The best and cheapest way to play top Irish courses

Ireland’s Golf Challenges are reaching a global audience, but also making many of the country’s best courses accessible to those at home, writes Kevin Markham.
The best and cheapest way to play top Irish courses

Many Irish golfers state emphatically that they will never pay over €50 to play a golf course.

Sticking to your principles is admirable but it does mean that dozens of Ireland’s (and the world’s) best courses are beyond your grasp. There are plenty of very good courses which can be played for less than that, but not many exceptional ones. It’s the economic law of supply and demand.

There is, however, one way to play many of our best courses for a fraction of the normal green fee price… and that’s the ‘challenge’.

Indeed, the price to enter some of the challenges can be less than the green fee to play just one of the clubs involved.

There are over a dozen golf challenges around Ireland, and golfers of all abilities can play in them. That’s one of the joys of these three to four-day events. The format is simple: a number of golf clubs come together and run a remarkably friendly yet competitive tournament. If for example, you knew about the Atlantic Coast Challenge, you could play Carne, Co Sligo and Enniscrone for just €129, with a prize fund of €6,000. It’s a fantastic few days away as you play alongside family, friends, or soon-to-be friends.

The Atlantic Coast Challenge is six years old. It is a relative youngster compared to the Causeway Coast Challenge which, in 2017, will celebrate its 50th anniversary as it plays over Castlerock, Ballyliffin, Ballycastle, and Royal Portrush.

Each tournament boasts unique traits but they share one thing in common: they attract golfers from Ireland and across the globe, which boosts local economies and communities. Just ask anyone who has played in the Dunmore East Classic, in Co Waterford, where the entire village of Dunmore East becomes home for some 300 golfers.

Here are five to get you started.

Atlantic Coast Challenge

The challenge has rapidly become one of the most popular challenges, which is little wonder when you consider the quality of the courses… not to mention the size of the dunes. It starts on the first Monday in July and offers three different rotations between Carne, Enniscrone, and County Sligo. Given that a famous Irishman, Eddie Hackett, played a major hand in designing the first two on the list, and the esteemed Harry Colt designed the third (in the early 1900s), these are world renowned links.

Stretching from the isolated beauty of Belmullet to Yeats Country in Co. Sligo, this is a land of unheralded golf courses and sparkling hospitality… which may explain why it attracts golfers from France, UK, USA, and China.

  • Cost: €129-€139. Prize fund: €6,000. For more details: +353 97 82292, or email info@carnegolflinks.com 

Causeway Coast Challenge

A trip to our island’s most northern stretch of golf courses promises a four day — even eight-day — golfing extravaganza, mixing wonderful links golf with a stunning coastline of cliffs, castles, and remarkable stones. From Ballyliffin on the Inishowen Peninsula to Castlerock, Royal Portrush (Valley), and Ballycastle, overlooking the Glens of Antrim and distant Scottish mountains, the golf matches the beauty of the region.

All links, these four courses couldn’t be more different and for those travelling from outside Northern Ireland, the price also includes four practice rounds… should you be in the mood. The tournament takes place at the start of June, and it is run like clockwork. It even has its own app.

Don’t ignore the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Bushmills Distillery.

  • Cost: Stg £200. Prize fund: £4,500. For more details: www.causewaycoastgolf.com, info@causewaycoastgolf.com 

Carlow International Golf Classic

This classic is now in its fourth year and its three courses are neatly grouped in Ireland’s south-east.

The exceptional parklands of Bunclody, Carlow, and Mount Wolseley couldn’t be more different, but they offer thrills aplenty. Carlow is the grand dame, founded in 1899, and renowned for its rolling terrain and greens while Bunclody is one of the newest courses on the island and famous for its closing stretch and its lift to the 18th tee.

The price of entry for this September tournament includes three rounds of golf, three meal vouchers and one gala dinner.

It’s nicely packaged and local hotels have also joined forces with Carlow Tourism to ensure good deals all round.

  • Cost: €159 - €175. Prize fund: €7,000. For more details: www.carlowtourism.com/golfclassic 

Dunmore East Classic

The Dunmore East Classic has been running for 25 years and is definitely one of the most inclusive challenges out there. The golf courses are good — no question — but there’s more to it than that: the tournament is centred in the fishing village of Dunmore East, where golfers enjoy long evenings of hospitality and entertainment.

Over the years, the organisers have learned how best to package the event, combining golf, food, and accommodation, and it ensures golfers return year after year. There are five parklands in the region — Tramore, Waterford, Waterford Castle, Faithlegg, and Dunmore East — and they work in a rota of a four.

In April, hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, and bars are stuffed to the rafters with golfers from Ireland, the UK, the US, Germany, Canada, and South Africa.

  • Cost: €285 (four dinners & four rounds of golf). Including accom, prices start from €399. Prize fund: €10,000. For more details: tonyboland@discoverdunmore.com, Tel: +353 87 9389574

The West Coast Challenge

This September, the West Coast Challenge celebrates 30 years.

The four-day tournament plays along the rolling seascapes — and Wild Atlantic Way — of counties Sligo and Donegal. Covering the links of Bundoran, Enniscrone, Donegal, and Strandhill, it combines the quirky with the muscular. The format sees you playing with different golfers every day and it has created long friendships with golfers returning year after year to reunite with friends.

  • Cost: A mere €130. Prize fund: €10,000. For more details: www.westcoastchallenge.info 

There are plenty more to choose from but, for some reason, there is a prevalence for the north of the island. Perhaps it’s time for something around Cork. Castlemartyr, Cork, and Fota Island golf clubs would make a very entertaining triumvirate.

Ireland’s newest challenges are the Boyne Valley Classic (€145), an all-parkland affair in Co Meath this August, playing over Knightsbrook, Royal Tara, and Rathcore. The intriguing Belfast Parkland International tournament (£120-£175) has its first run-out this July. It combines five courses (Malone, Royal Belfast, Holywood, Belvoir Park, and Shandon Park) with competitors choosing to play three, four or all five courses.

Other events include: The Great North Links (€210), playing Royal Portrush (Dunluce), Ballyliffin (Glashedy) and Portstewart; The Down Links Spring Trophy (£180) playing over Ardglass Kirkistown Castle and Royal Co Down; the Donegal Links Classic (€125) combines Ballyliffin (Old) and Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris) with Portsalon; the Laois International Golf Challenge is a mix of The Heath, Portarlington, and Portlaoise, with the Seve Ballesteros Heritage course providing the grand finale; and the Lough Erne & Links Challenge (€140) which plays over the glamorous Lough Erne, the elegant Donegal, and the thrilling Narin & Portnoo.

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