Ireland is famous for many things but some haven’t changed – like the incredible availability of top golf courses – and an insatiable worldwide appetite to play them.
For golf on the Emerald Isle is more than a game….it’s a religion!
And thousands of North West fans make an annual pilgrimage – packing their car boots with clubs and heading for Holyhead - gateway to that legendary Irish trinity – Golf, Guinness and Craic.
The diversity of courses is astonishing with some 50 courses in the greater Dublin area alone and more than 100 within easy reach of the capital.
And while half the world can only dream of playing Ireland’s high profile venues, such as The K Club and The European, there has been a significant move towards more affordable golf for the masses – opening the door to an array of superb courses, where green fees are about half the cost of the more celebrated clubs, and sometimes much less.
Not that knowledgable golfers need any new further excuse to explore Eire for this most hospitality of neighbours boasts more than 400 clubs to be challenged and enjoyed - and there are some real gems among the lush green parkland courses and rugged championship links.
The only decision to be made is which glorious picture-postcard corner of Eire to discover next.
Irish Ferries are experts in making the journey easy –and now has four ships sailing between the UK and Ireland.
The latest addition to the Holyhead route is the ferry Epsilon increasing the choice of departure times, so that there are up to six sailings a day in each direction.
We sailed out on the flagship, Ulysses, which at almost 51,000 tonnes is the largest ship on the Irish Sea, a 12-deck giant which can carry 2,000 passengers and has almost three miles of parking space for 1,342 cars.
During our 3 hour 15 minute stress-free crossing we were able to sit back, enjoy a leisurely lunch and plan our three-day short break absorbing the all-important golf guides and maps.
In our pursuit of golfing glory, we headed for Tullamore in ‘the heart of Eire’ - a journey of less than 90-minute journey along the M4 from Dublin to the Midlands region – and what a choice!
The Tullamore Court Hotel proved the perfect base - combining a friendly welcome with superb four-star facilities, including swimming pool, sauna and steam room ….to ease away those aches and pains after a long day’s play.
The hotel sits in what is regarded as the Ryder Cup region, ideally placed for top clubs such as the K Club, Glasson and The Heritage while on the doorstep is Tullamore GC.
Recognised as one of the best parkland courses in the country, Tullamore is a traditional members club set in mature parkland of oak, beech and chestnut in 1926 by top designer and five times Open champion James Braid.
A stern test of 6,428 yards made even tougher when it was upgraded in the mid-1990s, to include new sand based undulating greens, lakes, bunkers and yet more trees!
With the Slieve Bloom mountains as a magnificent backdrop, there are some big dramatic holes and awe-inspiring water features.
And when the last putt is sunk, the clubhouse has a cosy atmosphere where the locals provide the warmest of welcomes and coldest pints of Guinness. It was at the bar we discovered there’s a great money-saving deal to be had by playing the Tullamore Golf Triangle – which includes Esker Hills and Castle Barna – for the sum of €70 for all three courses.
Next stop was Dunmurry Springs in Kildare…a bold venture by a farming family to develop a splendid site beside The Curragh, which has handsomely paid off.
The course is just 10 years old but can rightly claim to be one of Eire’s ‘hidden gems’ - a crafted piece of golf architecture that climbs through heathland up to a scenic halfway high point with spectacular mountain views – then back down again to the water-fringed clubhouse.
And it’s certainly a thinking man’s course with the emphasis on accuracy over power…..requiring the use of most of the clubs in the bag, for those moments of near heartbreak and sheer delight.
Simply stunning is the only way to describe the third destination on our whirlwind tour – as we travelled back to within striking distance of Dublin port.
The final leg took us to Dun Laoghaire GC, which sits dramatically between mountains and the sea in Ballyman Glen, a beautiful valley on the borders of Dublin and Wicklow.
The well-established club has a magnificent new setting, just a few miles down the road from its original home, after a developer presented them with an offer to good to refuse to relocate.
The result is a 27-hole championship course, a state-of the-art Golf Academy, extensive practice facilities and an elegant five star clubhouse with panoramic views and exceptional levels of comfort.
The course has been designed to allow different combinations of the three nine-hole courses to be played – and which every way you turn there are broad fairways, neat par threes and greens that play true.
But while the fairways appear gentle and generous – accurate drives are demanded as the ever-present water features come more and more into play.
Every swing of the club is a pleasure – and you will be swinging a lot!
It’s a thrilling golfing experience for amateur or professional alike – and little wonder that Dun Laoghaire has been named as host for the 2016 Curtis Cup match between Great Britain & Ireland and the USA.
Perched above, the impressive clubhouse offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside stretching to the coast and the certainty of a wonderful golfing break and the “craic” of the 19th hole.
And of course if you are in pursuit of alternative outdoor adventures. Walking, fishing, horseriding and mountain biking are equally popular pursuits on a cruise-ferry holiday.
Fares start at £79 each way for a car driver, with no extra charges for carrying golf clubs or other baggage in the boot.Irish Ferries Holidays can also package ferry crossings with selected hotels, B&Bs and cottages to create great value self-drive golf holidays.