The centerpiece of any TurfNet members trip is the group of courses we play. Ireland 2018 will be no exception as we have the opportunity to play eleven courses during our eight days there. All but one are true “links” courses so a definition of “links” is probably in order. “The links” simply refers to a strip of generally undulating, but always sandy terrain linking the sea and the arable farmland around the edges. A links course is one built on this strip of land. There are approximately fifty links courses in Ireland. The following courses are arguably many of Ireland’s best.
Royal Portrush Golf Club – Portrush, Northern Ireland – Imagine tuning in to watch The Open Championship next July (the year’s final major…) and being able to follow the pros around using your own scorecard as a guide. That’s exactly what each participant will be able to do as we play the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush. Renovations were underway when we were in Ireland in 2015 and we will now play the exact routing for The 148th Open Championship. Our hosts for the round will be Course Manager Graeme Beatt and Secretary Manager Wilma Erskine. The club was founded in 1888 and also hosted The Open Championship in 1951 – the only other time it was held outside of England or Scotland. We will play it on Tuesday.
Here is an overview of the courses in the order in which we will play them.
After clearing customs and immigration our coach bus will take us directly to The Island Golf Club for our first round. It’s a short trip to the small village of Corballis. The Island was accessible only by boat until the early 1970s and there is a small plaque commemorating that unique mode of transportation when you’re out on the course. You may already know about course manager Dave Edmondson from his very active social media activities. The club was founded in 1890 and the course is surrounded by the sea on three sides. It includes the tallest dunes you’ll find on the east coast of Ireland.
Wake up at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, have your first “Full Irish” breakfast and you’re ready to head to the first tee of this links course. It can only be described as “precocious” – it seems a lot older than a course opened in 1995. The layout was used for golf by the Jameson family, and the family graveyard is nearby. Our host for the day is veteran golf course superintendent Fintan Brennan. When TurfNet’s 2017 BIGGA delegation visited the course, Fintan and his son Mike showed us some of the work on their 98 course bunkers. Our first tee times are at 8:00 AM so don’t spend too much time in the Jameson Bar the night before. See this video from our friend author Tom Coyne provides a preview of our stay at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
Sunday takes us to the historic layout of the Portmarnock Golf Club – a favorite on the TurfNet trip. We will be staying in town Saturday night but the drive out is easy and scenic. The club was founded in 1894 and has a rich history of hosting many of the championships in Irish golf. In fact, the 2019 R&A Amateur Championship will take place at Portmarnock – only the second time the event has taken place outside of Great Britain. Our host for the day will be Gary Johnstone – originally from Scotland and a longtime friend of TurfNet.
A drive of less than an hour from our Dublin hotel takes us to County Louth Golf Club, just outside of Drogheda in County Louth. The club was founded in 1892. It is situated adjacent to the River Boyne and you can see how important the river is to the town on our way to the course. Course Manager Wayne Murray reported for duty in November, 2017 so it will be great to see his impact on the course since our last visit three years ago. “Baltray” as it’s known locally - hosted our 2016 TurfNet intern Nate McKinniss for the summer.
Greenore Golf Club – Greenore, County Louth – Monday afternoon
A short drive up the road (and very close to the Four Seasons Hotel in Carlingford) lies Greenore Golf Club. The club was founded in 1896 to welcome hotel and railroad guests in the area. A similar welcome has been extended to us for anyone who wishes to continue their golf that day. We’ve been encouraged to “beat the sunset” and play as many holes as we can at this special course. Many of the holes meander around Carlingford Lough and this will also be your only chance to experience a few Irish “heathland” holes on the round.
No need to decide before you arrive if you’d like to play, just grab your clubs off the bus and head to the first tee. We’ll decide if a special format (including everyone just playing their own ball) makes sense. Your round at Greenore will go a long way toward working up an appetite for Carlingford’s famous oysters – harvested literally two blocks from the town. Don’t be surprised if you’re distracted by the view of the Mourne Mountains to the Northeast.
See the description at the top of this post.
After our morning tour of the City of Derry, we will take the short ride up to Castlerock Golf Club. We will play their Mussenden Course, which features several newly renovated holes. The course is fairly flat on the front nine, but changes elevation dramatically on the back. Castlerock has been declared one of Ireland’s “hidden gems” and has arguably one of the best golf club logos around – so plan on stopping by the pro shop for some gifts for the folks back home. Course Manager Charlie Edgar, his Deputy Damien McConway, and General Manager Bert Mackay will be our hosts for the day. After your round you will have two options: retire to the bar or go back out for a quick round on the nine-hole Bann Course. We will likely set up our round on the Bann as a friendly group event in a special format, but be forewarned you may have a few spectators on the final green...
Put the £ bills away – we’re headed back to the land of the Euro as we leave Derry and head to County Donegal – one of Ireland’s largest and most beautiful counties. Ballyliffin Golf Club’s Glashedy Links will not only host us but our Irish greenkeeping counterparts as we face off in the tenth playing of Jim Byrne Cup – TurfNet Emerald Challenge. You should be well rested from the mandatory curfew imposed by your Team Captain so we should expect to retain the coveted hurley trophy which we won back in San Antonio. Ballyliffin hosted the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which was won by Scotland’s Russell Knox. Our host for the day is Course Manager Andy Robertson. It will be great to see Andy and all our Irish greenkeeping friends again.
Rosapenna has two stunning golf courses. Our Friday morning round will take place on the Sandy Hills Links. The appeal of Sandy Hills lies in its beautifully balanced routing through the high dunes. You’ll also experience stunning views of Sheephaven Bay. We will have the chance to experience some of the Old Tom Morris Links upon our arrival Thursday afternoon and before our mid-afternoon departure on Friday.
So that’s the lineup – eight full 18-hole rounds and a few shorter tracks for those who want to squeeze some additional fun from their golf trip. All rounds are walking so consider taking a caddy for at least a few of your rounds. Manual pull carts and battery-operated electric trolleys are available to rent at each course.