Tiger Woods knows this secret. So does Phil Mickelson, Mark O'Meara, David Duval, and other top golf pros. So does Bill Clinton, Dan Quayle, Michael Jordan... even Neil Armstrong.Dear Reader,
I recently decided to take a month off work to find the perfect golf vacation.
I hopped on a plane in late September, and flew 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.
Then I traveled 2,200 miles by car and ferry—playing almost four-dozen golf courses along the way in four weeks.
This was a golf adventure, not a relaxing tour.
No museums. No shopping. No cathedrals, bar-crawls, or boat rides. I woke at dawn each morning, ate breakfast, played golf, then hopped in the car to find the next course. I often played one course in the morning, drove 20-30 miles, and played another round in the afternoon.
I showered... ate dinner, then drank beer and talked golf with the locals until it was time for bed. Then it was wake, eat, and repeat.
You see, I wanted to get the full story on the secret mid-summer getaway of many of the world's top pros.
It's the only golf destination I know of where you can play courses built more than 100 years ago, year-round, without ever breaking a sweat. Where the combination of mountains, valleys, cliffs, and the roaring ocean nearly takes your breath away after every shot.
I'm talking about a place where every course is open to the public. And most importantly, where there are about two-dozen of the world's best golf courses—on an island that's about the size of West Virginia.
I'm talking about Ireland.
Of course, Irish golf is not the secret it was 20 years ago.
But as far as I know, no one has ever played all of Ireland’s great courses in one trip... or even in one year.
And what I found during my travels is that, if you look hard enough, a good many secrets still remain.
There's a great course in County Donegal that even hard-core Irish links fanatics have probably never heard of.
It costs just $40 a round—and, incredibly, is one of the 10-best courses in the entire country. It's located next to one of Ireland's most beautiful beaches... with spectacular valleys... mountains in the background... and golf holes that take your breath away.
Or how about this: The best golf resort in the county also happens to be one of the best bargains—and it’s almost totally unknown, hidden next to two sweeping bays and several beautiful beaches.
The place has 36 of the best golf holes in the country... a spa... a great bar and dining room overlooking the sea... yet rooms cost less than $100 night.
I’ll give you more details on these places in a moment, along with dozens of other secrets I learned on my recent journey.
But first let me explain why Ireland is the secret golf getaway for Tiger Woods, David Duval, Stuart Appleby, Tom Watson, and dozens of other top pros...
What most golfers don't realize about Ireland is that the country has a unique type of golf course you simply won't find in America.
These rare beauties are called "links" courses. And they alone make a trip to Ireland worthwhile.
While there are more than 300 total golf courses in Ireland—only 44 of them are "links." In the entire world, there are only about 150 true links golf courses. So Ireland has nearly one-third of the world's total.
What is a "links" course exactly?
In short, it's a golf course that's next to the ocean, peppered with giant grass-covered sand dunes, excruciatingly high maram grass rough, deep valleys, and spectacular views of the cliffs and sea.
For centuries, this terrain was of no agricultural value, so farmers used it to graze sheep and other livestock. Rabbits and sheep kept the turf trimmed low and provided natural fertilizer. This made it the ideal location for the first-ever games of golf in Britain and Scotland, about 200 years ago. (The game moved to Ireland shortly after.)
Links courses simply evolved. They were formed by the wind, water, and shifting sands.
As golf architect Michael Clayton says: "Links are the soul of the game—the greatest places on which to play, and they teach us much about the way the game ought to be."
So it's no wonder the world's best golfers love real links golf:
As I mentioned, there's no such thing as a genuine "links" course in the United States.
You might think you've played a true links course before, because the term is loosely (and mistakenly) used to describe almost every course with high grass and hilly terrain. But as golf writer Robert Frick says, "You may think you've hit the links after playing links-style courses in the United States, but that's like saying you've done Europe after visiting Epcot."
We have lots of links imitations in the United States, but no real links. And while Scotland and Britain have the most famous links courses in the world—Ireland has the best collection.
The country’s 3,500 miles of coastline is a landscape of granite and red sandstone mountains... unspoiled white-sand beaches... rugged cliffs that drop 400 feet to the sea... and ancient dunes—all millions of years in the making.
Plus the lucky convergence of warm Gulf Stream currents, temperate weather, and lush vegetation help create one of the most spectacular golf settings on Earth.
In fact, Sports Illustrated reported just a few weeks ago that before the 2006 British Open, Tiger helicoptered around Ireland to play links golf and dabble in world-class fly-fishing.
But here's the amazing thing about Ireland's great links—you don't have to be a golf pro or country club member to get onto the best courses...
That's because every course is open to the public.
In other words, every golf course... even the best links, which have been around for almost 150 years, is open to visitors.
This gives Ireland a clear edge over Scotland and Britain, where some of the best courses remain private.
Imagine being able to play the best courses in America—Augusta National, Oakmont, Winged Foot. Odds are, unless you have a lot of money, or a rich and well-connected uncle, you'll never even get onto the grounds of these places.
But in Ireland, you can play the best of the best. As Pat Ruddy, Ireland's leading golf architect, says, "The Irish still view golf as a game of the people. We don't view it as a business opportunity or a game of the elite. We view it as a game that can be played by all, the rich alongside the poor."
Of course, great links golf is not the only reason to travel all the way to Ireland...
You'll realize during your first round that Irish golf is different than the game you are used to playing at home.
There's a reverence for history and tradition at every course in Ireland—none of which count for much in America anymore. For example:
It's no secret that Ireland is also famous for its hospitable people.
But Irish golfers take hospitality to a whole new level. When was the last time you played a round of golf with complete strangers... and then received an invitation to dinner at their house?
Or when was the last time you called a golf course and were told you'd have a cart and scorecard waiting for you the next morning, in case you arrived before the employees?
When was the last time the owner of your hotel agreed to get up an hour earlier than normal to serve breakfast, just so you could have a hot meal and a cup of coffee before hitting the road?
These things rarely happen to me in America, or any other place I've visited in the past decade. But in Ireland you find this kind of hospitality all the time.
That's why I love links golf... and Irish links golf in particular.
So which links golf courses should you play in Ireland?
That's why I took a month off work... to identify the best links courses in the country.
I landed at Shannon Airport, drove straight to Waterville in Ireland's southwest corner, then raced clockwise back to Old Head, south of Cork. 44 courses in 30 days. (See the map on the right.)
If you are a golfer who has played Ireland's links, you know why I made this trip. If you are a golfer who has never been to Ireland, you simply don't know what you are missing. As Tom Watson said: "this is the way the game was meant to be played."
I believe Ireland is, hands down, the best golf destination in the world. If you enjoy the game at all, it is a trip you will never forget.
And here's what I found on my trip...
On my journey, I ranked every Irish links course from top to bottom, based on design, challenge, condition, the welcome, and the facilities. Like a bottle of wine, each course received a score from 1-100.
My final results were surprising...
Of course, I learned lots of secrets along the way about how to have a great golf trip in Ireland.
So I decided to write a book about my journey...
You see, the problem with most Irish golf guidebooks is that "bad" and "overrated" links courses simply don't exist. There are just varying degrees of "good" and "great."
I believe this happens for two reasons:
1) Some of Ireland's famous links courses earn high marks by reputation alone. To me, there's nothing more frustrating than making a long drive and spending $150 on a mediocre golf course. I was determined to write a book so that anyone using it would never experience this disappointment.As I mentioned, Ireland's links courses aren't the secret they were 20 years ago. Today, more than 250,000 foreigners visit the country to play golf each year.
But many good secrets still remain. For example:
What I learned during my adventure is that the stories behind these courses are often as amazing as the links themselves. So in addition to ranking the courses from top to bottom, I also tell the most interesting stories I learned along the way...
For example, it turns out that my #1 ranked Irish links course was actually built by a former newspaperman, who scrimped and saved every penny 15 years ago to buy a beautiful stretch of earth along the Southern Coast.
This fellow got a loan, re-mortgaged his home, sold his life insurance policy, and traded in his car. In short, he spent every penny he had (plus lots of borrowed money too) to build a new seaside links golf course.
With literally no money to spare, this burly Irishman did the construction work himself, with help from friends and family. He actually dug the ditches, drove the tractors, and put down the grass seed and sod with his own two hands.
As he told me: "It is safe to suggest that no other golf course designer's wife has spent so many hours on her knees weeding young greens. The work simply had to be done to ensure the financial future of our family. Our links required major investments, especially for a family of modest means. Simply put, we risked everything to build what we thought was a great golf course, with the hopes that the golfers would come."
Every great Irish links course has a story to tell... and I tried to capture the most interesting tales about each one, rather than replay a dry, hole-by-hole description.
Of course, if you plan to take a golf trip to Ireland, Secrets of the Irish Links is filled with practical advice that will make your golf trip easier, cheaper, and more fun. For example, I explain:
Don't worry, this is not a history lesson. You'll learn just enough to get by in a barstool argument—which will happen if you spend any time in an Irish pub.
The fact that these great golf courses survived at all is amazing, when you consider the fact that Ireland was firmly under British rule for the first part of the 20th century... and was one of the poorest nations in Europe for almost 60 years after independence.
Many golf courses went out of business during this period—and many of today's top courses barely held on, with as few as two-dozen members during the lean years.
How did these courses survive—and what happened to catapult Ireland up among the richest nations in the world? It's all explained in Secrets of the Irish Links.
I've been to Florida... Bermuda... Vegas... Arizona... California... the Carolinas... Scotland... England... Wales... and dozens of golf hotspots in between.
But for me, none of these places comes close to Ireland as far as the quality of golf, and the warm welcome you receive.
As Dan Hicks, NBC's Ryder Cup golf anaylst recently said: "If you're a golf purist, this is one of the stops you have to make."
I've made many trips to Ireland, and have lived there on two occasions—once in Waterford, and once in Limerick.
I'm a writer by trade—my work has appeared in more than a dozen publications, including Golf Digest and International Living. And I do have a decent perspective—I've played golf all over the world—and have visited about 30 countries in the past decade.
Secrets of The Irish Links does have one chapter written by a golf professional—that's golf architect and course owner, Pat Ruddy, Sr., who details his experiences playing links golf courses... and building them 50 years later.
If you'd like to order a copy of Secrets of The Irish Links, it costs $24.90, plus $4.50 for shipping and handling.
I think that's a bargain, especially when you consider the hundreds of dollars it will save you... and the fact that playing the right course on a golf vacation is really priceless. As a friend who is about to take his father on an Irish golf trip recently told me: "This advice is worth at least $5,000."
Believe me, I would have paid a lot of money to learn all of these secrets before my trip. I learned the hard way. But you don't have to.
In fact, if you read Secrets of the Irish Links and find yourself dissatisfied for any reason, you'll have 90 days to receive a full refund (minus shipping and handling).
I am selling the book through Atlas Books, a division of a company called BookMasters. It's a family-owned business that has been around for 30 years. I found their rates and services to be much more friendly to small publishers like me, compared to giants like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
To order Secrets of the Irish Links, click here. From there, you can either place your order on their secured web-site, or call customer service, toll-free.
I hope you benefit from my book as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
P.S. One more thing. When I was researching my month-long trip to Ireland, I picked up just about every Irish Golf book on the market. After seeing them all, I strongly believe Secrets of the Irish Links is the best book about Ireland's links out there. Of course, you'll have to judge for yourself. One thing I couldn't believe was how anyone could write a book about Irish golf without including lots of photographs. That's why I included 171 color photos, so you can see the courses for yourself before you get there. The photos on this page are just a small sampling of what you'll find inside the book. To order, click here.