Club Choice Ireland are the experts at tailor made golf packages to the East & South East of Ireland.

This is a golf tour company with a difference… when they say ‘experienced’ and ‘personalised’ they mean it. The background to Club Choice Ireland is a father and son duo (Larry & Tiernan Byrne) with over 40 years combined experience in bringing golfers into Ireland. You only need to spend a few minutes in their company to know that they are genuinely passionate about their region as a golfing destination and in April we got the chance to experience it first-hand…

ClubChoice wanted us to capture the very essence of a society based trip to the region, so we decided to leave the better golfers behind and send the hackers instead, modest standard golfers but high standard personalities. The reliable Phil (myself) and Bill combination boarded the Holyhead/Dublin Stena Line ferry 2.30pm on Sunday April 17th to take up the challenge.

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PART I

Party time

The fairly new Talbot Stillorgan package that we started with has a distinct advantage from the off, one for which Bill and I were only too happy to check out for ourselves. The Talbot Stillorgan is beautifully located just 15 minutes from the port. It’s situated far enough out of town to whizz south for an early tee time without too many alarms in the morning, but more importantly for us on a Sunday night, also close enough to the city centre to enjoy it’s nightlife without too much expense. After a seriously good meal in the hotel’s Brass Bar & Grill we hopped on a bus and headed to Temple Bar, Dublin’s hotspot of traditional Irish bars and clubs.

It’s all too easy to get carried away here, a vibrant place full of smiling faces, music and Guinness by the bucketload. For a Sunday it was incredible, packed out, there were some bars we just couldn’t get in to, we settled for Storehouse Bar and Gogarty’s too, both with live music on, the Irish whistles, fast guitars and flutes were in full force. Both venues had raucous hen parties in full swing too, ladies dressed as minions in The Storehouse singing along with the band, you just don’t get this on a Sunday in Staffordshire. I’d experienced a Dublin night out before, Bill hadn’t and was taken aback, it’s wonderful fun, they know how to party here and our pre-evening pledge to take it easy and have just a few didn’t really materialise!

The two euro

The morning after we were a little bleary eyed and ready to get on with the golf with a baptism of fire, nine holes vs Tiernan from ClubChoice at Dun Laoghaire GC. The sat-nav did us no favours, strangely sending us to Dun Laoghaire bowling club at first but we still arrived in time. One thing we noticed straight away and it remained as a theme all week is that the Irish golfer likes a lie in, the club was deserted at 8.15 when we arrived, but packed out when we left, the complete opposite to what we generally find in The Midlands. However, Tiernan was there and ready to play and two euro were put down by all ahead of the game. Whether he had planned to time the money match for when he deduced we would be most hungover we’ll never know, and he was right in one sense, but not in another, because for some reason I don’t play too badly after a skinful.

A bit sluggish to start with and our failing to convert metres into yards with blurry heads didn’t help, but a par-par-bogey-par-bogey finish, thanks mainly to a hot putter was just enough to grab the two euro, it turned out to be the best golf I played all week, sorry Tiernan.

Curtis Cup standard

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This club only moved to it’s present parkland location in 2007, following the best part of 100 years as a seaside based club in the heart of the town itself (clearly no-one told the sat-nav!) Vast investment was donated into the new setting in the picturesque Ballyman Glen, on the edge of the Wicklow hills. The Great Sugarloaf Mountain is the dominating sight, in this neck of the woods it seems to pop into view around every corner.

Designed by Hawtree Ltd to a very high specification with USGA greens and teeboxes, the rise in fortunes for Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary) has been dramatic, culminating in the ultimate accolade of becoming the host to The Curtis Cup next month. So we knew we were in for a quality round and we weren’t to be disappointed, it’s a brilliant golf course, full of feature holes, great views and inspiring tests. 27 holes in total, from the top tips of the Upper course, through the water dominated Middle, then under the road bridge to the lovely gorse clad Lower course, altogether a gently undulating and always easy walking parkland paradise.

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Picture – Nick Bradshaw

To pick a favourite hole is a tough task, probably the most obvious choice is the fourth on the Middle course, a downhill par four of modest yardage – is it driveable? Yes, it will tempt you with that prospect, but the further you travel the more the gap narrows between the two water features on each side. Yet the one that caught my eye was the fourth hole on the Lower, also a short two shotter and just lovely, a sea view from the rear of the tee, then the drive into a gorse clad valley which needs good placement to attack the tight raised target with banking all around.

How did we play?

Bill was rusty, and a tad hungover too so his two euros proved easier to collect than Tiernan’s, but Bill’s time was yet to come. I played lovely, everything was in tune around the mid-stretch until I came to the sixth on the Lower, a hole that reminded me of The Twenty-Ten course – with the same result, two wet balls and a blob. But overall a fine effort, for me Dun Laoghaire was as good as it was going to get for my game.

Super GPS buggies too here as we enjoyed a whizz around the Upper course later, then following a peek at the equally splendid clubhouse facilities we left for just a ten minute journey to our second Irish location, Powerscourt GC.

Turn up the Power

Located in Enniskerry Co Wicklow, this is a venue with much history, one of Ireland’s leading tourist attractions. The huge Powerscourt House overlooks one of the country’s highest regarded gardens, and further afield on the estate, Ireland’s highest waterfall. A host of other attractions too including its five star hotel, but we came for the golf, a little less history there but the 1,100 acre area effortlessly fits in 36 holes too.

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East vs West with two Championship standard courses, the East came first, designed by Walker Cup legend Peter McEvoy and ready for play in 1996. The designer followed the natural contours of the land perfectly whilst also putting his own mark on proceedings with many tricky greenside traps and well contoured putting surfaces. Even though the West edges it in looks, the prettiest hole by far at Powerscourt and possibly the full trip as a whole came at the East’s 16th (below),  an absolute stunner of a par three, downhill and over the green fronting pond to a slick putting surface surrounded by pine trees, it smelled nice too!

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The West is newer, and sticks to a fairly similar theme with more in the way of forestry type surroundings and extra water peril too. The ravine that cuts through the course is put to good use and provides the highlights, spectacular views and thrilling golf in store around here, the sixth and 10th holes are the ones to look out for.

Just a buggy ride for us around Powerscourt, enough time though to see what a quality facility this is. At the close we grabbed a brew and a delicious home-made scone with club manager Gavin, a true enthusiast and a lovely fella.

Under a Druids Spell

Still another 36 to look at before we could think about another pint or two, our final destination for the day was Druids Glen, home to a pair of highly regarded golf courses and the 4 star hotel and resort. The plan was to drop the bags in the room and head off in a buggy, and with the daylight left pick out a few holes to play too.

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Hotel Sales and Events Executive Barbara Dunne met us at reception for the guided tour of hotel and eateries, most impressive and along the way via the terrace bar we were afforded a tantalising glimpse of the golf to come, “there’s a par three down there that looks a little bit tasty” Bill whispered. A couple of hours later we were there, firing seven irons across the water filled gorge at the historical and mystical 12th hole, the epicentre of all that is special about Druids Glen.

However to rewind for a spell we jumped on another buggy at first and toured Druids Heath golf course, set as a complete contrast to the glen, in an open landscape with the Irish Sea and the Wicklow mountains in constant view. Naturally the elements can play a pivotal role and although you have to be pretty wildly wayward to get into serious trouble, the free-formed fairway traps are prevalent and only too happy to get in the way. The water holes when they arrived were highlights, A lovely atmospheric place to play too, real away from it all stuff and a shot-makers course that deserves closer attention on a subsequent visit.

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Lost in the woods

Understandably we had to save some time for a few holes at Druids Glen, one of Ireland’s best known golf courses and the host to the Irish Open from 1996-1999. The 1st hole and magnificent 17th century Woodstock House which now acts as the clubhouse are a decent distance from the hotel and Druids Heath, but armed with a black and white map we stayed on the buggy and went cross-country rather than the easier car option. With obvious results too, by the time we got there we’d managed to catch a glimpse of probably every hole Druids Glen has, and turned many a wrong corner, (bring back the sat-nav!) It cost us playing time but not to worry, once we finally traversed the course in the right order, what a treat it is, enclosed within wooded surrounds, with verdant green and lush fairways pointing their way to the quality, true greens which as they should be are extremely challenging.

We played three marvellous par three’s which included the eponymous 12th of course and the 17th too, an island green to aim at, and all of 167 yards too. If that wasn’t enough this green also has a moat of a bunker to get over too, blue, yellow, green Bill called it from the tee, then got wet!

Druids Glen also had the toughest challenge of the week in my opinion, the 13th hole (below). Follow the line of the attractive bright red bush over the brook for your tee shot, then turn a corner and the green looks as distant as distant gets, tucked away in the corner with water and lots of it to cross, a deserved SI 1.

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So that was that for day one, we’d played 24 holes and viewed another 75 via buggy ride. We dined in style at the hotel’s Thirteenth Bar and once again, Bill who has a habit of unusual culinary incidents did it again with his dish, a Pulled Pork affair which did taste delicious. But it was covered in Kataifi Pastry, also delicious but with the look of a thatched cottage to be honest, or in the case of Bill’s Facebook followers, a hamster once the photo was uploaded!

By the time we had finished, the next door conference had joined us for late night drinks, and with a live musician on again, things were set to turn a little lively, almost similar to the night before. But 99 holes had taken its toll, we made our excuses and retired, day two promised something equally as spectacular.

Coming in June.…….Memorable times at Woodenbridge and Macreddin, the epic Carton House and will Seve inspire Bill to get his money back at The Heritage Club?

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