European Golf Vacations

The Best Region to Visit on Ireland Golf Vacations

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<center>Doonbeg Golf Club, in County Clare, is just one of the spectacular courses located in southwest Ireland.</center>

Doonbeg Golf Club, in County Clare, is just one of the spectacular courses located in Ireland's most golf-rich region. (Photo by Steve Uzell)

Lots of people ask us: “What’s the best region to visit for Ireland golf vacations?”

Many things in golf are debatable, but not this one:

If you’re looking for the highest density of highly-rated Ireland golf courses, head for… 

…Southwestern Ireland.

Granted, you may find yourself playing alongside more American and European tourists than Irishmen, but if your trip is strictly about the golf, and getting in as much of the top-quality stuff as you can without driving long distances or flying all over the country, the southwest region is the place to go.

From Shannon Airport, the gateway to the southwest, you’re never too far away from Ireland golf courses that comprise a veritable “who’s who” of great layouts: Lahinch, Doonbeg, Ballybunion Old, Tralee, Killarney, Waterville, and Old Head to name a few.

And, in addition to walking on historic, hallowed ground in many cases, these Ireland golf courses tend to offer the dramatic, cliff side and seaside holes that have made Irish golf famous and helped generate interest in the other courses around the country. Bring your camera and lots of memory cards, because it’s impossible to take a bad picture given the scenery.

Again, it can be crowded and touristy, but by avoiding the summer high season, you can have the best of everything: spectacular golf, lots of it, and the atmosphere in which it was meant to be played.

What do you think? Is there a better region of Ireland to visit for quantity and quality of golf? Please share your comments below.

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26 Comments

  1. Chris M

    August 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    The southwest is fantastic but if a two hour drive is the delimiter, then other areas are easily in the hunt depending upon what you want. If its value, I’d suggest staying at Ballina where you can hit Sligo, Enniscronne, Carne, Connemara, Achill. If in Dublin you have Royal Dublin, St. Margarets, Portmarnock, Portmarnock Links, The Island, County Louth, and The European Club all within an hour or so. If in Belfast you have Ardglass, Royal County Down, Portrush and Portstewart, Castle rock.

    Short answer is you can’t go wrong if you go, its just who you go with and what they want out of the trip.

  2. Jay Bastian

    August 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    These are surely some of the top golf courses in Ireland, I’d much rather know about Castlegregory, Dingle, Dooks, Ring of Kerry, Bantry Bay and similar courses in the Southwest, in effect the true hidden gems where the scenery’s just as good, the rates are 1/3!

  3. Tom

    August 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Went with some great friends several years ago….and the Southwest is absolutely golf heaven. With the exception of Doonbeg and Lahinch, we played all the others and have phenomenal memories still vivid today….
    We stayed centrally in Killarney and had a couple lengthy drives, but all were well worth it….
    Am dying to get back….Old Head is my “if I only had one course left to play in my life” course….if it were in the US, it would be impossible to get a tee time on….
    thanks for letting me relive my memories..
    tom

  4. Anonymous

    August 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I don’t know boys; this will be my 6th trip to Ireland ( 5th year in a row) with 2 of my brothers where we strictly play golf. We have travelled throughout ALL areas of Ireland and played all of the well known links and many of the lesser known links. My vote tends toward N Ireland and Donegal. This year’s rota includes Portmarnock, County Louth, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush ( both Dunluce and Valley where Graeme McDowell has his membership ),Ballyliffin Old and Glashedy Links and Portsalon which we have not played before.

  5. jim trainor

    August 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Chris is absolutely correct about the Ballina area…much less crowded courses that are every bit as good, in my opinion, as many of their more famous counterparts to the southwest…and at a third of the price.A little furthur north is Murvagh ,Rosapenna and Ballyliffin….wonderful!

  6. Curt Heckman

    August 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    You cannot go wrong with any golf in Ireland, really, and I love the southwest, but be warned, it’s ridiculously expensive…. I paid $350 for Old Head, $250 for Waterville, and worth every penny, but just have your wallet handy. Now up north, go to Sligo or Cairn, and save a boatload of bucks, and get plenty of charm, just not the “braggin rights”…..

  7. David DeSmith

    August 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Here’s another vote for the North and West. The courses up there are every bit as scenic and challenging as the ones in the south and with 70% fewer Americans. Both courses at Ballyliffin are gems, as are Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, Portstewart, Castlerock, Carne, Enniscrone, County Sligo, Donegal, Connemara and several others. Plus, these courses are quite a bit less expensive. And — you receive a warmer welcome in my opinion than in the south, where they seem a bit more tourist-weary. Just my opinion.

  8. John

    August 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    I’ve played 29 courses in Ireland and love them all, but nothing beats the cost and hospitality of the Northwest. Portsalon is one of my favorite “hidden gem”. There are planty of others worth mentioning thouugh.

  9. Dan Katz

    August 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    It has been around 12 years since I accompanied the writer to Ireland for a fantastic golf experience. I thoroughly enjoyed them all but the one where I truly felt like I was experiencing authentic golf was Royal County Down. Craig, when are we going back?

  10. Craig Better

    August 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Say the word, brother. Would love to see what’s new in the charming town of Dunn-Long-Hair.

  11. Rore73

    August 3, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I’ve played Lahinch, Doonbeg, Balleybunion (both), Old Head, Waterville, and Killerary, but I yearn to see Tralee again – Arnold Palmer said that he designed the front 9, but God designed the back 9 all by Himself and I learned what he meant. The place is beautiful, and there just happens to be a really nice golf course located there.

  12. John

    August 3, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Played the SW many times. Love all but the hidden gem is Dooks. Played 36 last month. First 18 was a tad slow due to tournament. We played the second round in 21/2 hours…walking. Had the course and views of Dingle to ourselves. Ballybunion is a nice course but not worth the Euros and the 6+ hour rounds.

  13. Steve Friend

    August 3, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    While you are correct that southwest Ireland has “…the highest density of highly-rated…” Irish courses, many of the people who commented made valid points, that highly rated means highly priced. It is true that there are more bargains in the north and the northwest and some courses that most Americans have never heard of, which should be highly rated. My golf buddy and I couldn’t limit ourselves to one section of Ireland. When you’re in your 60’s and you don’t know when you’ll get back, you need to play as many as you can while you’re there. We flew into Shannon and went counterclockwise around the entire country playing strictly links courses. Ballybunion, Waterville, Tralee, European Club, Portmarnock, The Island, County Louth, Royal County Down, Portstewart, Royal Portrush, Ballyliffin, Rosapenna, Donegal, County Sligo (Rosses Point), Carne, Lahinch and Doonbeg. We played 17 courses in 11 days, walked all of them (about 70+ miles) and drove about 1,500 miles total. When we told the locals what we’d done, there were two responses: “You lads must be fit!” and “You lads are daft about golf!”

  14. Barry D

    August 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Steve should read: A Course Called Ireland: A Long Walk in Search of a Country, a Pint, and the Next Tee about a man who did the same trip, but on foot. The bottom line is the courses are all great, the people are fablulous, and the drinks are never far away. I vote for the trip from Dublin north: Portmarnock, Baltray, RCD, Portrush, Portstewart, Castlerock, Ballyliffin, play The Island on your way back to the airport.

  15. Steve Friend

    August 5, 2011 at 12:12 am

    I did read “A Course Called Ireland” with great interest, but had no interest in trying to duplicate Tom Coyne’s feat. Just walking the courses was enough exercise for me. When you’re traveling 1500 miles I prefer to drive…

  16. Pablo Sola

    August 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    I did not enjoy Doonbeg, though Waterville, Lahinch and Ballybunion are worth the travel to SW Ireland…
    Portrmarnock is great as also Royal County Down.
    Said that, I would not change Royal Portrush for nothing!!!

  17. David O'Halloran

    August 9, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Steve Friend, you missed the best links course in Dublin, The Royal Dublin Golf Club is a natural sandbank links, 3.5 miles long within 3 miles of the city centre located in Dublin Bay and created by Gods own hand when Captain Blyth built a retaining wall to keep the channel open into the port. Such greats as Sevy and Bernard Langer have graced the fairways and won the Irish Open , while Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino have played with the legendary Christy O’Connor and raved about the Links. Try it on your next visit and I will stand the pints.

  18. Steve Friend

    August 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

    David, thanks for the recommendation. I promise you I won’t miss it on my next trip. Cheers.

  19. Warren

    August 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Re: A course called Ireland
    I did read it and used it as a tour guide for not only golf but places to stay, eat, the history and people of Ireland, and the Pubs. I played 19 courses on the trip and Tom Coyne was spot on about everything.
    After my trip, I’m more in the northwest camp for several reason including the people, and that playing is easier and less expensive. Once course not mentioned by others is a little place called Narin/Portnoo. Off the beaten track and a bit unknown like Port Salon, no town there but a nice little Hotel and some fantastic golf holes in the dunes and on the North Atlantic.
    Any trip to Ireland it great but if you like Links golf it is a must.

  20. Doug Roberts

    August 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    I’ve read the book…Great read. Disappointed about his experience at RCD. My fav. Have traveled and played every course that’s worthy and a few that aren’t. SW Ireland should be anyone’s first trip to Ireland unless expenses prohibit you. The rotation of Ballybunion, Tralee, Waterville, Dooks, Old Head and a stop at Lahinch to start is the best starting trip with all your stay in Killarney except the last day in Kinsale. In Dublin I’d avoid Royal Dublin…Our group last year played it, Portmarnock, Island, European, Baltry, RCD and Ardglass…All 8 rated Royal Dublin 8th. Island is very under rated, What a superb track. European is special. Portmarnock is the most over rated course in all of Ireland…..Dogleg left over and over based on how they cut the grass…Go to the Island, much nicer. Up north is the best rotation. But you have to move around a little. The northwest is so much fun, great golf and much cheaper but you would be hardpressed to stay in one spot and do Carne, Enniscrone, Connemarra, Sligo….You really got to move with that itinerary. Saying two hours in Killarney. Only Waterville is 2 hours, and you have the Ring of Kerry out and back. Spend the last round at Old Head and Kinsale and you have just visited heaven. No Ireland with RCD, RP, Portstewart, Castlerock, Ardglass, Baltry on way up and Island or European 1st round is maybe the best rotation. But any of the above is so worth doing. Next year we are doing the NW rotation. We’ll stay in 3 spots along the way as we hit Lahinch, Connemarra, Carne, Enniscrone, Sligo, Narin/Portnoo. 2 days at Carne though.

  21. John F Gipson

    September 14, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Have played mostly in SW Ireland and agree that area should be first, preferrably via Shannon International. Played Port Salon and Ballyliffin in a recent trip to the north and found people very friendly. Port Salon’s clubhouse is old and small but functional. Upstairs lounge good place for quick lunch. Course is very interesting and challenging. Some described it as “tricky”. Ballyliffin facilities are more modern, and people are equally cordial. Wonderful dining and lounge area with great views. Gleshedy Links with higher rating was hosting a tournament and not available, but don’t hesitate to play the Old Course. The last few holes are routed seaside. Beautiful.

  22. RGW

    September 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Making my first trip to Ireland this November. Bringing the clubs and will be playing as a solo; but will only have 2 days to play. Flying in and out of Dublin and have access to a car. I regularly shoot in the low 90’s (high 80’s on a good day!). Will all courses be open in late Nov. ? and what are the 2 courses I should hope to play? Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks. -ray

  23. Paul O'Dea

    August 25, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Played them all. If you play just one, play Ole Head Kinsale!!!!

  24. Enda

    October 21, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Old Head isn’t a golf course – its just a clifftop walk. If you must go Southwest – play Little Island… Never hear of anyone playing here, but its fantastic

    Gotta be the Northwest – courses are as good if not better and much more BANG for your book… Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, Narin & Portnoo, Rosapenna, Ballyliffen, Donegal..

    Get it done!!

  25. Kevin M. Kelly

    February 5, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    Started off at Doonbeg, then off to Lahinch, Ballybunion Old, Tralee, Waterville two days in a row and finished off at Killarney. The town of Kenmare was a fantastic town. My next trip will be to the Northwest. Southwest would be suggestion for a first trip but it is definitely expensive. Slainte.

  26. dennyire

    September 14, 2016 at 10:38 am

    To RGW…Close to Dublin I would recommend Portmarnock Links, Royal County Dublin or The Islnd. Within an hour you have one of the best in the country, in Wicklow…The European Club…not to be missed. All open November

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