I’m just back from another amazing golf trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland. I’ve traveled around the Emerald Isle for the past 20 some years, playing some of their top courses, and many of their hidden gems.
It’s absolutely my favorite golf destination, not only for the scenic and inspiring courses, wide variety of accommodations from castles and estates to manors and B&Bs, but also for the hospitality of the Irish and the wonderful craic (Gaelic for enjoyable social activity).
Because Ireland has one-third of the links courses in the world, and each is as good or better than the other, my recommendation when planning a trip to Ireland is to choose a region and stay and play the top links and parkland courses in that region.
Southwest Ireland Golf Courses
The Southwest of Ireland has a large array of courses where you can stay and play. Luxury accommodations with golf such as Adare Manor, just south of Limerick, owned by Irish billionaire J.P. McManus will more than impress.
Dromoland Castle, just north of Shannon Airport, also offers luxury accommodations, and you can play its lovely parkland course.
I’ve been visiting Doonbeg since before it first opened in July of 2002, and interviewed course architect Greg Norman. At the course’s opening, Norman and Padraig Harrington played an exhibition match to kick off the festivities.
I adore the links layout, the nearby village of Doonbeg with their welcoming pubs and restaurants, and the scenic coastline. Long-time friends Buddy Darby and Leonard Long (Buddy’s cousin), built the course and resort. In 2014, it became a Trump property and the name changed to Trump International Doonbeg.
Fota Island Resort Golf in Cork and Killarney Golf and Fishing Club are worth the visit.
I have yet to play Hogs Head Golf Course or stay at The Lodge in Waterville, County Kerry, but several golf buddies who have been there give it high praise.
Must-plays in this region also include the stunning Old Head, which jets out two miles on a peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean, and spectacular and well-known Waterville, Tralee, Ballybunion and Lahinch.
Be sure to include a drive to Dingle Golf Club along the Wild Atlantic Way, and to Dooks Golf Club, one of Ireland’s oldest links courses.
West & Northwest Ireland Golf Courses
The West and Northwest of Ireland have also captured my heart. I’ve taped television shows at courses that were once called hidden gems, but now are much more known to American golfers: Ballyliffen, Connemara, Carne Golf Links, Enniscone, County Sligo (also known as Rosses Point) and Narin and Portnoo.
North West Golf Club, which I recently played, is a course I could play every day. It is one of the nine founding members of the Golfing Union of Ireland and its links layout along the shores of Lough Swilly, nestled below the Mouldy Mountains, is compact and manageable to walk.
Beautiful Donegal Golf Club sits on a promontory that extends into the Atlantic Ocean.
Be sure to play Portsalon and Strandhill while you’re in Donegal.
Rosapenna Golf Resort is a great base to stay and play their three courses: Old Tom Morris Links, Sandy Hills Links and their newest Tom Doak design St. Patrick’s Links.
Cruit (pronounced Crutch) Island Golf Club is a nine-hole gem about 40 minutes north of Narin and Portnoo. The setting is second to none. Half the fun is getting to this jewel on the Donegal Coast, as it’s connected to the coast by a short and narrow road. It could be the most memorable round of golf you’ll ever play. And I can assure you that the local members will be quite accommodating.
Heading up to Donegal from Dublin, we stayed and played Slieve Russell Hotel and Country Club, in Cavan. This is a stunning parkland course. We happened to play it on one of the hottest days on record.
Northern Ireland Golf Courses
Northern Ireland offers many breathtaking, more well-known links courses, such as Royal Portrush, host of the 2019 Open Championship, won by Irishman Shane Lowry. Royal Portrush will also host the 2025 Open Championship.
Royal County Down is often ranked No. 1 in the British Isles. I recently played Portstewart and loved every minute of meandering through the towering dunes, with incredible views of the Atlantic.
Further north is magnificent Ballyliffin Glashedy. Ballyliffen has two outstanding links courses: Gashedy Links and Old Links. Both courses have hosted numerous Irish Championships and have magnificent views.
Ardglass is a gem, hugging the rugged coastline, and has the oldest clubhouse in golf, dating back to 1405! I have yet to play Castlerock, Lough Erne or Royal Belfast, but they belong on the list of top courses to play in Northern Ireland.
I recently stayed at the luxurious Galgorm Resort and Spa. Their Thermal Village has the best swimming pool in Ireland, perfect to do laps in and stretch before a round of golf at the Galgorm Castle Course, which has hosted Northern Irish Opens and the ISPS Handa World Invitational (2021, 2022).
East and Southeast Ireland Golf Courses
Golf around Dublin in the East and Southeast of Ireland offers an array of links, parkland courses and resort properties that will satisfy any golfer’s appetite.
Golf enthusiasts can savor a rich variety of links courses in this area including historic Island Golf Club, Royal Dublin, Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links, County Louth and The European Club, built by famous Irish sportswriter and golf course architect Pat Ruddy.
The European Club is one of the most challenging courses in all of Ireland. Many pros visit there to tune up for the Open Championship.
If you’re looking for five-star accommodations in this area, be sure to stay and play at Druid’s Glen Hotel & Golf Resort; the K Club, which hosted the Ryder Cup in 2006, the first time the international event was played in Ireland; and Mount Juliet Estate, which hosted this year’s Irish Open.
Oftentimes, the course right down the road in Ireland or Northern Ireland, without any fanfare, could become your most memorable golf experience. That’s because this “land of saints and scholars,” as it has been nicknamed, enjoys an over-abundance of golf courses and Irish hospitality that will keep you going back, again and again.
Ann Liguori is a trailblazer in sports broadcasting. You can hear her “Talking Golf” show on Sundays, 7–8 a.m., on WFAN-NY, her “Sports Innerview” show on Saturdays, 7–8 a.m. on WLIW 88.3 FM, and her weekly podcasts on SI Golf/Morning Read. For more information on Liguori, visit annliguori.com.
Know an East End golf tourney winner we should write about? Send ideas to [email protected].