North and west Ireland's great links win prestious IAGTO award as the 2011 European Destination of the Year
It seems my timing was perfect.
Just two months after I toured the magical links of northwest Ireland, this remote, yet beautiful part of the Emerald Isle was named the 2011 European Golf Destination of the Year by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO). The destination beat out 19 others nominated by members of the International Golf Travel Writers Association (IGTWA).
The award was accepted by John McLaughlin, the general manager of North & West Coast Links Golf, the organization I traveled with in late September.
McLaughlin’s non-profit company plays a large part in marketing the region’s courses. The N&WCL has grown from just four clubs to the be the premier golf marketing organization in Ireland, representing 12 great links: Ardglass, Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Ballyliffin, Portsalon, Rosapenna, Narin & Portnoo, Donegal, Co Sligo, Enniscrone, Carne Golf Links and Connemara Championship Links.
I sampled several of them – Ardglass, Ballyliffin, Portsalon, Rosapenna along with the famous Royal County Down – during the annual fall North & West Coast Links Golf Challenge. The four N&WCL courses I played perfectly balance a combination of scenery, challenge and affordability. I did have bad luck with the weather – normally September is a spectacular time to visit the destination – but that just made the trip more memorable. I don’t regret a single round, even when I was wind-whipped by 40-mile-an-hour gusts at Rosapenna and blasted with rain and hail at Portsalon.
McLaughlin and his partner, Justin Farrell, are great Irish lads to travel with. They’re organized and professional. And, in true Irish spirit, they know how to let their hair down at the pub after the rounds. They can set up just about any itinerary with a mix of both golf and sightseeing.
One of the more amazing parts of my trip was a quick bus tour of Belfast in Northern Ireland, the heart of “the troubles.” There are dozens of murals still on the homes and buildings, commemorating the dead in the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics. The Protestant side of town still showed deep scars with run-down buildings and hardscrabble faces walking the streets. The wall built to separate the two sides still stands today. Thankfully, all those acts of crime and terrorism are in the past, making it safe to travel to Northern Ireland again.
Northwest Ireland has always been a great golf destination. It’s wonderful that this award can finally validate the hard work of the courses and McLaughlin and Farrell. The destination and the people are world class in every regard. For more info, see www.northandwestcoastlinks.com. Click here for a selection of Ireland golf vacations.
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