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:
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Pack a bungee cord to strap your bag to your rented trolley to keep it intact on steep slopes. Trust us on this one.
- Pack two pair of good walking shoes for golf in case one pair is soaked.
- Take plenty of balls. They are prohibitively expensive overseas.
- Rain gloves. Yes.
- 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.