Kevin McGuinness enjoys his annual trip to Ireland to play golf
The landmark pointed twin peaks of Sugar Loaf (Big and Small) in the Wicklow Hills are usually your first sighting of Ireland on approaching the Port of Dublin from Anglesey.
County Wicklow, our destination, is enchanting enough with its breathtaking vistas, charming folk and stress free way of life.
This is the year of The Gathering in the Emerald Isle, a celebration of its unique culture, heritage and rich history delivered through a programme of festivals and events.
Many in our gathering of a dozen or so well-travelled scribes have been lugging our golf clubs over there for more than a quarter of a century as guests of Tourism Ireland.
Our mission this year was, as always, simply to extol the delights of the vast array of courses ranging from rugged, weather-beaten links to verdant parkland and gorse-clad moorland.
There are more than 300 scattered across the country so it’s not just the rain that makes Ireland green although it came down in bucket loads at our first port of call on our extended weekend in Wicklow.
Tulfarris Hotel and Golf Resort hugs the shores of Blessington Lakes so it was a case of water, water everywhere but fortunately the course stood up well to the constant deluge.
Soaked to the skin, we debated whether the weather could justify walking in after nine holes.
Maybe it was the self-service ‘kettle cabin’ near the 10th tee that persuaded us to continue after a hot drink – a condition of enjoying a free cuppa was to fill the kettle and switch it on for the group behind.
We completed the round but what a bedraggled bunch we looked as we squelched our way off the final green and headed for the showers.
I lost six balls and used up five gloves, a tally which my friends assured me was par for the course.
As for golf pars, I don’t think there were many between us judging by the scores but that was not to the detriment of the impressive lay-out, which made imaginative use of the natural landscape and was both challenging and fair. And there’s still time to book dinner, bed and breakfast and a round for a bargain 69 euros.
Tulfarris was, thankfully, the last time we saw the rain. The next day we pitched up at Macreddin Golf Club where the vast areas of yellow gorse looked spectacular in the welcome sunshine but also looked as hazardous as the lakes we encountered on the previous day and would quickly swallow up any wayward shots.
A gentle first hole belied what unfolded ahead where you missed the undulating fairways at your peril. But while you were obliged to afford amble consideration to the line of every shot the course was a fair test and afforded some magnificent views of the countryside.
Paul McGinley, next year’s Ryder Cup captain, contributed the design and, typically Irish, nominated not one but two signature holes. The first was the 158-yard short fourth where the tee bed is on top of a hill and the green nesting below. The next, the 12th, McGinley described as his favourite – a par four with a 250-yard carry over water to reach the fairway leading up to a green surrounded by trees.
Needless to say the stroke index was one!
Macreddin was opened in 2008 and while the course is well worth a visit it is run from a couple of Portakabins on the car park.
We were informed that the complex had recently changed hands and a clubhouse was in the planning stages.
A late session at Johnnie Fox’s hooley night in nearby Glencullen was, in retrospect, not the best way to prepare for a round at glorious Glen of the Downs Golf Club.
A few of us would have been happy to spend the warm the day sipping coffee, and perhaps later a glass or two of Guinness, on the patio overlooking the small lake at the back of the final green.
But, thank goodness, duty called!
What unfolded was a real hidden gem – 18 holes of sheer joy tucked away down a country lane which even our coach driver missed first time round.
As you ascended the gently sloping fairways Big and Little Sugar Loaf, naturally with pointed summits, and the Irish Sea provided a scenic setting for a course with generous fairways and subtle sloping greens which tested the best of putters.
The three clubs were within easy striking distance of Dublin, ideal for club golfers who are looking for something a little different for their next outing and don’t want to spend too long behind the wheel.
They are all middle range in terms of cost, and accommodations can be tailored to suit the pocket.
As always, Irish Ferries have great deals on their website and visitors can take every club they own, even their electric trolley at no extra cost.