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.
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