Kevin Markham, is born, raised and resides in Ireland. He knows a thing or two about playing golf on the Emerald Isle. In fact, Markham has played every 18-hole golf course in his homeland, all 360 of them. He’s a photographer and author of two heralded books: Hooked and Driving the Green.
World’s Best Golf Destinations just returned from 10 days in Dublin, we played Corballis Links Golf Club, The European Club, The Island Golf Club, K Club, Portmarnock Golf Links (New), Portmarnock Golf Club (Old), Woodenbridge Golf Club, County Louth Golf Club Baltray and The Royal Dublin Golf Club. We can attest, Markham knows what he’s talking about. A friend of World’s Best Golf Destinations, here are brilliant tips from Markham that will make your next Ireland golf holiday more enjoyable.
1. Weather: When Is It Best?
What better place to start given our wonderful climate! If you don’t already know how variable Irish weather can be then you haven’t been paying attention. You can play under perfect blue skies in February and downpours in August. If we have two weeks of consecutive sunshine we claim it’s the best weather we’ve had in 40 years and we run out of sunscreen… and ice cream. The obvious solution is to be prepared for anything. Having played golf in Ireland for over 40 years, my experience is that April/May and September/October are prime in Ireland. On top of that, these are ‘shoulder months’ when green fees are lower and golf clubs are less busy.
2. Caddies: A Good Idea?
They might seem like an extravagance, but you’re about to play some of the best (and most challenging) courses in the world in a wide-range of weather conditions—get all the help you can. It helps to have someone guide you around, give you advice to avoid the trouble or find the green, and offer some entertainment along the way. And there’s no caddie like an Irish caddie. Caddies, forecaddies etc., vary in cost but remember to tip them between 10% and 20%… and more if they’ve done a great job or made you laugh so hard you almost cried. On some courses, you will be delighted to have someone who can steer you through the dunes. Royal County Down, Enniscrone and Rosapenna (Sandy Dunes), The European Club… these are places where local knowledge will save you strokes… and precious balls!
3. Links Golf: Do as the Locals Do
Links golf is tough… and different. If you play a links as if it’s a parkland, you won’t have much success. Fairways are unpredictable, bunkering is deep and the fall-offs around greens severe. Playing a low flighted ball has huge advantages and being creative around greens (often with your putter) will yield rich rewards. Play your usual game, but why not throw in an experiment: play one round like you usually do and then play the next with links shots. Bump and run is tremendous fun especially as high approach shots can simply bounce off super-firm greens.
4. Green Fees: How to Save a Few Euros
If you’re on a package holiday with everything being looked after then you won’t be worrying about green fees. If, on the other hand, you decide to book those green fees yourself there are a few obvious and innovative ways of saving money. Playing early or late in the day, playing in open competitions, and playing in the shoulder months are the most obvious, but there are others: Ireland has several ‘Classics’ which are three or four-day tournaments over some of our best links. The Atlantic Coast Challenge plays over Carne, Co. Sligo and Enniscrone in early July, and it costs just €140 to enter. The Causeway Coast Tournament costs Stg £200 for rounds at Ballyliffin, Castlerock, Royal Portrush (Valley) and Ballycastle. There are five or six such events around the coastline and they are growing in popularity. Becoming an overseas member of a club can also provide discounts at neighboring courses. Alternatively, just phone the club and ask if they have any special offers.
5. Bucket Lists: Don’t Overdo It
A lot of visiting golfers come to Ireland determined to check courses off their bucket lists… or just play 36 holes a day because this is a once-in-a-lifetime golf odyssey. Don’t! Take your time and focus on one region. There are more than enough golf courses from which to choose. Do you really want to be so exhausted on your final two or three days that the thought of playing another round of golf makes you roll over and hit the snooze button? Give yourself a few moments to relax and take the time to experience the other things that Ireland has to offer. The joys of this country extend far beyond the golf course and by taking advantage of them you will have more fun and more memories to take home.
6. Hidden Gems: Go Off the Beaten Path
The Watervilles, Ballybunions, Royal County Downs and Portmarnocks of the world are well known and always make the aforementioned bucket lists, but consider the other links that don’t quite garner such heady reputations. Here’s a selection of favorites that should – in my opinion – be on every golfer’s must-play list. In no particular order: The Island, Dooks, Carne, Enniscrone, Castlerock, Portsalon, Narin & Portnoo, Donegal (Murvagh), Connemara, County Sligo. I’ll also add Strandhill, which is the very exemplification of a hidden gem.
7. On Your Feet: Links Courses Are Meant to Be Walked
Golfers in Ireland rarely take carts. We prefer to travel on foot. Open your lungs, embrace the walk and revel in the scenery… we have so much of it and we’d like to share it with you.
8. Golf Balls: BYOB
Yes, we have golf balls in Ireland, but they are pricier than in the US… so, unless you want branded ‘memento’ balls (e.g. from Ballybunion), you’re better off bringing your own. Alternatively, order them online and have them delivered to your hotel in Ireland.
9. Roads/Tolls: Keep Some Euros On Hand
In Ireland, we drive on the left and, contrary to popular opinion, our roads are exceptionally good (motorways spin out from Dublin in every direction) although they can also be rather bad: our narrow, winding local roads and potholes are legendary. So, depending on where you are going, bear in mind that it will take longer to get there. And when you get your rental car, ask about the tolls – there aren’t too many, but it helps if you have the right cash to hand or, in the case of the M50 toll, you know that: it’s there and how to pay for it in advance/afterwards.
10. Gift of the Gab: Let Your Voice Be Heard
Try this post-round experiment in an Irish clubhouse: announce loudly that you’ve just played the course and express an opinion or two on how good it was/how windy it was/how fast the greens were, etc., and then wait for the locals to circle. Irish golfers like nothing more than listening to the views of visitors… before offering our own thoughts, of course!
That’s a whole article on Irish golf and I haven’t mentioned the word ‘craic’ once!
Kevin Markham is an Irish golf writer and photographer. He has played and reviewed every 360 18-hole golf course in Ireland for a book entitled “Hooked – An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland.” A passionate golfer, his goal was to write a book that would review every course equally and help people find the gems few have heard of. That it took him 14 months traveling around the country in an RV. His follow up book is “Driving the Green.” Visit his blog here.