The late great Bob Hope once said, "If you watch a game, its fun. If you play it, it's recreation. If you work at it, it's golf." A quote which no doubt many golfers will know and identify with.
On the September 22nd, the golfing world will be focusing its attention on Ireland, as the most prestigious tournament in golf, The Ryder Cup is played out at the renowned K-Club. This will be the 36th meeting as teams from Europe and the U.S. battle it out over the three days.
The Ryder Cup is currently in European hands and with home advantage and a strong team, the Europeans are strong favourites. But Americans have always been welcomed on Irish soil and many Americans can trace their descendants back to the Emerald Isle. So this year's location at the K-Club could make for a real Ryder Cup classic.
The K-Club is regarded as one of the best golf resorts in Ireland and the World, and was the unanimous choice of the Ryder Cup committee to host the 2006 competition. It's clear to see why, the Kildare Club in Straffan, Co. Kildare, less than an hours drive from Dublin, boasts facilities that are second to none. The K-Club has two world-class parkland golf courses, the famous Arnold Palmer Course and the equally challenging Smurfit Course and is combined with a five star hotel of the very highest standards.
Ireland is the proud home to a number of the world's top golf courses. As well as the K-Club, the Emerald Isle boasts Mount Juliet in Kilkenny, with the famous Jack Nicklaus signature course, one of the world's leading championship parkland courses. The Mount Juliet Estate is a sporting paradise with a rich sense of tradition set around the 18th Century Manor house.
Another of Ireland's famous parkland course is Druid's Glen. Opened in 1995, Druid's Glen won European Golf Course of the Year in 2000 and is considered Europe's answer to Augusta. Nestled between the Wicklow Mountains and the Irish Sea, the course at Druid's Glen is a magnificent undulating and well-wooded course. In 2003 the Druid's Heath course was added, a links style heath land course boasting one of the world's longest Par 3s.
But its links golf that Ireland is renowned for and this island counts for one third of the world's true links courses amid some of the most incredible scenery imaginable. Each year golfers from all over the world come to Ireland to face the challenging golf links of courses such as Royal County Down, Portmarnock, Ballybunion, and Lahinch.
Northern Ireland's premier golf course Royal County Down has a long and proud golfing history. Situated in the shadows of the Mourne Mountains, Royal County Down is a fine example of links golf and is regarded as a true test of golf. Royal County Down is very exclusive and unless you are a club member or a guest of one, and are wearing a jacket and tie, you won't get into the clubhouse.
Just 16km form Dublin, Portmarnock Old Course is equally prestigious and regarded as one of the great links golf course of the world. There is the charm of its delightful turf. The wildness. The solitude of the sandhills and the sea. And the ever-present challenge of the wind, that have made Portmarnock a venue for some of the games most prestigious events.
Though these courses have the grace and prestige, for many it's the courses found on Ireland's west coast, overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean, that present the greatest challenge. Ballybunion in Co. Kerry and Lahinch in Co. Clare, offer the best examples.
The Old Course at Ballybunion is considered by many golfing guides, as among the top ten in the world. The course feels like it has been there forever and is tough but fair, characterized by huge sand dunes. Bill Clinton took time out from his presidential visit in 1998 to play Christy O'Connor Jnr at Ballybunion, so it's an important addition to anyone's travel itinerary.
The Old Course at Lahinch is brimming with golfing history. Founded in 1893, the course was originally designed by Old Tom Morris of St Andrew's and was later revised in 1928 by Dr. Alastair MacKenzie. Lahinch is the perfect example of Irish links golf, set amid towering sand dunes with undulating fairways and rolling greens overlooking the Atlantic. Lahinch is home to two of the world's most famous holes, the Klondyke and the Dell offering some of the toughest challenges you'll find in golf.
As well as these world famous courses, Ireland boasts a number of lesser known gems, that will surprise and challenge golfers of any handicap. When it comes to spectacular location and scenery, the golf links at the Old Head of Kinsale are hard to beat. Situated on a narrow finger of land on top of hundred foot cliffs out into the Atlantic Ocean, the Old Head presents the ultimate golfing challenge in Ireland. Six sets of tees on every hole are changed every morning, and nine holes run along cliff tops. This course is simply an incredible blend of ancient Irish spirit and design genius. But at about €1,000 a round, the Old Head doesn't come cheap.
A more realistic and affordable golfing challenge can be found at Rathsallagh about 50km from Dublin. Rathsallagh is perhaps, Irish golf's best-kept secret. Designed by Christy O'Connor Jnr and Peter McEvoy and opened in 1994, Rathsallagh made its way into the top 30 (out of 350) Golf Courses of Ireland, in just three years. Set on 252 acres of lush parkland with thousands of mature trees, natural water hazards and a gently rolling landscape Rathsallagh is a spectacular course, which will test the pros without intimidating the club golfer.
Another special golfing experience can be found at Dromoland Castle Golf Course. Arguably Ireland's premier hotel, Dromoland Castle and its stunning 18-hole parkland course, entertained President Bush on his state visit to Ireland. The course was designed by one of Europe's top design teams; Ron Kirby and JB Carr and features rolling hills, centuries-old trees and testing water hazards. The result is nothing short of magnificent. The signature 7th, stands loftily above a postage stamp green with water to the left and a shamrock sand trap to the right. If that was not enough, the eye is breathtakingly distracted by the magnificent backdrop of Dromoland Castle.
Last but by no means least is the Adare Manor Hotel Golf Club, a masterpiece in golf course design from Robert Trent Jones. Set over 240 acres in the grounds of Adare Manor this parkland course features three man made lakes, including a 14 acre lake anchoring the front nine, while the River Maigue meanders through the back nine creating a scenic challenge. Trent Jones compared the Adare Manor Hotel course to Augusta and boldly predicts the 18th hole being the best par 5 in the world.
Ireland may be smaller than the state of Indiana, but with around 350 courses to choose from it is the ultimate destination for a golfing vacation. I think Bob Hope would agree, that when it's this enjoyable golf can't be all work!