Unforgettable Golf Road Trip to Ireland's Ancient East
Golfshake Ambassador Andy Picken recaps his recent golf road trip in Ireland.
This review will follow a slightly different format from the usual as it is more of a travelogue for a series of destinations with golfing jewels added to the mix.
I love Ireland. There is a genuine hospitality that appeals to my sensibilities. An ability to tell a story whilst propping up a bar beside a roaring fire and a pint of the black stuff in hand is almost taken to the level of an Olympic sport.
The craic whenever I have visited has always been memorable and an experience to be shared far and wide.
We flew from East Midlands Airport to Dublin with a minimum of fuss and bother. Covid passport not withstanding this was travel with old school ease but with a requirement to keep on a mask during the flight. I actually found that safely reassuring and was happy to do so. The flight was uneventful and took just over 45 minutes, well ahead of time.
We took our golf gear with us intending to travel independently using a hire car to locations suggested and recommended by our friends in the Irish Tourist Board.
This website is a must visit if you are contemplating a trip to Ireland. There is so much useful information imparted in a simple, straightforward manner. I researched our trip well beforehand but was still left wanting more as we travelled. There are so many things on offer that I did not previously appreciate.
We flew for ease but there is an option of using the ferry into Rosslare from Fishguard when visiting the area known as the Ancient South East. Rosslare Golf Links is only 15 minutes from the ferry port and is a hidden gem for many Welsh golf societies who “pop over the water” for a few days of golf and shenanigans.
Holyhead to Dublin is another real alternative as we found the driving and navigation on our road trip a real pleasure. Options abound for all budgets, ranging from excellent bed and breakfast venues to great value hotels who are keen to encourage and support the golfing community to visit this area and explore its delights.
Our trip started at Dublin Airport with a hire car following a comfortable and reassuringly safe evening flight. Our first port of call was The Arklow Bay Conference and Leisure Hotel in County Wicklow. Our journey took around an hour from the city for a comfortable check in and overnight sleep.
I saw a first for me on this journey as we spotted a working illuminated lighthouse in the middle of a road traffic island. We deliberately drove back past it the following morning as it was such a new experience to ensure we were not dreaming.
The freshly cooked and served Irish breakfast the next day was sublime and a great way to start the day. We didn’t have chance to play Arklow Golf Club but our Irish expert rates it as well worth a visit.
Rosslare Golf Links
We drove early to Rosslare Golf Links to enjoy a memorable golfing experience in every way possible. Our journey took around 90 minutes passing through some striking scenery and countryside. We both commented on the excellent condition of the road surfaces we used and the ease with which we navigated around a new country for both of us.
Rosslare is a wonderful venue worthy of a golf trip in itself. It is a gem of a links course. Gentle, sweeping, undulating, complicated. Fairways of consummate delight. With greens that are wonderfully true, but endlessly challenging. The surfaces are superb given the proximity to the erosive sea and weather. This course requires strategy off the tee followed by accuracy for the approach. Anything other than a strong game will lead to lost balls and tempers but the experience is still utterly fulfilling. My ‘A” game was back in England but it was still a totally enjoyable experience.
We had a drop of rain as our round concluded but it didn’t matter as Irish rain is soft rain and this is the sunniest place in the whole of Ireland statistically. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly I drop into the Irish perspective on all things golfing.
On completion of our game, we were introduced to the 2022 Club Captain, Mr Diarmaid Ó Raghnaigh. Hosting our visit was his first captain's duty and it was accomplished with style and aplomb. The food, drink and general craic was an amazing introduction to our Irish road trip. We entered his club as strangers and left as friends. For me this simply sums up the Irish golfing experience that I have enjoyed over many years and the reason I am always so happy to return.
There are many Welsh clubs that twin with Rosslare and have regular repeat society visits and I totally understand why. This is a special place and it was difficult to leave.
Our overnight stay was at Kelly’s Hotel in the town.
Five minutes from the golf course and with links to it since it was created. Kelly’s Hotel, Rosslare Strand is a fifth generation, centenary reaching, family-owned business of the highest order and it was the hotel where George L Baillie stayed during his visits to design the course accompanied by James J Farrell, the honorary secretary in 1905.
Our stay at Kelly’s was exemplary. The food and wine cellar exceptional in all respects. The hotel owns and displays some incredible, original art works as part of its décor. I woke at dawn to a stunning sunrise from my bedroom window looking out over a sandy beach and palm trees. Magnificent. The beach accessed from the hotel is superb and they offer the usual spa but with a sea-based option included within its 11 different treatment rooms.
The spa is award-winning and the facilities of the highest order throughout.
Bunclody Golf & Fishing Club
We then had a relaxed and pleasant journey to our next stop at Bunclody Golf & Fishing Club. Within an hour we had reached our destination easily passing through some stunning views and vistas. Bunclody is a relatively new facility. I loved it! It is eager, keen to impress and has an infrastructure and location that many other golf courses would die for.
The first impressions driving towards the clubhouse are simply stunning. The course is set well away from the main road and accessed by a meandering woodland drive that opens onto the view of the magnificent circular clubhouse with a thatched roof.
As bespoke golf clubhouse designs go this is one of the most striking I have seen. Internally the locker room is fitted out with exquisite furnishings in the manner of leading American country clubs.
Please read the full review to find details of some exceptional package deals offering excellent value for the travelling golfer.
The Joys of Kilkenny
Our next port of call was the wonderful city of Kilkenny.
We stayed in the River Court Hotel overlooking the river and 13th century medieval castle. This is an amazing town to visit and one I am already planning to return to next year.
It has a medieval mile and a thriving live comedy scene. The comedy festivals held here have led to the discovery of many of Ireland's most famous comedic talents. Think of the Edinburgh Fringe but with an Irish leaning. The town is awash with pubs and clubs with breweries and distilleries also on offer. Many of the pubs have live entertainment space.
We ate at Langton’s on the main street, where you enter via a small door giving access to a large archetypal Irish pub.
Every table was full and we were concerned that we couldn’t be accommodated. We were taken through another door at the pub through a group of sportsmen celebrating a victory with a song and a beer. Around another corner to access an amazing restaurant and hotel complex. This was literally like having a trip in a Tardis of epic proportion. We then had an Irish steak of the very best quality.
This was originally a bar known as Langton’s and since its inception in 1938 it has grown to become a Restaurant, Hotel, Music Venue/Theatre, Wedding Venue, Shop/Bakery and a Tea Room. A perfect illustration of the Irish attitude to the hospitality industry.
This little adventure is exactly what I have found in many Irish trips. Go with the flow, follow your nose and adventures occur.
Mount Juliet Estate
We rose early the next day taking time to picture the dawn over the castle before another sumptuous Irish breakfast. After a short journey we arrived at the wonderfully opulent Mount Juliet Estate. Resplendent with a championship golf course and world leading equestrian centre. Home of the 2022 Irish Open.
During our stay the resort received a number of accolades for exquisite service standards. It is easy to see why. Everything about the venue is superbly presented and supported by staff who take a clear pride in the venue and what they are able to offer the discerning visitor.
After a memorable round of golf, we used the excellent clubhouse and facilities before a trip back to Dublin in time for our early eventing flight home to the East Midlands. I returned the locker used by Sir Nick Faldo after my round with gratitude and again made a mental note that this is a venue I must return to explore further.
This short trip has been unsatisfactory in some respects.
Every single venue and experience has left me wanting to know more, stay longer, explore further. Rarely have I been left with such a feeling of an absolute need to return to an area to understand it better.
I knew little of the Ancient South East of Ireland before my trip but am now finding a passion for the area and a need to arrange repeat visits for further exploration and adventures.
I love the warmth of the welcome and the pride of the locals for the heritage and history that they live within and enjoy daily. I love the craic, the songs, the tales told by strangers who turn into friends over a pint of the black stuff next to a crackling, curling fire. This is literally the land of the thousand welcomes. “Cead mile failte.”
To say goodbye was a wrench and I intend to return again to sample its hospitality and friendship as soon as possible. In my humble opinion, there is no better place in the world for the independent traveller than Ireland. Link this to some of the best golf facilities as well and this is a trip made in heaven, enjoyed on earth.
For more information, please visit https://www.discoverireland.ie/irelands-ancient-east.
And discover more about Golf in Ireland by visiting https://www.ireland.com/en-GB/things-to-do/themes/golf/golf-in-ireland/.
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