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Ballybunion, Doonbeg, Waterville, Tralee... What on earth are you waiting for? This is the dream ticket in a fabled isle

It’s the names that grab you: Tralee and Lahinch, Dooks and Dingle. Doonbeg and Waterville. These are mystical, almost mythical golf courses, the kind of destinations that seem as though they’ve been plucked straight from the pages of some ancient fairytale. But no. These clubs are all too real, all too vivid. Indeed, they are not so much golf courses as living golf legends.

They know they’re on to a very good thing in the southwest of Ireland, but while the holy trinity of County Kerry, County Limerick and County Cork have long been a prized destination for tourists who regularly return to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and, of course, the celebrated craic, it’s the astonishing array of courses that have golfers flocking here in their thousands to test themselves on some truly fabled championship layouts.

Yes, the golf in this blessed enclave of the Emerald Isle is impossibly and implausibly good. Indulge yourself with a Killarney Golf Tour, for example, and you’ll soon appreciate the variety and quality of golf this corner of the Republic has to offer. You could do worse than make your camp at the 4-star Lake Hotel, on the banks of Lake Killarney, before treating your game to the delights of The Ross and Dingle. If you’re feeling brave, up the ante with a knock at the world-renowed Ballybunion or Tralee.

Ballybunion, of course, needs no introduction.

Spectacularly sited on the north-west coast of County Kerry, it is home to two stunning courses, the Old and the Cashen, both of which are guaranteed to tantalise and tease with a heady mix of natural links ingredients – tumbling fairways, undulating greens, impressive dunes and fearsome bunkers. At nearby Tralee (a relative newcomer, the course opened in 1984), you can experience Arnold Palmer’s first foray into Europe, and this most picturesque of links has established itself as one of the must-play tracks in the area. How good is it? Well, Arnie had it about right when he said of Tralee: “I may have designed the first nine, but surely God designed the back nine”.

It’s this divine landscape that really makes the whole experience in Kerry and these, for the most part, are courses that give you a game of golf as it should be – rugged, untamed, spectacular and entirely natural. From the wild beauty of Waterville (where Tiger Woods likes to practice en route to the Open in July) to the more verdant pastures of Mahony’s Point, this is a county that has something for everyone, irrespective of handicap or budget.

It’s a similar story in County Cork where you’re sure to be dazzled by the likes of Old Head at Kinsale, which is built on a dramatic 22-acre diamond of land that stretches into the Atlantic Ocean, or by Fota Island, a secluded 780-acre private island resort with three championship courses near to Cork’s international airport. And while these big shots tend to grab the headlines, there’s a cracking undercard of clubs and courses dotted around ‘The Rebel County’, including Water Rock, Lee Valley and Cork, also known as Little Island.

Bordering both Kerry and Cork, meanwhile, is County Limerick. It’s yet another sublime destination with more than its share of golfing greats and it’s also a place, like Tralee, that has seduced another of the game’s biggest names into working their magic there. Like Palmer, the Australian legend Greg Norman was attracted to the outstanding natural beauty of the region and his design at Doonbeg on the Atlantic Coast is one of those courses that appears so natural and so lived in that it looks like it’s been there for centuries, and not just ten years. That said, Mother Nature also played a huge part in the Doonbeg design as 14 of its greens and 12 of its fairways needed no other design intervention from Norman than a simple mowing of the grass.

The perfect contrast to the wilds of Doonbeg, however, can be found inland at Adare Manor, a parkland course dominated by the striking Desmond Castle and the ruins of the ancient Franciscan friary. Set on the banks of the River Maigue, this 5-star resort boasts a 7,453-yard championship course (designed by no less a legend than Robert Trent Jones Senior) set amid mature woodland and with a 14-acre lake dominating the front nine holes. As a venue for the Irish Open in 2007 and 2008, it’s not only established itself as a Tour standard venue but it’s also won plaudits right across the game. Golf Digest magazine, for example, voted it as the Best Parkland Course in Ireland. High, and thoroughly deserving, praise indeed.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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