By TIM BAINES
It’s like a walk through time, a journey to a place steeped in history.
It’s not only a tremendous place to whack around a golf ball, it’s a destination that offers much more than golf. The Dublin East Golf Alliance, in particular, has plenty of aces up its sleeve – courses, hotels, restaurants and people creating postcard memories.
Ireland needs to go on any bucket list for golf experiences. You’ve got a course that’s hosted a Ryder Cup, another that’s been called the Augusta of Europe and another that’s a tremendous test of links golf, including a hole that’s 17 yards across at the 150-yard mark, its widest point. And there’s so much more.
“I’m proud of this country. We look after our guests,” says Aine Mangan, director of the Dublin East Coast Golf Alliance, which won the IAGTO European Golf Destination of 2015 award.
“People say the Irish friendliness and welcome is genuine,” says one of our hosts on a recent trip, Conor Mallaghan, the owner and CEO of Carton House, a magnificent property with a couple of golf courses a big part of the picture. “We do like looking after people. We’re a small nation, proud of our history and culture and we like showing that off to people. You’ll have a good time, we can guarantee that.”
Ah, yes, a good time. And that starts with raising a pint of Guinness, a bit of a national treasure. Any trip to Dublin would be incomplete without a tour of the Guinness Storehouse and a few night-time hours in the Temple Bar area, a treasure chest of bars and talented street musicians.
We also spent a night at Roches Pub in Kildare. It’s called The Sinking Pub because, well because it’s sinking, tilted on one side and that wasn’t the Guinness speaking. Authentic Irish food and atmosphere make it an awesome way to fill an evening.
Our itinerary included golf at Powerscourt, the Island Golf Club, Carton House, K Club, Druids Glen, and Mount Juliet. We spent nights at Powerscourt, Carton House, K Club, Druids Glen and Mount Juliet, all exceptional for food and lodging.
We learned that buggies, pronounced something like boogies, are actually golf carts. And trolleys are actually what we call pull carts.
The K Club, with the Palmer Ryder Cup course and the Smurfit course, was an obvious highlight. Regularly ranked among the top three parkland courses in Ireland and host of the 2006 Ryder Cup and 11 European Opens, it lives up to its billing … and then some. Back in 2006, the U.S. side led by Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk was steamrolled by the Europeans with stars like Darren Clarke, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie.
“I’ve golfed around the world,” says K Club pro Michael Dixon. “If you say K Club, they say, ‘Oh, the K Club – the Ryder Cup. There has to be some mystique when you’ve had such greats walk and play a tournament like that. It gives the course international recognition.
“One thing I notice, when you come here and close your eyes, it seems like the birds are permanently singing. There’s a charmingness and a ruggedness to the course. Maybe the word I’m looking for is authentic. It’s got a rugged, natural terrain, cut into the land, rather than with bulldozers.”
Facilities for the K Club include 140 bedrooms, apartments and villas and a spa.
As recently as 1973 you got to the The Island Golf Club, a Golf Top 100 course established in 1890, by boat from Malahide across the estuary. It was our introduction to Irish links golf. Bordered by the sea on three sides, with the highest sand dunes on the East Coast, the Island Golf Club was an amazing walking experience. It’s home to the nasty 14th hole, called Old Clubhouse, with the narrowest fairway I’ve seen and with a large lateral water hazard on the right. Hitting a 4-hybrid off the tee. I had a par.
Powerscourt has several different moods, starting with parkland which is hemmed in by hedges, ancient oaks and beech trees. Hallmarks of the course include its contoured undulating greens and subtle changes to moorland. Its 200-room resort showcases Palladian-style architecture. On site, you have two championship courses, luxury spa, restaurant and a traditional Irish pub. The resort is renowned for its magnificent gardens and the highest waterfall in Ireland.
Druids Glen, so amazing it has been called the Augusta of Europe, is delightful in design and playability. It’s a past winner of European Golf Resort of the Year and has hosted Irish Open’ and the Seve Trophy in 2002. It was also a favourite on my trip. The resort at Druid’s Glenn, in Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland, includes 145 bedrooms, spa, leisure facilities and two championship courses.
Carton House, last year’s winner of Irish Golf Resort of the Year, is a gem as well, with its landscape created in mid-18th century.
“The golf is absolutely massive for us,” says Mallaghan, who is well versed in local history. “The two courses we have (O’Meara, parkland, and Montgomerie, links) are different, but complementary. If I’m asked which is my favourite, I say it’s like trying to choose between your children, it’s impossible to do.”
Carton House has been home to Peter Sellers, Julie Andrews and Marianne Faithful who lived in a cottage there from 1990-97.
Mount Juliet, with a Jack Nicklaus course, has hosted the 2002 American Express World Golf Championships and three Irish Open Championships. There are 31 rooms in Mount Juliet House, 16 clubhouse rooms and 13 Rose Garden Lodges.
The area has so much to offer, for so many.
“In the Dublin East Coast area, there’s such a selection of links and parkland courses, with resorts on site, so your travel time is much less than if you were traveling all over the country,” says Mangan. “You’re only 35-40 minutes away from Dublin airport and from city centre, so you’ve got country and city together and a great quality of golf courses and restaurants.”
For more info, check out www.dublingolfalliance.com.