It is possible to play links golf in Ireland on the cheap, even if the American dollar is getting you nowhere these days across Europe.
Green fees in Ireland can vary greatly, depending on which region you're in. So we've rounded up some of the best links golf courses in the country under $100 (we're using the exchange rate of 1 euro = $1.40). Listed are the courses' most recent weekday peak season rack rate. Most golf courses in Ireland usually charge 10-15 percent more on weekends and bank holidays.
You'll find most of Ireland's best bargains in the northwest counties of Sligo, Mayo and Donegal, as opposed to Northern Ireland, which, in the last five years, has gradually become one of Ireland's more expensive pockets.
Why is the northwest so cheap? Well, it's Ireland's last area of economic development, so its not as touristically inclined as other regions. The roads can be spotty, so getting around isn't easy as Northern Ireland, which has some of the U.K.'s best roadways. And even though the links land is as spectacular as anywhere, most of the clubs in the northwest aren't as historic.
Enniscrone Golf Club: Golf here dates back to 1917, but this didn't become a must-play links for everyone until recently. In 2001, eight new holes were built into the dunes, some of Ireland's mightiest, by links expert Donald Steele. Green fees: €60.
Ballyliffin Golf Club (Old): Remote Ballyliffin is Ireland's northernmost links, seemingly at the edge of the world. Raw and apparently untouched, the Old Course was recently renovated by Nick Faldo and is a championship challenge with deep pot bunkers and challenging greens to hit. €60.
Carne Golf Links: This unspoiled links in County Mayo was Irish architect Eddie Hackett's last design. It's also considered one of his toughest, up there with Waterville in the country's southwest. But even Hackett would have said he hardly breathed on the rolling links land here. €65.
Southwest Ireland is the most trafficked golf tour in Ireland and one of the world's best, and consequently green fees often reflect the high demand. But there are a few bargains out there, and in the last year, even the top-shelf courses have come down in price a bit.
Dooks Golf Club: It's in the same neighborhood as Ballybunion and Tralee, two of Ireland's most coveted (and challenging) links. Unlike it's neighbors, Dooks offers a player-friendly layout (that runs out of links land once you head into the closing holes) and a welcoming club with a local vibe - plus plenty of scenery, compliments of Dingle Bay. €55.
Dingle (Ceann Sibeal) Golf Club: Ireland's most westerly links on the shores of the Dingle peninsula, this club dates back to 1924, but didn't become 18 holes until the 1970s, when it was moved to its current location at Ceann Sibeal. €65.
The euro has gained a great deal of strength against the dollar, but the pound has actually dropped off considerably compared to 2007, when it was worth over $2. Royal County Down and Royal Portrush have gradually raised their green fees in the last couple years, but some complimentary courses can still be played cheaper.
Castlerock Golf Club (Mussenden Links): From Portrush, head west along the railway just a few miles to Castlerock's Mussenden Links, another 19th-century club set in the heart of this quaint town on Ireland's northern coast. It's considered a little easier than Royal Portrush (thanks in part to a par of 73), but still challenging enough to host some of the country's top amateur competitions. £65.
Ardglass Golf Club: Ardlass is a cliff-top links in County Down, just about a half-hour's drive from Newcastle. With numerous holes playing right along the jagged, rocky cliffs, there may be no more dramatic opening tee shot in the game than here, next to golf's oldest clubhouse building - dating from the 13th century - and overlooking the sea. £40.
November 10, 2009