When most people think of golf in Ireland, images of raw, windswept links like Ballybunion, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down come to mind, and for good reason. There’s simply nothing in the world like a seaside Irish golf course.
But, as I happily discovered on a recent trip to Dublin, the Emerald Isle’s notable golf options do not end with linksland courses. Worthwhile parkland tracks abound in Ireland, and if you have access to a car, there are many commendable selections within an hour or two of Dublin.
So, if you have an extra day for golf and want to see a bit of the county too, I recommend setting your “Sat Nav” for Mount Juliet Golf Course, located in Co. Kilkenny, a mere 90-minute drive from Dublin’s city center.
Full disclosure: Mount Juliet is not just a golf course, but a full-blown vacation destination. The centerpiece of the property — Mount Juliet House — is a Georgian beauty that dates back to the 18th century. I didn’t stay overnight in one of the gorgeously appointed 31 bedrooms in the main house (a regrettable oversight!), but I did have the chance to walk around the property. It was simply stunning: quiet, tranquil and inviting. In addition to golf, Mount Juliet offers a spa, equestrian center, clay pigeon shooting, archery, and three lakes where you can fish for trout and salmon.
Anyway, back to the golf. As it was a quiet day in the Irish winter off-season, once I got my fill of the surrounding property, my foursome was free to tee off at our leisure. The Jack Nicklaus design offers plenty of length (nearly 7,300 yards from the tips) but there were four other tee options in between, starting at around 5,500 yards, which was perfect for me. The course is a serene beauty to walk, with stone bridges, trickling creeks and leafy groves of trees everywhere you look. Mount Juliet is no stranger to professional tournaments either, having hosted three Irish Opens in the mid-1990s and the WGC-American Express Golf Championship in 2002 (winner: Tiger Woods) and 2004 (winner: Ernie Els).
While Mount Juliet’s signature par 3, No. 3 (182 yards from the tips, downhill, with water guarding the green) was indeed a joy to play, the most memorable hole for our group was No. 13. At 433 yards from the back tees, the hole is tough enough to reach in regulation, but add a giant lake around the front of the green — and a downhill lie to deal with on the approach — and it becomes an exceptional challenge. As luck would have it, everyone in our group hit a good drive and felt up to the test of going for the green. I wish I could say we were all successful, but only one of us made it. Two of us dunked it in the water, short, and the third … well, he almost whiffed under the pressure. Glorious! And still a great memory.
We finished at dusk — a grand culmination to a wonderful day. If I haven’t convinced you to take a chance on Mount Juliet yet, consider this: springtime green fees can be booked online as low as 40 EUR per person. As every savvy player knows, a great experience that’s also a great value is never so easy to come by. I’m already eager to get back myself.