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Destinations with Ron Claiborne: Ireland

Doonbeg

Photo by Patrick O'Brien

The Emerald Isle's golf courses, including Doonbeg (above), offer magnificent scenery and challenging terrain.

I stood on the tee at the 11th hole at Ballybunion’s Old Course on Ireland’s rustic west coast and marveled at the gorgeous golfing landscapes before me. The tight, manicured fairway, hugged by scrubby rounded hills, rose to a barely visible distant green where the pin flag flapped stiffly in the wind. This is golf! I thought.

       
Photo by Steve Carr, courtesy of Ballybunion Golf Club.        

I’d heard about Ireland’s beautiful and challenging golf courses, but I never thought I’d play them. Then, last summer, I impulsively decided to check an item off my bucket list. I invited an old grad-school roommate, James, and we soon found ourselves flying into Shannon Airport in southwest Ireland.

The hardest part of our manic golfing expedition was figuring out which courses to play. There are more than 400 in Ireland, a country that’s roughly the size of West Virginia. We knew we had to play Ballybunion. Founded in 1893, it’s a venerable temple of Irish golf located an hour and 40 minutes from Shannon Airport. BallyB, as the Irish call it, turned out to be the most difficult course I have ever played. The fairways are frightfully narrow. The greens are tiny and undulating. The sand traps are steep and deep. James and I have no idea how we scored because we took mercy on ourselves and stopped counting after a while. And how we played seemed pointless, given the course’s magnificent setting.

Our second day was a golfing marathon along the west coast. In the morning, we played 18 holes at Doonbeg, a sprawling links course with a clubhouse that looks like a castle. Later that afternoon, we played 18 more holes at Lahinch, a tricky charmer. The next day, we drove three hours across the country along winding, narrow roads. We dropped our bags at our hotel in the Dublin suburb of Malahide (home of the Malahide Castle) and headed straight to The Island Golf Club.

       
Portmarnock Golf Club.        

It was pouring rain when we arrived, and as we clambered toward the clubhouse, an Irishman in a sopping wet rain jacket called to us cheerily, “Welcome to the weather!” Although we teed off into the teeth of a driving downpour, it felt atmospheric instead of miserable. The Island turned out to be a delight, and we had it all to ourselves. It’s laid out atop an expanse of rolling seaside dunes that made some of the fairways resemble a mogul ski run.

We played our fifth and final round at Portmarnock Golf Club, the site of 19 Irish Opens. The course covers a wind-scoured field and is pocked by some of the deepest sand traps you will ever see, some of which have ladders to assist your entrance and egress. On the final hole, I somehow smacked two textbook perfect woods and holed out in two puts for an ego-bolstering par—an unbelievable end to an unbelievable week.


Ron Claiborne is the news anchor for ABC News' weekend edition of 
Good Morning America. A journalism veteran, Claiborne won an Emmy award in 2000 with the ABC News team that covered the Elián González story.

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I never thought that Ireland have something that they must be proud of. Such a stunning beauty. I will surely come to IE and visit the place.
5/16/2012 1:11:19 AM

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