Saturday 25 March 2017

That’s what it would cost you to play the top 25 courses in the country

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Darren Clarke walks down the sixth fairway at Ballybunion - one of the fantastic golf courses available to Irish amatuer golfers
Darren Clarke walks down the sixth fairway at Ballybunion - one of the fantastic golf courses available to Irish amatuer golfers

IF you wanted to play the top 25 courses in the country in 2011, as voted by 'Golf Digest Ireland' in their recent 'Top 100 courses' feature, how much would it cost?

I'm talking peak season at the rack rates. And the answer is: €3,128, which is an average of €125 per course.

What would you get for that outlay? Well, multi-bragging rights for a start. How many people go out and play the top 25 courses in the country in a calendar year?

And what a golf experience you would enjoy.

You'd be playing on internationally renowned courses, most of them links which annually attract golfers from all over the globe, and all of these venues boast reputations that stand up to comparison with the best in the world.

There is also the attraction of the Ryder Cup 2006 venue, the Palmer Course at the K Club, to add to the lustre of the offering in the top 25.

Looking at the green fees as set out for this year by the top 25 clubs, two aspects strike me as fascinating: firstly, so many are still quoting fees well in excess of the €100 mark, and secondly, you could manage to play all these courses for sums way below the rack rates.

Leading the way on pricing is the K Club, which has a €295 premium tariff for the Palmer Course.

Also up there is Royal Co Down at £180 (€209), Portmarnock €180, Royal Portrush £140 (€162), the European Club €180, Ballybunion (Old) €180, Waterville €170, Tralee €180, Lahinch €125, and Adare €125.

recession

Don't they know there's a recession going on? The answer to that is: yes. And while the market will be the final arbiter of how many golfers will pay these rates, every club in the top 25 rankings, and indeed every club in the country, is taking account of reality.

Foreign tourists looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience at venues such as Royal Co Down, Portmarnock, Royal Portrush, the European Club etc, may well pay the rack rates.

Home golfers won't, and for that reason, shopping around and checking for deals can make it possible to enjoy the top-25 experience at sums considerably below the premium rates.

For example, at this time of year, you can play Royal Co Down for £50 (€58), Portmarnock for €120, Royal Portrush for £60 (€70), the European Club for €35 (€120 for a four-ball), Ballybunion (Old Course) for €65 and Waterville for €60.

On Sunday next, the K Club has an Open Singles on the Palmer Course for €65, and an Open on the Smurfit Course on Saturday for €50.

It's all about finding value, and there will be plenty of it about, even in the summer season.

For a start, a number of the top clubs offer a second round at their course for a reduced fee if it's played within seven days.

Ballybunion's peak fee of €180 automatically includes a round on the Cashen Course if required.

Then there are Classics, group deals, Open events, meal-plus-golf deals, early bird deals (most of them operating up to 10.0am), twilight deals (usually after 4.0pm) and play-and-stay packages that can make it possible to enjoy the elite courses at an affordable price.

In other words, you don't have to reach for the sick bag when you see the asking price at the best courses, and nor should you dismiss the possibility of playing them.

Greystones member Kevin Markham, author of, 'Hooked -- An Amateur's Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland', played every 18-hole course that was available to him for his book, which was published in early 2009.

An updated version is due to be launched soon, and I asked him for his view on the levels of pricing and value in Irish golf.

demand

He accepts that demand for courses such as Royal Co Down, Portmarnock and Royal Portush means they can keep their fees high, but says: "There's always that huge barrier of €100 and a lot of people say, 'I'm never going to pay over €100 to play any golf course'.

"But to do it in a cheaper way is a question of doing your homework and organising a bunch of people and you can usually play at reasonable prices.

"In winter or late autumn you can make a killing, and then you've got the early birds and the twilight deals.

"I just don't think Irish golfers are going to go and play at prime-time summer and pay €180 to €200. We're just not going to do that.

"One of the things I enjoyed about doing the book was going round and finding courses like Portumna and Portarlington and Rathcore.

"To me these are all really good courses and very cheap, so there is plenty of good-quality golf out there at extremely affordable prices."

Indeed, the top 25 includes the beautiful links at Ballyliffin for €70 at peak, and €50 in winter, and the impressive Enniscrone, which can entertain you in the high season for a maximum of €55.

No 25, Belmullet (Carne), costs only €50 between April and October, which illustrates the value on offer.

The moral of the story is: check out the websites and course diaries and you could play the top 25 course in Ireland for less than half the amount it would cost at peak time.

And that leaves you with only another 400 or so courses to play to complete the Irish golf collection!

Irish Independent

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