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By Guy Proddow of Golfbreaks.com
Scotland and Ireland are often mentioned when it comes to bucket list golf and ultimate golf vacations. The first thing to note is that as golf destinations they are worthy of those labels, and the second thing is that these countries are easy to travel to, so trips here should not be considered as “once in a lifetime.”
But when it comes to which is best, that’s open to debate. When asked that question, we turned to golfbreaks.com which then turned to the local experts and asked them why their country should be crowned with the “Best Trip” title.
To this end, in the Blue Corner, representing Scotland, we have Kieran Clark, Scottish golf journalist, and self-proclaimed golfing nut. And in the Green Corner, we have Kevin Markham, author of ‘Driving The Green’, and a man who has played every course in Ireland!
We set them the task to describe their best ever seven days, seven round golf vacation and to tell the world why we should all jump on a plane to experience it.
First up, Kieran describes his love of… you guessed it, St Andrews…
It would be difficult to find a more fulfilling golfing destination than St Andrews. The town is synonymous with the game, as its spiritual home, and features some of Scotland’s finest links courses on its doorstep.
Throw in an unmatched level of vibrancy that comes from the number of tourists and students at the historic University, more pubs per square feet than anywhere else in the UK, its location amid the spectacular surroundings of beaches and medieval architecture, and you have something approaching perfection for your average, fun-loving golfer.
First, Pay Homage to the Old Course
Naturally, playing the legendary Old Course is a must for anyone visiting the Auld Grey Toon. Host of 29 Open Championships, all of the greats have played here; the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Bobby Jones have all claimed the Claret Jug on the timeless layout. With palpable levels of history and numerous iconic images around you, playing the Old Lady can be overwhelming for some, but it is an unforgettable experience for anyone with an appreciation of the game’s past and its purest form.
Toasting your round afterward in the Jigger Inn or Dunvegan Hotel is the perfect conclusion to a day on one of the game’s truly bucket-list courses.
Choices Abound at the Auld Grey Toon
There are seven courses under the St. Andrews Links umbrella – with the next best of them being the New, which is adjacent to its older sister. This is a more conventional course than the Old, but it remains a classic links challenge in the iconic surroundings of the Home of Golf and is a perfect companion piece to its more famous neighbor. The same can be said for the Jubilee and Eden Courses, both of which have their own understated charm. While the most recently added Castle Course, which is situated just outside the town, boasts some imaginative and thrilling holes.
Take on the Young Pretender and Old Master
St Andrews is also ideally positioned as a base for playing other courses, not least nearby Kingsbarns, which is only eight miles away. Opened for play in 2000 and part of the annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour, this modern layout is visually spectacular and tremendously fun to play. On a clear afternoon, you can often see across the North Sea to the small town of Carnoustie and its fearsome and tantalizingly challenging Championship Course that has tested the game’s best players for decades.
Visit the Giants in Lothians and Perthshire
Further afield, and all within just two hours of St Andrews, are the likes of Gleneagles in Perthshire, whose stunning King’s Course is one of the best inland tracks in Scotland, and the delights of East Lothian, which features the iconic links of Muirfield, Gullane and North Berwick within a short stretch of beautiful coastline.
St Andrews Has It All… Who Can Argue?
Ultimately, St Andrews is not only the best-golfing town on the planet, with great courses and an atmospheric nightlife, but it is also an ideal base to sample many of the other great attractions that continue to draw tens of thousands of golfers from across the globe each year.
Scotland’s Best Ever Trip – Here’s the line-up:
Sounds good right? But now it is Kevin’s turn to hit back at the Home of Golf as he pulls out Ireland’s golfing heavyweights and recommends a trip to the South West of the Emerald Isle.
Ireland’s South West is renowned for its string of links courses which stretch along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It starts with the Alister MacKenzie classic, Lahinch, to the north, and embraces Doonbeg, Ballybunion, Tralee, Dooks and the idyllic Waterville, on the Ring of Kerry to the south. On Ireland’s southern coastline lies the immaculate Old Head Golf Links, peering down on the ocean from 300-foot cliffs on a peninsula which resembles a diamond earring in shape.
Top 10 Ocean Courses…and HUGE dunes!
When it comes to drama and beauty, this region is astounding. Three of these courses make Golf Channel’s Top 10 Ocean Courses in the world (Tralee, Ballybunion, and Old Head), while the entire stretch of coastline from Clare to Cork forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
In a face-off between Scotland and Ireland for the ‘best golf trip ever,’ there are two other important considerations: the size of the Irish dunes and the all-encompassing, never-ending, heartwarmingly famous craic. There is no welcome quite like an Irish welcome.
The Culture, the Hospitality…and the Craic!
And there’s no better place to start than Killarney, one of Ireland’s most colorful and vibrant towns. Packed with restaurants, bars, and hotels, Killarney is surrounded by the 26,000-acre Killarney National Park, the 19th century Muckross House, and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks.
Golfers can ease themselves in at Killarney Golf Club, where the Irish Open was held in 2010-’11. Set on Lough Leane, with mountains filling the horizon, this is idyllic parkland golf that’s in good company by the club’s two other tracks.
Big Vistas and Iconic Links
The real action begins with Waterville, Dooks, and Tralee; three links courses that boast the most spectacular scenery in Ireland. Bays, peninsulas, mountains, and ocean all make these inspiring golf experiences, but playing them is even better. Waterville has the most elegant and rhythmic of dune systems and it is a course which builds and builds, with the closing three holes streaking above the ocean.
Dooks is shorter but packed with character. It is famous for its Natterjack toad and colorful flora, but the course takes center stage. Tralee was designed by Arnold Palmer and/or God – or so said Palmer of the majestic back nine with many of the most impressive holes in the country.
And Then There’s Ballybunion…
Little needs to be said about Ballybunion, a links which rose to prominence thanks to Tom Watson’s visit in the 1980s. It is another course of muscular dunes and outstanding green settings. And its sibling, the Cashen, boasts even bigger dunes; it’s a charismatic links that adds the extra challenge of some target- golf greens thanks to the design of Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Ninety minutes away, Old Head lures golfers to play luxurious clifftop golf. It doesn’t get more thrilling than this, with nine of its holes literally clinging to the cliffs’ edge.
The all-round golfing package…
Ireland’s South West promises a majestic golf experience with the ‘Irish’ extras to make a visit truly unforgettable.
Ireland’s Best Ever Trip – Here’s the line-up:
When it comes to the golf, the history of the game and the sheer feeling of the occasion when you step out on the first tee, it would be hard to beat St Andrews as the ultimate golf trip destination.
However, when you take in the overall golf experience, a trip to South West Ireland could just edge it. From the iconic links to the breath-taking landscapes, not to mention the hospitality and the craic, not many golf destinations in the world can compete with Killarney and its accompanying greats.
OK, so we have sat on the fence slightly, but it’s genuinely hard to recommend one over the other. The only way is for you to draw your own conclusions – and that starts with a trip to the British Isles!
Republished with permission from Golfbreaks.com