same.
It was Pat Ruddy who walked in the door. He said something with a thick Irish accent I couldn’t understand, then burst into laughter. Dylan and I politely laughed with him as he “COVID-hugged” us with fist bumps. “Welcome to the European Club,” he pointed out the window. “Ireland’s greatest links course.”
The Honorable Pat Ruddy
Pat Ruddy is like a dentist. He only asks you questions when your mouth is full, and makes you laugh all the time, especially when you’re trying not to. Eventually I stopped eating altogether, so we could just have a normal conversation. “You don’t look too good.” He pulls no punches. “The lad looks good though.” He turned to Dylan. “You and I … we look pretty good, eh?” Another roar of laughter from Pat, another fist-bump with Dylan, a quick joke and a story on Tom Doak, then he led us to the first tee. Our tee time wasn’t for another three hours but he insisted we take a Member time. “No one’s going to yell at me,” Pat said.
“That’s not why we came early,” I insisted, not wanting to impose. “No such thing as too early for a great round of golf,” Pat replied. True that.
I’d heard from virtually everyone that the European Club was a challenging course. My son wanted to play it from the tips, but Pat nudged him up a set. He pointed out a spot in the distance Dylan should aim at and let him fire away. When Dylan hit it exactly where Pat had pointed Pat fist-bumped him and said. “Maybe you should play back a set, eh?”
I told Pat I was going to play up one more set. “Can’t say I blame you, eh,” he replied. “You really don’t look so good.” Didn’t feel so great either. Jetlag was doing a number on me. The European Club allows carts, and while I always walk in Ireland, I didn’t fight Pat when he insisted I ride. I teed the ball up and swung away, no idea where it went. I turned to Pat for results. “Nowhere good,” he replied, seemingly disappointed. “The lad is a much better listener.” Unless his dad is the one talking to him.
No “Ready Golf” Please
Pat Ruddy pointed out one more sign before we took off. “No Ready Golf.” Seriously? “Yes,” Pat insisted. “Ready golf here is very dangerous for other players.”
First time I’ve ever heard that.
Ignoring where my own ball went throughout the round, Dylan played brilliantly, including his first Irish birdie on the signature, Par 4 7th hole — One of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Holes in the World. When we made the turn Pat asked how many strokes under par he was. “Three over,” Dylan replied.
“You’ll get it together eh,” Pat insisted. “The best is yet to come!”
He wasn’t wrong if he was talking about the course. The back nine shines, loaded with the European Club’s best and most scenic holes, including a stellar bonus hole at the Par 3, 12A. “The way every great course should be, eh,” Pat said. “Getting better until the end.” The coastal 13th hole — a massive Par 5 on the Irish Sea — concludes with a green that’s 130 yards deep. “Easy to five-putt that one,” Pat chuckles. “Some people think this course is the hardest in all of Ireland.” He beat me to the question. “But those people just need to practice more.”
The Cold Hard Truth
The European Club was hard — no doubt about that — quite likely the hardest course I’ve played in Ireland south of Royal County Down. (Though I do need to practice more.) But the course was also beautiful. Pat Ruddy designed the course down the very last detail and still owns it — a rarity in the golf world … owner and designer. He was a competitive amateur player, then became a golf writer and course critic. Everything he knew a course should have to be world-class, and everything he wanted in a course to play, Pat pulled together at his European Club. “The place is magnificent, eh? The dunes … the gorse … the bunkers … the ocean. You see why I live here, eh?”
Home On The Range
Pat literally lives there, with an apartment over the golf shop, adjacent the driving range. His pride and personality are evident everywhere, and he patrols the property in his buggy daily, checking on every member and guest. He’s always welcoming and always ready with an arsenal of jokes, stories and witty remarks. Pat’s greatest pride comes from the shock of people learning the incredible links course is modern (opened in 1987).
“I’m old,” Pat chuckles. “But not that old. Just an architect building new courses that have been here for hundreds of years. Pretty good job, eh?”
• • • • •
WHERE TO STAY: Only 5.3 miles from the European Club, Arklow Bay Conference, Leisure & Spa Hotel offers incredible value, comfort, space and amenities, adjacent their Health & Fitness Club. An easy walk from the many shops and restaurants at the Bridgewater Shopping Center, you have everything you need, with outstanding service and wonderful food.
WRAP: Incredibly, I received a phone call the next morning in my hotel room. “Eric, this is Pat Ruddy. Just wanted to call and make sure you were alright.” That’s the kind of guy Pat Ruddy is. He loaded us up with gifts, thanked us for visiting his course, then called to check up on us. How many times in life has a golf architect tracked down your hotel and called to see how you’re feeling. Yeah, me neither, but every bit of it fit with what I’d been foretold about the man …
Pat Ruddy — a truly legendary, generous and kind gentleman.
• • • • •
OLD HEAD of KINSALE
It’s the end of the world. Or at least it feels like it. Once you drive past the Lusitania Museum and Old Head Signal Tower you approach Downmacpatrick Castle — a building with walls extended outward from sea to sea. It’s a golf course and a fortress all in one, but you don’t see any way there’s a golf course in that fortress. And yet … there is.
You drive through the gate up to the much less medieval guard house and, when they let you keep going, you breathe a big sigh of relief. This is it. This is the place you’ve been waiting your whole life to visit. (25 years anyway.)
The scenery takes your breath away before the golf holes do. Jagged cliffs fall away to the ocean on both sides and you still can’t believe there’s a golf course out here. You’re essentially on an island — the word peninsula feeling far too “landy.” There’s a Par 4 hanging over the ocean on your right, followed immediately by a Par 3 hanging over the ocean on your left. All of a sudden there are tee boxes and greens all around you. Stone walls, cart paths, speed bumps, ruins, stunning panoramas, and then … that lighthouse. The Old Head Lighthouse sits at the far, far end of the island (or peninsula) and immediately ranked among my Top 5 lighthouses in the world (As a major lighthouse buff.) “Wow,” my son muttered beside me. “This place is sick.”
Where Is This Place?
165 miles south of Arklow, and 22 miles south of the Cork Airport, Old Head of Kinsale is a bit out there. On the most south, most central coast of Ireland, it’s a phenomenon in that you’ll never be able to understand what led some lunatic to build a golf course out there. Its existence has certainly led to some harsh critiques, but if you ever play Old Head on a day like we had, you’ll only be a critic if you despise perfection … because that’s what it was.
It could be the most beautiful piece of land I’ve ever played on, anywhere in the world. It’s Manele on Lanai without two bad holes, Wolf Creek with no desert, Pebble Beach and Cypress Point with no houses, Pacific Dunes with higher cliffs, Cabot Cliffs with more ocean views, Whistling Straits with no dunes, and Tralee with no beach. It’s all of my favorite most-scenic spots rolled into one. My good friend Jason Deegan, Editor of GolfPass, knows me well and forecasted, “It’s the one course in Ireland you might like more than Tralee. But, if it’s windy … you could hate it.”
I’ll never know if I’m capable of hating Old Head because it wasn’t windy … at all. It was mostly sunny, warm, with barely a twitch of breeze the entire time we were out there. I wish I could have shared that day with all my family and friends. But I was thankful enough to share it with my favorite travel partner. It really was the perfect day. I can’t imagine a better one. My son played a set of tees back from me (and went back to the tips a few times) but was kind enough to let me tie his 78 (one of only two rounds in the 70’s I had all year).
Who Would Build A Golf Course Here?
The course opened for play in 1997 with contributions from half a dozen architects, including the late Eddie Hackett. (Architect of another Irish favorite of mine — Carne Golf Links). From the castle gate, the 220-acre course juts some two miles out into the ocean. It features eight clifftop holes among the highest of golf cliffs in the world, some of them over 300-feet tall. I’ve heard so many critiques about the “interior holes,” but just don’t understand them. A talented writer and course critic I respect and typically agree with, Billy Satterfield of GolfCourseGurus.com, shares my bewilderment on the naysayers. “Maybe it isn’t a links,” Billy concedes, “but Old Head is the course I dream about playing again more than any other, with quality hole designs from start to finish, and a setting without equal.” Spot on Billy.
The cliffhanger fourth hole is my favorite, a long downhill runner that finishes out on the point under the signature lighthouse. It has to be one of the most photogenic golf holes in both Ireland and the world. My camera roll is loaded with lighthouse photos from that day, my own signature moments. Dylan had his own signature moment with that lighthouse on 18 — electing to play it from the tips, the tee box a hundred yards behind the others at the end of a long narrow path, seemingly almost inside the lighthouse. His goal was to birdie the hole from the tips and after crushed tee shots and approach shots he rolled a 16 foot putt 17 feet, to finish with a “disappointing” tap in par.
We heard clapping from above us. “Did you just par that from the tips?” A voice called down. We looked up and Dylan nodded, still disappointed. “He did,” I confirmed. “That was awesome,” the man continued, before asking, “Where are you guys from?” “Minnesota,” Dylan replied, and the man started laughing. (We lived 30 minutes away from each other.) “What a day, eh?” he called down.
“Indeed it was.”
Favorite Irish round ever.
• • • • •
WHERE TO STAY: The Old Head Clubhouse also has an all-suite Hotel, with incredible panoramic ocean views from each room and a restaurant with a massive “infinity patio.” If there is ANY vacancy grab one of those rooms for an unforgettable night. The hotel was booked out for a wedding on our visit (lucky people) so we had dinner out there (incredible fish & chips, with an indescribable dining view) but stayed 9 miles away, in Kinsale. (Hardly a step down.) The self-proclaimed “Gourmet Capital of the World,” Kinsale is loaded with restaurants, bakeries and cool shops. Everything is right on the water, and the Trident Hotel literally sits on the River Bandon banks — an exceptional, comfortable stay with an even better breakfast and phenomenal views from every room.
WRAP: Today was my birthday, to date the most memorable birthday of my life. Maybe if I played Old Head again I wouldn’t like it as much, or maybe I’d like it even more. Regardless of whether or not I ever get the chance to return, with all due respect to Tralee, Old Head quickly became my favorite course in all of Ireland. My son and I each had our first (ever) shot of Jameson at the turn. I don’t drink, ever, but … when in Ireland on your birthday … I was told I “had to.” Fortunately, we paired it with one of their famous sausage sandwiches, and chased it with a Club Lemon. I’ll stick to those! Cheers!
• • • • •
DETOUR: ROSSCARBERY PITCH & PUTT
I take the scenic route. Always. Drives my wife nuts as it usually takes longer and she doesn’t look out the window much. But I love to drive, love to see new things and, as much as I possibly can, I love to look at the ocean. It’s a 3-hour, 95-mile drive as the crow flies from Kinsale to Waterville, our next destination. Or, via the scenic route — through Rosscarbery — it takes 30 minutes longer.
Ireland is loaded with these mini-golf-like courses called Pitch & Putts. How there aren’t 1000 of these in the United States is beyond me, but America is a “bigger is better” kind of place so, I guess I get it. It’s just unfortunate, because these “little courses” are a giant blast.
Rosscarbery Pitch & Putt is an easy 30-mile drive southwest of Kinsale. Opened in 1982, it remains one of the more unique Pitch & Putt facilities in that it actually has two courses, 36-holes, and both sit on the ocean, in the dunes of Rosscarbery Bay. With it technically still being preseason, I’d called ahead to see if we could play. A gentleman on the line said, “Maybe,” then hung up on me.
36 Holes On 17 Acres
Not knowing exactly what the “maybe” meant, we drove over to Rosscarbery. The gate was open and the clubhouse door was open, but there wasn’t a soul in sight. The tollbooth-like clubhouse did have an honor box though, so I dropped 50 Euros in it, and we hit the first course with our wedges and putter.
My son is in heaven on short courses — counting Bandon’s Preserve as his favorite golf course in the entire world (of any size). He wasn’t excited about the drive to Waterville, and planned to sleep the entire way (he takes after his mother). But from the second I shut off the car in the Rosscarberry parking lot, until midnight that night he seemingly didn’t close his eyes (or mouth) again.
I played 18-holes at Rosscarbery with six clubs, losing to Dylan and his three clubs 55 to 64. I carried his Scotty Cameron while he played two more loops (36 more holes) with just his 52 and 64 degree wedges, shooting 53 and 48 in those two rounds, respectively. He’d have kept playing if he could have. “That was amazing, Dad.” (Kid in a candy store.) “If someone was smart enough to build one of these back home they would spread faster than Pickleball.” That’s probably an exaggeration, but they definitely would catch on, and the courses fit pretty much everywhere on any terrain so … maybe there’s still hope for America.
As luck would have it, Rosscarbery also has “American Mini-Golf” at Smuggler’s Cove — miniature “crazy” golf with a tubing park, driving range, timber maze and Club Lemon in the clubhouse. Never ones to pass up the chance to play miniature golf, we hit that on our way out of town. It was fun, with three great holes, but a little too much luck for our liking. Leaving their parking lot Dylan summed it up perfectly — “Irish mini-golf is better.”
Based solely on the experience at Rosscarbery Pitch & Putt, it’s hard to argue with that.
• • • • •
WATERVILLE GOLF LINKS
Considering I’ve read everything Matt Ginella has ever written, and been connected to him in one way or another throughout my entire 15-year golf media career, it’s wild that I’ve yet to meet him. Two trips he was supposed to go on, he changed last minute. Another I was supposed to go on, I had to pull out of. Through all that time though, he’s told me over and over again, “You need to get to Waterville. You will absolutely love Waterville.” (See his Waterville photo in the Story Gallery above.)
When people don’t actually know me personally they’re usually wrong about what I’d like. At some point in my life I’ve foolishly trusted “I swear” opinions on The Cable Guy, Spyglass, Ozarks, The Mandalorian and on Sushi.
They were all wrong.
Fortunately … Matt was right.
When a scheduling conflict forced a choice — Old Head or Hogshead — I took Old Head. I’m confident, based on the day we got, that was the right decision, but I also know we missed out on a great Southern Ireland round. Look at the photos on their website, and check out the course driving by it, and you’ll be impressed. It’s got a stunning perch and panoramas, to be sure, with some really great golf holes. But we came to Waterville for Waterville Golf Links, and I think I could play that course every day of my life.
You Need To Get To Waterville
I love their logo. It’s so casual and simple — a rabbit. I love their clubhouse, understated and gray on the outside, chic and brilliantly clean on the inside, with incredible floor to ceiling windows overlooking the course and Ballinskelligs Bay, all the way out to the Blasket Islands. It feels so remote, but is on the outskirts of town. It feels so small, but plays so massive. Many of the holes look the same, but they all roll differently. When an Irish golf writer asked me to compare it to other Irish courses I was somewhat at a loss. “It’s both Enniscrone and Connemara with some Ballyliffin, Carne and Bandon Dunes.”
“Bandon? The American course?” Though never having been there, he spoke as if such a comparison wasn’t allowed. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s a compliment to both, trust me.”
Waterville Golf Links dates back to 1889 when it was a 9-hole amenity of the Waterville Athletic Club. It wasn’t until 1973, after John A. Mulcahy, Eddie Hackett and the head professional of Winged Foot (Claude Harmon) built out their visions that Waterville became what it is today (with 4 years of help from Tom Fazio in the early 2000’s). With water in play on the first three holes (all to the right) you’re mostly unaware of any other water until you get to the magnificent closing stretch from 16 to 18. Hole highlights include the Par 4, 3rd hole “Sanctuary” with a large pond all the way down the right, and the Par 3, 12th “Mass Hole” that can be played the wrong way with a layup and three-putt from 160 (as I did) or the right way, with a tap-in birdie from 200 (as Dylan did).
Be sure to take in the view from Mulcahy’s Peak on Hole 17 to truly appreciate the setting, and to understand why every golfer who visits Waterville feels like they left a piece of their heart there. It’s an inspiring spot to be sure. I took my par on 17 with plenty of gratitude.
Regardless of score on any hole, I love how easy the course plays from the right tees under ideal conditions, how much easier it would get if I moved up further, and how insanely difficult it can be from the tips even without the elements, with that 77.9 rating. In other words, old or young, good or not, it genuinely is a place that everyone can play together and find plenty of common ground. As a 14 handicap I shot an 85 from the whites, at 6556 yards. As a 4 handicap, my son shot an 81 from the Blacks at 7347 yards. It was a very “Irish” round — wind and rain on the front, nothing but sunshine on the back.
The starter handed Dylan and I each a complimentary ball marker as we were tidying up our golf bags. “How was it lads?” he asked. “Awesome,” Dylan replied. “Loved that sunshine on the back,” I added. “Aye,” the starter nodded. “That’s Noel smiling on you.”
The Great Noel Cronin
Having only met him once, I had communicated regularly with the former Club Captain and General Manager Noel Cronin throughout the 2010’s. Though I was essentially a nobody, he had invited me several times to bring my wife and son to Ireland, even offered to house and feed us “for as long as yee’d like.” I’d intended to take him up on that visit someday, and he’d told me many stories about his favorite American Writer — Matt Ginella. “You and Matty should come together.” If only.
Alas, the face of Waterville for three decades passed suddenly in early 2020, at age 75, and I thought for sure my opportunity to visit his favorite place on earth had also passed. It wouldn’t be the same without him there.
And … it isn’t. But, Noel is far from forgotten at Waterville. The man was beloved by all and continues to be toasted by many a player on the 17th tee (Noel’s favorite hole) and by others like us, walking off 18.
I’ve heard many say of Noel, “To him there was no such thing as a stranger … only friends he hadn’t met yet.”
What a tribute! He is most certainly missed.
• • • • •
WHERE TO STAY: Everyone had told me The Smuggler’s Inn and Waterville House were ideal, given the easy walking distance to the Waterville clubhouse. I like to explore the towns I visit though, so we were set up at The Butler Arms with an oceanfront sunset suite that was perfect, an easy stroll to local favorites like Dooley’s Seafood & Steakhouse — that found a way to feed us even with no available seats. “We can wait,” I kept insisting, but the kitchen was almost closed and the manager insisted. “No, we’ll feed you now.” Fantastic Fish & Chips with Club Lemons and we were set. “Meal’s on me,” the manager said. “Welcome to Waterville.” Irish hospitality at its most generous and genuine.
• • • • •
DOOKS GOLF CLUB
If you drive past Dooks Golf Club in southwest Ireland without playing it, you deserve whatever ill-fated response you get from karma. If you judge the course by the name, not understanding it means “dunes,” or are turned off by the frog/toad logo thinking it somehow limits the scenic potential, you probably never saw Disney’s “Princess and the Frog” and wouldn’t appreciate this prince of a course anyway.
In short, if you’re planning a trip to Ireland that includes either Waterville or Tralee, add Dooks. It could very well be the highest value round in all of Ireland and, to be frank, I don’t even understand why. Why isn’t it more expensive? They could charge so much more for a round here, with a course on par with most on this coast, but they don’t. “We don’t mind that many of the golfers pass us by,” the lady in the golf shop said. “They obviously aren’t from Ireland.”
Lots Of Local Love
If that was her way of saying the locals like to keep this course as much to themselves as possible, I get it, and don’t begrudge them that at all. There are lots of courses around Ireland that I feel play that game. They’re already plenty busy as is, with very few open tee times any day. Why advertise when you don’t need to sell? There are so many courses around Ireland right now with the same “problem” Bandon Dunes Resort has in America—no available tee times for the foreseeable future. If you want to play there you’d darn well better plan ahead (two years ahead for Bandon now).
Don’t take that to mean you can’t get on Dooks. You can. And they’ll welcome you. I offered to buy the house just left of the 4th tee box, and to pay in cash. General Manager John Foley laughed at me. “You’re not the first, and you don’t have that much cash.” It’s not a very big house, but that view over Dingle Bay … Holy $#!%.
That sincere investment comment opened a lot of doors though to the locals. “So you loved the course, eh?” and “You could play here every day, eh?” and “You want to go around again lads?”
If I lived here, absolutely.
I wish I could.
“Let me buy you boys lunch,” another man offered. (So many generous people in Ireland.) I reluctantly turned him down as we had big plans for the afternoon. But I couldn’t have been more impressed with Dooks — beginning to end — than I was.
Twice Would Be Nice
I’m not a fan of blind shots, and Dooks does have those. It’s got scorecard wreckers, penalizing bounces, nasty hazards, tight landing areas, some borderline unfair greens and some headscratching tee shots. Then it has a back nine too. But, experience all of those things once and it would make a second time around so easy in comparison. Time after time Dylan and I repeated the same thing, “If I’d known that was there … ”
There are right and wrong places to aim and leave your ball at Dooks, no question about that. Going directly at the pin is quite often an egregious judgement error. You’ll want to run up and look over some hills, and definitely want to pay attention on the 2nd green. But, again — after you learn the hard way — you’ll have it down. I wish we’d had time for another loop at Dooks, and I’d have paid twice the cost to play it. I’m certain I would have enjoyed it twice as much.
As we walked through the parking lot a guy pulled alongside us in a car smaller than most washing machines. “You like Ed Sheeran,” he asked.
“Of course,” I replied.
“This is his favorite golf course, you know?”
“Is it?” I was admittedly surprised.
The man smiled a big smile, missing at least two front teeth. “Probably.”
Then he cycled off.
• • • • •
WHERE TO STAY: Without question the two nicest places to stay around Dooks are Waterville (30 miles) and Tralee (23 miles). As most travelers like to stay in the same hotel as much as possible, fit Dooks in while you’re staying in either town for their respective signature courses. That’s your best bet.
DETOUR: Between Dooks and Tralee you’ll find the famous Dingle Peninsula, loaded with worthwhile places to explore, including Inch Beach, Dunquin Pier, the heartpounding Slea Head Road and (of course) the lovely town of Dingle. It was in Dingle that I found out you can’t get most medicines in Ireland without a Doctor’s prescription. It was also in Dingle that we discovered The Fish Box, the best fish & chips (and fish tacos) we had in all of Ireland (of the 20 or so we tried). The small, family-run restaurant puts more TLC into every plate than I’ve found pretty much anywhere in the world. I can’t recommend a visit there enough.
MORE GOLF: There are also two great golf options out on the Dingle Peninsula (if you have some free time and want/need more golf). Dingle Golf Links (otherwise known as Ceann Sibeal Golf Club) is a largely unheralded, Eddie Hackett gem, at a ridiculously good value. And then there’s Castlegregory, a breathtaking 9-hole links course on Lough Gill that ends with one of my favorite Par 3’s in Ireland.
• • • • •
TRALEE GOLF LINKS
It doesn’t matter to me that Arnold Palmer built the course. Yes, I’ve forever been part of Arnie’s Army, and love Arnold Palmer. Yes, I believe this is the best Arnold Palmer course in the world (for sure of the 24 I’ve played). But that has nothing to with why I love Tralee. Surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, Tralee is simply the most comprehensively beautiful, fun and fair course I’ve played in all of Ireland. And the best part about Tralee is that every renovation they’ve undergone since the original build has made the course better.
“There’s more work to be done,” Head Professional David Powers says. “A lot more work to be done.” Fortunately for them, Tralee is no longer considered a “maybe-play” or “middle-tier” course. They don’t have to worry about money coming in. It’s a definite, must-play for every golfer heading west … a genuine marquee. “We’re consistently mentioned with Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville,” David agrees, “and packed all the time, with membership enthusiastically behind all investments in the course. If you come back next year, it will be better than it was today. Come back in two years and it will be better still.”
Top 3 In Ireland
Perhaps this has you wondering how a course already Top 3 for me in all of Ireland concedes that much room for improvement. Well, they take the unique managerial approach of asking anyone and everyone what would make the course better. Then, they take the even more unique (and enviable) approach of implementing the “fixes” they agree with. “If one person is thinking it,” David believes, “others are thinking it too. So, we love course feedback, both good and bad.” Erosion might be their biggest enemy — the ocean attacking their most scenic holes daily — but there are even plans in the works for that. “Mother Nature is undefeated,” David agrees, “so if we can get on the same team, we’ll both win.” Love that perspective.
“What changes would you make?” David puts me on the spot. “You love this course.” The logo would have been the first thing off my tongue, had David not already given me a sneak peak of their new apparel with their new Cabot-like ship logo on it. Definitely an upgrade!
I had to think about potential course changes for a while, as both sides are loaded with so many positives. Five is always a hole I don’t remember. I’d probably try to change that somehow, maybe with a berm and stone bridge by the green like the opening hole on The Old Course, or the fabulous 6th hole at Cruden Bay. I’ve always thought an elevated tee on 6 (another 20 to 30 feet up) and perhaps an aiming post or stone marker like those at Lahinch would help that hole. And then I’d make the green wider on the left side of 9, to be more receptive.
I’m being nitpicky, and I don’t have a bone to pick with the back. It’s tougher than the front, but it’s arguably one of Ireland’s best nines (right up there with Portstewart’s front 9). I guess the only hole I wish was different is 18, only because it misses the “memorable” factor of all the other back holes. Not sure how you “fix” that. Maybe you don’t.
Best Arnold Palmer Course On Earth
“Without question, Tralee is the best Arnold Palmer design on the planet,” Billy Satterfield of GolfCourseGurus says. “In fact, holes 11-17 could be the be the best 7-hole stretch in golf.”
Whoa! Stop the press! That is HUGE praise from a guy who has played virtually everywhere on earth. Turns out I’m not the only one who would play Tralee over Pebble Beach, and that’s no slight to Pebble Beach. It’s clarifying just how spectacular Tralee is.
There’s a statue of Arnold Palmer between the clubhouse and the first tee that most players add to their social feeds while here. Dylan and I got our shot with The King after the round, courtesy of Ireland Tour owner Tom Kennedy. He had brought a media group out for his annual Social Media Invitational. “Why do you bring everyone here?” I asked, referring to his heavy promotion of the course through his travel company Experience Ireland Golf and Travel. “A lot of reasons,” Tom replied. “The course is spectacular. Everyone raves about the ocean views from every hole. David is a phenomenal guy to work with, and when I survey people at the end of their trips as to the biggest surprises and group favorites Tralee is always mentioned.”
Nothing there caught me by surprise. “It’s just so beautiful out here,” Tom adds, taking it all in. “Front and back.”
That IS the general consensus.
• • • • •
WHERE TO STAY: If you’re staying in Tralee, consider the Ballyroe Heights Hotel—a wonderful and comfortable stay, with it’s dome-shaped dining room on the front and idyllic location only 6 miles from Tralee Golf Club. Otherwise I’m told the Barrow House adjacent Tralee Golf Club (always sold out when I visit) is amazing and, if you’re looking for something in town withing walking distance of all the bars and restaurants, The Grand Hotel is great.
• • • • •
THE GOLF COURSE at ADARE MANOR
Pay attention. There are two Adare Manor golf courses, right next door to each other in fact — you can literally see one from the other. One of them is public, Adare Manor Golf Club, and only costs about $40 for 18. The other is semi-private, The Golf Course at Adare Manor, and costs a bit more to play—assuming you can even find an available tee time. They are two VERY different experiences — just understand that. And understand this … even if there ARE two golf courses at Adare Manor, only one of them is one-of-a-kind.
If you’ve ever been to Bandon Dunes Resort, you know the Bandon Trails course to be a lightning rod in conversations. Many love it for being so unique, mostly tucked back into the woods and hills, compared to Bandon’s dune-loaded oceanside courses. Others don’t mind skipping it, because it is too similar to courses they can play in their various home states. Wherever you fall on the Bandon Trails spectrum, there’s no denying that what Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw pulled off there is astonishing. At the very least they built a course you can’t find anywhere else in Oregon!
Why Play Adare?
Sadly, that same indifference affects many Ireland-bound golfers considering a round at Adare Manor. As a Golf Packaging professional, I’ve had several Americans tell me they don’t care to play there because it’s not a links course, and there are too many courses like it back home. The customer is always right … except when they’re so incredibly wrong.
There aren’t many courses in America, or anywhere else, where a billionaire comes in with a blank check, hands it to the architect who consults on both Augusta National and Pine Valley (Tom Fazio) and says, “Do with this as you will.” But that’s exactly what Irish billionaire JP McManus did. Maybe the golfers aren’t “wrong” that there are plenty of courses similar in style back in America, but the best ones are very private, and you’d be (point in fact) foolish to overlook Adare on an Ireland golf trip, for ANY reason. The Ryder Cup will be played here in four years, in 2027. That’s not nothing, and there is truly nothing like this place anywhere else in Ireland. Which is obviously why the Irish love it.
Parkland On Another Level
I mean no disrespect to any of the other great parkland courses in Ireland, of which there are several. But JP McManus made sure that Adare Manor set itself apart on several different levels—not just the golf. The service is second to none. From the gate to the valet, to the immaculate practice facilities and dust-free clubhouse, locker rooms and golf shop. They don’t miss anything and want to make sure you have all that you need. Think of the fanciest, most elegant shopping or dining experience you’ve had, without any semblance of stuffiness or arrogance. That’s Adare Manor in every department. You’re treated like royalty, regardless of social status, income or footwear.
“Will you be staying with us tonight, sir,” a suited-up gentleman asks, handing me a glass of something. I choke back the “no” wanting so badly to say “yes,” and just shake my head. “Unfortunately we’re not part of the wedding party (that had reserved the entire place).”
“Maybe next time, sir,” he smiled.
I hope there is a next time. I can imagine now, what it’s like to stay in that … castle, having stayed in several similar castle/mansion/manors in Scotland. They were all their own unique surreal experience, but staying at Adare Manor would truly be something special. The gardens and fountains and walkways mixed with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Didn’t take long for me to feel like I didn’t belong there … but that was self-imposed, with me worrying about my appearance and golf skill (or lack of).
No one there ever made me feel anything less than 100% welcome.
You won’t find a better maintained property in Ireland. Both of our caddies said the same thing and both of them were right. We switched caddies after the first hole, once they realized my son was the actual golfer. Dylan ate the place up. These bumpless fairways and hand-manicured greens were exactly to his liking. Literally anything the caddy asked him to do he did. Were it not for his 10 on hole 18 for an 81, he’d have shot in the mid-70’s. I was the exact opposite. I found out that the pinestraw, the rough, the creekbeds and the hazards are also incredibly maintained. “How do they make this place so perfect?” I asked my caddie, while standing knee-deep in tall grass.
“You should see the fairways,” he replied.
I deserved that. “They want Americans to feel like this is the Augusta National of Europe,” he continued. “And they want everyone who plays it to realize that it’s every bit as nice in person as it is on TV.”
No Filter Needed
There’s definitely little need for photoshop editing to photography or videos here. I’m convinced they have maintenance paint with 88 different shades to match literally every setting on the course, because there were few if any off-color patches, no weeds, nor any noticeable ground under repair areas on any part of the course, not in the sun or the shade. “What would you compare this to back home?” my caddie asked. Wow. I wasn’t sure where to start.
They have a SubAir system beneath their greens that allows them to set their speeds to whatever they want and to do so consistently. That is huge in Ireland, as we played after a heavy rain and found the drainage and playing surfaces to be as if it had barely sprinkled. The course has the conditioning of Merion and Cypress Point, the two best-conditioned courses I’ve played in America. It has the memorable before, during and after service of National Golf Links. It plays a lot like Maidstone. The only thing like it in Minnesota is Interlachen. “Let’s just say,” I replied, “that Adare sets itself apart from its parkland competition as well as America’s best courses do from theirs.” In Ireland, Adare Manor is in a class of its own.
More Than Golf
Beyond the golf, they have a falconry center, a movie theater, the luxurious La Mer Spa and a beautiful river slicing through the property. They’re adjacent a lovely village full of shops and restaurants, and have bikes available for those who want to explore. The property is only 30 minutes from the Shannon Airport, which takes direct flights to and from several cities in the United States, and only 60 miles from both Tralee Golf Links and Doonbeg. Ultimately, whatever amenities or conveniences you’re looking for, they have and they’ll do anything they can to make your stay and play both memorable and unforgettable.
I got a birdie on the Par 3 16th hole and my caddie acted like I’d sunk the winning putt in a Major. “I told you all day you could do it!” he exclaimed, high-fiving me with more enthusiasm than the late Chris Farley ever showed about his van by the river. “Awesome putt!”
The scene struck me as special because it was clear his investment in me, terrible as I was all day, was genuine. I found that to be the case with every person I spoke to on the property that day. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to have us there that day — a couple of tired American’s in desperate need of showers.
“We look forward to your return,” the valet said, closing our car door.
So. Do. I.
• • • • •
WHERE TO STAY: Duh. If you can stay at Adare Manor, you stay in the Manor House at Adare Manor. Hotel guests receive priority in booking tee times, so it’s quite possible that might be your only way to get on the course. It is certainly an expensive round, but you’re definitely paying for the entire experience, and you’ll find nothing else like it in Ireland. If you’re not able to stay at Adare Manor, you’re near the lovely city of Limerick which has a number of quality hotels. Or — if you’re bouncing west towards Doonbeg and Lahinch, as we were — you could stay at the lovely Bunratty Manor Hotel, another place where everyone welcomes you as if you’re at home, and their Manor restaurant is consistently voted one of the 5 best in the entire area.
• • • • •
On the one hand, I don’t understand how Doonbeg isn’t lauded more for where and what it is, one of the most spectacular golf and hotel properties in the entire world. On the other hand, I understand how hard it is for some to separate politics from golf so, no matter how true some things may be and how irrelevant other things may be, the 5-Star Trump International Golf Links & Hotel at Doonbeg may never get the respect it truly deserves.
Not for lack of effort from some of us journalists — most notably multi-award-winning radio star, and fellow Ireland ambassador, Ann Liguori. “She’s like the Mayor of Doonbeg,” the shop attendant replied, when I asked if he knew her (suspecting he probably did). “Everyone here knows her.” Whether they know her or simply know of her, Ann Liguori has made no secret of her affinity for the people and the place of Doonbeg. “One of my favorite hotels in all the world,” she shared, when I visited her on Long Island. “I could absolutely live there.”
I could live there too. It’s a golf epicenter of sorts — 40 minutes west of the Shannon Airport, in County Clare — surrounded by places like Lahinch and Adare Manor, and not very far from Tralee, Ballybunion, Dooks and Carne. But it’s also one of the most epic pieces of land you’ll ever find a hotel on — similar to the Slieve Donard at Royal County Down — bordered by the Creegh River and Atlantic Ocean, on Doughmore Bay and Beach.
5 Star Hotel
How many 5-Star hotels are oceanside with a Top 100 ranked golf course? It’s an honest question — not rhetorical. I can’t think of many outside of California and Hawaii. There sure aren’t many in Europe.
Ann told me one of the lasting impressions for her was how many people had expected her not to like Doonbeg. The same happened to me. Why? How? I almost bought into the talk on my first visit — almost skipped Doonbeg completely. Fortunately, I didn’t, and — like Ann — had the same response when I visited Doonbeg … I LOVED it! It exceeded my expectations then, and exceeded my expectations again when I got to stay there.
Castle On A Cliff
The chateau-esque hotel was built in 2006 by the same American architects who developed Kiawah Island in South Carolina. These people know what they’re doing! Many of the Guest Rooms and Suites are ocean view, ranging in bedrooms from 1 to 4 and in space from 365 square feet to 2-story palatial expanses. There are 1 to 3 bedroom Links Suites (which I stayed in) adjacent the main lodge, and then the Links Cottages left of the 17th fairway, making up in space what they trade in scenery. They’re still less than 200 yards from the beach, just with a bit trickier access. Those spectacular accommodations pair with stellar dining at Ocean View Restaurant overlooking the Atlantic, and the Trump Restaurant & Bar near the 1st tee for the best of both worlds.
Those looking for the stay more than the play, can still bask away in the luxurious Wild Horses Spa — the feature destination for many a honeymoon bride or girls trip. But Trump International Golf Links & Hotel wouldn’t receive half the attention it does, without the Golf Links in its title.
Norman Vs Hawtree
Greg Norman was given the first shot at the course in 2002, and he was blown away by the massive scale of the 100-foot dunes he had to work with. He plotted some incredible holes that he wasn’t able to build due to environmental restrictions, but his improvisations still resulted in an incredibly scenic, very natural and unquestionably fun design. Fast-forward a decade to 2014 and Martin Hawtree was brought in after a storm for a 2-year renovation intended to tweak the course to the new owner’s liking, making many of the holes a bit more playable. Each architect has his detractors, but they succeeded way more than they failed, and their combined work receives far more accolades than critiques. Whoever deserves the credit, there are a half-dozen flawless holes on the Par 72, 7,026-yard course and, of that, there is no debate.
Uniquely featuring five par 3’s and five par 5’s, one of those par 5’s is among my favorite on the planet — the runway-straight 1st hole, with the ocean left, and massive mountain-sized dunes creating an amphitheater around the green. It’s not the pinnacle of the experience — there’s far more greatness ahead — but it’s hard not to be disappointed when you’re pulled away from the ocean, no matter for how long.
Thankfully, 15 of the next 17 holes at Doonbeg provide ocean views, and several of the better inland holes (especially the par 3’s) keep you tested and entertained until you hit one of Ireland’s best Par 3’s at 14 — my favorite hole at Doonbeg. The tee box situated perfectly atop the dunes provides a panoramic perspective of all the property to the chateau hotel, with the ocean running forever to the right of it.
I finished the 18th at sunset on my first visit, with nearly 100 people standing around the green. It made me nervous, though none of them were watching me. They were all watching the ball of fire sink into the glassy sea, and toasting the end of a spectacular day.
That is the lasting memory of Doonbeg for me … any and all expectations exceeded by the setting, service and loftiest of standards.
• • • • •
DETOUR: SPANISH POINT, LAHINCH AND THE CLIFFS OF MOHER While staying or playing at Doonbeg, you’ll also want to take note of Spanish Point Golf Club — a stunning 9-hole course set on the ocean, just 8.8 miles north. You’ll have heard of Lahinch — the G.O.A.T of the Wild Atlantic Way, according to many golfers (and their logo). It’s only 9.1 miles further north than Spanish Point. But if you’re going up to Lahinch you might want to consider staying in town, playing both of its courses and hitting the famed Cliffs of Moher, assuming you can find them at a time when there’s little to no fog. Lahinch is a mini vacation destination for locals — a small town with big sound, a great beach, dozens of hotels and plenty of great shops and restaurants. I’ve spent several days in Lahinch and could easily spend more. Love everything about the place.
• • • • •
PORTMARNOCK HOTEL & GOLF LINKS
Dublin is one of my favorite cities on earth, and also happens to be jampacked with golf courses. While I’m convinced I could literally stay anywhere in Dublin and love it (I’m admittedly a sucker for the library at Trinity College), as a golfer I can’t imagine coming here on any sort of “once in a lifetime golf trip” and overlooking the opportunity to stay (and play) at the Portmarnock Hotel.
Two Portmarnock Golf Courses
I’ve made the mistake myself, so I get it. On my first visit to Dublin I thought Portmarnock was one golf course and I completely overlooked the “other” one connected to the hotel. I spent all my time on the “Championship” course and wandering their other nine, then just went back to the White Sands Hotel at dark. It was my last morning there that I was out for a walk on the Velvet Strand and walked past a hotel that impressed me and golf holes I hadn’t yet played. “What is that course?” I asked a man on the beach throwing one frisbee to two dogs. “Portmarnock,” he said. Wait … what???
Did I miss something? Yes. I did. I actually missed a lot. A little bit of GoogleMaps research gave me a bird’s eye view of the hotel I was going to stay at next time and the golf course I was going to play next time—the second Portmarnock golf course. And now, having learned my lesson the hard way, I’m here to keep as many of you as possible from making the same mistake.
You read about Adare Manor having two adjacent golf courses with the same name. Portmarnock does too. There’s the 27-hole one at the end of the peninsula and Portmarnock Beach, past Old Man’s Point, that dates back to 1890 and has hosted 19 Irish Opens and the Walker Cup. And, then, there’s the one 100 years newer, directly adjacent to the hotel, that was built by Bernard Langer using classic architecture and modern technology, that truly is the best of both worlds.
The “Other” Portmarnock
“Why don’t more people play here?” I asked a gentleman named Brendan. “Plenty do,” he replied, showing me a full tee sheet, “but plenty also think this peninsula is just one course.”
“What kind of idiot … “ I replied, taking a direct shot at myself which, in hindsight, he couldn’t have known.
“Oh no, it’s an easy mistake,” he insisted. I knew it was. My sarcasm was often misused and misunderstood over here. I just nodded this time and told him how spectacular the Hotel Links conditioning was. “You can thank Fintan for that.” Incredible work Mr. Superintendent.
The Pinehurst Of Ireland
Without GoogleMaps I may have never understood the actual proximity and separation of properties between Portmarnock Golf Club an Portmarnock Hotel Links. I also wouldn’t have realized just how many golf courses are within a matter of minutes or miles from the Portmarnock Hotel. Just down the road in either direction you’ll find: St. Anne’s, Royal Dublin, Island Club, Corballis, Howth, Balcarrick, Donabate, Malahide, Sutton, Deer Park and Sweet Caroline’s Ice Cream (and I’m probably leaving some out).
You could literally stay at Portmarnock Hotel for a week, play every day, never leave Dublin and never run out of golf. The hotel concierge also mentioned how close we were to The European Club and Baltray (County Louth)—two more local favorites. Kind of sounds like the ultimate Stay & Play scenario — one hotel for 12 courses … that’s like Pinehurst.
Portmarnock Hotel, Restaurant & Spa
The hotel itself is immaculate and historic—the former home to the Jameson dynasty. The lobby is bright and aery, the rooms spacious and beds comfortable (love the Junior Suites). They are famous for their Spa, Seaview Lounge and Sunday brunches but, full disclosure, their daily breakfasts for guests in 1780 are every bit as tasty, filling and great. The hotel’s setting on the Velvet Strand is spectacular, with great walks in every direction (or a cold swim due east), the parking lot is safe and gated, and the service is extraordinary. They are lacking in nothing a golf trip organizer wants or needs. Nothing.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. As long as rooms are available and I’m not blacklisted for asking too many questions, I’ll stay at the Portmarnock Hotel on every future visit to Dublin without a second’s hesitation.
There ARE two Portmarnock golf courses in Dublin, both worth playing, if you haven’t yet. But there’s only one Portmarnock Hotel in Dublin and it’s definitely worth staying at, especially if you haven’t yet.
Add it to your own Bucket List.
• • • • •
THE ISLAND CLUB
What is the most underrated golf course in your state? In your country?
Dictionary: Underrated – “Not valued highly enough.”
I’m from Minnesota and there are golf publications that don’t consider Arnold Palmer’s Deacon’s Lodge a Top 10 course in the state. I think it’s harsh when people don’t consider it Top 2. That, to me, is “underrated.” I feel the same about Chambers Bay and Gamble Sands in Washington, both criminally underrated nationally. All three of those courses belong HIGH on ANY Top 100 Public Golf Course list in America. (Each should be in the Top 50.)
In Ireland, Cruit Island doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves, but it’s only a 9-hole course. Carne doesn’t get the respect it deserves, even with bestselling author Tom Coyne promoting it globally. Tralee and Old Head … I could make cases for each being a “world best” — both underrated. But, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why The Island Club isn’t considered by everyone to be a Top 10 course in Ireland. Even after they got rid of one of my two favorite holes on the front (#9) it easily remains my favorite course within 100 miles of Dublin. It is 100% a must-play course (IF you can even get on) and any Ireland Golf Bucket List that doesn’t contain it has a giant hole in said bucket.
Now, let me quickly concede that “The Club” has recently rocketed up charts. General Manager Conor O’Leary is a pro’s pro and runs a phenomenal program top to bottom, likely with a list of marquee club suitors a mile long. Memberships are full. The waiting list is long. People have been coming from everywhere, playing it and loving it. But guess what? So many people have been discovering Island Club recently that their public tee times are already sold out for the year … the whole year. If you want to play the course in 2023 you have to find a member to play with. Good luck with even that!
I wrote a thank you letter to Mr. O’Leary after my first visit, raving about the club and service. He told me I was welcome back anytime. And then COVID hit and their popularity took off to unimaginable heights. Although it was my #1 request of Rory for this trip, he was very up front about it — “Honestly, I don’t think I can get you on.” And then Mr. O’Leary found someone willing to show a couple Americans how the course was meant to be played — Club Captain, Finbarr Gaffney. Thank you Conor!
In The Beginning
Ten Irishman founded the golf club in 1890. Those men were known as “The Syndicate.” In order to play golf they had to take a ferry across the bay. It was the Irish Fisher’s Island — same quality experience, same privilege to play. Many architects have had their hand in the design and redesigns of the course, from Fred to Martin Hawtree and even Eddie Hackett. Each of them made the course better. A lot more work has been done to the front nine recently, right before COVID, but to a person all the changes have been well received. The former 9th (one of my two favorite holes on the front, with hole 2) was sacrificed to open a Short Game practicing area, but with everything else working so well in terms of layout, the move certainly made sense.
Finbarr Gaffney knows the Island Club better than I know the Lord’s Prayer with a Sunday school mother, pastor father and 45 years of church services. That was very helpful to Dylan. Me … not as much. Finbarr Gaffney is one of the most dedicated and professional people I’ve ever played with. We had nine beautiful days of weather in Ireland and 12 hours of rain. Four of those rain hours were during our Island Club round and Finbarr insisted on playing the entire round with us … smile on his face the entire time. We watched foursome after foursome opt out of the back nine, but he stuck with us and was a better caddie for Dylan that day than most PGA tour players will have in their careers.
Finbarr knew every historical anecdote about the club like he knew every bump on the green. He had stories about stories he’d both heard and experienced, found balls in patches of grass like bald eagles find fish in the Mississippi and no matter how much I attempted to embarrass myself with terrible drives, he acted as if he’d seen worse. He was humble and kind, attentive and a really good player — pretty much the ideal candidate for a Club Captain. Dylan didn’t lose a single ball during his round because Finbarr watched his every shot. I lost a few balls due to “I’ve never seen anyone hit the ball there before” and “rain gloves would have helped,” but it didn’t diminish my appreciation for The Island Club as a course.
It was an honor to spend four hours with Finbarr that day and an honor to get another shot at Island Club, even in the pouring rain. Sitting in the clubhouse after the round with both Finbarr and Rory (for our farewell dinner) I thanked them both while defrosting over a bowl of soup. “Can’t possibly thank either of you enough,” I said. “And please thank Conor for us. Finbarr, I couldn’t be more impressed that you stuck with us the entire round in that, and Rory … every single day of this trip has been nothing short of stellar.”
Both men said what they meant, and meant what they said. “My pleasure.” But, truthfully (and there’s really no comparison) the pleasure was all ours.
• • • • •
HIGHLIGHTS: Keeping in mind it was Dylan’s first trip to Ireland, so I was curious what his highlights might be (with zero influence from me), and figured they’d be far more interesting to readers than my own. This was his list: 1. Old Head. 2. Rosscarbery Pitch & Putt. 3. Pat Ruddy. 4. Adare Manor. 5. Dingle Peninsula. 6. Golfing with Finbarr. 7. Portmarnock Hotel. 8. Club Lemon. 9. Waterville Golf Links. 10. The Fish Box.
What that says to me is that he enjoys Ireland the same way I enjoy Ireland. He loves the sights, the people, the towns, scenery, food and eccentricities as much as a lot of the golf. He’s impacted by and influenced by so many different aspects of the experience. And that’s why I hope this wasn’t my only chance to take him to Ireland. There’s so much in the Northern half he’d love just as much.
• • • • •
THE “NEXT TRIP TO IRELAND” (Bucket List)
I’m ALWAYS dreaming of my next trip to Ireland (even when I’m still in Ireland). Such was the case on my 2022 visit. I had so many invitations from the North last year, and it was an impossibly hard decision to go south instead, but … “On My Next Trip to Ireland” (should I be so blessed), this would be the DREAM 10-Course Itinerary:
Day 1 (Sunday): County Louth – Baltray (Lodging Concra Wood)
2 (Monday): Concra Wood (Lodging: Slieve Donard – Ireland Favorite)
3 (Tuesday): Royal County Down (Hopefully get to play it in FULL this time! – Lodging Bushmills Inn – Ireland Favorite)
4 (Wednesday): Royal Portrush (Lodging Portsalon)
5 (Thursday): Portsalon (Lodging Rosapenna)
6 (Friday): Rosapenna: Sandy Links & Old Tom (Lodging Rosapenna)
7 (Saturday): Rosapenna: St Patricks & Bonus 9 at Cruit Island (Lodging Viking House)
8 (Sunday): Narin & Portnoo (Lodging in Donegal)
9 (Monday): Donegal (Lodging in Dublin)
10 (Tuesday): Fly Home
*** – I’ve never been in Ireland after May 1st, so a September visit would be unique and cool someday. The primary purpose of this itinerary would be to have AM and PM rounds on Ireland’s newest course, Tom Doak’s masterpiece at Rosapenna-St. Patricks, for maximum photographic opportunities in both lights, and to show my son both the northern half of the Wild Atlantic Way and the Giants Causeway. He’d be able to experience Ireland’s greatest short course at Cruit Island, championship course at Portrush, and my favorite boutique hotel in Ireland (so far) at Bushmills. At the completion of this itinerary I’d have played 24 of 25 Courses on my Ireland “Bucket List” and at least 40 of Ireland’s Top 50 ranked courses according to five different golf publications. If that’s the last golf trip I ever get to make to Ireland, it will be a phenomenal and memorable one!
WRAP: That’s what I’ve done the past 15 years … chase dreams. I’ve made Golf Bucket Lists in every country and tried to fulfill them so I could write about the experiences and share them with thousands of other like-minded dreamers and golf nomads. I always value and appreciate every chance I get to visit Ireland, and hope my love of the country and its incredibly kind/generous people is transparent. Never been anywhere on earth I’ve ever felt more welcomed in general, than most everywhere I’ve been in Ireland!