Friday, December 9, 2011

The Greatest Irish Golf Challenges

This post originally started as 'The Great Irish Links Challenge', a three day event over three of Ireland's best links courses, but there are so many events like this that I expanded... and expanded.

Ireland has been hosting amateur golf tournaments for a long time… 25 years in some cases. Spread over three or four days, and using different formats (singles/fourball/team) they have proved to be a highly entertaining and very sociable way to introduce golfers from all around the world to some exceptional Irish golf courses. Naturally, some are more international than others but there’s always a competitive element. How many people play to win a prize is a matter of opinion as, really, it’s about the opportunity to play courses you might not otherwise think to play… not to mention the chance to knock back a few jars in the bar as the stories come tumbling forth.

And if you win something then it’s an added bonus.

[Photo: Doonbeg's exquisite par five opening hole ]

Atlantic Coast Challenge

The number of events in Ireland is growing as clubs appreciate how attractive such tournaments can be. In 2011, I competed in the inaugural Atlantic Coast Challenge (Enniscrone, Carne, Co. Sligo)… terrible golf, but what a blast. Three of my absolute favourite courses and it cost a mere €120 to enter the event. Played in July, we got rained on for a combined total of maybe 15 minutes over the three days. That’s the Irish weather being very kind indeed!

For details of the 2012 event, July 2 to July 4, click here.

[Photo: Enniscrone's par four 12th may be one of the toughest holes around. It's a sheer drop in front of the green, and straight up the dune behind]

Great Irish Links Challenge

Meanwhile, the first Great Irish Links Challenge (Ballybunion, Doonbeg, Lahinch) was held the year before, in 2010 (and included the NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino among the competitors).

Personally I think these events are brilliant. After the joys of the Atlantic Coast Challenge, I was sorely tempted to have a go at the Great Irish Links Challenge, but forking out €595 for the privilege is too steep for my wallet. There are added incentives, above and beyond other tournaments, but when you compare €200 for a round, on average, to €40 for the Atlantic Coast Challenge, it’s hard for me to justify that extra expense.

So, what does your €595 buy you for an event which will be held between May 7 and May 10, 2012?

Welcome reception, tournament gift, golf and greens fees, transportation from Shannon Airport to The Lodge at Doonbeg, daily transportation to and from host venue to participating courses, daily prizes at each course, awards and dinner ceremony.

You are talking about three exceptional and world-ranked courses, but you’ll have to pay for accommodation on top of this… and based on the website’s focus on flights, this is clearly aimed at our American golfing friends… not that surprising when you consider the focus and ownership of Doonbeg.

[Photo: Ballybunion Old's 2nd green with views over what's to come]

[Photo: Lahinch - the approach to the par four 7th, beside the sea]

I met plenty of Americans on my travels and, contrary to popular opinion, they are not all loaded with cash. Like you and me, they have been saving hard over the years to justify the expense of taking a golfing holiday – in their case flying to Ireland for a week’s glorious links golf. Sure, we’ve all seen the helicopters and heard the stories of crazy extravagance, but then we have our own developers and bankers who show-off in much the same way… although not anymore! No, a trip to Ireland is a sacred journey that is relished for months beforehand and cherished for years after.

If this Challenge is the way they wish to enjoy Ireland’s great links, then fire ahead lads and ladies, and get stuck in to a tournament you’re unlikely to forget. But there are plenty of such tournaments to choose from, which cost a lot less, and the spread of dates means there's no excuse not to enter.

[Photo: The view from Doonbeg's par three 9th, back to the Lodge... where you could be staying]

Causeway Coast Amateur Golf Tournament

Plays over Castlerock, Portstewart (Strand), Ballycastle and Royal Portrush (Valley). It’s worth noting that this doesn’t play the acclaimed and highly ranked Royal Portrush (Dunluce) course, but the Valley is a beauty (and the course GMac calls home). One of the EXTRA bonuses of this particular competition is that all entrants who are not resident in Northern Ireland, get a free practice round at each club thrown in.

Date: June 4 to June 8, 2012


Entry fee: £200 (Sterling)

Heart of Down Tournament

Plays over Spa, Downpatrick, Ardglass and then Royal County Down (RCD) for the top qualifiers. Two parklands (Spa is very tasty) and a links… with the top 70 or so qualifying for RCD, while the rest go back and play one of the other courses on the final day.

Date: August 13 to August 17, 2012


Entry fee: £131.25 (Sterling) – yes, an odd price for sure!

[Photo: Spa's 11th hole, a downhill par four]

Coasts of Down Links Challenge

Plays over Ardglass, Kirkistown Castle and Royal County Down.

You play all three courses, and considering you can pay well over £100 to play RCD in the summer, you’re looking at another seriously good value deal. Ardglass is badly under-appreciated and has one of the best starts of any course on the island – holes 1 to 4 are breath-taking.

Date: April 25 to April 27, 2012


Entry fee: £105 (Sterling)

[Photo: View from the par three 3rd green at Ardglass, back to the tee]

Donegal Links Classic

Plays over three superb links courses in the very north of the country: Ballyliffin (Old), Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris) and Portsalon. The Rosapenna course was recently revamped by Pat Ruddy and Tom Doak while there will always be a debate about which of the Ballyliffin courses is better: Old vs. Glashedy. My preference is the Old, but you’d have to play both to make a fair comparison (i.e. book for a longer stay and play more golf, including Rosapenna’s mighty Sandy Hills).

It’s fair to say that of all these types of tournaments, you simply can’t beat €100 per person in terms of value.

Date: June 4 to June 6, 2012

Website: Try this Facebook page, or visit the Ballyliffin website

Entry fee: €100

[Photo: Ballyliffin Old's par four 15th, a hole that doglegs right]

West Coast Challenge
Plays over four of the north west's great links courses: Donegal (Murvagh), Strandhill, Enniscrone, Bundoran. 2012 will see its 26th year, and remains one of the most popular events around. Hardly surprising given the location and the people up that way.

Date: (TBC) September, 2012

Entry fee: TBC, but €125 in 2011

Laois International Golf Challenge

A slightly more complicated event as there are seven courses involved for a four day event. You’ll play three courses from Abbeyleix, The Heath, Mountrath, Portarlington, Rathdowney and Portlaoise over the first three days, and then the top qualifiers go on to a final at The Heritage (designed by Seve Ballesteros). It’s a good idea, involving so many courses, but they differ in quality quite a bit. Portlaoise is the poor relation, while Portarlington is the classiest. If you could pick your three, I’d want Portarlington, Mountrath and The Heath. Still, for €100 you shouldn’t be complaining and there are lots of places to stay.

Date: May 14 to May 17, 2012


Entry fee: €100

[Photo: Portarlington's par four 7th. And Index 1]

Dunmore East Classic

One of the oldest and most established events, and often booked up close to a year in advance. Four of Waterford’s finest parkland courses include Waterford, Tramore, Waterford Castle and Faithlegg. They’re all very close together, which helps, and the latter two also have hotels.

Date: May 30 April to May 3, 2012


(The main website,, is down currently)

Entry fee: €299, includes four dinner vouchers (packages also available including accommodation)

The Great North Links Challenge

Another rather special collection of links golf courses: Ballyliffin (Glashedy), Royal Portrush (Dunluce) – i.e. the ‘big’ course - and Portstewart (Strand).

Date: October 3 to October 5 2012

Website: Again, try the Facebook page or contact

Entry fee: €175

[Photo: Royal Portrush (Dunluce) - the par four 5th]

Erne Waterways Golf Challenge

Played over Slieve Russell, Co. Cavan and Castle Hume golf courses.

Date: June 8 to June 10 2012

Website: (currently last year’s details)

Entry fee: €100

[Photo: Slieve Russell golf course - a fine parkland in Co. Cavan]

Pat Mulcare Am-Am

Played over two days across Tralee and Ballybunion Old, this amateur tournament celebrates Pat Mulcare – a well know Irish amateur golfer who featured on the 1975 Walker Cup team. Proceeds are used to promote junior golf.

Cost is not known at the moment (Dec 11) but it will take place on the weekend of August 11 and 12, 2012. It does not have much of an international presence, but that’s because it gets booked up so fast.

In Limbo

There are other tournaments which appear to be in limbo. These include the Tramore Golf Classic, which is pretty much identical to the Dunmore-East event, but taking place in September. The 2011 event was cancelled when a sponsor couldn’t be found. That may change in 2012.


P&O Irish Sea "Kingdoms of Down" played over Tandragee Golf Club, County Armagh Golf Club and Royal County Down

No comments:

Post a Comment