- November 26, 2020 // The Consummate Pro
A recent easing of restrictions during the pandemic afforded us a rare opportunity to visit some of the properties that we book regularly, but due to work commitments, don’t actually get to experience as often as we would like. So, Luke and I packed the sticks in the van and headed off to the south-west of Ireland in the middle of September to check in on some of Ireland’s best courses and hotel properties. These courses and properties are key to our south-west offering when we consider putting together a golf trip to Ireland for our clients.
Our first stop took us to the beautiful Adare Manor Resort, which will be the host venue for the 2027 Ryder Cup.
Set in 800 acres of beautiful parkland and floral gardens on the edge of Adare village in County Clare, the Manor could easily be described without fear of contradiction as the most immaculate & luxurious property in Ireland. When he bought the property in 2014, owner JP McManus promised to return Adare to its former glory, but little did we realise the work and attention to detail that he was about to invest into the property. Perfection, is the watch word at Adare. Boasting one of the most pristine golf courses in Europe, to having one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, it’s little wonder that Adare Manor has been picking up international travel accolades since it re-opened its doors. Adare is now unquestionably one of the finest golf resorts on the planet.
Originally opened in 1995, Adare Manor was always one of Ireland’s premium parkland golf courses. It was good enough to host two Irish Open’s, the first in 2007 and then, again the following year, but the course always lacked something for us. Its potential was obvious, but with any re-design, it takes deep pockets to bring the dreams to reality. JP McManus immediately hired Tom Fazio to re-work Adare Manor, and the results are simply spectacular. The only way to describe Adare Manor, is as the “Augusta” of Europe. It may not have the severe changes in elevation that Augusta has from tee to green on many holes, but the overall course presentation, ubiquitous 1st cut rough, sub-air green system, clever use of water hazards, and the sheer severity of the green complexes and run-off’s are straight out of the Georgia playbook. It genuinely is that good. Really good. It is not only one of the best golf courses in Ireland, but arguably the world.
As for the hotel, where do you start. From the moment you walk through the front doors, through the ancient stone floor lobby, you are struck but the elegance and beauty of the décor and the way the property has been sympathetically restored to former glory. Everything has been done to the highest standards, and the attention to detail is second to none. One of my favourite parts of the ‘old’ Adare Manor was the smoky atmosphere in the famous “Tack Room”. Anyone who had ever spent a night in that bar, knows precisely what I mean. It was accessed down a flight of rickety stairs that seemed to draw you into the bowels of the building, and at the end of the journey was the most convivial drinking den, that was always full of conversation, and very often, song. We have had some magical nights, and some early mornings down there with our clients! So, when I returned for the full tour, I was very keen to see what had become of it. I’m delighted to report that all is well. The ‘new’ Tack Room has been given a new lease of life, but has managed to retain its character. The smoking ban in Ireland has deprived the room of that certain aura, but likely for the better as far as everyone’s health is concerned. It is still that magical place I remembered, and we are looking forward to many more great nights of conversation in the new Tack Room.
The bedrooms are beautifully finished, with luxurious soft furnishings, modern conveniences and the original character all blending together seamlessly. The Suites at Adare Manor are very special, and worth every penny, cent and dime it takes for the upgrade. One of the biggest changes outside of the main Manor House has happened at the Clubhouse. It has now been transformed into a series of fabulous dining and entertainment spaces, with the new “Carriage House” restaurant being one of the highlights for us.
Adare is a property that our clients absolutely love. Many are now repeat clients, requesting a return visit after their introduction was all too brief. We see Adare Manor becoming one of the most popular locations on our itineraries in the years to come, and we encourage you to consider it for your own golf vacation to Ireland.
It had been a couple of years since I had last played Tralee, so this visit was long overdue. The memories of my previous visit hadn’t dissipated, and as we strode past the iconic bust of Tralee designer Arnold Palmer, and onto to the first tee, the memories all came flooding back. Tralee is that sort of course. There are so many spectacular images and vistas to help the grey matter, that it brings the eighteen back to life very quickly. The 2nd hole is a prime example. The 596-yard par 5 that caresses the coastline on the right, is a majestic golf hole. It is followed by a sublime par 3 played towards Fenit Island. An old stone watch tower behind the green frames the hole beautifully against the mountains in the distance. Tralee golf links is however, two very distinct nines.
We were blessed with some great weather, and the golf course as always, was in superb condition. Arnold Palmer said of Tralee, that as “much as I have designed the front nine, God surely designed the back nine”. You will see what he meant when you get there. There is a very different feel to the inward 9-holes. The topography changes and the dunes become more intimidating. The relatively friendly bounces from the outward stretch are replaced with the glorious randomness that you would expect from Irish links golf. And, it also comprises two of the best par three holes in Ireland in our opinion. The 13th is not only a potential card wrecker, but a definite head wrecker! Played across a grassy chasm to a plateau green perched into the side of the onlooking dune, it is no understatement to say that club selection is vital.
The variety of golf holes at Tralee is one of its greatest assets. The scenery and setting are absolutely spectacular, making it one of the best golf courses in Ireland. The views along Banna Strand from much of the back nine on Tralee golf links are simply idyllic. Since it opened in 1984, it has improved year upon year and is unquestionably one of the best golf courses in Ireland. Course conditioning is always exemplary irrespective of the time of year, making Tralee a must play on any golf vacation to Ireland.
The Killarney Park Hotel
We spent our first night on the road in The Killarney Park Hotel in the centre of the town. The ‘Park’ is one of our go-to properties when we design a south-west golf vacation for our clients for many reasons. In the first instance, it is simply a quality 5-star hotel, with service to match. The rooms are spacious and comfortable offering every modern convenience yet with traditional touches of class. The food and beverage offering at the Park is second to none, with the Garden Bar and Terrace serving great local dishes and the finest beers, whiskeys and of course a great pint of Guinness. The Park Restaurant offers some of the finest cuisine in the south-west under the skilled team of Heiko Riebandt. The hotel also has a great Spa and leisure facility comprising a 20m pool, sauna, steam and hot tub, plus a full treatment portfolio.
The hotel has one of the prime locations in Killarney Town, just a short stroll to the Main Street. Everything is easily accessible from the Killarney Park, including the surrounding golf courses, placing it at the epicentre of golf in the south-west of Ireland. Our clients love the personal, attentive, and Irish service at the Killarney Park Hotel. It is a firm favourite of clients of The Consummate Pro and we are delighted to partner with them year after year.
The sheer utterance of the name Ballybunion conjures up mythical images in any golfers’ mind. The great Tom Watson declared that no golf course designer in the world should start a project without having first played Ballybunion, such is the esteem that he holds the links in. Once again Ballybunion didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was in probably the best condition that we had ever seen it in, one of the small upsides to the reduction in visitor play as a result of a global pandemic. The club has not stood still in recent years, with significant investment being undertaken. The most notable change at Ballybunion Golf Club has been the removal of all the old stone and gravel pathways and the introduction of new grassed walkways. This has made a dramatic and positive change in the visual appearance of the golf course. The second most notable change has been the recent re-design of the 18th hole. Prior to the work commencing, you could not see the green from the tee on this slight dogleg par-4 finishing hole. This isn’t particularly unusual for a dogleg, but by flattening out some of the dune land to the left side of the fairway, and opening up the entire vista to the green, it immediately changes your mindset and strategy on the tee. The change has, in our opinion, really strengthened the finish.
Ballybunion Golf Club really is a joy to play. There is a wonderful variety of holes, with very few of them played in the same direction, thus tending to leave the golfer at the mercy of the inexorable breeze. Accuracy off the tee is crucial around the links because the 2nd shots at Ballybunion are the difference between making a score or not. When we were there, the greens were simply immaculate. They often are, but again they have been benefitting from a quieter season than normal for that time of the year. The rough was up, and the golf course was a tough challenge.
The clubhouse at Ballybunion has also received a recent make-over. The lobby, proshop and locker rooms as well as the upstairs lounge have all been sympathetically upgraded. Frankly, we can only agree with Mr. Watson’s sentiments, and can encourage not only designers, but golfers of all levels to include Ballybunion Golf Club on their golf vacation to Ireland. Your golfing pilgrimage through life simply isn’t complete without a visit.
Opened in 2002, and originally laid out by Greg Norman, Trump Doonbeg is yet another fantastic addition to the portfolio of Trump Golf properties worldwide. When the organisation acquired the property in 2014 it hired designer Martin Hawtree, who had planned Trump International Aberdeen, to rework the links. As a relatively new course, the links has matured beautifully. Located in the natural dunes of County Clare’s coast line, Doonbeg is situated on 400 acres of land, is a par 72, and features a traditional ‘9 out 9 in’ layout that stretches to just over 7,000 yards from the back tees. An unusual combination of five par 3’s and five par 5’s certainly gives visitors an opportunity to score. The fairways are reasonably generous, and many are devoid of an over reliance of bunkers for protection, thus offsetting the challenging wind conditions.
Doonbeg had made several improvements since we’d last visited. Similar to Ballybunion, the introduction of grass walkways has improved the visual appeal of the links greatly. A number of new tee boxes has also greatly helped golf course playability for the higher handicap in particular, and some length has been introduced for the low handicap golfers. Scott Marr and his agronomy team have also been extremely busy with their rough management program, making the links friendlier to the higher handicappers. Finally, a bunker programme, which has introduced revetted faces to practically all of the golf course, has again greatly improved its kerb appeal. The conditioning was superb as always, and we thoroughly enjoyed our day. We cannot recommend the golf course highly enough for anyone looking to take a golf vacation to Ireland.
The Lodge at Doonbeg, perched on the edge of the rugged County Clare coastline, provides a beautiful backdrop to the 18thhole, itself one of the most visually striking on the course. The coastline has suffered badly from winter storm erosion over the past ten or so years, and it still remains a threat to the integrity of the property. The Lodge, Courtyard Suites and Golf Cottages have all received a recent make-over and are looking exceptionally well. The Cottages, ranging in size from a 2, 3 and 4-bed options, sleeping up to 8, are great for groups looking for that degree of privacy and independence. A centrally located reception room provides a great chill-out space, to watch sports or play cards and for food preparation.
It is very hard to fault anything about Trump Doonbeg. The property, hospitality, service and food & beverage are all superb, making this one of the best resort’s in Ireland.
The Killarney Royal Hotel
The second overnight of our journey brought us back to Killarney, but this time for a visit to the very quaint Killarney Royal Hotel. Located just a stone’s throw from the Main Street of Killarney, the Royal is a beautiful boutique property, with an established reputation for looking after golfers. A member of the Hayfield Collection of Hotels owned by the local Scally Family, the Royal personifies what Irish hospitality and the welcome is all about.
The spacious bedrooms are superbly appointed, with extremely comfortable beds and fabulous character. We stayed in some of their magnificent Deluxe rooms, which have ample space for a golfer and their luggage. The bathrooms were well appointed, bright, modern and with a great shower, a basic requirement of ours from any property that we use. The restaurant and bar area on the ground floor didn’t disappoint with great locally sourced ingredients making their way into a couple of sumptuous meals. In terms of its location, facilities, offering and service, the Killarney Royal Hotel was exemplary and we could not recommend it highly enough.
Located at the southern tip of County Kerry, Waterville Golf Links provided us with perhaps one of the most challenging links golf experiences of the week. The fairways and greens always run firm and fast in traditional links style here, and our visit was no exception. Waterville Golf Links demands that the golfer carefully navigates their way around the golf course. Golf in Waterville started in 1889 with only nine holes, and remained that way until the 1960’s. Irish-American Jack Mulcahy, purchased the property and began to redesign the links, hiring Claude Harmon and leading Irish golf architect Eddie Hackett to perform the changes. The ‘new’ Waterville golf course was opened in 1973 before being updated again by Tom Fazio in 2002.
The fairways at Waterville are perpetually undulating. Whilst the front nine holes play across a relatively flat profile, the back nine carves its way through a series of tall, dramatic dunes where the landscape gets ever more dramatic and challenging. Several of the holes (3rd, 16th, 17th and 18th) skirt alongside Ballinskelligs Bay, offering a further challenge to the golfer. The view from the elevated tee on the 17th is known as ‘Mulcahy’s Peak’. This is one of the most picturesque spots on the golf course, offering visitors a 360 panoramic view of Waterville, as well as the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountain range, the bay and The Atlantic Ocean.
The ‘Mass Hole’, the short 12th, receives much of the attention at Waterville, not only for its historical significance, but because it’s a great par-3. However, we believe that the finishing stretch at Waterville, from the 16th to the clubhouse, is one of the best in Irish golf. The reasonably short 16th demands an accurate drive to open up sight of the green; the upturned saucer green on the short par-3 17th must be found, and the par-5 finishing 18th, plays every one of its 588 yards.
Waterville Golf Links has recently undergone a full clubhouse refurbishment, adding greatly to the overall guest experience. The stunning, modern clubhouse still retains all of the Waterville charm, history and hospitality while offering visitors a world class product. The first-floor lounge is the perfect spot to either prepare or reflect on a day’s play over breakfast, lunch or dinner. The views of the famous links through the floor to ceiling glass, is simply spectacular.
Some of the very best golfers to ever play the game of golf have taken on the challenge at Waterville, and still its competitive course record remains 71, shot by Tony Jacklin. However, don’t let that worry you, Waterville Golf Links is a course for everyone, and one that we could not recommend highly enough to our guests during their golf vacation in Ireland.
One of the most dramatic and unique settings in world golf, Old Head Golf Links will provide every visitor with one of the most memorable rounds of golf they are ever likely to play. From the 1st tee to the 18th green, you can’t help but be completely blown away by your surroundings. Old Head Golf Links is located on a 220-acre diamond of land that stretches out over 2 miles into the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s South West Coast. Over half of the holes play alongside, and on top of, 300ft rugged cliff faces and the vistas are simply jaw dropping.
Opened in 1997, the course fits beautifully into its landscape. Breath-taking views, pristine course conditions and a stern challenge, blend together to create one of the most unique golfing experiences anywhere in the world. Old Head is a perfect example of nature and golf in harmony. Through the years, Old Head has welcomed, and challenged, some of the best players on the planet including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, David Duval and the legendary Arnold Palmer.
Like any great golf course, the impact of mother nature is key. However, maintaining 100% concentration on your golf game can be difficult at Old Head, such is the natural beauty of the golf course. In the summer months, visitors can regularly see dolphins, basking sharks and a variety of non-native bird species just below the 12th tee box alone.
Five par 5’s, five par 3’s and eight par 4’s creates a stunning par 72 which can play anywhere between 5,413 to 7,100 yards depending on your choice of tee. The links is a firm but fair test for golfers of all abilities. The constantly changing sea breeze provides an additional challenge for touring professionals and the higher handicapper alike. Old Head Golf Links was the brainchild of the late John O’Connor, and together with his brother Patrick, the name Old Head has developed into one of the most easily recognised and sought-after golf experiences anywhere on earth. It is simply one of the best golf courses in Ireland, and arguably one of the most, if not the most, visually spectacular golf course on the planet. It is genuinely difficult to explain just how special Old Head Golf Links is. The photographs here don’t really do it justice, so we really encourage you to get here to play it for yourself.
The ‘Suites’ at Old Head Golf Links are simply an added bonus on the property. After a recent upgrade, extension and refurbishment of the clubhouse, there are now 19 Seaview, and two Presidential suites available to guests. Each room offers a spectacular view overlooking the 18th hole towards the lighthouse. They offer guests the perfect opportunity to stay & play at one of the most luxurious golfing destinations in the world. Each individually designed room is beautifully furnished with the finest Irish materials such as oak, Connemara marble, linen and individual hand sprung mattresses. Guests can also avail of the wonderful spa facilities on-site before pre-dinner drinks upstairs on the outdoor Terrace or in the Lusitania Bar, and then on to the wonderful De Courcey restaurant.
All in all, it really isn’t hard to see why this unique piece of golfing real estate is a firm client favourite. The welcoming staff ensure that the level of quality service is maintained long after you leave the 18th green, ensuring that this as one of the best golf course experiences in Ireland.
The European Club
The concluded our trip to the south-west by making a stop off on the East coast of Ireland, at The European Club on the way back home. Designed, and owned, by the legendary golf course architect Pat Ruddy, The European Club in County Wicklow is considered by many as one of the most challenging links courses in Ireland. Having pinpointed this particular plot of land by helicopter in 1987, Pat’s dream became a reality when the links opened for play in 1993.
There are various features at The European Club that make the property so unique, but for us, it’s the bunkers that really stand out. The face of each trap features a façade of railway sleepers, only adding to the intimidation factor on every tee box and fairway. The bunkers are cleverly positioned around the golf course, mea ning that most visitors will become accustomed to this unique design feature at The European Club by the time they complete their round.
The long, testing par 5, 7th hole features in the world’s best Top 100 golf holes. With hazards left and out of bounds right, only a straight drive will suffice to a fairway which from the tee resembles more of a bowling alley than a legitimate target!
There are more quirky touches than just the bunkering to The European Club. There are two ‘bonus’ par 3 holes at 7a and 12a, which golfers are more than welcome to incorporate into their round. Or then there is the extraordinary 12th green. At over 125 yards long it makes accurately clubbing your approach shot essential if you are to avoid putting from a yardage you would normally play a wedge!
The European Club is a wonderfully mature and appealing links golf course that will ask many questions of the visitor. It is a superb experience that is the perfect blend of fun and challenge and we encourage as many of our clients as possible to experience it when they are on their golf vacation.
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to each and every property we had the pleasure of visiting for taking such great care of us during our time in the South West. The courses, accommodation, hospitality and customer service was superb, highlighting why we have so much confidence in sending our clients to the South West of Ireland – one of the best golf destinations on the planet.