Kevin Markham looks at the best that Limerick's golf courses have to offer
1. Adare Manor (the old parkland), par four 7th, 400/383/298 (Ladies) yards
Adare Manor may seem like a straightforward parkland but there is quality in here and the 7th and 17th (below) emphasise that in spades. The 7th plays from a tee on a ridge above the fairway. It offers a lovely look down the hole as dark and dramatic trees shepherd the fairway around a gentle dogleg to the left. For those with a draw, it is a hole to let loose on… for everyone else, it’s a matter of finding the left side of the fairway. Venture too far right and a towering stand of cedars may block your approach.
There’s nothing too complicated to the approach, but it is a sweet shot to watch your ball split the trees on either side.
2. Adare (resort course), par four 2nd, 398/343/320 (Ladies) yards
A little early for the course’s best hole but as good as holes 13 and 16 are, the 2nd has the shape and the look of something truly special. Comparisons to Augusta have been made about Adare and the 2nd certainly supports that debate. You drive over a stream that meanders low along the left while the trees give it an almost stadium-like quality.
The pin and green are visible but you have to play out to the right to set up the best approach. That’s where the bunkers come in: there are just two… one perfectly positioned on the right of the fairway, the other tucked into the front left corner of the green. The 1st green was generous… this one not so much.
3. Ballyneety, par four 5th, 409/392/337 (Ladies) metres
Distant views greet you on the tee, but not a lot more. The fairway vanishes up ahead, tumbling down a steep, steep slope that you do not want to find your ball on. In a month of Sundays you might reach the bottom of the slope, allowing you to brag about a 330-metre drive, but if you are held up in the rough, then the approach shot becomes lethal to a green well below you and smartly protected.
Your safest option is to play for the top of the hill — some 200 metres — and leave a big towering approach that rises and falls another 200 metres against that bucolic backdrop.
4. Adare, par three 6th, 183/155/91 (Ladies) yards
The hole has certainly changed from its predecessor in terms of intrigue and challenge. The green is cupped on three sides by the lake and the steep fall-offs from the putting surface are all highly punitive as they drop into the water. The green may be big but it is still a precision shot, both to hold the surface and be close enough for a comfortable two-putt.
The middle front bunker complicates things hugely. This is all visible from the high tee which ramps up the excitement… as well as the nerves for off-line tee shots.
5. Adare, par five 9th, 568/535/446 (Ladies) yards
The par five 9th deserves a special place in this conversation because not only is it the only hole to contain a blind shot, and not only does it streak straight towards the magnificent manor, it is also the first of Adare’s greens that you encounter when you arrive… and what a terrifying sight it is. You’ll not be able to miss the ferocious fall-offs around the green as you stroll down to the Starter’s Hut (and halfway house). From the tee the hole cavorts over undulating terrain with bunkers threatening constantly, especially on your second shot.
Even so, the 9th feels so open (the fairway is up to 85 yards wide) and generous that you’ll think it’s easy. It is Index 7 and, like so many of the greens here, it is very tricky to get close to the pin. Do not go long.
6. Limerick, par four 15th, 280/262/259 (Ladies) yards
The 15th and 17th (see below) run almost side by side and yet they are opposites. The 15th rises and doglegs left around a lone tree almost in front of the tee box. It scores well on the quirky scale for that as you are forced right, towards a right-hand fairway bunker. But look at the hole length and you will appreciate that this is not about distance off the tee… not unless you brashly try to reach the green. This is about positioning to access the green above you… and the bunkers flanking the fairway are surprisingly tight together.
A mid iron off the tee keeps the bunkers out of range. Then it’s a full shot into a false-fronted green with greenside bunkers well placed to add to the confusion.
7. Castletroy, par five 16th, 465/455/370 (Ladies) metres
The tee shot is all about position on what is a relatively short par five. In fairness, it’s not the most interesting drive as you’re simply negotiating the trees and trying to stay on the right. Bigger hitters who can produce a draw will have the greatest advantage. Then the fun begins. There are bunkers to be considered on the second shot with the first of these a small one dead centre of the fairway, 80 metres short of the green, with another one 30 metres beyond that.
The sensible option is to lay up at the 100 metre marker so you have a full shot into one of Castletroy’s trickiest greens. It is the highlight of the hole. Well shaped, wide but shallow and protected by four bunkers (two front, two back), it also sits on a ledge above those front bunkers… which makes it an even more tantalising shot.
8. Newcastle West, par four 13th, 325/309/240 (Ladies) yards
Coasting along the bottom of the course the 13th is a sweet, isolated hole that looks delicious from the tee. This is real country parkland and the trees that embrace it, as well as the wildness beyond, add to the setting. Along the left, the out of bounds stakes stand on ridges while the ditch in front bears numerous red stakes.
The green is mostly flat… emphasising the relaxed simplicity of the hole. It’s Index 17 (18 for Ladies) so go hunt a birdie.
9. Castletroy, par three 14th, 185/172/156 (Ladies) metres
If you’ve followed any of the other ‘Best 18 holes’ written in these pages you’ll know that downhill par threes always score highly with me. Castletroy’s 14th is a peach but not just for its elevation changes. Water surrounds the green in a horse-shoe shape, with only the front entrance unaffected. The woods beyond the green add beauty and menace, even if they don’t come into play, but most menacing of all are the red stakes surrounding the putting surface.
You either go for the green with a brave, confident shot or you lay up short… that’s not something many of us want to do on a par three but it is a long hole. Hope the pin is not at the back.
10. Newcastle West, par four 11th, 386/376/320 (Ladies) yards
A drive downhill with sycamore and ash pressing in tightly on the left. That’ll give faders of the ball a worrying moment or two… but it does mean that the pond waiting on the left, at the bottom, is less of a concern! If you draw the ball, look out. When you reach the flat, the fairway moves around the pond in a gentle curve so that the green is almost completely fronted by water.
You can play to the right and be safe or go for glory over the water. This is Index 3 which indicates your chances of success if you take the latter route.
11. Adare, par four 13th, 403/375/324 (Ladies) yards
What was formerly the best hole on the course remains a beauty. Little has changed on a dogleg buried in beautiful trees, where a towering cedar stands like a spire on the right. The drive fires at a crest where a bunker awaits on the right hand side. The hole then pivots to the right and downhill, again through dense trees.
This is Index 2 so only a perfect drive will reveal the stunning sight of the green below… and this new green is something to behold. It is cocooned by trees and extremely difficult to find and hold. Never mind the bunker in the front, it’s the wicked slopes off the back that are most daunting. The simplest solution is to play to the front right of the green where there’s plenty of room for error.
12. Castletroy, par four 18th, 394/384/369 (Ladies) metres
The Index 1 for men (par five for ladies) is almost too cruel a way to finish. You’ll be that little bit tired and yet Castletroy demands your best drive of the day as you play into what feels like a chute of trees. One fairway bunker hugs the right side at the 200 metre mark and it is a serious threat as the fairway narrows here.
The approach is no easier as trees squeeze in on both sides and two bunkers protect the front of an elevated green. Depending on how your score card is looking this is a hole to be played with considerable caution.
13. Adare, par three 16th, 155/129/102 (Ladies) yards
The card might read 155 yards but there’s a much bigger story here. The hole is a beauty with the wide green perched above a stone wall that drops straight into a lake. Behind the green a line of copper beech trees prove a colourful backdrop… but there’s so much more to this hole now. The run-offs behind the green are lethal and so slick that any shot played back onto the putting surface can slip over the other side and into the lake. That’s not something you’ll want to consider but it is a very real possibility.
The icing on the cake is the green itself: a flag on the front left makes the hole roughly 120 yards long; but positioned back right that increases to 180… and the water stretches the whole way.
14. Limerick, par four 17th, 339/307/296 (Ladies) yards
This par four plays from a high tee down to a narrow fairway which doglegs late and right, around a nest of trees. At its narrowest it is 20 yards wide and stray too far off either side and you’re into the trees or the lone bunker on the left.
Little wonder then that this is Index 6. It requires a precision tee shot of around 180 metres, favouring the left side. This then presents the easiest approach. The green has lots of shape and this is embellished by the mounding around it, which is home to three bunkers. Given the variety of pin positions available and the slopes on the green, the two small bunkers on the right are not the place to be.
15. Ballyneety, par four 7th, 266/256/199 (Ladies) metres
The quirkiest hole on this list, the 7th rises quickly around a rocky outcrop to a hidden green. It’s the sort of fun hole that makes you think and adds hugely to the entertainment of playing Ballyneety. You need to play a smart tee shot (180-200 metres) to the fairway that’s visible because this is not a long hole and positioning is essential if you’re to have a straightforward approach to the hidden three-tiered green above you. Stray too far to the right and you’ll be out-of-bounds over an old stone wall.
The final important note is the green… you’ll want to be below the hole because of those tiers. A decent tee shot should negate the bunker on either side of the green… they’re far more likely to catch the gung-ho drivers who go for the green in one. Uphill, blind, 260 metres… I don’t think so!
16. Adare, par four 15th, 277/258/234 (Ladies) yards
The shortest par four on this magnificent new course by some margin and yet it is a terror.
The River Maigue runs all along the right, to the green and beyond, and it almost intrudes into the fairway it gets so close. You can favour the left — as most will do — but a couple of trees and an elaborate bunker put a premium on placement. The ideal shot is 180 yards, which will finish short of the bunker, leaving a 100-yard shot to a raised green… with those ever-present fall-offs and a bunker on the left. It is not an easy shot and no matter where the pin is, the sensible play is to go for the front of the green.
17. Adare Manor, par four 17th, 284/271/260 (Ladies) yards
The par three 14th is the novelty hole here, playing into a green with the old abbey ruins right behind, but the 17th also brings the abbey into play and it is a much more entertaining hole. This short par four plays slightly up a slope to a gentle ridge.
Your aim is to be just short of this so you can see the green on the other side… but you can go for it if you want. The danger in that instance is the bunker beyond the ridge which is well placed in the fairway. And for those who stray to the left, the abbey awaits. The small green sits in a sweet nest of trees and old stone walls and, again, offers an enticing approach shot. It will be even more dramatic if you find yourself in the ruins.
18. Adare, par five 18th, 525/452/408 (Ladies) yards
What used to be one of Ireland’s great finishing holes is now even better. Tom Fazio removed a dark line of trees that blocked the approach to the green on the manor-side of the River Maigue. By doing so he has created more options for the golfer playing the 18th. Your drive is the same, playing parallel to the river, but the green on the other side has been changed completely and is far more visible. It is now feasible to cross the water on your second shot, laying up 50 yards short of the green on what is, essentially, the fringe.
It’s still a difficult shot to execute but your reward is an approach straight up the green. From the other side of the water, the approach shot has less room to play with, more severe fall-offs and another vexing green. But the green setting alone is utterly majestic.
- The Adare resort course is actually called ‘The Golf Course at Adare Manor’. Measurements are as all the clubs provide them.
- Kevin Markham is the author of Hooked, An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland. By Collins Press.