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DUBLIN’S FOUR G’S: GOLF, GASTRONOMY, GRAND HOTELS AND (OF COURSE) GUINNESS!

Ireland is by far one of my favorite places to golf. I’ve been going there for decades and have turned a number of my buddies onto some of the country’s most famous courses.

Gone are the days when visits to Ireland involved staying in tired old Dublin hotels and noshing on late night pub grub. Today, your Irish golf excursions can include luxurious accommodations and fine restaurants as you soak in Dublin’s vibrant cityscape. If you travel with a discerning group who likes to mix in a spot of golf with great food and fine hotels, Dublin deserves a look.

Read my article in Luxe Getaways about all that Ireland has to offer.

May 6, 2020
Adare Manor: The Definitive Luxe Golf Destination In Ireland

A hallmark of a memorable travel destination is its ability to make guests feel as if they are home – regardless of their point of origin. The recently completed renovation of Adare Manor does just this and so much more. Built nearly 200 years ago on more than 800 acres of pristine parkland, Adare has successfully transformed itself into the definitive location to experience both the treasured feel of Irish hospitality with the comfort of a world-class luxury resort. Whether strolling through the gardens, taking afternoon tea in the Gallery Room, or relaxing in Manor House’s magnificent environs, visitors are treated to an experience unlike anywhere else on the Emerald Isle.

You can read my full experience at Adare Manor here.

May 6, 2020
Enjoy the craic and fine food at the 19th hole in Northern Ireland
Enjoy the craic and fine food at the 19th hole in Northern Ireland

When you tee off in Northern Ireland it isn’t just the world-class golf that leaves you with a warm glow inside.

A traditionally-friendly welcome awaits golfing visitors in this northerly part of the island of Ireland. And of course there’s the legendary craic – or crack, as it is sometimes spelt north of the border – in the 19th hole of golf clubs after a round as well as in its hospitable pubs and bars.

The clubhouse bar is the focal point of Northern Ireland’s golf clubs and visiting golfers will quickly find themselves making new friends over a round or two of drinks after their round on the fairways.

These days, however, the après-golf experience is just as likely to be gastronomic as it is savouring a pint of the black stuff or a nip of whiskey from Ireland’s oldest distillery, Bushmills. Northern Ireland’s food and drink scene has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and a golfing trip offers a great opportunity to savour some of its cuisine offerings, not least in golf club restaurants, where their chefs are cooking up quite a reputation for themselves.

Enjoy the craic and fine food at the 19th hole in Northern Ireland
Garda station in Ballybunion county Kerry, Ireland with Bill Clinton statue

If you thought Northern Ireland was just potatoes or stew, think again. These kitchen wizards are using local produce to fashion culinary creations that have garnered several top awards, while Northern Ireland has just been named the world’s best food destination at the prestigious International Travel and Tourism Awards, held in London during November’s World Travel Market.

Accepting the award, Michele Shirlow, Chief Executive of Food NI, Northern Ireland’s food and drink promotion body, said: “This international award is a marvellous accolade for our industry and local producers in particular and should be a major benefit for our rapidly developing tourism industry as it seeks to attract even more visitors from across the world and in particular, golf enthusiasts for The Open in Portrush in 2019.”

Dungannon Golf Club’s restaurant was named regional and overall restaurant of the year for Northern Ireland in the 2016 Food Awards Northern Ireland, winning the regional category for County Tyrone again in 2017.

Enjoy the craic and fine food at the 19th hole in Northern Ireland

The Catalina Restaurant at Lough Erne Resort, named after the World War II flying boats that were based on Lough Erne, was Northern Ireland’s first 3 AA rosette hotel restaurant and was awarded Fermanagh’s best restaurant by the Restaurants Association of Ireland, which also saluted Executive Head Chef Noel McMeel as the region’s best chef. He was recently named one of Ireland’s top 10 chefs for 2018 by Food & Wine magazine. His ethos is also to use locally-sourced ingredients in the restaurant’s menus, which feature classic and contemporary dishes.

Galgorm Resort & Spa, which hosted the World Luxury Spa & Restaurant Awards in July, has opened a new 150-seat barbecue smokehouse restaurant, the Castle Kitchen & Bar (pictured), at Galgorm Castle Golf Club in a £600,000 investment. It also features a 60-seat balcony terrace providing alfresco dining with views across the castle grounds and golf course.

You can savour views at other golf club restaurants in Northern Ireland, too. The restored 18th century Coach House at Roe Park Resort, once a stately country house, incorporates a restaurant that overlooks the revamped par-3 6th hole and the elevated clubhouse of Belfast’s Belvoir Park Golf Club has a restaurant and bar called The View as it looks out across the tree-lined fairways to the Black Mountains beyond.

Enjoy the craic and fine food at the 19th hole in Northern Ireland

Those wanting to drink in the craic after their round can do so in settings from the world’s oldest clubhouse at Ardglass Golf Club, originally built as a coastal castle more than 600 years ago, to 2017 Irish Open host Portstewart Golf Club, which boasts one of Ireland’s most modern clubhouses.

Traditional local foods include favourites such as Ulster fry (a breakfast fry-up with black and white pudding), boxty (potato cake), Ardglass potted herring, Lough Neagh eels, New Season Comber Potatoes, Tayto crisps (made at 500-year-old Tayto Castle since 1956), fifteens (traybake treats that use 15 ingredients), champ (mashed potatoes mixed with whipping cream and spring onions), veda (malted bread) and crusty Belfast baps – a cheap lifesaving staple when potato blight caused famine.

There are also many local artisans now producing fare with a new twist, such as sea-salted butter, blue cheese, goats milk fudge, washed ale cheese, seaweed, goat meat and wild venison. On the drinks front, recent years have seen the establishment of new cider makers in Northern Ireland’s apple-growing heart, Armagh, craft beer brewers, tea companies and high-end distillers, producing hand-crafted gins, liqueurs and even vodka distilled from locally-grown potatoes. Artisan produce can be found at farmers’ markets across the region as well as at Belfast’s indoor St George’s Market.

The best way to work off all that food is to play one of Northern Ireland’s courses. It’s an absolute feast of great golf.

For more information on Northern Ireland and its golf, visit: www.discovernorthernireland.com

April 17, 2020
Five Things You Should Never Do When Playing Golf in the British Isles

Five Things You Should Never Do When Playing Golf in the British Isles

Five Things You Should Never Do When Playing Golf in the British Isles

Scotland, England, and Ireland. Golf’s venerated Ground Zero. You’ll find history, tradition, and a great golf experience – if you don’t screw it up. Based on our 15 years of golf in the Kingdom, here’s a short list of faux pas to avoid:

Don’t Show Up Late

Too often, golf tourists arrive at a classic British or Irish course in their coach or rental vehicle and sprint to the first tee box, shoes untied and golf clubs akimbo. Don’t be that group. Plan your trip to arrive well in advance. Remember: You’re a guest. It’s their club. Greet the club pro and the staff and introduce yourself. (And take your hat off indoors for Pete’s sake.) The locals are very proud of their club and love to show it off. Ask for a brief history of the club, and you’ll likely get a brilliant mini-tour that will enhance your round. On a recent trip to a Wales golf club, we arrived an hour early and left with complimentary club neckties. It’s amazing what a little courtesy will accomplish.

Don’t Waltz into the Members Lounge Unless Invited

Many exclusive European clubs have separate member and guest lounges. Clarify what’s off limits in the pro shop. Oftentimes, you’ll be invited to join the Members in their lounge by just being courteous and offering to buy a pint. Then you’ll be entertained with stories for as long as you like. We’ve made lifelong friends (and angered many a coach driver) by “settling in for the long session” with members at their invitation. If you want local color, work your way into the Members lounge.

Don’t Ignore the Caddies

It’s fine to carry your own bag or drag your own trolley, but remember that the caddies are typically club members looking earn a few pounds or euros for a pub session later. They can add serious value through reading greens, coaching blind shots, and finding errant shots. At the least, consider taking a forecaddy for your foursome. You’ll hear some good stories, and maybe learn a few things about the course you wouldn’t otherwise know. And please take your lightweight stand bag, not that monster cart bag you use at home. Nothing says “tourist” like the guy with the massive tour bag strapped to a poor feeble trolley.

Don’t Dress Like a Slob

The courses in The British Isles tend to be a bit more selective about attire. Make sure you are dressed appropriately. Most courses post their dress code on their website.

If you’re wearing shorts, many courses will require you to wear knee socks. (Some do not permit shorts at all.)  Collared shirts are a must. And post round, change your shoes before leaving the locker room. You won’t see the locals traipsing about in their golf cleats.

Don’t Complain About the Weather

It’s the British Isles. It rains. The wind blows. It’s cold, then it’s hot. Prep your bag before you arrive with all the proper attire (and proper libations) you’ll need for the day. (Weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable.) If you’re going in the summer, a valuable tip: Wear shorts (if allowed), and wear your rain pants over them. And remember – you knew what you were getting into. Keep your flask topped off, and you should be fine.

Don’t Expect a Beverage Cart or a Halfway House

Most British and Irish courses are old. Really old. They were typically designed with nine holes out and nine holes in. Most do not offer on course refreshments. You’ll do well to stock your bag with energy bars, a sausage roll from the bar, and a healthy flask. And definitely include a bottle of water.

Follow these tips, and you’ll ensure a great time and an invitation back.

April 19, 2018
Northern Ireland offers world-class courses for world-class golfers

Northern Ireland offers world-class courses for world-class golfers

For a small country, Northern Ireland punches far above its weight on the global golf stage, having produced three champions with six Major titles between them in the last decade – Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.

Its success is no coincidence, however. Underpinning that are some of the finest golf courses to be found anywhere in the world and many of the game’s greatest players have trodden their hallowed fairways down the years.

While the land of the Giant’s Causeway has been something of a slumbering giant as a golf destination in comparison with its neighbours up until now, it has been roused under the increasing glare of the golfing world’s spotlight thanks to its superstar venues.

Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are rated among the best in the world for their championship links with the latter, just an hour south of Belfast, topping the world’s 100 greatest courses rankings by Golf Digest in 2016.

Northern Ireland offers world-class courses for world-class golfers

Royal Portrush

Located on the Causeway Coast, will focus the global spotlight on Northern Ireland even more when it hosts the Open Championship in 2019 for the second time. Nearby Portstewart, another celebrated links course, also helped raise the bar when it staged the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July 2017, attracting a host of golf stars with its purse of £5.5 million and providing Spain’s Jon Rahm, recently voted European Tour Rookie of the Year, with his first European Tour victory. It Northern Ireland’s third time hosting the event since 2012, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush having both been previous venues.

Golfers from all over the world make a spiritual pilgrimage to play Northern Ireland’s celebrated Royal links championship courses and both have a distinguished pedigree.

Golf legends Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt and Harry Vardon all put their stamp on Royal County Down’s Championship Links.

Old Tom Morris was brought in to extend the original nine holes to 18 through dunes below the Mourne Mountains in 1889, for the princely sum of £4, while Harry Vardon and Harry Colt subsequently made changes, some holes later modified by Donald Steel. Besides the Irish Open, it has hosted many top tournaments, among them eight Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championships, the Curtis Cup in 1968 and the Walker Cup in 2007. In that, Rory McIlroy represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland while the victorious US team included future stars Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel and Webb Simpson. Its par-66 Annesley course is also highly rated.

Northern Ireland offers world-class courses for world-class golfers

Founded in 1898 with two 18-hole courses, Royal Portrush Golf Club’s celebrated Dunluce Links was redesigned by Harry Colt in 1932 and has hosted the Open once before, in 1951, when Max Faulkner won. Its 17th and 18th holes have been replaced by spectacular new 7th and 8th holes, borrowed from an area of duneland spanned by two holes of its sister Valley course, to allow for the spectator village area at the 2019 Open. The new holes opened for play to critical acclaim in June 2017. Other tournaments it has hosted include the Irish Open four times and the Senior British Open six times. Royal Portrush also offers the par-70 Valley course.

It may not have the royal monicker, but Portstewart Golf Club, just 15 minutes from Royal Portrush, has 54 holes of links golf and boasts one of Ireland’s most modern clubhouses, completed in 2009. Its Strand Course, venue for the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, is set amidst towering dunes between the Atlantic and the River Bann and its opening hole is regarded by many as the best in Ireland. Two-time Open champion Willie Park Jr was responsible for one of its makeovers.

Play Northern Ireland’s courses and you are likely to come across its three local heroes, all of whom are still members of courses where they learnt to play as youngsters.

Northern Ireland offers world-class courses for world-class golfers

Graeme McDowell (US Open champion, 2010)

He was born and grew up in Portrush and was awarded life membership of Royal Portrush Golf Club in 2002 after his maiden win on the European Tour. His brother is on the club’s greenkeeping staff. Darren Clarke cut his teeth as a golfer at Dungannon Golf Club. A life-size photograph of him holding the Open Championship’s famous Claret Jug greets visitors in the clubhouse entrance while the members’ area showcases memorabilia including photographs highlighting his success as well as a painting of the signature par-3 9th, named the Darren Clarke hole and one of six new holes he designed at the venerable club.

Darren is also a member of Royal Portrush and has lived in the town. A replica of the Claret Jug is displayed in its clubhouse, commemorating his Open win. Nearby is a card showing the course record 61, shot by a 16-year-old Rory McIlroy, for the old layout before recent changes. Rory (he won the US Open and Open Championship in 2011, and the US PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014) honed his skills on the hilly fairways and greens of Belfast’s Holywood Golf Club, just outside Belfast. A special area of the clubhouse is a shrine to him, with memorabilia including photographs of his early years playing there and replicas of the US Open and US PGA trophies.

Please click here to watch video footage of Northern Ireland’s world-class local golfers on Tourism Northern Ireland’s YouTube channel.

Its courses also attract plaudits from many of the game’s top professionals. They include:
  • Ernie Els (Royal County Down): “The scenery is unbelievable, you have so many great golf courses in this country and the people are wonderful, I really enjoy coming.”
  • Rickie Fowler (Royal County Down): “They definitely enjoy their golf here and it’s fun to be over here and see their enthusiasm about it.”
  • Soren Kjeldsen (after his Irish Open 2015 win at Royal County Down): “It’s a wonderful place to visit, it has been very special.”
  • Rory McIlroy“That frontline on Portstewart is probably one of the best nine holes in the world…that run of holes in incredible.”
  • Padraig Harrington (Portstewart): “The venue is fantastic.”

Follow in their spike marks and golfers can play some of the most memorable courses they will ever experience.

For more information on Northern Ireland and its golf, visit: www.discovernorthernireland.com

April 8, 2018
Ireland: Top Ten Tips for an Irish Golf Trip

Ireland: Top Ten Tips for an Irish Golf Trip

Our most recent golf trip to the Emerald Isle, Ireland marked our 12th visit in 22 years of international golf travel, and we’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way about thriving and surviving. Whether you’re planning your first trip or you’re a veteran, we share here our most valuable lessons and nuggets of wisdom for a stellar visit to Ireland’s best golf venues. Heeding our advice will certainly enhance your experience. Here we go:

Ireland: Top Ten Tips for an Irish Golf Trip

1. Get a Driver

Ireland’s golf country is awash in impossibly narrow two-lane roads and contradictory road signage. It’s not uncommon to arrive at an intersection with two signs to Roscommon pointing in opposite directions. The locals are little help, as many rural Irish folks haven’t traveled more than 20 miles from their birthplace. (They will try mightily to help however, as they are an unfailingly courteous lot.) Our first foray in 1997 as the Houligan Advance Team found three of us in a rented car stuffed to the gills with clubs and gear exploring the countryside. We argued endlessly at every intersection, and we spent more time driving than playing. Don’t do that. There are a host of coach services ferrying golfers all over Ireland, and they are well worth the fare. You’ll travel with an experienced driver in a comfortable motor coach. (Make sure there’s a fridge on board or at least a cooler for the Guinness). The drivers are usually more than willing to provide historical commentary as you travel through the countryside. But be aware: Ireland has strict laws regarding how many hours a coach driver can be behind the wheel. You’ll need to plan your post-golf antics accordingly.

2. Don’t Miss the Full Irish

Most BNB’s or hotels offer the full Irish breakfast as part of the room cost, and it’s not to be missed. This may be the most important meal of the day if you plan to play extra holes. You’ll find a buffet of cereals, steel cut Irish oatmeal, yogurt, bread and a made-to-order menu offering eggs, bacon (the American version of ham), blood sausage (try it), toast, beans, and a grilled tomato. Don’t be afraid to customize your order – the staff will be more than happy to accommodate.

3. Understand Ireland’s Drinking Laws

This may be the most valuable tip in this blog. Ireland’s licensing laws allow hotels and BNB’s to serve alcohol to residents outside the normal pub hours. If you’re respectful, most establishments will cheerfully accommodate your requests for extra pints for as long as you wish. (We’ve watched the sun come up in several.) If you’re interested in more night life after pub hours (typically 11-12pm), ask the bar manager if there are any available “lock-ins” or late-night venues in the area. You may be able to talk your way in to a pub or club that’s still open and serving.

4. Arrive Early for Your Tee Time

Ireland’s best golf tracks are busy. There’s nothing worse than a coach full of American golfers piling out and running to the first tee box with their shoes untied. Show up an hour early. The local members and club professional will be more than happy to regale you with course history and a pint before tee time. And, you’ll have time to browse the pro shop for a shirt or hat.

5. Stop at a Roadside Pub

Your coach driver will be happy to accommodate. We’ve made lifelong friends at small pubs along the way by popping in for a pint on the way back from a round. The Irish are well known for their hospitality, and you’ll find no shortage of friendly faces at local haunts.

6. Plan Your Evening Meals in Advance – or Not

Here you’ll have two choices: If you play early in the day, you’ll find plenty of great dining opportunities before 9pm. But if you chose to play the emergency 9 or 18 (which we encourage), you’ll find yourself with fewer choices. Don’t despair though – most small towns will sport at least two or three options. You can usually find a “chipper” serving fish and chips until the wee hours. In addition, there’s typically a Thai or Chinese restaurant open late night that will welcome your business. We’ve never gone hungry at 1am. Just be diligent.

7. Leave Unnecessary Gear at Home

  1. Ditch the umbrella. You’ll rarely use it and its dead weight. If you need it, the wind will likely make it useless. In twelve years of summer golf in Ireland, I cannot recall one round where I wished I had an umbrella.
  2. Consider leaving your 60-degree wedge at home. When they see it, the caddies will chuckle at you. There’s no place on Irish courses for lofty pitches like the US – you’ll use bump-and-run clubs (or putters) off tight lies near the green. Replace it with a long iron or any club offering low boring shots into the wind.
  3. Carry bags only, please. If you drag your big cart bag over there, you’re that guy who wears socks with sandals on a cruise ship. Make it easier on you or the caddy and use a lightweight carry bag for your clubs.

8. Pack Necessary Gear

  1. Get a good rain suit. In warmer weather, wear the rain pants over shorts. You may see the sun, and shorts can be nice. If not, the rain pants cut the wind, so you win either way.
  2. Pack a bungee cord to strap your bag to your rented trolley to keep it intact on steep slopes. Trust us on this one.
  3. Pack two pair of good walking shoes for golf in case one pair is soaked.
  4. Take plenty of balls. They are prohibitively expensive overseas.
  5. Rain gloves. Yes.
  6. Pack flasks. Most courses are nine holes out and nine holes in with no halfway house. Beverage carts are non-existent outside of the touristy clubs. We cannot stress this enough – if your round requires libations, load up at the coach.

9. Caddies or No?

An important lesson on caddies: Many Irish courses have some blind shots and tough greens to read. A caddy or forecaddie can be a valuable asset. But be advised – most experienced caddies work in the morning and knock off in the afternoon for a pub session. You’ll need to inquire in advance of your visit if you wish to employ them. Always ask for a senior caddy, or you might end up with a youngster who’s just eager to mule your clubs for $50 and has little experience on the course. Generally, we’d recommend asking for one or two senior caddies per group to help with shot lines and reading greens. You can drag your own clubs on a rented trolley for $5, or pay a caddy to do it. Your call.

10. Don’t Rush Back to the Coach

Leave enough time in your agenda to linger. The local members love to entertain fellow enthusiasts after golf by bragging about their home track. Wander into the bar and introduce yourself. If it’s a “members” bar, be sure to ask permission. If you’re respectful, they’ll normally invite you in. We’ve built lifelong relationships with club members and even arranged matches with them for future visits.

January 10, 2018