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The Irish Island must have been created for golf

created for golf

It is said that there is a meaning to everything. And it’s easy to believe that the forces that once created Ireland might have a meaning in it: This country should be created for golf!

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland certainly live up to their worldwide reputation as a piece of land created for golf. Here are many world-class golf courses, in one of the world’s most spectacular interactions between sea, mountains and 50 shades of green. Influenced by an infinite variety of changes between wind, sun and rain.

Despite well-known parkland courses, Ireland is primarily a paradise for link golf enthusiasts with  58 of the world’s 246 true links courses. Well spread across a rather small island, of just 84,000 square kilometers.

The fact that the links are scattered all around the coastal island, helps you to quickly learn that a golfing trip in Ireland takes place in a country created for golf. But maybe not so much for car travelling.

The British travel journalist Andrew Marshall once wrote that finding your way to these courses is part of the charm of playing golf in Ireland. Well, charm and charm … The largely north-south main roads have a network of exits to roads heading at, or along, the coastal strip. Most often, these roads are narrow, winding and very often without a shoulder.

The speed limit is rarely lower than 80 kilometers per hour, often 100, even through farm yards and random clusters of scattered buildings. But if you are comfortable driving no matter the surroundings, just get yourself into the rental car and set off from Dublin’s international airport.

A slow start

Traveling from our home town in Scandinavia, the Republic’s capital Dublin is the natural gateway, with direct flights from a number of cities. Also Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast offers international flights from several parts of Europe

We were underway to explore parts of the northwest and north coast. To where it takes about 4 hours by car from Dublin Airport. Flight departure from Oslo at 7.45 in the morning, and before that an hour and a half journey to the airport, required a very early start this cool morning.

The wise thing wss therefore to choose to stay the first night not too far away from Dublin airport. Preferably in a place with golf, and so close that it will be possible to squeeze in 18 holes already the day of arrival. The choice fell on the venue for the 2018 World Amateur Championship, Carton House, less than half an hour into the countryside by car, and with two solid championship courses.

The two courses are named Montgomerie and O’Meara, respectively, by their designers Colin Montgomerie and Mark O’Meara. The latter is the oldest of the courses.

After all, we were on a links expedition, and chose the Montgomerie course, which is defined as an «inland links». A term that in quite a good way explains what this is about.

It looks like a links course, and with a rough that is just as unfriendly as we expect in links golf. The bunkers also help to make the experience a tough test. But playing here does not feel like being on a links: The greens are slower, giving more bite to the approach shots, and the ball is rolling shorter on the fairways here than at the coast.

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created for golf

TWO GOOD COURSES: At Carton House in Dublin you can play the Q’Meara course and the Montgomerie course. Photo: The Migrant Golfer

Going four hours north

The next day, we drive northwards on roads that alternate from highway to country road to cattle-path-like structures. Here and there we pass some sheep who are watching us from behind the fence. Elsewhere, some pedestrians appear. And still away, rally imitators are moving in the opposite direction, so we have to drive the as far out on the side of the road as possible.

When the road surface somewhere in County Donegal changes from asphalt to gravel, we wonder for a while whether the car’s GPS has gone bananas. Until Sheephaven Bay suddenly appears in view, northwest of the gentle hillside the road is located in.

The family-owned Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort is, with its first-class hotel, two links courses and prime ftraining facilities, Ireland’s largest and oldest golf resort with 125 years on it’s back. Old Tom Morris Links was designed by Old Tom Morris of St. Andrews in 1893. The layout that has been the resort’s main course since 2003, Sandy Hills Links, was laid out by Pat Ruddy. Famous for The European Club as well as a number of others among Ireland’s best golf courses.

Sandy Hill is no course for those who are hitting wild and wide with the driver. Most often, the largest club is not the right choice from tee. Sandy Hill Links is narrow and hilly where the holes wind up the top of the hills, around them or down the sides. The green areas are very demanding. Downhill putts usually roll off the green and 25 meters down the hill in front of it. Approach shots that land on the green rarely stop there, not even on greens with elevated backdrops.

We still get through this morning exercise. However, with a not very flattering scorecard.

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created for golf

ROSAPENNA:Ireland’s oldest and largest golf resort gives you the option of Sandy Hills Links (pictured) and Old Tom Morris Links. Photo: The Migrant Golfer

After a quick lunch, 18 holes on Old Tom Morris Links is on the schedule. A course that is a totally different experience. The first nine is laid out in and between the dunes, and without great physical stress on fairways that are mostly leveled.

The second nine have the holes 10 to 13 along the beach. Then hole 14 makes you feel it alone is almost worth the entire trip. It is a par-3 that faces away from the beach and towards the dunes from an elevated tee. The green lies on the side of the sand dune, and the tee-shot is terrifying with plenty of rough and a bunker in play.

The par-4 hole that follows is the last in the six-hole sequence, which is best remembered afterwards.

More from Pat Ruddy

Next day we visit at Ballyliffin Golf Club, also with two golf courses. As in Rosapenna, the courses are completely different. Pat Ruddy, in collaboration with Tom Craddock, is behind the main track, Glashedy Links. While the six-fold major winner Nick Faldo took care of the upgrade of the Old Links.

The Glashedy course, which held the 2018 Irish Open, is a modern links course in the sense that the fairways have smooth surfaces, and considerable work has been done on designing and building the green areas and peat-clad bunkers.

The Old Links has a very different character. Nick Faldo retained most of the humps and bumps in the fairways during the upgrade work a couple of decades ago. And  has made Old Links a real roll and bounce experience, he said:

— I wanted it that way. In links golf it is often much about Bump and run. When I had the opportunity to let Old Links keep their characteristic humps and bumps, I grabbed the occasion.

The two different courses make Ballyliffin, just like Rosapenna, a unique golfing experience with courses you can play several days in a row. Glashedy Links play wise reminds a lot of Pat Ruddy’s masterpiece The European, south of Dublin. The fairways are perfect and the big, murderous greens can be devastating for any scorecard.

No matter which of the two courses you play, you always have panoramic views of the open landscape with a characteristic mountain in the background. You also see the coastline just beyond the course, and smell the sea.

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created for golf

MOUNTAIN, OCEASN AND COUNTRY SIDE: Ballyliffin has two gems: Old Links (pictured) and Glashedy Links. Photo: Ballyliffin

A course that oozes history and traditions

The 25 kilometers from the Rosapenna hotel north-east to the Portsalon Golf Club the next morning turned out to be a road even narrower and even more crooked. The road twisted up and down the corners, around farmhouses and large trees where we had to take things in slow motion.

The club from 1891 was one of the founders of the Golfing Union of Ireland, the world’s oldest golf association. The course was originally designed by Charles Thompson from Portrush in Northern Ireland. After a rather strange opening hole, Portsalon turned out to be one of the week’s greatest surprises and best experiences.

The layout has evolved over the decades, and again with Pat Ruddy responsible for the most significant and recent improvements, carried out in 2000. The course extends along the impressive Ballymastocker beach before turning after hole 9. And then takes us back to the clubhouse on the inside of the first nine holes. All the time with the Knockalla Mountains as a wonderful backdrop.

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created for golf

PORTSALON: At the 2nd hole, the more you cut across the beach on your tee shot, the easier the approach to the green. Photo: The Miigrant Golfer

A Royal finale

Wisely enough, we save the highlight for our last day. After driving out from the parking lot of Rosapenna for the last time, we follow Garmin’s recommended road east to the UK and Northern Ireland. We insert Royal Portrush Golf Club (the 15th hole, former 13th, pictured at the top of the article) into the GPS, telling us it’s 126 kilometers and two hours drive away.

We are not sure of exactly where we cross the border between the two countries. We think it was in a forest, quite close to a small town. How we discovered it had happened? The speed limits changed from kilometers per hour to miles per hour. And the road number from N13 to A2.

The town of Portrush is called Port Rois in Irish. Which  means «promontory port». It is a popular resort near the area’s largest tourist attraction, Giant’s Causeway.. The town offers pleasant accommodations and restaurants and features three well-known sandy beaches: West Strand, East Strand and White Rocks.

In golf, it is known as the hometown of the major winners Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell. But most of all for the world famous Dunluce Course at the Royal Portrush Golf Club, which in 1951 became the first club off the British main island to host The Open. And that will host The Open Championship for the second time on July 18-21, 2019.

The club has rebuilt the course before the big tournament. The holes 17 and 18 have been removed, and replaced by new holes, which are number 7 and 8 and are built on the club’s second course, the Valley Course. In addition, a number of new bunkers and six new tee tees have been built, which have extended the championship layout by 130 yards to 7317 yards.

Playing here is a wonderful experience, but a rather expensive treat. Green fees are 205 pounds. That is reduced to 120 pounds in April and October.

After 18 holes, when the darkness is about to sink, we pack the golf clubs in the car and roll further east the 6 miles to the little town of Bushmills. Known for the whiskey of the same name, and for one of the best pub hotels we’ve ever stayed at: Hotel Bushmills Inn.

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created for golf

ROYAL PORTTUSH. The town in the background, the green and fairway of hole 5 at the lower part of the picture. Photo: Royal Portrush.

A fly in the ointment

We started the article by pointing out that some of the charm of a golf vacation on the Irish island is to be found on all the narrow, twisting roads along the rugged coast. Just be careful  with who you team up with at the rental car desks in the airport.

We ended up at Enterprise Car Hire, which operates car hire from Dublin Airport. It turned out to be a company with poor routines and management of the paperwork.

Enterprise made a mistake when the car was handed over to us. An error we first became aware of over a month after returning home. In the subsequent contact, we were served a story about our rental car and our rental relationship, which was without root in reality.

In mails and phone calls we could fortunately give documentation that what Enterprise claimed was wrong. And believed that the case therebye was out of the world. However, one month later, another email arrived. This time with an attachment with a claim from Enterprise for several hundreds euros. We contacted our credit card company, and then informed Enterprise that we would file a claim of attempted scam if they tried to lift money from our credit card.

Wi didn’t have to go that unpleasant extra mile. Two months after the car rental launched their campaign against us, and three months after the trip was completed, Enterprise in an email finally pulled their claws.

The executive officer started his email by «apologising profusely for the entire incident as it was caused by an oversight at the rental location» when his «colleague unfortunately failed to complete the job of adding the details to the file». Furthermore, the Enterprise representative told that he had dealt with the matter internally and that he «has taken action to ensure that such a case does not recur in the future».

Well and good it. Of course it is allowed to do wrong. But we believe that the MigrantGolfer is not alone in having experienced Enterprise’s lack of order and behavior.

Some good places to eat outside the hotels

Near Rosapenna: The Singing Pub in Mevagh

Near Ballyliffin: The Firebox Grill in Fahan

Near Portrush: Tartine at Distillers Arms Restaurant in Bushmills