Golf and travel on the Emerald Isle Irish eyes shining in 2011

By Brandon TuckerDecember 22, 2010, 11:37 pm
ballybunion golf ireland
        President Bill Clinton dubbed Ballybunion his favorite course in the world. (Tourism Ireland)

Thanks in part to 2010 U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell, golf in Ireland is shining bright as ever.

McDowell took the U.S. Open away from Dustin Johnson at Pebble Beach, then clinched the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor by defeating Hunter Mahan.

McDowell's encore was equally impressive, rallying from four shots down to snatch the Chevron World Challenge from Tiger Woods.

Padraig Harrington drew all Irish eyes with his three major victories in 2007 and 2008. Now, after major triumphs by McDowell and Harrington, plus the emergence of Rory McIlroy, the Emerald Isle has never seen better days on golf's world stage.
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One of the reasons this 'Holy Trinity' of stars is so adored all over the world is that they carry their Irish pride with them everywhere. Their jovial personalities are indicative of Ireland's welcoming clubs, humorous weather and spectacular scenery, making it tough for any vacationing golfer to get too serious – even facing a stiff wind to a blind green with cash on the line.

While McDowell, Harrington and McIlroy take on the PGA and European Tour circuits, their home sod is poised for a big 2011 as well. Five years after hosting the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup comes to Ireland for the first time. The event will be staged at Killeen Castle, one of the country's newest luxury golf resort properties centered around the restored 12th century castle.  

Ireland's spectacular dunes have been here for millennia, but the golf product has improved greatly with new additions. Killeen Castle, The K Club and Doonbeg Golf Resort are just three of the most luxurious resorts in Ireland that complement the traditional 19th-century golf clubs.

Long after the railroad expansion of the late 19th-century led to golf clubs sprouting up around the isle, now every corner of Ireland has a golf tour worthy of your footsteps.

'I always look forward to returning home and experiencing the unique pleasure of golf in Ireland,' Harrington said.  

guiness ireland golf
No golf vacation in Ireland would be complete without a tour of the Guinness brewery in Dublin. (Tourism Ireland)
Golf in Southwest Ireland

Many American golfers make their first stop Ireland's southwest, anchored by Shannon (SNN) Airport, a less-than-six-hour flight from Boston.

Americans, including Tiger Woods and Tom Watson, have been coming to Ballybunion for years. But it's President Bill Clinton -- who proclaimed the Old Course at Ballybunion his favorite course in the world -- that has a statue in the town center.

Across the Shannon Estuary, historic Lahinch Golf Club is a history lesson in quirky Irish design, highlighted by the par-3 'Dell,' housing a green encircled by dunes and almost entirely blind. It was the perfect crime scene for the club's caddies, who once had a reputation of sneakily putting balls in the hole at the chance of a bigger tip from their player.

Once you've taken on blind shots of Ballybunion and Lahinch, head south, where Old Head Golf Links puts everything in front of you, including 360-degree ocean scenery on a 220-acre diamond of land 300 feet above crashing waves.

At Old Head, every view is a sea view.

Golf in Dublin and the east

Ireland's largest city, historic Dublin, is loaded with activity. After a tour of the city, castle or Guinness brewery, kick back in a small, charming pub that's likely to be older than the United States. Here, a long day on the pavement is capped by enjoying the craic with a pint brewed minutes away.

Ireland's east coast boasts a mix of traditional links golf courses and modern additions – both parkland and links – that attracts a set ranging from Europe's corporate business leaders to splurging couples looking for romance. The K Club, which hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup, boasts some of Europe's most luxurious golf resort amenities, including five-star dining and spa accommodations, highlighted by an Arnold Palmer parkland gem.

For links golf, you don't have to stray far from Dublin's city center. Royal Dublin Golf Club sits on a small strip of links land on Bull Island, while just up the road is one of the country's most renowned links, Portmarnock Golf Club, where Palmer played his first links golf in the 1960 Canada Cup. Outside the city is one of Ireland's most acclaimed modern links, the European Club, which has dunes so good they built 20 holes among them.

Golf in Northwest Ireland

To golfers, the rural northwest usually draws eyes initially as Ireland's 'value' destination. But members at friendly local clubs like Enniscrone Golf Club will gladly tell you their home links is as good as anywhere over a 19th hole pint. (In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a golf course anywhere in Ireland without an engaging 19th hole.)

Traversing the winding, two-lane roads through the countryside and towns like Sligo and Galway takes a little more savvy compared to the country's more developed regions. The first ever non-stop trans-Atlantic flight conducted by Alcock & Brown crash-landed in a swamp near Connemara – try not to repeat history with your rental car.

The mostly newer links of the northwest aren't household names quite yet like in other parts, but that's changing as visitors spread word of courses such as Rosapenna, Carne Golf Links and County Sligo Golf Club. Eire's northernmost club is Ballyliffin Golf Club, showcasing 36 holes of raw, remote links in the shadow of an Ailsa Craig-like Glashedy Rock.

Golf in Northern Ireland

Few coastlines in the world are as spectacular as County Antrim's, and the A2 Causeway Coastal Route is one of the can't-miss roads of golf travel. The route runs from Belfast Lough north along the coast through Lough Foyle and is home to such marvels as Giant's Causeway and the cliff-dangling, 16th-century Dunluce Castle ruins.

The two headlining links of Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, jostle for the top spot in the North, and often all of Great Britain and Ireland. McDowell's recent successes have brought the eyes of the golf world back to his boyhood home club of Portrush, Ireland's only British Open venue. County Down staged the 2007 Walker Cup and has earned lore as one of the world's most demanding links.
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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.