Discover Ireland’s Inland Courses

You’ve played the famous seaside links of the Emerald Isle. Now it’s time to discover the brilliant inland courses built by top architects such as Sir Nick Faldo and Pat Ruddy during the Celtic Tiger boom years.

Dromoland Castle Ireland (Image: Dromoland Castle)

Idyllically set in County Clare, the course at Dromoland Castle Hotel and Country Estate was remodelled by American golf architect Ron Kirby. (Image: Dromoland Castle)

Compared to Ballybunion, Lahinch and its many other world-famous links, Ireland’s inland courses have long been regarded as poor cousins. Even among the Irish who played them, it was almost blasphemous to suggest that truly great golf could exist away from the crash of the ocean and the smell of seaweed.

But during the now lamented boom years when Ireland was renowned as the Celtic Tiger, inland designs by Sir Nick Faldo, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Arnold Palmer and other top architects were launched to considerable fanfare on the lushly wooded and manicured grounds of luxury hotels throughout the Emerald Isle.

Although their tree-lined fairways, flower beds and tranquil ponds often recall country club designs in North America, these Irish courses offer a decidedly Old World experience.

The par-three 12th hole at Druids Glen, in Country Wicklow, for instance, is set beside an ancient Druid altar. And at magnificent Dromoland Castle, in County Clare, golfers play in the shadow of a turreted neo-Gothic castle that is the ancestral home of the O’Briens, descendants of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland.

Another selling point, especially for high-handicappers and seniors, is that weather conditions at inland courses are frequently more benign than at seaside links, where navigating through gale-force winds off the icy Atlantic can make even good players want to give up the game.

Already blessed by the golf gods with approximately 35 per cent of the world’s genuine links courses, Ireland now also boasts a roster of acclaimed inland layouts—including those found at the six properties described here—that do the island proud.

The K Club

The K Club secured its place in golf history when it hosted the dominating European victory in the 2006 Ryder Cup. Wrapped in their nation’s flag, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley instantly became the symbol of a resurgent Ireland.

The K Club Ireland (Image: The K Club)

The K Club was the focus of the golf world during the 2006 Ryder Cup. (Image: The K Club)

And in 2016, ten years after staging Ireland’s first Ryder Cup, the resort hosted the European Tour’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, an event that produced another indelible memory for Irish golf fans.

Battling Russell Knox for the final-round lead, native son and tournament host Rory McIlroy sealed his victory with an astonishing 252-yard approach shot over water that ended less than three feet from the pin on the 18th green. Fans subsequently voted it the European Tour’s ‘Shot of the Year.’

Set on the rolling grounds of a vast estate 32 kilometres west of Dublin in County Kildare, The K Club features two excellent courses.

The older Palmer Ryder Cup Course skirts the River Liffey and winds around Straffan House, a stately 18th century mansion that has been turned into an extravagantly posh 92-bedroom hotel filled with paintings, statues and a winding staircase. Architect Arnold Palmer moved one million tonnes of earth in building a go-for-broke, 7,178-yard course that constantly challenges golfers with doglegs and water hazards.

The K Club’s second track, the Smurfit Course (named after the resort’s billionaire English-born owner, Michael Smurfit) was routed by Palmer’s team through a flat and largely treeless pasture on the opposite side of the Liffey. About 22 acres of snaking water hazards have been worked into a 7,300-yard inland links-style design that dramatically concludes with a perilous approach to an island green on the par-five 18th hole.

Druids Glen

Though Druids Glen Golf Resort lost to the K Club in its bid to host the Ryder Cup, many golfers believe the property’s namesake course is the finest parkland layout in Ireland.

Druids Glen Ireland (Image: Druids Glen Golf Resort)

A Georgian country manor serves as an elegant clubhouse at Druids Glen. (Image: Druids Glen)

Located 40 kilometres south of Dublin in County Wicklow, the resort includes a second course, Druids Heath, as well as a comfortable North American-style hotel complex with 148 rooms.

Sitting on high ground and dominating the landscape is one of Ireland’s most impressive clubhouses, a converted 1760 Georgian country house with classical columns and high ceilings.

Architects Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock combined their talents on the Druids Glen course, which they masterfully carved through thousands of mature trees. Topiaries, subtle earthworks, suspension bridges and vast stands of azaleas, magnolia and rhododendron adorn a breathtakingly beautiful but constantly demanding parkland layout that hosted the Irish Open from 1996 to 1999.

At the par-three 12th hole, an elaborately landscaped St. Brigid’s Cross near the elevated tee box marks the spot where Druids once practiced their magic.

Druids Heath, a combination heathlands and links-style solo design by Ruddy, affords panoramic views of mountains and the Irish Sea as it skirts old farm ponds and descends into an abandoned rock quarry.

Carton House

Another star attraction near stylish Dublin, Carton House Golf Club offers two superior inland courses 22 kilometres west of the capital in County Kildare.

The first to open, in 2002, was a 7,006-yard parkland layout designed by and named for Mark O’Meara. Cleverly incorporating the River Rye into its routing, the O’Meara Course steadily builds momentum as it wends through the ancestral estate of the earls of Kildare.

Carton House Ireland (Image: Carton House)

Carton House’s two courses are set on the ancestral estate of the earls of Kildare. (Image: Carton House)

By far the most thrilling hole is the par-five 14th, which twice forces golfers to hit across the fast-rushing Rye. Almost as exciting is the 15th, a par three demanding a 180-yard carry over the river to the green.

Unveiled in 2003 on the opposite side of the River Rye was the Montgomerie Course, a nearly treeless 7,245-yard inland links-style layout that architect Colin Montgomerie booby-trapped with about 130 bunkers, many of them steep-faced and cavernous. Both the 2005 and 2006 Irish Opens were played here.

Also introduced a few years ago was the radical redesign given the 165-bedroom Carton House Hotel, the former abode of the Kildares. An eclectic mix of neon interior lighting and minimalist furnishings contrasts sharply with the mansion’s elegant 1739 Palladian façade. 

Dromoland Castle

Though magnificent Dromoland Castle Hotel and Country Estate has been a favourite of the rich and famous since opening as a luxury resort in 1963, the golf course at this otherwise idyllic estate, 13 kilometres north of Shannon Airport in Western Ireland’s County Clare, was a sadly pedestrian affair.

Dromoland Castle Hole No 11 (Image: Dromoland Castle)

Dromoland Castle was built by the O’Briens, Barons of Inchiquin, in the 19th century. (Image: Dromoland Castle)

All that changed in 2004 with the unveiling of a major remodeling of the tired old course by acclaimed American architect Ron Kirby. The 6,845-yard Dromoland Castle Golf and Country Club now weaves seamlessly through a classic parkland landscape of lakes, streams and forest, affording little room for error on most holes. Doglegs, well-placed bunkers and fescue rough further stiffen the test.

One of the Emerald Isle’s most photographed holes is the 7th, a 175-yard par three offering an unforgettable view across a natural lake to looming Dromoland Castle. Built by the O’Briens, Barons of Inchiquin, in the 19th century, the castle is now a sumptuous 100-bedroom hotel with Georgian antiques, crystal chandeliers and oak paneling.

Adare Manor

Since its celebrated launch in 1995, the majestic parkland course at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort has been a pilgrimage site for fans of legendary American golf architect Robert Trent Jones Sr.

Adare Manor Ireland (Image: Adare Manor)

Adare Manor Golf Club was the last major project by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr. (Image: Adare Manor)

The 7,125-yard Adare Manor Golf Club, the great man’s last major project, is ideally situated in the picturesque village of Adare, in Western Ireland’s County Limerick. Lakes, historic ruins, mature woodlands and the River Maigue all come into play at a treacherously difficult track that hosted the Irish Open in 2007.

A 14-acre lake dominates the front nine before Jones brings the river heavily into play as the course races to a spectacular finish. The architect himself modestly called Adare’s 18th hole, which jumps the River Maigue, “the best finishing par five in the world.”

Within sight of the 18th is Adare Manor, a Victorian Gothic mansion featuring a baronial central hall, a 100-foot long Minstrels’ Gallery and 63 guest rooms. Another 11 guest rooms are offered in the golf course clubhouse. (Editor’s note: Adare Manor is currently closed for a major renovation and is scheduled to reopen in autumn 2017.)

Lough Erne Resort

Northern Ireland’s only five-star golf property, Lough Erne Resort was thrust into the international spotlight in 2013 when it hosted Barack Obama and other world leaders during the G8 summit.

Lough Erne Northern Ireland 2 (Image: Lough Erne Resort)

Lough Erne Resort famously hosted the G8 summit in 2013. (Image: Lough Erne Resort)

The hotel is picturesquely set on a peninsula between two loughs just outside the town of Enniskillen in County Fermanagh. Opened in 2007, it’s a modern take on a 18th-century chateau, with 120 guest rooms, as well as an additional 25 individual lodges built in a striking turreted design reminiscent of a French royal village.

For golfers, the prime attraction is the Faldo Championship Course, a brilliant 7,167-yard layout by Sir Nick Faldo that offers a mix of parkland and links-style holes, while bringing the waters of the loughs into play on 11 holes. Most thrilling of all are the final three holes, which challenge long hitters to fly their shots over as much water as they dare.

 

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