Skip to content

6 of the best golf courses in Ireland

Aug. 09, 2020
8 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

Thanks to Ireland's dramatic coastline, majestic mountains and mythical history, it makes for a pretty spectacular location for golf. There are some incredible cliff-top locations, and Ireland is home to 25% of all the natural link courses in the world. So perhaps it's not surprising that some of the sport's greatest players also come from the Emerald Isle, including Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley.

Golf originated in Fife, Scotland in the 15th century and it soon spread to Ireland. One of the oldest courses in the country, the Royal Curragh Golf Club in Kildare opened in 1858 and is still open to this day -- so this small nation has a very rich history in the sport.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Golf is also a great activity for observing social distancing rules, while still being able to take part in a sport with others. Obviously, it's also an outdoor pursuit, so even better for keeping fit while not being in a sweaty, enclosed space like a gym.

So if you fancy teeing off somewhere breathtaking, or even if you're not a golf fan, these spots are perfect for a remote break when the time is right, some top-class restaurants and, of course, lots of bracing fresh air.

1. Royal Portrush Golf Club, Antrim

(Photo by Atlantic-Lens-Photography/Getty Images)

This world-class club is set in rolling sand dunes with fabulous coastal views in Portrush, Antrim, in Northern Ireland and goes back as far as 1888. It also hosted the 148th Open Championship in 2019 with Irish pro Shane Lowry taking home the cup.

According to Golf World Top 100, the course "provides brilliant hole after hole tests to challenge every part of your game and the rough punishes any offline shot, and providing you can hit the fairways, the incredible greens require a wide array of approach shots." The 36-hole club has two links courses, the Dunluce Links (the championship course) and the Valley Links.

Royal Portrush is a private members club but visitors are welcome as long as they are members of a recognized golf club.

Where to stay: The Golflinks hotel is less than a mile from the club and very close to the beach. It's airy and modern and has everything you need. Prices start from about $150 a night. The nearest airport is Belfast International Airport.

2. Old Head Golf Links, Cork

(Photo by Dave G Kelly/Getty Images)

Situated on the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, jutting two miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, you won't find more staggering scenery than this. Its website claims "it is a piece of golf real estate like no other." It is said to be an incredibly challenging course due to the unpredictable weather and exposed greens. The views make up for this on the 18-hole course.

The Old Head is a members club with pretty steep fees, but visitors are allowed to play as part of certain package deals. Once in, there's a lovely spa and restaurant, and if you're feeling extra fancy, there are 15 sumptuous suites.

Where to stay: If you are not staying on-site, the town of Kinsale is about a 20-minute drive away. We recommend the Blue Haven hotel, a stylish and bustling place in the town center with plenty of live entertainment. Rooms start at about $218 a night. The nearest airport is Cork Airport.

Read more: The ultimate guide to visiting Cork, Ireland

3. Royal County Down Golf Club, Down

(Photo by David Cannon/Contributor/Getty Images)

One of the oldest clubs in Ireland and the stomping ground (or teeing off ground) of current world number one Rory McIlroy, Royal County Down is an 18-hole course that is said to be one of the most beautiful natural links in the world. It's located within the Murlough Nature Reserve in Northern Ireland and boasts a different vista from every hole. Experts say the course is "a true test of golf with narrow fairways and 'bearded bunkers' that demand excellent control of the golf ball."

Like most spots, this a members club but visitors are welcome on certain days of the week. After your game, sit back and enjoy lovely views of the Mourne Mountains from the clubhouse.

Where to stay: The Burrendale Hotel, Country Club & Spa is nestled into the foot of the mountains and is a great place close to the club, with 68 well-appointed rooms. Prices start from about $154 a night. The nearest airport is Belfast International Airport.

4. Ballybunion Golf Club, Kerry

Ballybunion Golf Course is located in Kerry, southwest Ireland, and though it has been considered slightly too remote to host top championship events, some of the sport's most elite players practice there. Former President Bill Clinton has even had a round there. The course is said to have the "most formidable sand dunes in Ireland" and playing there is "truly thrilling" with two challenging and unique links -- the Old Course and the Trent Jones Cashen Course. There are 36 holes in total and the website boasts that "every hazard and every shot is defined by nature’s infinite presence." Visitors are welcome, check the site for green fees and times.

Where to stay: Try the Wilde Ballybunion, one of the finest small hotels on the Wild Atlantic Way. It's close to both the beach and the golf club, and there is also a lovely restaurant. Rooms start at about $129 a night. The nearest airport is Kerry Airport.

5. Portmarnock Golf Club, Dublin

Portmarnock Golf Club is conveniently located only 10 miles from Dublin city center and a 15-minute drive from the airport, so it's perfect for those who want don't want to do much driving. It has been described as having "relatively calm yet undulating fairways" and has hosted many major professional and amateur events including multiple Irish Open Championships, the Walker Cup, the Irish Amateur Close Championship and the British Amateur Championship. Portmarnock has a total of 27 holes. Former top professional Tom Watson (winner of the Open Champion on five occasions) said: "There are no tricks or nasty surprises, only an honest, albeit searching test of shot-making skills." Visitors are welcome at certain times.

Where to stay: The Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links was once the family home of the Jameson dynasty and is just up the road from the Portmarnock Golf Course. There's a spa and a selection of eateries as well as stellar views of the sea. Rooms start at about $140 a night. The nearest airport is Dublin Airport.

6. Mount Juliet Estate & Golf Club, Kilkenny

(Photo courtesy of www.thrumyeyesbyjamie.com/Getty Images)

The course at Mount Juliet in Thomastown, Kilkenny, is set in lush, rolling parkland and part of a 1,500-acre old Irish estate with an 18th-century mansion as a clubhouse. Experts say there is a "distinctly American" feel to the course with lots of teeing areas, bunkers and water hazards and "immaculate fairways." The course can challenge even the most advanced golfers but is also good fun for those with a lower handicap. It's an 18-hole course. Mount Juliet was supposed to host the 2020 Irish Open but has been rescheduled for next year. Visitors are welcome at the course.

Where to stay: The estate also has accommodation including self-catering lodges. It's very romantic and truly like stepping back in time. It's also a Category 5 Marriott Autograph Collection property, with award stays ranging between 30,000 and 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. Prices start at $230 a night. The nearest airports are Dublin or Cork.

Bottom line

The best time to play golf in Ireland is from April to September to get the mildest weather and the longest days. Please check each golf club for post-coronavirus opening times.

As restrictions begin to ease and there are more leisure options available, golf remains a social sport that incorporates space, the outdoors and can be done solo or with a small group -- perfect for social distancing, when the time is right to travel. Plus, visiting Ireland should be on everyone's to-do list. So combine these, and you've got a hole in one.

Featured image by Getty Images/500px

TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees