Ireland is renowned for having some of the best golf courses in the world, designed by the famous names of the past and the present. Golfers flock to the links courses that dazzle the coastline and the parklands that cover a landscape boasting 40 shades of green. Luxury golf is not difficult to find here, but there are some travellers who want more than golf, either for themselves or their partner. Here is a list of the top 5 star golf resorts that cater to every taste imaginable.
The Lodge at Doonbeg is one of Ireland’s great resort success stories. Developed in the late 1990s, it hovers on the edge of the Atlantic at one end of Doughmore Bay, in the county of Clare. Close to The Burren, the legendary Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle, Doonbeg is the perfect location from which to explore Irish nature and history, while basking in grandeur. The Lodge has won countless awards and offers exceptional luxury in stunning, wind-swept surroundings.
Accommodation comes in the form of lodges, suites and cottages, which provide privacy and security as well as individual flourishes such as open fireplaces and fully equipped dining areas. 5 star it may be, but it still manages to raise understated luxury to a new level, boasting meticulous design, hand-selected antiques and reclaimed wood.
The Long Room restaurant was voted the Best Hotel Restaurant in Ireland 2012, by the Restaurant Association of Ireland. Tom Colicchio, renowned for his New York restaurants Gramercy Tavern and Craft, has inspired the dining experience as delivered by the award-winning executive head chef, Wade Murphy. There is also the less formal Darby’s pub, but both venues showcase fresh, local ingredients and stunning ocean views. The White Horses Spa promises an exceptional experience for mind, body and spirit, while the many activities, both local and within the resort’s setting, include archery, surfing, horse riding, cookery and dolphin watching to name a few.
Voted Golf Digest’s Best New International Course in its opening year, the Greg Norman designed golf links is the work of creative genius, weaving around enthralling dunes along the shoreline. The greens flow out of the land to give a superb natural feel that will enchant and challenge golfers of all abilities. Maintained to an exceptional standard it also has one of the great opening holes in Irish golf, a par five that fires straight into the heart of the dunes.
2. Lough Erne
Lough Erne Resort is wrapped up in the lough’s embrace deep in the Fermanagh Lakelands, an area drenched in lakes, islands, forests and beauty. The resort takes full advantage of its surroundings to deliver a level of luxury that can be experienced from the moment you cross the bridge to reach the island on which the resort is located. There are 120 guest rooms and suites, promising an elegant country house style that fuses old world heritage charm with new world 5 star luxury. Each has panoramic views across the lough and golf course.
Lough Erne won Northern Ireland’s Hotel of the Year 2011 (Northern Ireland Tourism Awards), which is no surprise given its attention to detail, customer service and innovative selection of restaurants and bars. The menus have been created by the acclaimed chef, Noel McMeel, to give guests a world of choice. Noel believes in using only the very best of Irish produce and has won awards for the resort’s cuisine, including Best Chef in the Irish Restaurant Awards 2011. The Catalina Restaurant is the formal dining experience, but guests can choose from three other restaurants.
The Thai Spa offers the only Thai spa experience in the British Isles, making it a unique proposition for those who want authentic Thai experts to impart that all important sense of well-being. The lakes are also renowned for their fly fishing, walks, heritage and folklore.
The golf course was designed by Nick Faldo, and opened in 2008. It uses the lough on many holes, with the signature 10th green resting in the lough itself. It is a masterpiece, flowing over the naturally rolling Fermanagh landscape. The natural fauna and flora are encouraged to thrive, allowing each hole to stand out, both in colour and design. Lough Erne was voted Golf Resort of the Year (Irish Golf Tour Operators Association) in 2011, and third Best New International Course of 2009, by Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine Group.
3. Mount Juliet
Mount Juliet covers a 1,500 acre estate in Co. Kilkenny, and boasts a stud, an 18th century house (now the 5 star hotel), a boutique spa and a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. Guests will want for nothing during their stay as Mount Juliet is renowned for its exceptional levels of customer service.
The estate is on the outskirts of Thomastown, a small market town on the River Nore. Mount Juliet House has 31 unique rooms (the house retains plenty of examples of original 18th century craftsmanship), many with views over the river and Ballylinch Stud. High ceilings, Georgian windows and traditional fireplaces are among the period features that give each room its own unique story and style. Lodges are available for larger groups or for added privacy.
It is the spaciousness and surroundings that add to Mount Juliet’s air of quality and luxury, and here activities abound. Salmon and trout fishing, archery, walking and equestrian pursuits all offer the non-golfer plenty to do. The historic town of Kilkenny is only 20 kilometres away.
Dining has become an art at Mount Juliet. The Lady Helen Restaurant offers an eight-course tasting menu, with produce all locally sourced. It is a stunning introduction to Irish food that has been prepared beautifully. Kendal’s is a French brasserie style restaurant, offering less formal dining but with the same attention to quality.
The Jack Nicklaus designed golf course opened in 1991. It is elegant and spacious and is as relaxing a round of golf as you could ask for. Water appears on many holes and the Nicklaus signature of well-protected greens prove the greatest challenge. In the clubhouse, relax underneath the photographs of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, who won the American Express Golf Championship here in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
The Adare Manor Resort is centred on a stunning Neo-Gothic Manor on the outskirts of Adare village, one of the prettiest in Ireland. It is as striking a piece of architecture as you could hope to see. Guests can wander its corridors and may discover its 365 stained windows, one for every day of the year. A complete makeover of the manor began in the 1990s, and, today, it is 5 star luxury throughout.
Bedrooms are impressively large and individually designed. They even retain many features added by Lord and Lady Dunraven in the 1800s. Guests can expect carved headboards, extensive bathrooms and original fireplaces. It adds to the atmosphere and that sense of splendour that greets you when you arrive. Elsewhere, there are three to four bedroom self catering villas, which sit in a quiet corner of the demesne, and townhouses designed for golfers.
Award-winning chefs make dining at Adare a special occasion. Head chef Mark Donohue marries a contemporary Irish approach with strong classical influences. He and his team create inspiring dishes in the Oakroom, a charming and intimate room overlooking the River Maigue. The Carriage House Restaurant offers more relaxed dining while the Tack Room, in the manorâ€™s cellar, is one of those cosy bars where you can happily curl up with a drink and friends.
There is much for an Adare Manor guest to do, from beauty treatments in the Lavendar Cottage, to falconry, fishing and flights in a hot air balloon. A leisure centre is also available to guests.
The golf course was designed by the renowned American architect, Robert Trent Jones, Senior, and held the Irish Open in 2007 and 2008. Frequently ranked as the best parkland course in Ireland, it is an idyllic landscape for golfers. Holes wander between tall trees and there are few courses that could claim to be as graceful in style and shape. The finishing stretch embraces the River Maigue and the 18th is one of golf’s great finishing holes, ending beneath the manor walls.
5. Carton House
Carton House is only a short drive from the town of Maynooth, west of Dublin. It boasts a rich and eventful history that dates back to the capture of Dublin by the Normans in 1170. In 1739, the 19th Earl of Kildare built the existing building, which was remodelled at the start of the 19th century. It was one of Ireland’s great stately homes, with an estate of 1,100 acres. Today it is a luxury hotel with 165 bedrooms and suites, many of which have balconies overlooking the grand estate.
Guests can choose from three dining venues, including the Linden Tree (Best Hotel and Country House Restaurant in the 2012 Irish Restaurant Awards) and the relaxed Coach House. All restaurants emphasise fresh, Irish produce as well as an innovative approach to Irish and international cuisine.
Carton House is undoubtedly luxurious, but it is also very much about relaxation. Your time is your own and you can wander the estate or participate in activities such as fishing on the River Rye, walking the estate’s nature trails, cycling over nine kilometres of dedicated tracks or visiting the leisure centre. There’s plenty to choose from, while the spa has an extensive range of treatments to ensure total relaxation and escape.
There are two golf courses, opened in 2002, designed by legends of the game: Colin Montgomerie and Mark Oâ€™Meara. The Montgomerie course opened first and was designed as an inland links, flowing over a rolling, open landscape and between deep pothole bunkers that are ferocious hazards. The greens are among the best in Ireland. The course has hosted the Irish Open and does so again in 2013. The O’Meara course is a more traditional parkland, weaving between the woodlands and over the hillsides of Co. Kildare, with views of the Dublin Mountains. It is renowned for its finishing stretch beside the River Rye.
In 2012, Carton House won the coveted Irish Golf Resort of the Year, awarded by the Ireland Golf Tour Operator Association (IGTOA). The resort was Trip Advisor’s Travelers’ Choice 2012 Winner.
Kevin Markham is Owner of the Golf Courses Ireland.