We’re hearing you better act quick if you plan to travel overseas. Many of the most popular destinations for international travelers are booking up for 2022—and some even for 2023. Golf in Ireland is back after restrictions limited travel for much of the past two years.
Though you likely have courses like Ballybunion Old (No. 17 on Golf Digest’s most recent World 100 ranking) and Royal County Down in Northern Ireland (No. 1 on ours and most World 100 lists) in your sights, we’re here to point you to some hidden gems worth trying to get to. Perhaps these courses will have more availability in the next year or two … even more reason to head there.
Mixing some sightseeing and golf in and around Dublin is a trip we don’t need to sell you on. It’s a trip any golfer needs to do once in their life. And if you’re planning to do it in the next year or two, we’re here to help.
Other Irish gems get more fanfare, but it’s possible County Louth is the best course in Ireland you don’t know about. Ranked in the top 100 of Golf Digest’s “Best Courses Outside the United States” in years past, County Louth ranked sixth in our most recent Best in Ireland list. Tom Simpson worked on an existing layout back in 1938 to create the fabulous links you can play today. Shane Lowry won the Irish Open as an amateur here back in 2009.
Harry S. Colt repaired and revamped Dublin’s oldest course after the grounds served as a musket training site during World War I. Martin Hawtree did some work to the gentle, mostly flat but rolling land in the early 2000s.
For trip planning purposes, these courses are all proper to pair with the above:
One of Ireland’s most naturally beautiful regions is the South West, with its rugged outcroppings and rolling topography. That makes the golf in the area so, so good—and though many of the courses are on your radar already, we’re here to tell you about a few others.
A stunning, rolling piece of natural dunesland can be found at Dooks Golf Club, 35 minutes from Killarney. The club was founded in 1889, making it one of the country’s oldest—but Martin Hawtree came in and renovated the course in 2006, securing it as being a must-add to your trip to the area.
Locals refer to it as Ceann Sibeal as the links sits right on the end of the Dingle Peninsula with incredible views of Dingle Bay and the mountainous Blasket Islands. You’ll have to drive a little out of your way to get to Dingle Golf Links, but you’ll find an open, links layout that feels like it’s been around for hundreds of years—though it was only built in the 1970s.
Like we said, the golf in this region needs no introduction. Trips to Killarney, Shannon and Cook should all include:
Perhaps Ireland’s most underrated region for golf, the Emerald Isle’s dramatic northwest coast is home to numerous hidden gems that stand up with the country’s best.
Enniscrone boasts 27 links holes perched on a peninsula on the Wild Atlantic Way. Towering dunes line many holes and create a stunning setting on the aptly named Dunes course, which features dramatic undulations and scenic vistas.
Hardly any land was moved in creating Carne, resulting in tees and greens nestled among the dramatic sand-covered dunes that resemble the lunar landscape. A third nine was built in 2013 on the most dramatic part of the property and is incorporated into the original design on every second day.
Situated on the tip of Murvagh peninsula, Donegal draws comparisons to Muirfield for its distinctive layout that runs in two large loops. Unlike many courses along Ireland’s rugged northwest coast, Donegal is relatively flat and presents subtle undulations and strategic bunkering.
The 27 holes at County Sligo offer intriguing variety with dramatic elevation changes, forced carries and meandering burns. Several elevated tees provide scenic panoramic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding mountains.
Gil Hanse and his design partner Jim Wagner recently renovated this rustic layout, bringing to life the natural features that make this seaside links compelling. The revitalized Narin & Portnoo offers a blend of tight doglegs and generous fairways, with soaring dunes, raised greens and natural bunkering present throughout.
Three hidden gems await at Rosapenna, located in the very north of Ireland, including the Old Tom Morris Links (designed by its namesake in 1893) and the Tom Doak-designed St. Patrick’s Links, which opened in 2021.
Ballyliffin is Ireland’s northernmost golf club and, with two championship links courses, is widely regarded as the country’s finest 36-hole facility. The Glashedy Links, the younger (and longer) of the two courses, hosted the 2018 Irish Open, won by Scotland’s Russell Knox.
Situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Knocknarea Mountain with views of both, Strandhill plays just 6,350 yards from the tips but challenges golfers with imposing dunes and intriguing green complexes.
Anytime Golf Digest does a survey of bucket-list destinations, Northern Ireland is near the top of the list. And for good reason: The stunning visuals and topography (in addition to other sights to see, ala touring the Game of Thrones sites) create dramatic golf that competes with the best in the world.
In fact, the actual best course in the world, Royal County Down, can be found here. Though it’s private, travelers can inquire about getting on—click here for more information.
Of course, you must also attempt to play Royal Portrush’s Dunluce course, which was eighth in our latest World 100 Greatest rankings, and hosted the 2019 Open Championship after the game’s oldest championship returned to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years. Don’t forget the Valley course as well.
Here are the other courses we’d build around:
Ardglass Golf Club is just down the road from Royal County Down, making it the perfect complementary loop. The back nine is splendid, all along the water with some dramatic topography. Take a breeze through the clubhouse, believed to be the oldest in the world, with part of the building dating back to 1405.
Portstewart would not make any ‘hidden gems’ list among avid architecture fans, but it can get lost in the shuffle with the amazing golf in Ireland. Ranked on Golf Digest’s most recent World 100 rankings, the Strand course.
We’ll let Golf Digest equipment editor Mike Stachura, as avid of a travel/design buff as you’ll find, describe the setting: “The first tee at the Strand is set on high dunes, like you’re surveying the kingdom, with beach and waves down to your right and all of County Antrim in front. It’s no wonder the television series ‘Game of Thrones’ has used the nearby land as scene-stealers.”
Thus why Northern Ireland sits at the top of nearly every traveling golfer’s bucket list.