Is it realistic to combine an Ireland and Scotland golf trip or golf and sightseeing vacation and still get to all the courses on your play list? We are often asked to put together golf itineraries that feature a selection of the best courses in each country. Over the years we have had golfing groups staying at St. Andrews for three or four nights playing the Old Course, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie before moving to Edinburgh for a couple of nights playing Muirfield and Gullane. There is good connectivity between Edinburgh and Dublin with the flight taking about one hour. The decision in Dublin is whether to stay in a city centre hotel close to nightlife or in Portmarnock or Malahide north of the city and conveniently located to the golf courses at Portmarnock, The Island and County Louth. Malahide is a great seaside town with good restaurants and bars as well as being home to one of Ireland's most famous castles.
Another approach is to combine the west coast of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish west coast is dotted with iconic golf courses such as Royal Troon (Open venue in 2016), Turnberry, Prestwick as well as gems like Western Gailes and Machrihanish. Dundonald Links is an exciting addition, as it hosts both the Mens and Ladies Scottish Golf Opens in 2017.
Your itinerary can be set up to include a short ferry crossing across the Irish sea or fly from Scotland to Belfast. The must play courses in Northern Ireland are Royal County Down ( Golf Digest ranked world #1), Royal Portrush ( The Open venue 2019), and Portstewart (Irish Open venue 2017). Ardglass and Castlerock are also worthy of inclusion on your Northern Ireland golf itinerary.
Ideally you would play four or five rounds in Ireland and Scotland. Depending on the trip duration a combined Ireland and Scotland golf trip can be a unique experience offering the best of two of the world's greatest golfing destinations. Irish and Scottish golf courses are simply stunning. Surely, an Ireland Scotland golf vacation is up there with the best!
On my blog post entitled How useful are course rankings when planning a golf trip to Ireland or Scotland? we discussed the role of golf course rankings in determining the choice of destination for a golf trip or golf vacation in Ireland or Scotland. The fundamental point is that while many golfers are significantly influenced by rankings in deciding on the golf courses to be included on their itinerary or golf trip package, it is advisable to look beyond the obvious golf course choices.
The same can be said when choosing a destination within a country or in planning combination golf trips such as Ireland and Scotland, England and Scotland or Wales and England.
The West of Ireland golf tour is a classic example of a golf vacation that offers the very best in terms of golf course quality, dramatic scenery and as friendly a 19th hole experience as you are likely to find anywhere. This is a region widely appreciated by visiting golfers, even though there are no headline ranked golf courses in this part of Ireland.
The UK magazine, Golf Monthly recently released it's Top 100 Courses UK and Ireland Rankings for 2017/18. Each course is rated according to Quality of Test and Design, Course Condition and Presentation, Visual Appeal, Facilities and Overall Visitor Experience. Significantly, for golf in the west of Ireland, Carne Links ( Belmullet) and County Sligo Golf Club ( Rosses Point) were the biggest upward movers while nearby Enniscrone Golf Club made it's way in to the top 100. Combine these three courses with Donegal, Rosapenna ( Sandy Hills) and Ballyliffin ( Glashedy and Old courses) and you have an Ireland golf package to rival any!
As many of the big named courses around Ireland and indeed Scotland are full or close to being full for the peak season in 2017, this could be an opportune time to consider the west of Ireland golf tour for your next Irish golf vacation.
Apart from the quality and availability of golf courses, another factor that influences golfers in deciding on their destination is the range and variety of sightseeing and visitor attractions in the area. We are increasingly seeing that golfers want to have a rest or sightseeing day included in their golf itinerary. In Ireland, The Wild Atlantic Way, Europe's longest coastal scenic route, ticks all the boxes in this regard and towns such as Clifden in County Galway, Westport and Ballina in County Mayo and Sligo provide a range of golfer friendly lodging options, fine restaurants and of course, pubs with plenty of music and craic! I have often compared Westport to Killarney in this regard, and it is only a matter of time before Westport becomes the golfing hub in the west of Ireland.
Many of us golfers obsess about course rankings and play lists. True, when planning a golf trip, no golfer wants to miss out on a "must play" course, however, the highly ranked courses are only one element of the total golf trip experience and the lesser rated courses can and do deliver not only in terms of the quality of courses but also in terms of the overall experience for the visiting golfer.
For example, when planning a trip to St Andrews in Scotland, it is reasonable that every golfer wants to maximise their opportunity to play The Old Course and nearby giants such as Carnoustie, which features on the rota for The Open Championship and the spectacular Kingsbarns Golf Links which hosts the Ladies Open Championship in 2017. Apart from these undoubtedly thrilling golf rounds, there are a number of gems dotted around that do not always get the recognition that they deserve. For instance, Crail Golfing Society, just down the coast from St Andrews features the Balcomie Links and the Craighead Links. The Balcomie is worth a play any day, and the warm friendly welcome afforded by the club manager David and his team stands out among it's peers. Lundin Links and Leven Golf Club are not far away and offer a similar welcome and golf that packs a punch in terms of value and club tradition. And it is not just all about links courses! Ladybank and Blairgowrie are two inland courses within easy reach from St Andrews that spring to mind.
The same scenario presents when planning a golf trip in Ireland, both North and South. Royal County Down is currently ranked the world's #1 golf course by Golf Digest and is a must play for many golfers travelling to Northern Ireland. This goes hand in hand with Royal Portrush, about one and half hours away by road on the northern coastline. Royal Portrush is buzzing with anticipation since been selected as The Open Championship venue in 2019 and their visitor bookings have rocketed since. Literally 15 minutes drive away is Portstewart, a golf course that has been somewhat in the shadow of it's illustrious neighbour. However, since been announced as the venue for the 2017 Irish Open Championship, hosted by the Rory McIlroy Foundation and it's inclusion in the inaugural Rolex Series on The European Tour, Portstewart has seen it's stock rise considerably and visitors are including it in their Northern Ireland golf itinerary plans.
Now, while such courses may define the trip, it is important not to overlook some of the other courses in the region. Castlerock may not have the same level of recognition internationally, but they are continually making improvements to their Mussenden Links and is worthy of consideration. Likewise, Ballyliffin Golf Club in County Donegal is very accessible and offers not one but two championship links courses, The Glashedy and The Old.
Similarly, mention south west Ireland to any golfer who has visited the region, and Ballybunion Old course, Waterville Links, Lahinch and Old Head are sure to trip ( no pun intended) off the tongue. Tralee Golf Club with it's stunning links ( especially the back nine) has joined these as an automatic choice on a south west Ireland golf trip. It has always been my view that were the Cashen Course in Ballybunion located some miles down the coast from The Old Course, it would feature on many a golf itinerary! It just doesn't attract the same attention as it's sister course, however any golfer who has played the Cashen will testify to the challenge that this Trent Jones designed layout presents!
Dooks Golf Links, located between Killarney and Waterville on the Ring of Kerry is another example of a course that is guaranteed to surprise on the upside! The course has undergone improvement, however the friendly and warm nature of the welcome remains constant. I have proof positive of this when some years ago, while playing a round at Dooks with some US visitors, the lady captain drove up to us on the first fairway and welcomed us to Dooks with some cool refreshments!
So the point is , that while rankings are useful in helping golfers decide their next destination, it is important to take some time to delve a little deeper to uncover some true gems that may turn out to provide the memorable moments or the very essence of your Ireland or Scotland golf trip.
With the 2016 golf season in Ireland and Scotland now getting in to full swing , it seems strange to turn attention to 2017 golf trip planning at this stage. Yet, as many of the top golf courses in Ireland, Scotland and England are already booked out for visiting golfers in 2016, the smart play is to start working on 2017 planning as early as possible.
Old Head Golf Links in Ireland, a perennial favourite among golfers visiting south west Ireland is operating a waitlist for September this year, that's how busy it is at this spectacular links. September is usually very busy due to club tournaments and member/ guest competitions at a number of courses including Waterville Links, Ballybunion and Tralee.
Lahinch Golf Club celebrates it's 125th anniversary in 2017 and will attract increased visitors to this great links. Lahinch also hosts the South of Ireland Championship late July.
Another factor which will come in to play for 2017 is the decision by Royal County Down Golf Club in Northern Ireland to stop taking visitor bookings for October. October is usually an important shoulder month for the golf travel sector in Ireland and the knock-on effect is surely to cause September to become even busier as golfers adjust their travel schedules to fit in the world's number 1 golf course.
In England, the north west golf swing including Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Birkdale is sure to be in demand in 2017. When planning a trip to play these courses, make sure to factor in that The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale in July 2017.
Cathal O'Donoghue, Owner.
We hope you enjoy our golf blog and current golf stories we find and share. Please always feel free to contact us if we can be of any assistance in helping you decide on the golf trip that's just right for you.