Scotland v Ireland? What's the best golf trip
The Emerald Isle takes on The Home of Golf
Scotland and Ireland are often mentioned when it comes to bucket-list golf and ultimate golf vacations. The first thing to note is that as golf destinations they are worthy of those labels (…the golf really is that good), and the second thing is that these countries are easy to travel to, so trips here should not be considered as, “once in a lifetime”.
But when it comes to which is best… that’s open to debate. When asked that question, we sat on the fence and instead turned to our local experts and asked them why their country should be crowned with the “Best Trip” title.
To this end, in the Blue Corner, representing Scotland, we have Kieran Clark, Scottish golf journalist and self-proclaimed golfing nut. And in the Green Corner, we have Kevin Markham, author of ‘Driving The Green’, and a man who has played every course in Ireland!
We set them the task to describe their best ever seven day, seven round golf vacation and to tell the world why we should all jump on a plane to experience it.
First up, Kieran describes his love of… you guessed it, St Andrews…
SCOTLAND: 7 Days in St Andrews
It would be difficult to find a more fulfilling golfing destination than St. Andrews. The town is completely synonymous with the game, as its spiritual home, and features some of Scotland’s finest links courses on its doorstep. Throw in an unmatched level of vibrancy (for a small place) that comes from the number of tourists and students at the historic University, more pubs per square-feet than anywhere else in the UK, its location amidst the spectacular surroundings of beaches and medieval architecture, and you have something approaching perfection for your average, fun-loving golfer.
First pay homage to the Old Course
Naturally, playing the legendary Old Course is a must for anyone visiting the Auld Grey Toon. Host of 29 Open Championships, all of the greats have played here; the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Bobby Jones have all claimed the Claret Jug on the timeless layout. With palpable levels of history and numerous iconic images around you, playing the Old Lady can be overwhelming for some, but it is an unforgettable experience for anyone with an appreciation of the game’s past and its purest form. Toasting your round afterward in the Jigger Inn or Dunvegan Hotel is the perfect conclusion to a day on one of the game’s truly bucket-list courses.
You’re spoilt for choice at the Auld Grey Toon
There are seven courses under the St. Andrews Links umbrella – with the next best of them being the New, which is literally sat adjacent to its older sister. This is a more conventional course than the Old, but it remains a classic links challenge in the iconic surroundings of the Home of Golf, and is a perfect companion piece to its more famous neighbor. The same can be said for the Jubilee and Eden Courses, both of which have their own understated charm. While the most recently added Castle Course, which is situated just outside the town, boasts some imaginative and thrilling holes.
Take on the Young Pretender and Old Master
St. Andrews is also ideally positioned as a base for playing other courses, not least nearby Kingsbarns, which is only eight miles away. Opened for play in 2000 and part of the annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour, this modern layout is visually spectacular and tremendously fun to play, making it a must-visit for anyone in the area. On a clear afternoon, you can often see across the North Sea to the small town of Carnoustie and its fearsome and tantalizingly challenging Championship Course that has tested the game’s best players for decades.
Visit the Giants in Lothians and Perthshire
Further afield, and all within just two hours of St. Andrews, are the likes of Gleneagles in Perthshire, whose stunning King’s Course is one of the best inland tracks in Scotland, and the delights of East Lothian, which features the iconic links of Muirfield, Gullane and North Berwick within a short stretch of beautiful coastline. These can all be considered among the best courses in the country, if not the World.
St Andrews has it all… Who can argue?
Ultimately, St. Andrews is not only the best-golfing town on the planet, with great courses and atmospheric nightlife, but it is also an ideal base to sample many of the other great attractions that continue to draw tens of thousands of golfers from across the globe each year.
Scotland’s Best Ever Trip – Here’s the line-up:
IRELAND: 7 Days in Killarney & South West Ireland
Ireland’s South West is renowned for its string of links courses that stretch along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It starts with the Alister MacKenzie classic, Lahinch, to the north, and embraces Doonbeg, Ballybunion, Tralee, Dooks and the idyllic Waterville, on the Ring of Kerry to the south. On Ireland’s southern coastline lies the immaculate Old Head Golf Club, peering down on the ocean from 300-foot cliffs on, a peninsula which resembles a diamond earring in shape… and quality.
Top 10 Ocean Courses… and HUGE dunes!
When it comes to drama and beauty, this region is astounding. Three of these courses make Golf Channel’s Top 10 Ocean Courses in the world (Tralee, Ballybunion, and Old Head), while the entire stretch of coastline from Clare to Cork forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way – the longest coastal driving route in the world.
In a face-off between Scotland and Ireland for the ‘best golf trip ever,’ there are two other important considerations: the size of the Irish dunes and the all-encompassing, never-ending, heartwarmingly famous craic. There is no welcome quite like an Irish welcome.
The Culture, the Hospitality … and the Craic!
And there’s no better place to start than Killarney, one of Ireland’s most colorful and vibrant towns. Packed with restaurants, artist studios, bars and hotels, Killarney is surrounded by the 26,000 acre Killarney National Park, the 19th century Muckross House (designed by a Scot, ironically), and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. This is the place to stay for some unforgettable golf.
Golfers can ease themselves in at Killarney Golf Club, where the Irish Open was held in 2010 and 2011. Set on Lough Leane, with mountains filling the horizon, this is idyllic parkland golf that’s kept in good company by the club’s two other courses.
Ross Castle, Killarney
Big Vistas and Iconic Links
The real action begins with Waterville, Dooks, and Tralee; three links courses that boast the most spectacular scenery in Ireland. Bays, peninsulas, mountains, and ocean all make these inspiring golf experiences, but playing them is even better. Waterville has the most elegant and rhythmic of dune systems and it is a course that builds and builds, with the closing three holes streaking above the ocean in a dramatic par four, three, five finish. It is the most picture-perfect links in Ireland.
Dooks is shorter but packed with character. It is famous for its Natterjack toad and colorful flora, but the course takes center stage. Tralee was designed by Arnold Palmer and/or God… or so said Palmer of the majestic back nine which rise and fall to create many of the most impressive holes in the country.
And then there’s Ballybunion…
Little needs to be said about Ballybunion, a links course which rose to prominence thanks to Tom Watson’s visit in the 1980s. It is another course of muscular dunes and outstanding green settings… And its sibling, the Cashen, boasts even bigger dunes; it’s a charismatic links that adds the extra challenge of some target-golf greens… thanks to the design of Robert Trent Jones Sr.
90 minutes away, Old Head lures golfers to play luxurious cliff-top golf. It doesn’t get more thrilling than this, with nine of its holes literally clinging to the cliffs’ edge.
The all-round golfing package…
Ireland’s South West promises a majestic golf experience with the ‘Irish’ extras to make a visit truly unforgettable.
Ballybunion Golf Ciub
Ireland’s Best Ever Trip – Here’s the line-up:
- Old Course, Ballybunion
- Cashen Course, Ballybunion
- Tralee Golf Club
- Waterville Golf Club
- Dooks Golf Club
- Old Head Golf Links
- Killarney Golf & Fishing Club
When it comes to the golf, the history of the game and the sheer feeling of the occasion when you step out on the first tee, it would be hard to beat St Andrews as the ultimate golf trip destination. However, when you take in the overall golfing experience, a trip to South West Ireland could just edge it. From the iconic links to the breath-taking landscapes, not to mention the hospitality and the craic, not many golf destinations in the world can compete with Killarney and its accompanying golfing greats.
OK, so we have sat on the fence slightly, but it’s genuinely hard to recommend one over the other. The only way is for you to draw your own conclusions… and that starts with a trip to the British Isles!
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist - UK & Ireland
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist, I help golfers find their ideal golfing getaway