IRELAND: Fairways and Castles on the Emerald Isle
Golf and castles on the Emerald Isle
it’s well known that Ireland is a golfer’s dream. Some yearn to stroll the legendary “Royal” fairways: Royal Portrush, Royal County Down and Royal Belfast, Ireland’s oldest course. Competitive types long to test their mettle on the championship holes of Ballybunion, Portmarnock or the K-club, host of the 2006 Ryder Cup, or Killeen, host of the 2011 Solheim Cup. As an avid golfer who admittedly enjoys luxurious surrounds and culinary delights, I yearned for an escapade that would mingle the game with indulgence in some of Ireland’s castle hotels. Living like royalty came easy at three, fivestar favourites: Dromoland Castle, Ashford Castle and Adare Manor & Golf Resort. For all their venerable stature, each features signature restaurants renowned for superb cuisine, a challenging parkland course, plus myriad activities that include full service spas, equestrian and archery training, falconry, skeet shooting, and fishing and fly-fishing with local ghillies or guides.
The first glimpse of Dromoland Castle takes your breath away. The epitome of fairytale enchantment, the 16th century Renaissance structure—the ancestral home of the O’brien family that once ruled southern Ireland—holds court over a 410-acre estate in County Clare. Dromoland Golf Course has hosted international Heads of State as well the globe’s great golfers. The 18-hole, 6,824-yard parkland course is a scenic splendour. Originally designed by U.S. golf architect Brook L. Wigginton, and recently redesigned by Ron Kirby and Ireland’s J.B. Carr, it meanders through rolling hills and woods thick with ancient trees, alongside lakes and across rocky streams. Teeing off from the lofty plateau at the signature 7th demands a target shot to a tiny green protected by water and a shamrock-shaped bunker. The 9th lures long hitters with a 280-yard carry to the green. Never mind if your shot goes astray: Guinness waits in the bar. Set on an exquisite
350-acre estate overlooking the blue waters of Lough Corrib in County Mayo, Ashford Castle may be Ireland’s oldest—circa 1228—but it has the newest appeal, having just reopened in May 2015 after an extensive, two-year renovation that included revamped rooms, a new spa and indoor swimming pool. Romantic from its stony exterior to lavish interiors, Ashford has for centuries attracted celebrities: Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness was a past owner; Pierce Brosnan was married here; and most famed American and Irish golf greats have played here. At 9 holes, the 2,896-yard course is considered an Irish gem. The 391yard par-four 3rd is named “Watson’s Way” honouring Tom Watson. The 384-yard-par-four 5th—which has views of 365 islands—was the site of a scene in John Wayne’s movie, The Quiet Man. Nine holes allows plenty of time for tasting Whiskey or traditional English tea.
As you approach the gates of Adare Manor & Golf Resort, the thatched houses of Adare Village in County Limerick evoke images of ancient Ireland. Gracing an 840-acre estate alongside the River Maigue, 18th century Adare was the ancestral home of the Earls of Dunraven, an architectural masterpiece of turrets and towers with 52 chimneys and 365 stained glass windows. Set amid undulating terrain crossed by the rambling river, Adare’s 18-hole, 7,453-yard golf course ranks among Ireland’s top inland courses. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., it has hosted numerous championship tournaments, including the Irish Open. The 18th is often called “the best finishing hole in golf.” Par it or not, playing here is a treat, and bragging rights come with the castle turf.
It’s best to book tee times in advance.
www.dromoland.ie; www.ashfordcastle.com; www.adaremanor.com/en/; www.ireland.com