Britain is the world’s biggest exporter of golfers heading off abroad to pursue their passion on different shores.
Yet in clubhouses up and down the land you will hear sorry tales of just how expensive it has come to play the game in the traditional hot-spots of Spain and Portugal. Resorts and operators on the continent have been reluctant to drop green fees despite the recession and players are being hit by airlines who are now levying exorbitant charges for the carriage of golf clubs.
A good alternative destination for golfers in our area is Ireland. It may not have the weather but it does offer a cost effective solution and you will have a good time off the course as well as on it.
The Irish economy has been hit so hard in recent years that green fees are now a fraction of what they were even at the very top courses.
An added bonus is that you do not need to fly. A three-hour drive from the Sheffield region takes you to the seaport of Holyhead in Anglesey along motorway and duel carriageway all the way from Manchester.
And while Ireland is by no means a hidden gem for golf – as an industry it is an invaluable business sector which annual draws in €200m into the Irish tourism economy thanks to the 163,000 visitors who golf in Ireland each year – it is easy to find backwaters and courses where rounds take no more than the usual four hours.
I am part of a group of golfers who add weight to those figures – we visit Ireland every year for golf and a great time after we have played. This year our boys’ annual pilgrimage took us to three contrasting courses, each offering quality golf in lovely surroundings.
Golf has been played in the distillery town of Tullamore since 1886 and the current lay out, which is largely a James Braid design is a lovely parkland course running around many majestic mature oak, beech and chestnut trees in the remnants of an old estate, with the Slieve Bloom mountains in the background. It is rated among the top 25 parkland courses in Ireland.
By Irish standards you would describe it as “members course” though visitors are made more than welcome – it only costs around £23 to play during the week.
By contrast the family-run Dunmurray Springs is a new course built on former farmland. Opened in 2005 near the Curragh racecourse it sits comfortably on the side of a hill as if it has been part of the landscape for decades. It is a typical risk-or-reward course where good strategy off the tee is important. It’s varied, interesting, scenic and very well maintained. Once more it is an absolute steal at £23 a round during the week.
Dun Laoghaire is a club with an interesting history. Formed in 1910 in the seaport town just south of Dublin, it took a brave decision to sell its land to a housing developer during the property boom and never looked back. As the economy crashed, the club had its money in the bank and had more than enough to hire well regarded golf course architects Hawtree Ltd to create three loops of nine holes on the foothills of the Wicklow mountains. The new course opened in 2007 and is complemented by one of the most lavishly appointed clubhouse and academy set-ups in Europe.
It should be on anybody’s wish list and despite its more up market cost of about £55 a round it is good value.
* There are more than 400 golf courses in Ireland ranging from magnificent championship links to friendly member clubs.
Irish Ferries sail from Holyhead to Dublin visit Irish Ferries or call 08717 300 400
We stayed at the Tullamore Court Hotel