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Golfing in the Green

Golfing in the Green

If St. Peter has golf courses in Heaven, then he must have visited Ireland to find out how to build them. For Ireland is a golfer's heaven on earth.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland boast eight of the top 50 golf courses in the British Isles. The main advantage of playing on them is that, unlike others on the list, you can show up and play without a banker's reference or a letter from your golf club's secretary.

Known for over 40 shades of green, Ireland's golfing greens, kept pristine by an army of greenskeepers manning Honda lawnmowers, are plentiful. If you are responsible for the upkeep of a golf course, or you're interested in how they are kept so neat and tidy with a view to applying the same diligence to your own garden, you'll want to check out Honda's range of mowers. They come with the company's trademark super-powerful engines, and there is even a robotic one that goes by the name of Miimo. Prices range from £160 to the thousands, so you're sure to find a mower to suit your budget.

In Ireland, there are over 200 golf courses to choose from and most located near major cities or small towns, and by the sea and mountains. In other words, there's a course to fill your every desire.

In the Shannon area alone, within minutes of the airport, 18 world-class championship courses, including the legendary Lahinch Golf Club, provide hours of golfing pleasure. There's even an American-style course complete with water traps and wide greens.

But playing golf is a whole different experience here. Courses owe a debt to Mother Nature as the original golf course architect. You'll find many relics of the old totally natural links on which the game evolved. Early designs incorporated stone walls, hedges, blind shots, irregularly shaped mounds and greens in geometric shapes. The intensity of the challenge found on these courses remains the key point. You'll find the chance to pit your own skill against the achievements of golf's greatest figures is nearly irresistible.

Generally, local conditions tend to alter the nature of the game. Weather can frequently be wet and strong winds buffet many seaside courses. Greens, usually harder and faster than in the United States, are likely to have many blind spots. Rugged terrain that's never been bulldozed is the norm, giving courses a different feel than at home.

The variety of courses available range from championship seaside courses to uncrowded and scenic 9-hole courses.

Of the eight championship courses, Royal County Down in Newcastle, County Down, Northern Ireland, tops the list. Founded in 1889, it's located where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea. Believed to be the third best golf course in the world after St. Andrews in Scotland, its hazards will challenge you.

Almost every inland town has its own lush grassy course. Many, including Belvoir Park and Malone in Belfast, and those in Carlow, Tullamore, Tramore, Douglas, and Massereene on the shores of Lough Neagh in the Republic, are very good.

While in the North, you may also want to try Royal Portrush, at Portrush, County Antrim, along the rugged north coast. The Dunluce Course, one of two, is the championship one. Named after the striking ruins of an old castle that's perched on white cliffs to the east of the course, it's constantly buffeted by high winds off the North Sea. One of the toughest courses in the world is Ballybunion, in County Kerry. Laid out at the point where the Shannon river Estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean, it's also convenient to the Shannon area. An unusual feature of this course is the graveyard, which is the out-of-bounds area beside the first hole.

You'll find another excellent course in County Kerry. The Killarney Golf and Fishing Club in Killarney offers two championship courses, the older of which is better. You'll find the dramatic scenery may make it hard for you to concentrate on the game.

Two courses, Portmarnock and Royal Dublin, in the Dublin area, provide additional challenging play. Portmarnock, located just outside Dublin, features short flag sticks set on springs to let them swing freely in the breeze. Be prepared for soaring scores but a bracing outing.

The other Dublin course, Royal Dublin, founded in 1885, is laid out like the fabled St. Andrews. Its four short holes — fourth, sixth, ninth, and twelfth — call for a keen eye and precision play. The demanding fifth hole, which is uphill all the way prompted Danny Kaye to ask his caddy for a rifle.

You'll seldom have to wait to tee off since Irish golf courses are seldom crowded. Greens fees are reasonable and based on a full day's play, not just one round. Peak season is May through September and during that time, daylight lasts until 10 p.m., affording extended play time. Bring your own clubs, though major courses have clubs for hire, but not shoes. Also the use of caddies is common. In addition to hauling your clubs, they'll give you a more intimate cultural experience.