Value golf a matter of course
Whether planning a golfing break at home or abroad, there are many attractive venues and deals to tempt the discerning golfer
Enniscrone Golf Club
Lykia Links golf course in Turkey
Doonbeg Golf Club
Play At Home
Has there ever been a better time to stay at home and sample Irish golf? With the vast majority of green fees reduced since the economic downturn, many of them drastically so, and a lot of courses offering online deals and discounted green fees to card-carrying GUI/ILGU golf club members, the opportunity is there to go exploring and indeed to play some of the world’s very top links. A great way to do this is to avail of the special classics and challenges, many of them team events, which take place in virtually every corner of the island from spring until autumn. This is a way to play some of Ireland’s very best courses in a fun way but also with a card in hand and at good value. And, as John Farren of Ballyliffin points out, with an eye on the Dublin market, “We’re not as far away as people seem to think. I can be in Dublin in three hours!” The message is clear.
Here’s a sample of what is on offer the length and breadth of the land . . .
Dunmore East Spring Golf Classic
27th April to 1st May
Now in its 22nd year, the Dunmore East Golf Classic - which is based in Dunmore East but also includes Waterford, Tramore, Waterford Castle and Faithlegg - is one of the longest running and most successful classics of its kind.
The cost of €399 includes five nights accommodation, four rounds of golf and four dinners and combines a four-person team event with a single stableford competition on each course each day. In addition, there is a prize for the best men’s and best women’s performance in the overall classic.
The team event is run on a stableford points system with the best three cards per team carried forward each day with the best total over the four days of competition determining the winners along with prizes for best overseas, best Irish, mixed, gents and ladies team prizes.
The Great Irish Links Challenge
12th May to 14th May
Now in its fourth year, the Great Irish Links Challenge has quickly found its feet. Attracting competitors from home and abroad – American football legend Dan Marino featured on the winning team last year – it takes in the great links courses of Lahinch, Doonbeg and Ballybunion with golfers alternating between the three venues.
Speaking about the event, Doonbeg general manager, Joe Russell, said the idea had been triggered off by a survey in Golf World magazine which put the three links among the top 100 in the world.
“We were all delighted to see nine Irish links courses feature. Obviously with the three of us being so close together there is an excellent opportunity to create a promotion such as this,” said Russell.
Vari McGreevey, general manager of Ballybunion, said: “There is a real desire to play Irish links courses. This initiative affords players the opportunity to play three of the best in a memorable way.”
The team event is run on the stableford points system with the best three cards per team to carry forward each day with the best total over the four days determining the winners along with best overseas, Irish, mixed, men’s and women’s team prizes.
Causeway Coast Challenge
2nd June to 6th June
The original golf classic, and now in its 47th year, the Causeway Coast Challenge – which is men only and confined to players with an official handicap of 20 or under – is played over the Valley course at Royal Portrush, Ballycastle, Castlerock and Ballyliffin Old.
The main competition is run on the stableford system, although a subsidiary competition is also run on each course with separate trophies and prizes for the best scores returned.
The cost of entry varies, with host club members given a priority rate (£80), Irish residents a fee of £150 and overseas visitors coasting £200 which includes all green fees (and the chance for non-Northern Ireland residents to play practice rounds on three of the courses if desired) which adds greatly to the value-for-money factor.
Atlantic Coast Challenge
7th July to 9th July
The prize fund of €2,500 is almost secondary considering the sheer quality of the courses involved: Carne, Enniscrone and Rosses Point are the three world-class links courses on the day-to-day roster for the Atlantic Coast Challenge which is now in its fourth year. The cost is €139 (reduced rate of €70 for host club members) which makes this three-day classic an appealing proposition.
West Coast Challenge
1st September to 4th September
The West Coast Challenge – now in its 28th year is a three-person team event played over four links courses in Co Sligo and Co Donegal, with the courses at Bundoran, Murvagh, Strandhill and Enniscrone providing the challenge on some of the finest links terrain.
Based in Bundoran, the competition is run under GUI rules although the organising committee reserves the right to revise any player’s handicap during the tournament. The entrance fee is €130/£115 with each competitor playing 18 holes over each of the four courses on successive days. Competitors play in three-balls and, apart from the overall team and individual prizes, there will also be daily competition prizes.
Entries will be accepted from golfers who are members of affiliated clubs and they must have an official club handicap.
Carlow Tourism Classic
8th September to 10th September
For those who prefer the parkland option, the Carlow Classic – which takes in the fine courses at Mount Wolseley, Carlow and Bunclody – is a four-player team event which has hit the ground running and firmly established itself on the classic calendar. The cost of entry (from €149) includes golf, meals and a gala dinner and offers up to €7,000 in prizes.
There is a strong constituency in the golfing fraternity who require their sun fix, a break away and, as Paul Curran of Killester Travel – www.theflyinggolfer.com – reminds us, the traditional destinations of Spain and Portugal remain at the top of the hit list for those who want to get away.
“There’s no doubt about it, the Old Course at Villamoura in the Algarve is still very popular . . . it gets a lot of return traffic and the Costa del Sol in Spain remains as popular as ever. However, we’re also developing new markets in Spain and places like PGA Catalunya (near Barcelona) have grown in popularity,” said Curran.
Indeed, one aspect that continues to be extremely popular, according to Curran, is the escorted group with the annual GAA Hall of Fame trip (which is open to all) a consistent winner with travellers. This year’s trip takes place at the Seve Ballesteros-designed Novo Sancti Petri in Spain, from 30th September for one week with flights from Cork and Dublin to Malaga.
Ross Melody, of SkyToursGolf, points out that there is an ever greater choice in Portugal with the development of courses in the Lisbon area to complement the traditional destinations in the Algarve while they have also introduced Turkey – where most packages come with an all-inclusive hotel – on to their hit list.
Faro is a busy airport for Irish golfers seeking the sun, offering a gateway to traditional favourites Villamoura, Penina, Quinta do Lago and the new Oceanico development – where there are the Christy O’Connor Jnr and Nick Faldo-designed courses – and all within striking distance of each other.
One of the new kids on the block, as far as golf is concerned, is the Belek region of Turkey. Getting to southern Turkey is now very accessible for Irish golfers, with the award-winning Turkish Airlines – voted the European ‘airline of the year’ for the past three successive years and which numbers sporting superstars like Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi among its global brand ambassadors – operating 12 flights weekly from Dublin to Istanbul, where a seamless connection to Antalya takes place. Turkish Airlines allow free transportation of golf clubs in addition to 30 kilos of luggage.
The journey is worth making, with one word – quality – a common factor for the consumer, from the flights to hotels to the golf courses. In a few short years, this region has marked itself out as one of the finest golfing destinations.
“It’s exciting for me as a player to have seen certain countries develop and get involved in the game of golf, Turkey being one of them,” admitted world number one Tiger Woods in assessing the giant steps taken to develop golf in the country.
The Scandinavians and the Germans discovered Turkey as a golfing destination before us but the quality and value on offer in Belek and Antalya and should appeal greatly to Irish golfers. The best way to travel is part of a package tour, with access to the top courses and many hotels offering all-in deals to include food and drink. Sky Tours – www.skytoursgolf.com/turkey – have a first class reputation and work with the award-winning Millennium Golf, the leading specialist for golf in Turkey, in arranging tee-times.
Interestingly, there is an Irish element to some of the golf course designs with former European Tour professionals David Jones and David Feherty, who has become one of the most respected golf commentators in the United States, bringing their architectural eye to a number of the courses in the region.
The fact of the matter is that golfers wanting to get away can go literally anywhere, with the United States – Myrtle Beach and Florida remain especially popular – and, for those who don’t mind the extra air miles, Dubai, Malaysia and Thailand also on the golfing itinerary for those with an adventurous mindset.