Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ireland's Finest Golf Resorts

One would have to look long and hard to find five golf resorts in one country that are better than these.

1. The Old Head of Kinsale- spectacular setting, world class amenities, and minutes from Kinsale.
2. Royal County Down GC and the Slieve Donard Hotel- 36 holes of golf and one of the finest hotels
3. Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort- 81 holes of golf, luxurious rooms, and fine dining.
4. The Lodge at Doonbeg- world class accommodations located between Lahinch and Ballybunion
5. Waterville Golf Links and the Waterville House- great links golf with your own private practice facility and fishing stream.

Top Ten Most Friendly Irish Courses

This was a difficult list to compose, as I didn't find ONE course out of the 34 I played that everyone weren't friendly. These ten went out of their way to make my experience an exceptional one. Thanks to all the people below for making my Ireland journey feel like home.

1. Royal Dublin- Denis McAdams*,John Abernethy, Eoin O'Connell, Sean Kelly
2. Old Head- Jim O'Brien, Patrick O'Connor, Rose Barry, Danny Brassil
3. The European Club- Pat Ruddy and son's.
4. Waterville- Noel Cronin
5. Rosapenna- Frank Casey Jr.
6. Royal County Down- David Wilson, Kevan Watson, Sean McKibbin my caddie
6a. Ardglass- members John, Peter, and Edward.
7. Doonbeg- Bekah Huie, Brian Shaw
8. County Sligo- Martin in the pro shop, Donald the restaurant manager
9. Lahinch- Hughie the singing caddie
10. Enniscrone- Pat Sweeney

*Denis McAdams wins the In Pursuit of 1000 Most Friendly Person in Ireland Award.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Old Head- World Class Experience

Planning this years Ireland golf adventure the course that intrigued me the most was Old Head. I set aside an additional day to hopefully get some great photo's and at least a day of sunny weather. Last year I did the same at Royal County Down and experienced some of the best conditions of the 18 days, the weather at Old Head would turn out to be even better than at RCD. I arrived around 6 PM and was treated to a wonderful dinner in the De Coursey Dining Room and a visit from one of the O'Connor brothers, Patrick. Chatting with Patrick I commented that I hoped I would have enough golf balls for my round tomorrow, when he informed me that he would be surprised if I lost one ball. Having previewed the course on their website, looked at the yardage book and overhead photo's it appeared I would be playing on the edge of the world on several holes. I was all ready to donate a couple sleeves of balls to the Atlantic Ocean, I will check back with Patrick after my round to see how many I lost.

After dinner I took a cart and got my first glimpse of Old Head Golf Links and a shot few photo's. It was a perfect evening, not a cloud in the sky, no wind, with cool temperatures around 60. I stayed pretty much on the cart path and got a quick preview of what I would be playing the next day.  What I found were magnificent 200-300 foot cliffs encapsulating the property with a beautiful white Lighthouse at the headlands point. When I had arrived earlier at the stone gate house, drove up the stonewall lined driveway, past the ruins of the old lighthouses to the stone clubhouse and lodging it felt like these structures had all been here for hundreds of years. They all blended into the surroundings and didn't detract one bit from the Lighthouse's prominence. I could hardly wait for tomorrow's round of golf and had mixed emotions as too what type of weather I wanted to play in. If there isn't any wind, the saying in the British Isles is "It isn't golf". Give me sunny and 10-15 mph winds.

I was met in the pro shop by Danny Brassil, the club pro, and we headed out to the range to warm up. Very few courses in Ireland have full practice ranges, so it was nice not to be hitting my first shot of the day off the first tee. Mick was assigned to be my caddie and another perfect day awaited us on the first tee, if you didn't want any wind. The ocean would be calm and tranquil for the whole round. It didn't take long to get you to the cliff's edge as the 2nd tee takes you to a three hole stretch that hugs the eastern edge of the property out to the lighthouse. (At no point on the course does it take you right to the edge of a shear cliff, for safety on a windy day, I guess they want to return to the clubhouse with the same number of golfers they started the day out with). You have a 160 yard par three sandwiched around two nice dogleg left par fours bringing you to a breathtaking view of the Atlantic near the lighthouse.The tee of hole five is at the base of the lighthouse and starts a two hole uphill stretch back across the center of the property to the, par 3, 7th hole. Here you get a view of the isthmus which the 12th and 13th hole play over. There are a series of stones positioned around the course that give you important historical facts about Old Head. I thought they were very interesting and added to the experience, except for the one that comes into play near the green on hole #10. Holes 8 and 9 take you back around the western border of the practice range in the center of the property.

The back nine takes you back toward the ocean with a reachable risk/reward par 5, that has your approach shot playing over a stone fenced sacred grounds. Hole #11 is an uphill long par 3 that has a newly exposed rock face as a backdrop. Danny was very helpful in providing me with what changes have taken place over the years to the course and what plans they have for the future. I like to see management being open minded, wanting to improve their product, and give the player more options of play. The 12th hole has one of the most spectacular views and the most intimidating tee shot of any hole at Old Head. You are confronted with a blind uphill tee shot that created doubt in my mind where I should actually be aiming my drive. That doubt resulted in a hooked drive that somehow ended up on the walking path to the fairway. Instead of using my wedge for my third shot, I punched it out on my second and hit a hybrid 200 yards pin high on the green for my third shot. The walk from the tee on the narrow pathway to the fairway is one of the best you will ever take in golf. Today on a calm day you can hear the birds that are flying from the sanctuary 300 feet below on the rock cliffs and caves. The 13th is a monster uphill par 3 that if played from the back tees may need a driver to reach the green. Fourteen is the long par 4 that if the wind was up could not be reached in two. I had a long approach which I pushed right into a narrow band of vegetation right of the green. After thoroughly searching the area we could not find my ball, so I had lost my first ball at Old Head. Hole 15 is a short, downhill, reachable par 4. Often on these types of holes I play two balls, the first being a lay up and the second going for the green. My first shot with a hybrid landed on the upper plateau of the fairway, my driver produced a result just off the front edge of the green. Both balls produced birdies, one of the few times I can remember this happening. Sixteen is a medium length par 3 which provides some fantastic views of the rugged coastline and lighthouse. Seventeen is the last of the par 5's. Old Head is an interesting mix of five par 3's and par 5's. My drive found the fairway and left me with a blind layup to the fairway. My caddie and I miscommunicated on where I was to be aiming and immediately after striking the ball Danny said "that one is gone". Lost ball #2 had found the ocean. After figuring out where I should have been aiming I dropped another and found a nice spot in the fairway short of the green. The back tee of the finishing hole is located on a narrow path adjacent to the stone wall directly in front of the lighthouse. A dramatic tee box, but what if this area could be widened and lengthened another 15-20 feet? You would have one of the greatest all or nothing short par 3's ever. The eighteenth finishes in front of the clubhouse and as I mentioned earlier blends into the landscape nicely. Coincidentally, as I walked in the lobby there was Patrick. I told him that I did lose two balls but under normal circumstances I shouldn't have lost a ball.

The next morning before heading west I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jim O'Brien, the Old Head GM. I know they would like to have their course universally recognized as a world top 100 course and are patiently working to make that happen. I told Jim that, "If you put a wall around the playing perimeter and only looked at the golf course, that Old Head was not yet a top 100 course. What you have here at Old Head, is one of the Top 10 Golf Experiences in the World that I would want to come back and visit before playing many of the top 100 courses in the world". Luxurious accommodations, fine dining, spectacular golf, and a warm and friendly staff produces a great experience that I hope to visit again on my next Ireland trip.

So, what would I suggest to help move it up the list of top courses? I like the current routing of the course but found the bunkers, though somewhat strategic and penal, very mundane. It is what I would characterize as resort course bunker design versus classic top 100 bunker design found at courses like Portrush or RCD. Bunkers are as esthetically important to a golf course as the wheels are to a sports car, the landscaping to a home, or the icing on a cake. Having just played the European Club, and Gozzer Ranch in the past year I have seen some of the most esthetic bunkers in the world. Steve Smyers courses are also beautifully done with many bunkers that do not come into play but add eye candy to the golf experience. The interior holes at Old Head would benefit the most with added/redesigned bunkers, as they are not nearly as memorable as the scenic ocean holes. The white Lighthouse and adjacent wall which can be seen from many of the holes dominate the landscape at Old Head. Why not replace the sand with something nearer a white color than the current brown to compliment it. Accent the bunkers with wisps of native grass. The silver sleeper ties that Pat Ruddy used at European Club would really highlight the bunkers even more. I really enjoy playing a course that has one hole where you have to make a forced carry or all is lost. These make for great memories especially if you make it on in one shot. I would add a Bonus Hole at the back tee on #18, call it 17S (short). You could either proceed from the 17L (long) green to the 5th tee and share that teeing area or develop a tee between 17 green and the front 18 tee as close to the edge as possible. A NANO green of about 25 feet deep by 30 feet wide, running adjacent to the lighthouse wall, would produce some great fun and a challenge to hit with or without wind. Create a bulkhead to match the white walls and you have a fantastic looking little hole. You would only need an iron off the tee, a pocket full of golf balls, and a putter to play this hole because there would be nothing in between. Hit until you put one on or have only one ball left in your golf bag. In 1986 it took a golfer 66 shots to play the 17th at Sawgrass. I once played behind an Asian foursome there and watched as they rinsed at least 25 balls on seventeen and enjoyed every minute of it.

Notable Holes: #4 , #9, #11, #12, #15, #17.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Olympic Club- Lary the sleepy caddie

This years U.S.Open brought back memories of my 2006 West coast golf trip. My golf buddy, Kevin, and I arrived in San Francisco in the afternoon and ready for some golf went directly to Harding Park and got 15 holes in before dark. The next day we had arranged a tee time at the famous Lake Course at The Olympic Club. We then would head south to Monterrey and play the Big 3 there, followed by Pasatiempo, and finishing up at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort for several rounds. Our version of a golf trip of a lifetime. Which fortunately, there have been a few more over the past several years.

It was a cool, foggy morning when we arrived at The Olympic Club, even though they were having record high temperatures just a few miles inland. We went in the pro shop, paid our fee, and were given a nice leather pouch containing some Pro V logo golf balls, ball marker, divot tool, and bag tag. I asked if they had any caddies available, and the assistant said he would arrange for one to carry both our bags for an additional fee plus gratuity. We agreed and drove to the range to hit a few balls. After getting loosened up we headed back to the first tee and are met by our designated caddie, who I will call Lary. He didn't look like your usual caddie, as he was dressed in blue jeans and a light casual jacket. He picked up our bags and immediately said these were way to heavy for him to carry, even though we had both packed very light for the trip. He wanted us to take things out even though there was nothing extra to omit. I said how about you just drive a power cart with the bags on them and we do the walking. That worked for Lary. The first hole Lary seemed like he was into it and was close on the yardage of my approach shot on the par 5. He had a moist towel and cleaned off my ball on the green. By the fourth hole, Lary had yet to give us any helpful tips on how to play the holes and his yardages where not really that close. By now his towel was dry and he was spitting on our golf balls and clubs to clean them. He also hadn't been of any help in following any wayward shots into the thick rough. On the 8th hole we had both missed the green and needed some wedges and our putters brought to us. Lary still had not caught on to whose clubs belonged to who and again gave us the other's clubs. After the tenth hole there is a nice halfway house to get some nourishment. At Olympic they put hamburgers in the mold of a hot dog and serve them up in a hot dog bun. Once Lary returned from an extended stay in the bathroom, I asked him if he wanted something. He went for the burgerdog and a drink. Since we had already eaten we told him at the tee he could finish up and catch us down the fairway with our clubs. We had both pushed our drives to the right and spent some time locating them on our own. Still no Lary, he was motionless sitting back in the cart at the tee. I yell and he finally comes to life and heads down the cart path. He pulls up and I look in my bag to find some of Kevin's clubs mixed with mine. How hard can it be to keep different branded clubs separated? We make it to the par 3, 15th,  which has a lateral deep ditch and OB on the left. I had a new set of Mizuno forged irons and Lary asked if he could hit one off the tee to see how they feel. What can one say but, sure. Of course Lary who couldn't find a ball if it were in the middle of the fairway, didn't have any extra balls on him so he helped himself to one of my nice Olympic logo Pro V's. He proceeded to hook it so far left over the ditch and chain link fence that Tarzan couldn't have gotten to it, let alone golf cart bound Lary. On the long par 5, 16th, Lary thought he should drive down the cart path and fore caddie. We both hit good drives down the middle and Lary is again motionless sitting in the cart. I walk up to the cart and Lary is sound ASLEEP!! My patience with Lary was now gone, I smack my driver on the side of the cart right under where he is sitting and Lary jumps too life. We make it to the green and Lary again disappears for an extended period of time to the bathroom. In the mean time we have raked the bunkers, holed out, and are ready to tee off. Lary reappears and seems energized now, is this his home stretch run for a big tip, or could he possibly have taken something to put a little pep in his step? We finish up our round and low and behold we are missing three head covers between us. Kevin and I go inside and look around the pro shop for some mementos after our round. We return to see if Lary has located them on the course he says he has them all back on and disappears. Upon inspection only one was ours, so we leave Olympic with odd head covers. We gave Lary a new name- Rip Van Lary the sleepy caddie. Kevin, emailed me today and was wondering if Lary may have gotten on a bag for this weeks U.S. Open. I told him he may be holding a bag this week but I doubt if it has any golf clubs in it. We will watch the telecasts and see, maybe Lary just had a bad day in 2006. I am guessing that Lary probably had a lot of days like that in his life.

That 2006 trip I borrowed a friends digital camera and those were some of the first golf course photo's I ever took. Enclosed are those first crude few, about 30,000 pictures and three camera's ago.


I do have some fond memories of that day. I played the short par 4, 18th, by hitting a 3 wood and an 8 iron to about 25 feet above a Sunday pin position. For those that have never played Olympic, being above the hole is the last place you want to leave yourself. I barely touched the putt and by the time it had gotten within a few feet of the hole is was really moving. Luckily for me, it hit the hole square and dropped in for a birdie or I would have been chipping back on and probably looking at a bogey or worse. The first few holes at Olympic cover the most difficult terrain on the property and anyone getting through these under par should shoot a pretty good score. Staying on some of these fairways is next to impossible due to the side hill slope causing the ball to run off. It is always fun to watch an event on a course you have played and see how the pro's fare.
Open Update:Watching this years Open the down hiller's on the 18th didn't seem as scary fast as when I had played it. Doing some research I found out that the green has been smoothed from a 6.5 degree slope to a 3.5-4.0 slope. No more 14.5 stimp readings. Still one tough finishing hole.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Perfect Golf Links- The European Club

This years Ireland golf trip started out by arriving in Dublin at 8:15 AM, getting the rental car and heading directly south to The European Club for a 1:00 tee time. It was probably the worst weather day of the trip with temperatures around 47 degrees, wind, and sprinkles. Only a handful of golfers had braved the elements on this day, so I would have the course all too myself and make a leisurely round out of it.

After, a nice lunch at the club I set out for the first tee. Upon arrival the first thing that hit me on this dull, dreary, day was the beautiful blend of colors I saw looking down the first fairway. You had the yellow flowers of the gorse in full bloom, the bright green fairways, the texture of the silver sleeper railway ties in the bunkers, highlighted with wisps of marram grasses accenting their edges. Only at Gozzer Ranch have I seen bunkering as beautiful as this using the marram. I said, this Pat Ruddy is not only an architect but an artist, using the natural dunes as his canvas. Playing around to the world class 7th hole, I came upon the first extra hole. As, Mr Ruddy, states "In the good old days a golf links was composed of as many holes as a group of villagers had land for or had a willingness to play." Hole 7A and 12A are two fine par 3's that further add to the enjoyment of The European Club and make up two ten hole loops. 12 A, he says is "A God given green" and"the big brother of Calamity Jane". The par 5 13th has a most interesting history of its green complex. Due to storms and Padraig's mastery of this hole, Mr Ruddy, put into play his "evolutionary design process" to create one of the world's greatest green complexes and golf holes(top 500). Following #13 you get a chance to play one of the greatest par 3's in the world(top 500), featuring some very innovative two tier bunkering. I would have to think long and hard to recall a better collection of par 3's than the the five at The European Club. Hole 17 is a beauty, playing from an elevated tee down a valley between two dunes. The bunkering on the 5th, 9th and 18th holes can be visually confusing as the bunkers appear to be all the same height which gives you a depth perception problem, thus adding some doubt in your mind. Pete Dye, would love the look of these three dandies. The approach on the 18th is somewhat atypical of any other hole at The European Club, i.e., that it has water coming directly into play. An old pond has been turned into a serpentine shaped burn short of the green. Pat Ruddy's philosophy that "It is always important to ensure that a golf course finishes with more of a roar than a whimper and the players are sent into the clubhouse reeling from the stresses and the strains, the joys and elation's of a great day", is something I would love to see at all courses."There is something daunting about an approach over water", which makes the 18th hole one stern test.

After my round, Mr Ruddy was kind enough to sit down with me for tea and some his clubs renowned apple tarts and ice cream. He puts out a challenge to anyone who thinks they can beat the flavor of his apple tarts, too bring it on. We could have chatted for hours but I needed to find my night's lodging before dark, so regretfully I had to move on. I hope to return someday and finish our visit on how The European Club has evolved.

I totally enjoyed my time at The European Club and my visit with Mr. Ruddy and his two sons. There are several courses out there that once the design has been put into place, that is the end, it is set in stone. What looks good on paper doesn't always work out in the dirt. Pat Ruddy realizes that there is no perfect course born on the first try, as he has shown by his 25 years of extended evolution at The European Club. If it is not to his likening yet, you can bet that it will be The Perfect Golf Links in the future. The book by this name, was just released a few months ago and I strongly recommend its purchase. It gives you insight into his ideas about golf architecture and has many beautiful photo's of every hole at The European Club. It will make a great gift for golfers who appreciate Links golf. You will notice that I only have a Preview of The European Club in the 24 photos I present, not the usual 125+, and I have intentionally left out any pictures of hole #7 which is one of the World's 100 Greatest holes. It was a dreary, wet, day I was there and my photo's wouldn't have done justice to the beauty of the course. The Perfect Golf Links can be ordered online at the Club's website for around 35 euro. If you are ever in the Dublin area the one course you must play is The European Club.

Notable holes: #3,#7,#8,#12A, #13, #14, #17, #18

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ireland Golf Trip Essentials

Two weeks ago I returned back to Florida from Ireland, and now have migrated north to Michigan for the summer. Time to recap my 35 rounds of golf in Ireland the past two Springs. The weather was cool but the people of Ireland warm and very friendly. If you don't like firm and fast course conditions, playing between dunes 100 feet tall, winds up to 45 mph, with some rain mixed in it may not be as enjoyable for you as it was for me. For me Links golf is the greatest form of golf in the world. I didn't play one course that was not located along the seaside. Why would one travel all the way to Ireland and play courses similar to what you can play in the USA?

Below are TEN tips if you are planning a trip to Ireland that will hopefully help you avoid a few pitfalls:
1. GPS and roads. The most important thing you can do if you are self driving is either take a GPS, preloaded with Great Britain maps, or rent one at the car rental agency. I would still be in Dublin driving around the traffic circles without a one. The signage is very poor, plus you are concentrating on driving on the left side of the road to notice where you are suppose to turn. Traffic circles are sometimes 3 lanes wide and can be very confusing getting off at one of the many exits. The rental agencies will charge you more to rent one than what it will cost to buy a new one in the US, so pack one in your carry on. Do not think you can just buy one when you get there or you may waste most of your first day. The roads in the South of Ireland are generally much better than the Republic in the North and Northern Ireland. That said they can be very winding, NARROW, and terrifying when you are faced with a semi on one side of you and a brick wall on the other side. TIP-Don't volunteer to ride in the passenger seat unless you are blindfolded or properly sedated.
2. Car rental agencies and Insurance. Last year I reserved a Hyundai through Thrifty with what I thought were all the amenities only to be told by the agent in Dublin that "Those rates don't apply here". He stuck me another 400 euros and sent me on my way. This year I used National (Europcar) and paid half of what I did at Not So Thrifty without any hassles. As I mentioned above, the roads can be very tight with either hedges or brick walls inches from you auto. I recommend you take out all the insurance you can. Ireland is one of only SIX countries in the world that your auto insurance from the US, or any credit card rental coverage you might have will not apply. I can tell you that it is worth every cent just for the peace of mind alone. Last year I sideswiped a wooden gate within the first hour and later was forced off the road into some hedges that scrapped the passenger side. The daily rental car fees are about $9 per day but the insurance can be another $40. I got a mid-size Skoda this year and it was very comfortable for two people. I could have gotten a larger SUV for the same price at National, being an Emerald Club member, but would have probably returned it looking like the car in the movie Planes,Trains, and Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy. 95% of the rental cars are 6 speed manual. If you want an automatic be prepared to pay another $20-30 per day. Air conditioning is also an add on which you will not need. The most expensive part of your trip compared to traveling in the US will be the rental car.
3. Rain Gear and Shoes. You will need rain gear! It will sprinkle some days every 30 minutes or worse case rain steady for your whole round. So you better have brought along the most water repellent jacket and pants you can buy. Last year I went through a prepaid tour operator so there were no rain checks and my second round at Ballyliffin was a real soaker. Everything in my bag was soaked but I was still pretty dry. This year I planned the trip myself and only had to pay ahead at two courses, fortunately the one bad day I was able to just move on to my next stop. I took two rain jackets, one pair of rain pants, rain hat, pair of rain gloves, a knit hat (chook), and two pair of golf shoes. Don't waste your time taking an umbrella! You should expect some form of rain about 25% of your rounds. Last year in May the locals told me I was getting April weather, this year they told me I was getting January weather. It never got above the low 50's until my last day. Last year the weather did make it into the 70's a couple of days. Regardless of the puny weather I still had a wonderful time. In fact the most fun I had was playing Narin and Portnoo in 45 mph sustained winds, making a par on a three shoter, uphill, and into the wind. I hit my 18 deg hybrid no more than 10 feet off the ground three times, chipped on and made the putt. It felt like an eagle!
4. Currency Exchange. This year my $ went 10% further due to the Euro decline. The best way not to get hosed on exchanges is to get cash through an ATM. DO NOT go to the Banks or desks at the Airports to exchange your $$ or get Euro's at those using your credit card as you will pay up to 8 Euro's more. Some credit cards will charge you a transaction fee if you use your card for purchases, but they convert the transaction into the going $ rate at that time. DO NOT let merchants/lodging convert your bill into dollars as you will be paying a much higher rate, always keep it in Euro's and let your credit card convert it. American Express Travelers Checks and their Credit Cards are worthless, as very few places will honor them due to the higher fees they have to pay. I found that Master Card and Visa this year did not charge transaction fees as they did last year. The best solution I found was a Platinum Visa card through my brokerage house that reimbursed all ATM fees charged and they also had no transaction fees.
5. Luggage and Clothes. I suggest taking a soft golf travel bag (50 lb weight limit) with an expandable metal rod to protect your clubs. One reason is due to the size of cars you will be renting, hard cases will just about exhaust any space you may have in your back seat/trunk. Soft bags can be folded and most have inner pouches that you can pack a lot of extra items. I only take a carry on for my other clothes plus a large computer bag. I try to pack only about a weeks worth of underwear and cold weather Under Armor compression shirts plus a few pair of pants and short sleeve shirts. Add a couple of sweater vests, sweaters/sweat shirts and you should be all set. Add a swimsuit but don't waste space on Bermuda's. Along the way there are laundries or at your lodging that you can drop off a bag of clothes in the AM and get them back in the evening. Make sure you plan ahead to locate these and expect to pay 10-15 Euro's.
6. Golf clubs and balls. To lighten your golf travel bag try and eliminate a few of clubs. Important clubs to have are a ones that you can hit low and long into the wind off the fairway and against what most people will tell you, a 60 degree wedge with low bounce. Ballybunion alone will save you a few shots having a lob wedge and due to the wind/rain a lot of the green side bunkers are firm so that's why the low bounce. If you hit a high drive expect the wind to take your ball many yards off line and into the deep dune grass. Irishmen are like bloodhounds in finding balls but you may not be lucky enough to have one in your group, so take at least two new balls for every round you are going to play. Golf balls are rather expensive at the independently owned pro shops. You will find golf balls can fill up a lot of empty space in your carry on.
7. Electrical. Voltage is 220 in Europe. I found I needed only a Universal adaptor for all my needs. Most places have a special plug for your electric shaver in the bathroom. Your computer, cell phone and camera batteries all work on 220.
8. Walking. I walked all but three of the 35 rounds. Those three, due to weather and terrain I was strongly urged to take a "Buggy" by the management. Most all Irishmen carry or pull a "Trolley". So don't be a wimpy American and be asking for a power cart, unless you are physically unable. Caddies are available at most courses and the usual fee is 40 Euro plus tip. They were all very knowledgeable but don't expect all the services you might get from a good American caddie. Cleaning your clubs and golf balls don't seem to be a priority to some. I used caddies at the top notch courses where blind holes might come into play. Sean at RCD, Old Tom at Ballybunion, Mick at Old Head, and Hughie at Lahinch where all great. If you are lucky Hughie will be singing at a local pub and you can catch his act. Make sure you have good, broken in golf or walking shoes and you are in shape to be able to walk some 36 hole days. Just in case be prepared to deal with blisters.
9. Tour package vs self planning. You have many options in experiencing Ireland from taking a helicopter from one course to another, a guide driven tour bus, to just flying into Dublin and winging it in a rental car. I would suggest no less than a week to get a taste of Ireland. Myself, I wanted to play most everything along the ocean Ireland had to offer so it took me 5 weeks over two years. The first year I went through a travel agency and was mostly satisfied except for the changes in lodging they dropped on me a couple of days before my departure. I had given them several weeks to put the package together and I was changed into lessor quality lodging for 7 of the 18 nights at the same price. I expected the trip to be finalized much ahead of time and the stress of not knowing if they were going to come through moved me to do it all myself this year. Most every course will have an office independent of the pro shop that you can contact to schedule a tee time via email or online. Recently, Golfnow.com has made most of the courses available just like in the USA. There aren't any totally private courses that you can not get a tee time on in Ireland. Weekends or what they call Open days are the only times that I found any difficulty getting on a course. Using Trip Advisor I found very good lodging most anywhere ahead of time. Some people will just wait until they arrive in a town and go to the local Tourist office to find a room. One SCAM that I found was that I was asked to guarantee my reservation with a credit card but on more than one occasion at B and B's they insisted on cash only for payment upon arrival. Only one of the four stuck to their guns and would not take my credit card, telling me their machine would be out of order for over three months. I paid them in $$ the same amount they wanted in Euro's and was on my way. Trip Advisor again helped with restaurants or asking the locals guided me to some very nice places. Of course most every lodging option serves you the full Irish Breakfast, which if eaten for a year would have you in the Cardiac Unit, but when walking up to 9 or 10 hours a day it sure kick starts you day. As on all trips the more you want to pay the more luxurious your accommodations will be, but for me I was there for the golf experience and any other luxuries that I experienced was a bonus.
10. Links Golf- Bandon vs Ireland. Having played 20 rounds at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and 35 rounds on seaside courses in Ireland it is a toss up as to which I would choose to play next. If I had only one last place to play it would have to be BDGR due to the four outstanding courses there, even though Ireland has a great array of quality links courses. Cost wise other than car rental, everything else is less costly or the same as Bandon. Surprisingly, I could fly Delta from Orlando to Dublin for $540 this year. Overall it is less expensive to go to Ireland and play compared to BDGR. If you have played Bandon already, for sure make your next golf trip to visit golfer friendly Ireland. You will not be disappointed with a trip to the Emerald Isle.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Best of Dining and Lodging in Ireland

Below are my recommendations of what I experienced in Dining and Lodging the past two years in Ireland. Listed by geographic region as I traveled around the coast.

Lodging- 5 star, great accomodations.
Slieve Donard- Newcastle, adjacent to RCD.
Harvey's Point- Donegal
Woodland's B and B- Kinsale
Old Head
Waterville House
Brook Manor B and B- Tralee
Villa Vinci- Newcastle
Vanilla- Newcastle
55 North- Portrush
Bisconti Bistro- Sligo
Market Kitchen- Ballina
Fishy Fishy- Kinsale
Old Head
Prego's- Kenamore
Smuggler's Inn- Waterville
Spa Seafoods- Tralee
Marine Link- Ballybunion
Morrisey's Bar- Doonbeg
Anchor Inn- Liscannor
Best Irish Breakfasts
1. Slieve Donard- the ultimate feast, fresh OJ
2. Harvey's Point- eloquent, fresh OJ
3. Brook Manor B and B
4. Smuggler's Inn
5. Portmarnock Links Hotel
Affordable Lodging adjacent to Golf Courses- around $100 or less per night.
Great Keppel B and B- Portmarnock Links
Portmarnock Links Hotel
Doherty's B and B- Ballyliffin
Padua B and B- Rosslare, not adjacent but Willie is a golfer and shot 56 net in an event.
Smuggler's Inn- Waterville
19th Hole B and B- Ballybunion
Marine Hotel- Sutton