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.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.