It was raining when we touched down in Shannon, County Clare, Ireland after the overnight flight from Boston. A quick trip through customs and we were on our way to the rental car.
“Just remember to go left at the roundabout,” said my wife Jo as I reprogrammed my brain for driving on the left side of the road for the 30-minute trip to our first stop in Ennis, County Clare.
Ennis, with its charming streets and busy shops, seemed like the perfect place to begin our seven-day Irish golfing adventure in early May.
After breakfast and a short nap at the Old Ground Hotel (140 Euro/$190 per night with breakfast), we drove over winding country roads to East Clare Golf Club for our first round.
Joined by Quechee friends Chris Mendelsohn and Denette Pollock, we went searching for the pro shop to pay our greens fee (20 euro/$28 each) and play away.
By the third hole we had rain gear on, off and on again as showers and winds swept the 6,700-yard parkland course. Finally we saw blue skies as we strolled up the 18th fairway.
Dinner that night was at Knox’s, a local Ennis pub that rated four stars on TripAdvisor. We fought off jet lag and made plans for our next day at Doonbeg, 25 miles up the coast.
Doonbeg/Doonbeg Golf Club – Designed by Greg Norman, Doonbeg Golf Club opened in 2002 amid much fanfare. But even this luxury seaside resort could not weather the 2008 financial crisis.
Earlier this year, the property’s U.S. owners declared bankruptcy. The filing opened the way for Donald Trump to buy the 400-acre club and Lodge for 15 million euro or roughly $22 million.
Out on the course, restoration was underway following a freak winter storm. The par three sixth hole was washed out to sea by the high winds and 30-foot waves that caused massive erosion and damaged several other holes along this coastal links.
Accommodations at Doonbeg are five star with spacious rooms, king beds and radiant heat. Our package price, including golf, lodging and breakfast was 395 euro/$537 per couple.
Doolin/Lahinch – Friday morning dawned sunny and windy, setting the stage for our day at Lahinch Golf Club. Designed in 1892 by old Tom Morris, Lahinch (135 euro/$184 each) it is among the Top 50 courses in the world.
An experienced caddy at the venerable links can be a good investment. Our caddy, Hughey, was especially helpful on quirky blind shots like the one over the massive Klondyke dune on the par five fourth hole.
After golf we headed to Doolin for dinner at McGann’s, a classic Irish pub along the Aille River. Our innkeeper at the Blackberry Lodge (75 euro/$103 per night with breakfast) suggested we arrive early. Dinner was fresh Caesar salad followed by tasty lamb shank. Locals packed the tables by nine for the music and the “craic” (fun).
Ballyconneely, Connemara – Saturday dawned gloomy. The forecast was for rain, wind and more rain during our 102-mile drive northwest. With the ever changing weather, Chris and I headed for the golf course (60 Euro/$81 each) while Jo and Denette opted for lunch and sightseeing in Clifden, about nine miles away.
Connemara Championship Golf Links (60 euro/$81) is about stark beauty and stunning contrasts. Flat and rocky, the downwind opening holes seem easy. The illusion starts to fade by the fourth hole and evaporates at the eighth, a 449-yard brute into the prevailing wind that Bubba Watson might not reach in two.
The par 37 back nine of Connemara works inland through high dunes and exposed plateaus before turning toward the ocean and a back-to-back par five finish. With the wind gusting to 40 mph, we needed four good shots to reach the elevated green at the 475-yard 17th.
Westport – This bustling town is the perfect place for a day off from golf. We spent two nights at the Boulevard Guesthouse (75 euro/$102 per night with breakfast) and enjoyed the riverfront view.
Our Sunday plans called for breakfast, followed by cycling on the Great Western Greenway, a 42-kilometer (25-mile) bike trail from the village of Achill back to Westport with coastal views of Clew Bay. We rented bikes (21 euro/$28 each) from the helpful staff at Clew Bay Adventures and dodged a few raindrops along the way.
Westport offers a number of fine restaurants (I recommend trying Sage) and pubs on every corner, including Matt Moran’s, where U2’s Bono sits in with the locals from time to time.
Belmullet/Carne – With our rest day over, we drove 53 miles from Westport to Belmullet on Monday morning to Carne Golf Links. The sky was blue and the sun was shining when we arrived on the first tee, a dogleg right that measures 365 yards to an uphill green.
Carne Golf Links (55 euro/$75 each) was the final project of Irish course designer Eddie Hackett. Many believe it to be his best work. Situated in the dunes overlooking Blacksod Bay, Carne is off the beaten path, but well worth the journey north.
“Carne is absolutely brilliant,” notes golf writer Tom Coyne. “Front nine, back nine, every hole, every hill, every inch of the place is simply special.”
Enniscrone/Enniscrone Golf Club – After fish and chips at Fun Bobby’s Bistro, we drove to the seaside town of Enniscrone with its horseshoe shaped beach and panoramic views.
We arrived in time for tea at the Seasons Lodge Guest House (90 euro/$122 per night with breakfast) owned by Dermot and Alanna O’Regan. A short walk along the beach led us to town where we snapped sunset photos of Killala Bay before dinner at Ait Eile, the restaurant downstairs from Gilroy’s Pub.
Tuesday morning we woke to sunshine and headed to the course energized by Dermot’s full Irish breakfast. Originally a nine-hole layout, Enniscrone (50 euro/$68 each) is a stunning seaside links that snakes up, down and through massive dunes. Putting rather than chipping is often the best play around the greens.
Homeward – From Enniscrone we drove south, savoring the countryside down to Galway. From there it was back to Ennis and the Old Ground Hotel for our final night. We dined on fish and chips at the Poet’s Bar and settled our bets with a final Guinness, a fitting end to a golfer’s dream journey.
If you go – Travel mid-week if possible. Fly AerLingus from New York or Boston. Book tee times online and make sure to inquire about cancellation policies.
Rental Cars – Rent a car large enough for your clubs and luggage. Make sure to ask for an automatic transmission and take a GPS with Ireland maps. Driving on the left side of the twisting roads is challenging enough. Park the car at night and walk to dinner.
Rental Car Insurance – Check with your credit card company to see about coverage. Insurance is expensive – about $50 per day at the rental counter – but worth the price when considering the cost of repairs.
Caddies – The better known courses (Lahinch/Doonbeg) have experienced caddies. Other courses will arrange for caddies in advance. Rates are 50 euro to 60 euro per bag ($68, $81) including tip. Caddies can help, but may try to take over your game. Buying a course guide for five euro is an acceptable alternative.
Golf Carts – Walking is one of the pleasures of Irish golf. Very few golfers ride in buggies (power carts), which are forbidden at Lahinch. Push carts (trolleys) are available for rent by golfers who opt not to carry their own bags.