20 euros for golf on greens one can dream about, 100 euros for hotel, golf and dinner. We found the cheaper side of Ireland, just outside the Irish capital for hen parties and stag nights.
In the areas around Kilkenny we found a golfing area as an alternative to the traditional Irish golfing holiday. For most of the time, a golf break in Ireland means playing on links courses at a fairly high green fee.
It took us an hour southwest by car to get there from Dublin Airport. The idea was to get away as cheaply as possible. The first stop, however, proved to be quite luxurious. At the beginning, The Heritage in Killenard was a luxury resort with a spa hotel, private villas and a golf course designed by Seve Ballesteros.
The course opened in 2004 as an integral part of the hotel. But when the decline came a few years later, the builder went bankrupt and the Irish state went in and saved the facility. Today, two Americans from Texas have taken over the hotel while the golf course is owned and operated by the golf club.
It is a typical parkland course with water in play at ten of the holes. Partly as ponds and small lakes, partly as running water along and across the fairways. For the most part, the landing areas are generous, where you’re welcome to take it away from the tee by using the driver.
But there are also larger bunker parties shaped like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle both in the doglegs and by the greens. The course is almost pedantic well-groomed. And it’s long, close to 6000 meters from the club tees. Green fees are between 35 and 65 euros, depending on day of the week. Lunch is available for 11 euros, a beer for 5.50 euros.
Eight courses 45 minutes from Kilkenny
We drive 45 minutes south to Castlecomer, almost 20 kilometers from Kilkenny and with eight golf courses. Castlecomer Golf Club just outside the village is a true contrast to The Heritage. A small clubhouse is surrounded by relatively flat parkland holes on one side and holes in hilly forests on the other.
The parkland holes are Ireland’s famous golf architect, author and photographer Pat Ruddy’s first design from the early 70’s. A complete opposition to his later masterpiece; The European in Brittas Bay south of Dublin. Pat Ruddy must have had warm feelings for the little club. 30 years later he returned to Castlecomer, and designed nine holes on the slopes of the foliage forest. Without taking a cent as payment!
We were perhaps most impressed with the greens, which are undecided and with amazing roll. Just playing them is worth the entire greenfee of 20 euros.
“It’s our way of competing,” said the club manager.
Otherwise, the forest holes are the ones you remember best after the round. You play up and down. Dramatic, but also with some holes where you can breathe. It reminds us of the Holywood course, which was where McIlroy grew up. And that may be a pretty good comparison.
One who may not be that much appreciated by the layout is the member who after a party drove the wrong way through the course and ended up hanging on a tee. All one could see was the headlights that lit up in the woods.
Would you rather stay here than in Kilkenny, you will find a few Bed & Breakfasts for around 40-45 euros. Between 28 July and 7 August, the club has open tournaments every day. Also every Sunday, including lunch, for 18 euros
Combined racetrack and golf course
From Castlecomer we only have half an hour drive to a more unusual golf course. Gowran Park is a hybid for horse racing and golf. We park outside the racetrack’s main grandstand and find the golf club at the bottom of the stadium.
The clubhouse and bar are further up, overlooking both the racetrack and parts of the golf course. Five of the holes are located within the fence around the galopp course, in a completely open park area with some water in play. In the curves, two par-3 holes are played from the outside of the white fence to the green within. The rest of the holes are laid out partly in the park, partly in the woods, around the track.
Everything is very well maintained, and with high-grade greens. It’s a fun and different experience. As we play along the gallop track, it’s easy to imagine how the jockey drives their horses forward on the other side of the fence. On race days the course is obviously closed. Otherwise, green fees are 20 euros on weekdays, 30 euros on weekends. The club cooperates with several hotels in Kilkenny, only 15 minutes away by car.
Hometown of the Smithwick’s beer
Although golfers consider Kilkenny as a golf center for the area, the idyllic city is best known for two other things. In the earlier days it was beer brewing. It was here that the beer brand Smithwick’s was established and it has its own museum in the old brewery in the city center.
There we find and hear Americans and Canadians on guided tours, ending in the bar, where generous tastings are shared. But it is not the North Americans who make the city’s population even twice and triple on weekends. It is the Irish enthusiasm for the stag parties, hen parties for women and stag nights for men.
Together with Killarney further south, Kilkenny has become the place for such these parties. Groups of 20-25 people are common and hotel room rates more than doubles from 100 to 220 euros. Nevertheless, some of the hotels try to limit the party something.
“We only accept on stag party of each gender per weekend. Otherwise, it will be too noisy, they said at one of the larger hotels.
There are many bars to party on, as with recognized Langtons. And at many, many other venues. On a Friday night it can be as packed on the outside of the bars as inside. With open doors and a volume level at the party volume.
Just outside the city
Five minutes from the hotel we arrive at the Kilkenny Golf Club (1st hole pictured at top of the article) established in 1896, by a Smithwick, of course. Today’s course on the outskirts of the city has nine holes from 1901, while the rest was added on in 1938. With a lot of classic golf feeling in the changing room and the bar.
It’s an open parkland course with generous fairwayes, and also a cut rough area between the holes. The course is quite flat, with relatively few bunkers. Until the approach, most of the shots feel like pure transport. The challenges lie almost entirely on the greens, which are very fast and hilly on the border to becoming rolling.
“The greens must be like that because the course is so short (5700 meters). It’s the only chance of defence,” said one of the elderly members with a smile before joining Wednesday’s club competition.
The club is one of the most visited in Southeast Ireland, much because of its proximity to the city center. There was a crowd of people when we visited, not just Wednesday’s seniors golfers. Greenfee is 30 euros on weekdays, 35 euros on weekends. An open golf week is organized each year, and many other tournaments are open to guest players. The green fees in the tournaments are 18 euros.
Ireland’s best parkland course
Since we have not spent much money on green fees so far, we can afford to visit a more prestigious course. One that has arranged a WGC tournament with Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington in the field: Mount Juliet, just south of Kilkenny.
Jack Nicklaus has created an amazingly beautiful and varied course in a park environment with a lot of oak, birch and other hardwoods. There are some small height differences on some holes, but otherwise quite flat. Here and there are large areas with bunkers. And with greens that are amazing, of course. There is not much water in play, but there is some both on the signature hole of the course and on the hardest hole in the course. Mount Juliet was recently voted Ireland’s best parkland course.
A number of world celebrities have been visiting here. Like Jimmy Carter, Mia Farrow, Dan Akroyd and Pierce Brosnan. And not least, Clint Eastwood. That gave the club manager Francis Reynolds an experience for life. The film company MGM had booked the entire facility for one day. And since they wanted to take care of everything around the event themselves, Francis had sent the entire staff home.
He sat alone at the front desk, and was keen to sort something behind the counter when he found someone approaching. Francis got up.
“You are … or, yes, you are …” he managed to say.
“Yes, I am,” smiled Clint Eastwood.
A moment later, Eastwood went out on the course, alone with his caddy. MGM had rented the whole course just for him.
Phil Mickelson is another of Francis’ favorites.
– He’s a real gentleman. For some reason, he got an extra good relationship with the older lady who always made his room ready for the night. It was a custom for Mickelson to tip her abundantly. And when the woman died, he sent flowers to the funeral.
Despite the luxury, it’s not expensive to play Mount Juliet: 50 euros on weekdays. And a maximum of 115 euros on weekends. Mondays and Wednesdays there are open tournaments for 50 euros per player. There is also a golf pass with Mount Juliet, Mount Wolseley and Carlow Golf Club with one round on each course for a total of 123 euros.
A course for car enthusiasts
On our way back to Dublin we stay in Mount Wolseley. Does the name sound familiar? The manor house was once the headquarters of Frederick York Wolseley. Together with Herbert Austin he was behind the British automaker Wolseley Motor Company, which produced cars until 1975.
Today, the property is a four star Hilton golf, spa and wedding hotel with a golf course laid out by Christy O’Connor Jr. With water in play on eleven holes, and beautiful trees that give a grand impression.
The Irish weather, with rain all night, prevented us from playing the next morning. But from previous visits, we know this as a good course that would suit many golf operators’ packages. Not least with today’s golf pass. Otherwise, the hotel’s own golf package, with overnight golf and dinner for two, costs 152 euros.
Finish off the golf by the airport
Just north of Dublin, a few miles from the airport, is the golf resort that can be perfect as a finish. Roganstown Hotel & Golf Resort is an old mansion converted into a spa and golf hotel. Everything owned by the Mc Loughlin and Mc Guinness families, which we meet everywhere: at the store, at the reception, at the golf club and on the course. Here are two courses, Roganstown, designed by Christy O’Conner Jr., and the public Swords Open Golf Course.
We choose to play O’Connor’s creation. The first nine holes are lined with trees. Built-up mounds along the fairways give you the feeling of being alone on the course. The last nine are completely open with wide fairways, with cut rough between them. There is some water in dams and canals, and mostly on par-3 holes. The greens are quite fast, ondulating and with several levels. When Padraig Harrington played the course last year he celebrated the signature hole, number 6, a par-3 with a beautiful small lake.
Swords give a different impression, with an easier layout. It is still flat, but the holes are more packed in by the trees. The fairways are quite so-so and bumpy and remind the fairways of older links courses. A course if you want to play in peace and quiet, more like a second choice.
The relaxed atmosphere of the golf bar and more elegance in the restaurant has attracted a lot of local celebrities to both the hotel and the golf.
Roganstown, however, is not very expensive. Golf packages with accommodation, dinner, breakfast and golf start at 89 euros. Green fee without accommodation is between 45 and 55 euros, which shows that we are now closer to Dublin.
Have you read this series about golf in Ireland? Torsten Pamp’s Tour of Ireland project