As I’ve discovered on numerous trips to Ireland, the country offers a glimpse of paradise for golfers. The southwest, for example, has classic links courses such as Ballybunion and Waterville, which have long drawn connoisseurs of the royal and ancient game. And superb layouts such as Portmarnock are within easy driving distance of Dublin’s historic pubs and literary haunts. But no region of the Emerald Isle has brought me more golfing pleasure than the remote northwest.
The area offers a wealth of quality courses, routed in and around grassy sand dunes, along tidal estuaries and by the roiling Atlantic. These are quaint and quiet tracks with names such as Carne and Connemara, Enniscrone and Rosses Point, where elevated tee boxes provide sweeping vistas, and greens are tucked into devilish nooks, guarded by gaping pot bunkers. The architects of these and other layouts, such as the revered Old Tom Morris in the late 19th century and the prolific Irishman Eddie Hackett nearly 100 years later, were true minimalists, working with the terrain that nature provided. Their tracks give golfers plenty of challenge and fun, as well as a sense of the game as it was played centuries ago. And the clubs that were formed around them are as unassuming as they are congenial, places where bankers and bakers, farmers and financiers gather to enjoy the sport together.
What all this means is that golf in Ireland’s northwest is a true throwback. But there are other ways in which time has stood still. Visitors sense this as they drive narrow country lanes bordered by mossy stone walls and green leas in which black-faced sheep and Black Angus cattle graze peacefully. They see it in the sleepy farming and fishing villages that dot the shoreline, with names such as Narin and Portnoo. And they absorb it in the cozy pubs that serve pints of Guinness and Smithwick’s and bowls of seafood chowder, as local fiddlers play reels. It is the Ireland of “The Quiet Man,” a place so evocative of easier, less hectic times that men and women from the rest of the country head there regularly for respites.