: Scotland or Ireland? Which is the better golf destination? That’s a bit like being asked to choose your favourite son. Both offer superlative golf. The difference is the craic (Irish jargon for good times) on the 19th hole and the unparalleled Irish hospitality. Sure and begorrah, you’ll have more fun in Ireland.
Not that the Irish don’t take their game seriously; they just have more of a lark doing it than the dour Scots. Whether teeing off at one of the greatest links courses in the world or at some unknown gem, you’ll be welcomed and teased like an old friend. Nothing takes the kinks out of a backswing like being relaxed.
Let’s start with the lure of the links—the main reason we golf addicts cross the Atlantic. There are about 160 genuine links courses in the world and almost one third of them are on the Emerald Isle. How’s that for the luck of the Irish?
An ode to Irish golf wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the wild west coast where Lahinch, Ballybunion and Tralee will knock your socks off. Lahinch is an eccentric hoot with enticing blind holes, the narrowest fairway in Europe and resident goats that predict the weather (not that it ever rains in Ireland; it’s just an Irish mist). At Ballybunion you might be spooked by the strange Vision of Killsaheen—a blurry mirage of a woman on a bridge stretching across the sea. Tralee’s back nine will definitely scare the bejesus out of you. Every green is protected by a yawning chasm and located on the side of a cliff. All this local colour makes for great craic over a Guinness or two.
Nearby, Doonbeg, the newest kid on the block, is Greg Norman’s masterpiece featuring an ebb and flow of memorable holes, most with ocean views. With luck you’ll encounter the “mayor” of Doonbeg in the snug Darby’s pub after your round. Buy him a Guinness and he’ll write you a poem. This is, after all, the land of the Limerick.
Northern Ireland has been described as a 1,000-hole golf course scattered with towns and villages.Royal County Down “where the Mountains of Morne sweep down to the sea” and Royal Portrush’s Dunluce course on the spectacular Causeway Coast are ranked among the world’s top 25 courses. Both welcome visitors; all you need is a handicap certificate.
While you’re on the Causeway Coast, stop in to Bushmills, the world’s oldest licensed distillery, where they’ve been producing the “water of life” since 1608. Take a tour and sip Ireland’s spirited answer to single malts.
Give me a bit more ink and I’ll tempt you with tales of Old Head a cliff-hanging drama queen near Kinsale. Or the impeccable parkland course at Dromoland Castle where you’d swear that; leprechauns manicured the fairways overnight and the breakfast menu includes hair-of-the-dog hangover cures. (I can vouch for the Bloody Mary.)
So pack your clubs and head to the land of 40 shades of green and a zillion welcomes. I’m sorry Scotland, but you simply don’t have what it takes— you’re not Irish. That said, Scotland, I’d be happy to head to your bonnie highlands and dunes and pen an ode to the land where golf was born.