Price is right for our world-class courses
AS this beleaguered nation braces itself for a winter of discontent, Irish golfers at least can take comfort from one dramatic change forced by recession. Ireland is once again offering top-quality golf at a price which few countries -- if any -- can match.
After the sickening hyper-inflation of the Celtic Tiger years, when one Minister for Sport and Tourism infamously gave clubs a public dressing-down for charging exorbitant green fees, Ireland has become the world's best-value golfing destination.
The current 'winter rates' for playing the top-rated courses on this island are a fraction of what they once were -- and if the domestic golfer has correspondingly little to spend on green fees, rock-bottom prices should help restore Ireland's stock on the tourism market.
Judging by our internet review of the 'rack rates' charged by clubs on Golf Digest Ireland's 'Top 100 Courses for 2012', which was published yesterday, astonishing green fee prices are just a couple of finger clicks away.
The top three courses -- Royal Co Down, Portmarnock and Royal Portrush -- have not changed, which is hardly surprising, given their renown throughout world golf.
What is surprising, however, is the ready and reasonably inexpensive access the ordinary golfer has to these and other famous links around the country.
The paltry £50 (€58) it costs visitors to play Royal Co Down from now to next February, for example, is dwarfed by the $495 (€362) they will pay to play Pebble Beach or the $300-plus it costs to get onto the Stadium Course at Sawgrass.
Few ordinary mortals will ever play Augusta National or Pine Valley or Merion, and even if you find a member willing to invite you to play Shinnecock Hills or Cypress Point, you still will pay a hefty green fee -- $325 (€238) and $165 (€121) respectively.
From Royal Portrush at £70 (€81) to Waterville at €58, green fees on Irish courses -- with very few exceptions -- are much more competitive than high-quality British counterparts like Royal St George's and Turnberry, both £95 (€110).
Yet some of the rates further down the 'Top 100' are remarkable.
While early bird or twilight offerings dip almost as low as €15 at Tulfarris, you can book a prime-time round, weekday or weekend, at Mullingar, one of Ireland's finest and most atmospheric golf clubs, for just €20 on the internet.
Talking of Tulfarris, it's pleasing to note that a form of debt forgiveness has been exercised by the members of Gold Digest's 'jury' of 12, augmented by a new panel representing ordinary golfers chosen from the magazine's readers.
Clubs either in administration or receivership were left out of last year's list, but we've all lost a touch of snootiness in the meantime and it's nice to see good courses like Seve's Heritage, Fota's Deerpark, New Forest, Tulfarris and even Darren Clarke's Moy Valley back where they belong.
Under the foremanship of ex-Bord Failte chairman Padraig O hUiginn, the Golf Digest jury rated Ireland's leading golf courses under six headings: Degree of Difficulty/Fairness (10 pts), Shot-making/Variety (20pts), Design Variety (10 pts), Wow Factor (10 pts), Memorability (10 pts), Condition (10 points) and Playability (10 pts).
As the recession bites ever deeper, 'Best Value' probably should come into the equation next year.