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, 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.


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