After an overnight flight from Detroit to Dublin, our group checked through customs, picked up our rental cars, and headed north. Our first destination, Port Rush, was at the top end of Northern Ireland and a full days drive away. After getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road and learning to negotiate the round-abouts, the first day was relatively uneventful. We experienced our first taste of the beauty we would experience throughout the trip---lush green hills, small picturesque towns, and friendly, helpful people wherever we stopped. It was a long day after little sleep the night before, so upon arrival we were all ready to turn in after a great Irish dinner at a local Oceanside restaurant. The first day of golf at Royal Port Rush turned out to be the most difficult course we would play, with what also turned out to be the worst weather. Winds off the Atlantic and periodic rain added to an already difficult course. Other than being intimidated by the course, the experience was more than we had anticipated. The raw beauty of the course, the view of the ocean at almost every turn, and the quality of the fairways and greens allowed us to ignore the weather and simply enjoy the golf. The fact that we also had first rate caddies added to the enjoyment in that they entertained with great Irish golfing stories as well as helped us avoid mistakes and added strokes. They were masters at reading puts and within a few holes knew our games well enough to tell us the clubs we need for the shots we were taking.
From the golf course, we toured Bushmills (complete with a tasting room and comparison test with other competitor products. From there, on to dinner at one of the many wonderful seaside restaurants in Port Rush.
For our second and last day in Northern Ireland, we moved on to Port Stewart and the Port Stewart Golf Club. This is another links course overlooking the ocean from almost any vantage point. The day was clear and bright, the temperature was coolish, and the views truly exceptional. Perhaps it was the better weather, or simply the fact we were more experienced with Irish links courses, but we all played better. Port Stewart, while not as famous as Royal Port Rush seemed its equal in beauty and challenge. Golf here was followed by a great meal in a well-known Port Stewart Pub. Pub grub is inexpensive and almost always good. We enjoyed good food and drink in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
From Port Stewart, we headed south to the central part of Ireland known as the Midlands. This is an area often not played by American golfers, yet enjoying some great golf courses. While not the traditional links courses found along the coastlines, there are a number of challenging courses. Escar Hills, a relatively new course, and Glasson, a Christy O'Conner Jr. designed course are two notable examples. Escar Hills is hilly with many blind shots and few flat areas. It presents a rolling and steep terrain. It is one of the few Irish courses with power carts available, and they should be used. Glasson is increasingly recognized as one of Irelands very good and challenging courses. It is built around a large inland lake, and as a result has some of the beauty expected on the ocean courses. The championship tee on the fourteenth hole is particularly beautiful and challenging.
Upon leaving the Midlands, we moved on to our final set of golf challenges in the area best known for golf, the southwest part of Ireland. En route we detoured straight west to see the unbelievable Cliffs of Moher, a side trip well worth the extra drive. Our next four days were spent in County Kerry, outside the town of Killarney. From here, you have access to literally dozens of wonderful courses, many of them world class and well known. Many are not well known, but exceptionally good and worth playing. It is often the "discovery" of the lesser-known courses that makes a day particularly enjoyable. While it is fun to find the lesser-known courses, you also don't want to miss the likes of Ballybunion, Tralee, Waterville, and Old Head. In between golf, this area is filled with wonderful tourist attractions. The Ring of Kerry is a favorite, as is a trip out to a peat bog on a bog train.
And we would be remiss to not mention an exceptional small Irish hotelŠ. The Killeen House. This hotel is focused on area golf, providing a unique experience for visiting golfers. Dinners are exceptional and the small pub that is part of the hotel always has golfers sharing stories of that day's experience. Owner Michael Rosney, himself a golfer, goes out of his way to be sure his guests enjoy their stay and experience the finest in Irish hospitality.
Golfing Ireland, a great way to enjoy your favorite sport and see a unique and beautiful country.
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