Playing the best golf courses in southwest Ireland with a group of friends was a blast.

Here is our story about how we got to playing the best golf courses in southwest Ireland:

While living in Oklahoma, we enjoyed being members of Belmar Golf Club. In addition to a great golf course maintained in immaculate condition 365 days a year, we had a great group of members who enjoyed a lot of time playing and partying together. The club is a links-style track on the OKC/Moore/ Norman border owned and managed by Toby Keith and his wife, Trish Covel.  The idea of playing the best golf courses in southwest Ireland never entered our minds.

Until, one of our members, Bob, a PGA professional and rules official, pulled together a golf trip to Ireland for 12 couples to play best golf courses in southwest Ireland. We immediately signed up for the August 8-day trip to play 6 of the best courses in southwest Ireland. Ahead of the trip, we all read up on what to expect from the experience. One common thread spoke to the probability of rain almost every day, so nearly everyone in the group purchased all kinds of rain gear, including rain gloves, bucket hats, rain pants, and many towels.

The Trip

We knew there would be challenges for such a big group, and, as it turned out, we experienced some of them starting Day #1 with our flight on United Airlines from OKC through Chicago to Shannon. Our first flight was on a regional jet, and the ground crew needed help with the weight and balance of a full flight and 24 sets of golf clubs. Unfortunately, that “struggle” lasted hours, causing us to miss our non-stop flight from Chicago to Shannon, Ireland.  Our trip to best golf courses in southwest Ireland was in jeopardy.

That created a big problem as United didn’t have 24 seats on any flights from Chicago to Ireland. After hours of rebooking and gathering our luggage, one group was flown to Charlotte and another to Philadelphia. Both would eventually fly through London to Shannon a day and a half later. All but four sets of golf clubs were “lost,” along with many pieces of luggage. As our flight to London didn’t have a late connection to Shannon that night, we were Put up in a modest hotel in London for a night with hopes that we’d get to Shannon and, ultimately, Killarney early enough to get in a round of golf at Killarney Country Club. After a flight, bus ride, and fewer bags and clubs, we made it to the golf course mid-afternoon.

Overlooking the lake at the Killarney Golf Club - cloudy but no rain.

Killarney

The Killarney Golf and Fishing Club have two courses considered parkland courses.

Founded in 1893, one of Ireland’s most prestigious golf clubs, a four-time host of the Men’s Irish Open and two-time host of the Ladies Irish Open.

Rental clubs were procured, and we split into six foursomes, enjoying a very well-maintained and challenging course.

Most of us had dinner together at the Killarney Lodge, enjoying a hearty fare with plenty of libations. Many of us hit the sack early that night, hoping to beat the jet lag with a good night’s sleep.

Waterville Golf CourseWaterville

We had bus rides every morning for the rest of the trip to courses dotting the west Ireland coast. Our first course was Waterville.  It’s ranked #6 in Ireland’s top 100-course list, definitely one best golf courses in southwest Ireland.  It was our first encounter with big rolling greens and undulating terrain. The course was long, fast, and very challenging. I quickly learned that my putter would replace many chips and pitches. From as far as twenty yards from many of the greens, the smart play was a running chip or a briskly hit putter. As was the case throughout the trip, bunkers were to be avoided at all costs because they were more like caverns than sand traps!

Tralee

Marilyn getting ready to hit off the tee on a scary par 3. No place to go but the green.

The next day we traveled to Tralee, a phenomenal course ranked #16. It’s an Arnold Palmer design, and as he put it, “I have never come across a piece of land so ideally suited for the building of a golf course” That says it all. And you better bring your best game.

Old Head was definitely one of our votes for best golf courses in southwest Ireland

Amazing view of the cliffs at Old Head

Our next bus ride took us to Old Head, Kinsale, occupying the westernmost geography on Ireland’s coast. Today it’s famous for spectacular vistas and a breathtaking golf experience, but on the 7th of May in 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk just 11 miles from Kinsale.

It’s ranked #17 as an Ireland golf course, but I’d rate it #1 from a visual perspective. We’ve played some great courses, including Pebble Beach, Harbor Town on Hilton Head Island, and Manele on the island of Lanai; I’d put Old Head ahead of each from a purely visual perspective.

The weather was warm (70 degrees +/-), and the winds were light. So far, we haven’t experienced a drop in rain during our first four days in Ireland! However, we were fortunate because another group from the hotel played the course the day after we did, and they experienced 30-50 mph winds with horizontal rain.

Dingle

The ladies putting out

The next day we took a jaunt to the County Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. The Dingle Golf Links was likely our least prestigious course, but it was still ranked #50 in Ireland’s top 100.

Some of the group skipped golf that day to explore the charming town, but we played a solid golf course with incredible vistas and challenging holes. Once again, putting from long distances was the “order of the day.”

Ballybunion

Our last course was Ballybunion which is a very old historical course.

“If sheer pleasure is the yardstick, then Ballybunion’s Old Course gets my vote as the No. 1 in the world.”  So said Peter Dobereiner, the famous English golf writer.

Ballybunion was a treat from start to finish. The first tee is iconic as slicers face a several hundred-year-old cemetery on the right, and it just gets better from there. For a serious golfer, it’s a can’t miss experience.

 Ireland takeaways:

The Landscape:

The southwestern Irish landscape was magical, featuring lush, rolling hills of knee-high green grass, jagged cliffs battered over eons by the Atlantic Ocean, sheep farms featured throughout the area, and so much more.  Our bus rides allowed us to travel through this beautiful land and see the small towns and farms along the way.

Irish Food:

Bob enjoying a seafood dinnerThe food was delicious; quite frankly much better than we expected. Unfortunately, we needed more time to explore the charming towns and countryside because our bus rides plus 4-5 hours at each golf course left us little time to travel to more towns for dinners. However, we did dine at some greatl restaurants in Killarney and others close to town featuring Dover Sole, tradition Irish Pups with music and other wonderful meals.  The fresh seafood was in plenty of supply and we never hesitated to dig in.  The high quality of the food was not expected but much appreciated.  We will plan to incorporate much more Irish charm and food into our trip when we head back.

In the End

The weather was perfect, but we were fortunate as the statistics show rain falling more than 50% of the time.

Our trip back was much smoother than the trip over, and we returned to sunny, hot, and dry OKC. United Airlines took responsibility for the missed flights on the front end, refunding the lion’s share of our roundtrip tickets.

Whether a golfer or not, Ireland is a must-see.