Destination Feature: Cork & Fota Island Resort
Cork is often described as the ‘foodie’ county of Ireland. It’s also one of the most beautiful. This is where you’ll find the artisan cheese and bread makers, the smokeries and the acclaimed restaurants hiding in small towns or making waves in Ireland’s second city. Tour the dramatic coastline that ripples along Ireland’s southern shores and you’ll be joining part of the Wild Atlantic Way – a 1,500 mile route that stretches from Kinsale in Co. Cork to the Inishowen peninsula in Co. Donegal. This is where all 40 shades of green come together, and there’s no better place to enjoy it than from the Fota Island Resort, 15 minutes east of Cork City.
The resort has hosted the Irish Open on three occasions (2001, 2002 and June 19-22, 2014) and illustrates the strength and popularity of golf in the region.
Tucked away on its own little island, the Fota Island Resort is five star quality and offers everything you could ask for when it comes to golf and/or a family getaway. There are over 100 rooms, as well as penthouse suites and private lodges with two, three or four bedrooms – they’re perfect for golfers. There’s a full spa, with eighteen treatment rooms, a gym and an indoor heated swimming pool. There are restaurants and bars as well as specific activities for kids. It is all designed for comfort and relaxation… something that extends to the impressive 27-hole golf course just a two minute walk away. You’ll find a full-scale Golf Academy, too, for practice and tuition.
The resort is an ideal base for golfing in Cork, with over 30 courses stretched across the county, and plenty more within easy reach. It is not one of the big golfing destinations, which seems odd given the quality of courses such as Fota Island, Cork Golf Club and the world famous Old Head of Kinsale. The charm and colour of the smaller courses cannot be ignored, either, nor can the friendly welcome that is reserved for all visitors.
A Golfing County
Cork Golf Club is old and rather special… being designed by none other than Alister MacKenzie. Set on the estuary it has strong heathland leanings and these are more evident than ever after recent renovations returned the course to its roots.
Water Rock Golf Club is a quiet, family affair but the course holds its condition very well indeed and, in its par three 12th, it has one of the best holes in Ireland. John Daly came to Cork in 2005 to try his hand at golf course design. His inspiration, his wild abandon, his have-a-go philosophy is on show at Blarney Golf Club, with Cork’s landscape spilling endlessly across the fields and hills that surround the course. More sedate clubs include Douglas and Monkstown, both over 100 years old, while Lee Valley, to the west of the city, was designed by Christy O’Connor Junior and is the venue where he repeated his famous Ryder Cup tussle with Fred Couples (The Belfry 1989). Castlemartyr Golf Club is only 10 miles away and is one of Ireland’s newest courses, playing like an inland links.
Flying to the city’s airport from nine UK hubs (including Edinburgh, London, Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle) promises a rich choice of golfing opportunities as well as superb value. Mahon Golf Club, an impressive municipal course on the banks of the city’s Lough Mahon, costs just £12, while Fota Island’s championship course can be played for £50. If you want to push the boat out, how about the luxury, cliff-top golf experience that is Old Head of Kinsale. Green fees cost £130 to £180, but the memories are far more valuable than that.
Other things to try
For those looking beyond golf the most obvious place to start is right next door to the resort. Fota Island Wildlife Park (www.fotawildlife.ie) is no ordinary zoo. Set in 75 acres this is home to 80 species of different mammals and birds. They are allowed to roam free as much as possible and you can get up close and personal with many tenants of the park. You can wander with lemurs and squirrels, visit bison and giraffes or watch the cheetahs reach their peak speeds of 60mph in the ‘cheetah run’.
Ireland is renowned for its whiskey – that’s whiskey with the ‘e’ – and the 150 year old Jameson distillery in Midleton will be sure to show you why. Tours are a popular attraction, especially with the tasting at the end, and the hotel stocks over 75 fine whiskeys if you want to try some of Ireland’s best. And since you’re here, you’ll no doubt fancy a pint of the black stuff… and in Cork, that’s Murphy’s Stout. Guineess is available of course but, if you want to fit in, try the Murphy’s first.
Cork dates back to the 10th century, although the English Market in the heart of the city has only been around for 400 years or so. This enclosed market offers a variety of Cork’s best food and produce. It is also one of the stops on the Fabulous Food Trail (www.fabfoodtrails.ie), a two and a half hour walk that introduces you to everything that Cork City has to offer. It’s a great way to wind down and fill up after a round of golf on one of the many local courses.
Other food destinations include Ballymaloe House, home to the famous Allens (Myrtle, Darina and Rachel), and the entire fishing village of Kinsale, which has become known as Ireland’s gourmet capital. The village is also very artsy, with photographers, artists and designers inspired by the perfect Irish landscapes.
If you want to show off your full tourist credentials, why not visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone.
Fota Island Resort Packages
To celebrate hosting the Irish Open for the third time, Fota Island Resort welcomes all golfers with two great stay and play packages.
Overnight B&B at Fota Island Resort, with one golf lesson per person in the world-class Golf Academy, followed by a Triple Treat spa treatment (including neck and shoulder massage and scalp massage). The package costs from €355 per room per night.
The His & Her Overnight Escape includes one night’s B&B for two, a round of golf for him and a relaxing spa treatment for her… or vice versa. Or you can select two rounds of golf or two spa treatments. The treatments include a choice of either a full body Swedish massage, full body harmony massage or a Comfort Zone facial. The cost per room starts at €255 per room per night.
Kevin Markham is an Irish golf writer, blogger and photographer who writes for a number of Irish and UK golf websites & magazines. His book 'Hooked: An Amateur's Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland' was published in 2011 and reviews all 350 golf courses which he played whilst travelling round Ireland in a campervan - which is told in his new 2014 book 'Driving the Green - An Irish Golfing Adventure'.
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