Ten Things You Should Know About Golf in Ireland
The par-3 14th hole at Doonbeg Golf Club in County Clare (Courtesy Doonbeg)
Planning a golf trip to Ireland? Here are ten things you should know before you go.
1. Northwest and southwest Ireland have different appeals
Ireland's west side is home to some of the world's most towering seaside dunes, and scores of golf courses have been plotted out through them.
But the difference between golf in the southwest and northwest counties is still vast.
The southwest is an established collection of links that are some of the most well-known and popular in the world. World class accommodations – coupled with destinations such as the Ring of Kerry and city of Cork – attract millions of visitors, golfers and non-golfers alike.
The northwest counties of Sligo and Donegal, on the other hand, make up Ireland's most rural region. The towns are smaller, and getting between points isn't always straightforward with one-lane bridges and other occasional obstacles. But to those who come here, the appeal is discovering an adventurous part of the country that is sparsely populated with a slower, remote vibe.
2. Shannon airport is the golfer's airport in Ireland
While Dublin is the largest city in Ireland and the economic center with the most international flights, golfers coming to Ireland shouldn't look further than Shannon Airport on the west side near the city of Limerick.
From here, it's a slightly shorter flight from North America, the airport is smaller and easier to get around, and flights are often less expensive.
And the west side has more world-class links than the east side, anyways. In fact, it's just an hour's drive to Doonbeg, where a hot breakfast and driving range await before you take to the links.
3. Ireland's links are a mix of new and old
Ireland's links courses date back to the 19th century, but Ireland has made great strides since the days of Old Tom Morris. Some of the new courses are set on the most spectacular of Irish turf yet and demand a place at the table. They include the Arnold Palmer-designed Tralee Golf Club and the Greg Norman-designed Doonbeg Golf Club. Old Head Golf Links is undeniably one of golf's most spectacular settings, on a 220-acre diamond of land surrounded on four sides by the sea.
4. The game's greats prepare for the Open Championship in Ireland
For years, many of golf's greats – such as Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara and Payne Stewart – have prepared for the British Open by spending the previous week in Ireland.
O'Meara won the 1998 Open after preparing in Ireland. In 2009, Stewart Cink stayed at the Lodge at Doonbeg and played the links of the southwest before taking home the Clarett Jug at Turnberry.
5. Irish love can be blind
The links of Ireland don't shy from blind shots. In fact, they're famous for them. At times, the only line you have to the pin or fairway is a small pole, aiming stone or the wise advice of your caddie.
Lahinch is home to two of the most famous blind shots in golf, laid out at the hands of Old Tom Morris more than 100 years ago, and they come back-to-back at the infamous 'Klondyke' and 'Dell.'
6. Golf at Ballybunion is Presidential
Tom Watson is one of many famous legends who helped put Ballybunion Golf Club on the radar for touring links golfers. But all it takes is a trip to the center of the village to find out the locals' favorite guest.
President Bill Clinton, now immortalized with a statue in the center of the town, arrived for a game in 1998. In front of 10,000 onlookers, he sliced his opening drive into the cemetery right of the first fairway – just like so many of his constituents have done before and after him.
7. It's easy to play 36 holes of golf in Ireland
With long summer daylight hours, it's quite easy to play 18 in the morning, relax over a long lunch and a stiff whiskey, then head out for 18 more.
Many golf clubs in Ireland have built secondary courses to complement their medal courses, including Lahinch's Castle Course, Ballybunion's Cashen Course and the Glashedy Course at Ballyliffin.
At most clubs, discounted afternoon replays are often available if there is availability on the tee sheet.
8. Green fees in the southwest have come down in recent years
Northwest Ireland is perhaps the finest value in links golf anywhere in the world with green fees between 50-70 Euro, but the gap between the southwest has slimmed recently.
If it's been a few years since you checked green fees and golf package deals in the southwest, take another look. The best links have reduced green fees in recent years, up to 20-40 percent in some cases.
Many Irish golf courses, both north and south, offer packages with discounted afternoon replays or invite you to return at a discount later in your trip.
9. Some fine parkland golf courses can be played off the links
Links courses are why you're coming to Ireland. But don't be afraid to head into Ireland's scenic countryside, where you can also groove your swing after a few days out in the wind.
For some of the finest parkland courses in west Ireland, visit five-star Adare Golf Club, the Killeen Course at Killarney Golf & Fish Club, Dromoland Castle or Lough Erne.
10. Skip stroke play for a friendlier game
Between the blind shots, tall fescue rough and the ever-changing weather, first-timers to Ireland will need the luck of the Irish and an eraser on their pencil to best their handicap.
Team best ball and match-play competitions are the way to go. So if you lose a ball in the gorse or get stuck in a pot bunker, there is no need to shred your scorecard.
And if the time is right, you may very well be able to talk some local members into a match of their choosing. They won't go easy on you at their home club but will certainly make it up to you over a few pints or whiskeys at the 19th hole.
LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019
The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.
The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.
The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.
The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at Club de Golf de Panama.
Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins
An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.
It was too much “socializing.”
“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”
Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.
“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”
Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.
His plan for doing that?
“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”
McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018
Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.
So much for easing into the new year.
So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.
McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.
“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”
McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.
If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.
After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.
“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.
McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.
“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”
It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.
“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”
A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.
A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.
Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.
To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.
Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.
McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.
“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.
A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.
“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”
A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.
Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open
SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.
The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.
Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.
Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.
''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''
The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.
''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''
Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.
''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.
Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.
He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.
Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.
Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.
He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.
Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.