STRETCH the evenings, stretch the legs. When the coiscéim choiligh or 'cock's step' kicks in, golfers start thinking of putting their clubs in an aircraft hold.
Irish golfers are one of the most welcome breed of tourist through the entire holiday market. Like many golfers, they travel in fours most of the time. But they also travel in 400s. Irish golfers have been known to fill a trans-Atlantic-sized aircraft en route to Malaga for a weekend. You find more hobby golfers abroad than at home. Which can be more fun.
Spain and Portugal are the golf destinations of choice because of the short flight and the climate, which has a habit of ensuring that the rough is not very rough. Prices climbed a bit in the noughties but €200 green fees have since slipped back towards €60 and €50.
Specialist golf tour operators such as Cassidy Travel, Killester Travel/Sean Skehan and Tony Heverin have put together packages which an independent traveller will not be able to beat.
Access is the key to the spring golfing break abroad. Malaga is so popular Aer Lingus runs an A330 there to get another 100 seats. The Algarve is well served from all Irish airports from Easter. The Lisbon coast is easily accessible year round. Each of the Canary Islands offer golf options but these can be a tad pricier pre-Easter.
The burning questions for 2014 is whether Michael O'Leary wants golfers back. When one complained about the exorbitant excess baggage fees for a bag of clubs at the Holiday World Show some years ago he told them that he did not want their business. All may have changed.
There are now 27 golf courses on the Algarve coast. The landscape suggests that sandy parkland rather than links would be the prevailing style here. So it is with the blue chip courses, the extensive complexes around Vilamoura. But for those not prone to vertigo in search of the spectacular, the Sheraton Pine Cliffs means exactly what it says. Terrain varies from the steep hillsides of Parque da Floresta to the sea-level flatlands of Vilamoura III. Salgados and Palmares include links holes. Christy O'Connor's course in Alcantarilha is an Irish favourite. Don't worry about the mosquitoes – Christy says all his water moves. Before the Faro flights from Irish airports really kick in there are lots of great options on the Lisbon coast just 30 minutes from the airport, including the prestigious Campo Real.
Golf destination: Vilamoura, Algarve.
Costa del Sol
Spain rules golf tourism and has done so since Henry Cotton and his colleagues first realised what great potential Spain had as a golf destination in the 1960s. You could spot the tourists a Rory McIlroy-sized drive away. There are 69 courses along the Costa del golf, as the tee-boys and girls of the 1970s dubbed it (because golf is one of those words that won't translate). They range from the flat and untaxing to the undulating Almenara, to hilly wonders such as La Duquesa and La Quinta courses west of Marbella, Estepona, the La Cala course west of Fuengirola and the Alcaidesa, Sotogrande and famous Valderrama courses to the east of Gibraltar. Spain-bound golfers can find plenty to exercise their calves as well as their minds. The very hilly Torrequebrada, 15km west of Marbella, is a particular favourite with the Irish.
Western Cape's 100 excellent courses (Atlantic Beach near Cape Town De Zalze on the wine trail at Stellenbosch and Devondale are good example) have been popular with Irish golfers for two decades. They have a reputation of being expensive to get to, but marvellous value when you land at 14 rand to the euro.
Golf is in its infancy in Turkey but this is a country that has changed the game in terms of air access, all-inclusive resorts and every other tourist activity going. Belek is the capital of golf in Turkey with ten resorts offering some of the lowest green fees in the business and a range of parkland (Antalya Sultan, Carya, Cornelia, Gloria, Nobilis) and one links course, Lykia, although another parkland course, the Sueno, has some links features, too.
Cassidy travel, www.cassidygolf.ie,