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Play the best of the Emerald Isle for less green!

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There are over 400 golf courses in Ireland, and the great majority of them are good to great. Most golfers who set their sights on the Emerald Isle are looking to bag one of the “trophy” courses like Waterville, Lahinch, Ballybunion, The K Club and others in that strata. There’s nothing wrong with that, because all of those courses offer an exceptional golf experience. But those memories come with a price tag: a round at one of the big-name golf courses can easily cost $300 or more, and that’s if you can manage to secure a tee time for you and your group. If you play a few of those on the same trip, you will have the cost of greens fees putting a serious dent in your overall budget for the trip.

But with a little effort, great golf can be found at courses that have equally special golf experiences at a fraction of the cost.

And you can take the money you save to visit some of the great foodie destinations around Ireland, buy plenty of swag from the pro shops (I am partial to bag tags and club ties), extend your trip by a day or two or even upgrade your flight (the latter of which I highly recommend; Aer Lingus Business Class has good pricing, even in-season, exceptional service and the extra real estate will ensure you get there and back with a smile rather than a limp.)

Check this list of lesser-known but highly regarded tracks.

Please note the prices listed are estimates that reflect the range of pricing based on time of year and day of the week. Check with the course for exact pricing and also current exchange rates from U.S. Dollar to Euro.

Cruit Island Golf Club
County Donegal
Greens Fee: $40

The least known on this list is also the most unique. Cruit (pronounced “Critch”) Island is a 9-hole layout that has two sets of tees so that you play around it twice to get the 18-hole, par-68 links experience. Built by a group of golfers who bought the land and built the course because they didn’t want to go 30 miles to the next closest course, Cruit Island is perched along a craggy shoreline that on a clear day rivals anything you find on the Monterey Peninsula for sheer beauty. The wind is a factor on every hole, and you could well find yourself hitting 3-wood into a 150-yard par-3 depending on the gusts that day. Speaking of par-3s, the 6th is one of the best in links golf.

Because it is wedged into a relatively small space, some of the holes feature severe doglegs and daunting blind shots; it is up to the player to interpret it as wicked or whimsical. The course is not as meticulously maintained as some other tracks but that is part of its charm. The clubhouse is just as cozy as the course, the perfect place to warm up with a Jamesons and soak in more of the stunning views of the Atlantic Coast. Easily one of the best golf bargains to be found in Ireland or anywhere else.

County Sligo Golf Club – Colt Championship Course
Rosses Point, County Sligo
Price: $120 – $200

Perhaps the best known of the lesser-knowns, County Sligo is a classic links layout that has tested the best for over a century. Founded in 1894, the course was redesigned to its current form by the great Harry Colt in 1927. Defined by the rugged coast of the northwest Atlantic where it sits, the course has had players like Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, and others establish themselves as champions to be reckoned with there. The course has all of the wind and terrain that you would expect from an Irish links; The first two holes play almost 500 feet uphill, but the golfer is rewarded for the hike on the tee box of the par-5 3rd, which has a 360 degree view of the Benbulben rock formation and Atlantic coastline that is second to none in the country.

The par-4 5th hole plays from a cliffside into a valley of holes that will challenge the skill, stamina intellect of the players, but the inherently fair nature of an exceptional links design mans that less than stellar players will have tee boxes and shot options that make the course playable and enjoyable. The par-4 17th hole brings the golfers back over the mountain in spectacular fashion and the blind tee shot at the 18th will bring joy and/or pain depending on your courage and accuracy. The course used to play for under $60 as recently as five years ago but the word has gotten out and rack rates have pushed upward. But if you call in advance of your trip, the head pro has been known to negotiate a better price for groups.

Donegal Golf Club
County Donegal
Greens Fee: About $55 – $140

Another links course set on a promontory that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal Golf Club offers a quintessential links golf experience.  The course, a par 73 for both men and women, consists of five par 5s, four par 3s, and nine par 4s, stretching over 7,400 yards from the tips, with five regulation tees from each hole, plus a beginner tee. The outside loop plays along the dunes and the ocean, providing stunning views of the surrounding area. The inner loop is more protected, however, the constantly changing sea breeze provides a continuing test for both skilled and amateur golfers. The course is long, but it is a relatively easy walk, and unlike many courses in Ireland it can provide a cart with advance notice. Originally designed by the legendary Irish golf course architect, Eddie Hackett, the course is yet another links being tweaked by the now-ubiquitous Pat Ruddy. No less an authority than 2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke called Donegal Golf Club ‘one of my favorite courses in the world.’ Full disclosure, he is a member. Facilities include a driving range, warm-up area, and putting, chipping and bunker practice areas. And don’t leave without trying the fish chowder after the round.

Narin and Portnoo
County Donegal
Greens Fee: $80 – $140

You might be noticing a pattern here; there are some mighty fine golf courses in the Northwest coast of Ireland known as the Wild Atlantic Way. Another wonderfully windblown offering is Narin and Portnoo (named for the two towns that the course sits between). While not very well known outside Ireland, many locals consider it one of the must-play courses in the country. The par-73 track is known for the natural beauty for the course and the surrounding land, both exceptional even by Irish standards. It’s a big golf course from to back and side to side, but the wind and white stakes will require good decisions and consistent precision from the golfer. Golf has been played at Narin and Portnoo since 1905, but the membership has hired superstar designer Gil Hanse to take it into the next 100 years; the course changes are made on the fly while the course is open so you may see some of the new greens that will be in play in 2020. One major plus is that Narin and Portnoo has a forecaddie program, a big help in planning your way around the course. As with all of the courses on the list, make sure your phone battery is full to capture the stunning views of Gweebarra Bay. After the round, order up a dozen of the best raw oysters anywhere with your Guinness.

Concra Wood Golf Club
County Monaghan
Green Fee: $45 – $90


This parkland golf course is the perfect way to either start or finish an Ireland trip. It is a parkland course, meaning it plays on terrain and turf more familiar to American players. The course opened in 2008, not a great time to start any enterprise and especially not a 5-star golf course. The course has recovered from financial troubles and has emerged better than ever. Designed by Irish golfing legends Christy O’Connor Sr. and Jr., the course winds its way along the hills and valleys surrounding Lough (or Lake) Muckno. Some of the looks are beyond dramatic; the 340-yard 2nd is a drivable par-4 that features a 40ft. drop from the tee…but it pales in comparison to the back nine, starting with the 430-yard par 4 10th. A good drive to a flat spot in the fairway leaves an approach that resembles dropping a ball from a low-flying helicopter to a green well-protected by bunkers and the lake.

That leads to a stretch of holes that play beside the lake that ranks as one of the best four-hole stretches in the country. Ironically, this non-links track is one of the toughest walks in Ireland—think Augusta National-type elevation changes. If you are not fit, don’t be ashamed to take a cart. And get a yardage book to prevent nasty surprises on some of the blind shots on the course!

 

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

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Travel

The Myrtle Beach World Amateur: At 35, it’s better than ever

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When I was a kid, my best sport was basketball. I started off playing at school and established myself as one of the best there. But I didn’t know how much I had to learn until I started playing at the big, well-known playgrounds around DC that were the incubators for great players. It was on those playgrounds that I learned how to compete and also how competition makes friendships for life.

Golf is the same way. Sure, it’s fun to beat up on your friends and relations on your home course but you won’t know how good you are or how good you can be until you get into a real competition.

There are a lot of choices for that but perhaps the best and most popular competition is the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Championships. Held annually in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the World Am hosts thousands of golfers in a handicapped event that is played on some of finest courses in the state.

There are tight knit flights that accommodate a wide range of golfers’ abilities from scratch to 36 and over. Says Tournament Director Scott Tomasello, “The World Am has lasted 35 years by providing a proving ground for the everyday golfer. It also just so happens to take place in the Golf Capital of the World. Players of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds get together for 4 rounds of competitive golf. Some players use it as a chance to test their game while others use it to make friends for life, which is what makes the tournament a great time for everyone.”

I had heard about the event for years and finally had the opportunity to play last year for the first time. Even before the first ball was struck, I had an amazing experience. At the opening party I found myself standing behind a guy who was my boss during my summer internship in my senior year of high school, and his son, just happens to be the aforementioned tournament director.

It was a nice reunion and was the first of many happy accidents that week. I met people who grew up around the corner from me, and people that lived in Hong long at the same time as me. I met distant relatives and friends of friends. With the way that the tournament connects people, it could rightfully be called the Kevin Bacon open.

The tournament is four rounds and each golfer is assigned four different courses to play, including one “premier” course (I lucked out by getting exactly the course I was wanting to play, the Mike Stranz-designed Caledonia Golf and Fish Club). But all of the courses in the rotation are in great condition and set up to play challenging but fair. I must say that I didn’t play my best golf because I was also being a reporter, but I finished sixth in my flight and made a passel of new friends who I expect to see every year at the World Am.

Entry into the World Am includes the four rounds of golf, the famous nightly 19th hole that features unlimited food and open bar for you and a guest, huge gift bag and chance at over $100,000 in prizes; at only $535 (good until May 16) it’s a bargain bordering on a steal.

If you are looking for great golf, keen competition and the best of Myrtle Beach on and off the course then get registered now for the Myrtle Beach World Golf Am. Like me, once you play, you’ll have it as one of the fixtures on your annual golf calendar.

 

For details and to register, go to https://myrtlebeachworldamateur.com

 

 

 

 

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Sea Pines Resort: Play like the pros, on and off the course

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Each year the Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, challenges the best players in the world, including 2019 winner C.T. Pan. It’s also widely known that the destination is one of the most popular stops on Tour amongst the pros. It’s the perfect place to bring their families and decompress after the frenzy of the weeks leading up to the Masters.

Situated on the southernmost tip of Hilton Head Island, Sea Pines Resort’s best-in-class collection of golf courses, amenities and accommodations make it one of the most sought-after leisure and group destinations in America. It features five miles of unspoiled beaches, 20 clay tennis courts, 14 miles of bike and walking trails, horseback riding, eco-adventures, water sports, and the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve filled with wildflowers, wetlands, and more than 130 species of birds. As the first Eco-planned destination in the U.S., The Sea Pines Resort has become the blueprint for numerous beach developments around the country. And did I mention that there is golf?

Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love

Now you can play and stay in style with the “Play Where The Pros Play” golf package offered by The Sea Pines Resort – which includes taking your own shot at Harbour Town. The golf package includes one round of golf per guest on the island’s three top-ranked courses: Harbour Town and Heron Point, both designed by Pete Dye, as well as Atlantic Dunes, designed by Davis Love III, a five-time RBC Heritage winner. Harbour Town Links gets all the ink, but Heron Point is just more forgiving and arguably more picturesque. True diehards can enjoy complimentary afternoon replays on Heron Point and Atlantic Dunes.

Heron Point by Pete Dye

Heron Point by Pete Dye

Accommodations include the island’s premier hotel and my personal favorite, The Inn & Club at Harbour Town; it’s a Forbes Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond boutique hotel with the luxury and convenience of guest rooms and a Fairway Suite overlooking the first tee of Harbour Town Golf Links. The vibe is a perfect combination of polished professionalism and Southern charm. Other options include luxurious private homes, Beach Villas, and Golf Villas with room for 2 to 12.

The Inn at Harbour Town Lobby

Three-night/four-day packages start at $255 (per player/per night) for Villa accommodations and $329 (per player, per night) for The Inn with these rates valid through October 2019. At these prices, you’ll want to book now get the best rooms and dates.

You spend a lot of cash building your bag to play what the pros play; at Sea Pines Resort, you can play where the pros play, on the course and off.

All photos courtesy of Sea Pines Resort/Rob Tipton
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The deal abides! 5 ways to get the best deals during shoulder season

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The dictionary defines “shoulder season” as “a travel period between peak and off-peak seasons.” For the savvy traveler, shoulder season means big savings on travel and golf some of the best destinations around. It’s the time when demand is at a low point for a course or resort, and they are willing to offer significant discounts to fill those rooms, tee times and barstools. We talked to some experts and found out the 5 keys to getting the most out of shoulder season travel.

1. Pick Your Spot Then Pick Your Dates

The first rule of shoulder season is to find out when the shoulder is in the places you want to visit. Shoulder season is related to when the peak and off-peak times are on the calendar in a given region, and those seasons are different depending on the region.

According to golf travel consultant Sarah Forrest, “The term shoulder season is a loose phrase as there are no defined start and end dates.  From state to state and country to country the dates will change so do your homework. By being sensible you can travel the world from the Northern to Southern hemisphere and play the shoulder season for exceptional value almost year-round.”

For example, most areas that are warm during the months of December through February (e.g. Florida) have their shoulder seasons for the two months on either side of those months. To give some practical examples shoulder season for Bandon Dunes is March, April, and November. May is a great time to visit places in the Midwest like Sand Valley or Whistling Straits.

2. Shop Around

There are dozens of online sources of information on discount golf travel and they will all be busting with information on shoulder season travel. The destinations will be eager to get the word out about room and tee sheet availability, so all you have to do is find it. Resources like Trip Advisor, Golf Advisor, and even Kayak can give you the ability to comparison shop for the best overall deal for your family or group. Forrest adds, ”Be prepared to be flexible with your dates, if you can flex your dates, tell the resort and ask for more than one date price to determine the best price and of course don’t expect great weather, although you can be pleasantly surprised at times!”

3. Aim High

Shoulder season is the perfect time to check off a couple of those wish list experiences. From the golden oldies, like Pinehurst and the Greenbrier, to the new classics, like Bandon Dunes and Streamsong Resort. The lower prices will bring many of the elite destinations into a reasonable price range.

3. Go to the Source

There are any number of websites that will consolidate discounts and offers, and there’s no reason not to let them do the initial work for you . But once you decide on a location or two, contact the resort directly to find out if they have additional discounts that haven’t been published online. It’s also a good time to ask for the availability of rooms that may have a special touch like a great view, big bed or an in-room sauna or jacuzzi. Even if they say no, there’s no harm in asking!

5. Give and Ye Shall Receive

In the Internet age, golf courses, hotels, and resorts value positive feedback online as much as you appreciate a good discount. So it only makes sense to channel your inner Kardashian during your stay and post early and often to social media. Saying good things about the place you are staying will get you noticed, and may get you a few perks. Ask to take a picture with the head pro or the head chef, and definitely post pics of your meals and your rounds on the course. If the marketing department notices, they will find a way to show their appreciation.

 

 

 

 

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