IT'S still cheaper to play golf north of the Border.
Failte Ireland aims to cash in on the recent unprecedented success of Irish golfers as the Irish Open begins in Killarney tomorrow.
But an Irish Independent survey reveals that three years into the recession, many top northern courses still beat southern ones for value.
The dearest round of golf is at the K Club where, despite fees being reduced slightly this month to take account of VAT cuts, green fees ring in at a whopping €285 per round on the Palmer course used for the 2006 Ryder Cup.
But if you wanted to check out British Open winner Darren Clarke's home course at Portrush, Co Antrim, the price is €151, rising to €168 at the weekends.
Consumer watchdogs urged clubs in the Republic to adopt a more realistic pricing policy and not to waste the opportunity to cash in on the recent Major successes of Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington.
"It's totally unreasonable to expect people to pay nearly €300 for a round of golf if you want to get people into the country spending money -- and to get Irish people out there playing as well you have to charge realistic rates," said Consumer Association of Ireland (CAI) chairman Michael Kilcoyne. However, The K Club claims their green fees are comparable with other top courses worldwide and reflect the fact the course was designed by Arnold Palmer.
"Because of his name and the fact that the Ryder Cup was held there also helped in establishing the prices," a K Club spokesman said.
Failte Ireland said green fees in the Republic had come down by 30-40pc in the last two years.
"You have to compare apples with apples and if you exclude the K Club which has its own business model, the price of golf north and south is very similar comparing a Royal County Down or a Royal Portrush with a Portmarnock or a Ballybunion," Failte Ireland head of golf Keith McCormack said. But other long-established courses in the Republic charge top dollar: for example, the Old Head of Kinsale charges €200 a round; while Portmarnock Golf Club charges €175 and former US President Bill Clinton's preferred course at Ballybunion, Co Kerry, costs €180.
Meanwhile, it costs €169 (£150) to play at Royal St George's in Sandwich, Kent, where the British Open was held earlier this month.
But one big-name course to have slashed fees is Lahinch Golf Club, Co Clare -- its rates were reduced recently from €165 to between €95 and €120. North of the Border, Royal County Down is the most expensive course, charging €185 for a round which rises to €202 at the weekend.
The renowned Portstewart course in Co Derry charges between €90 and €107, while Royal Belfast -- the oldest golf club in Ireland -- charges €67 to €79 a round.
But with Failte Ireland running a new campaign featuring Ireland's four major winners urging tourists and residents to play "the courses where these champions shaped their games", it turns out the cheaper courses have had the greatest success in churning out champions.
Rory McIlroy honed his major-winning skills at Holywood Golf Club in Co Down -- where he remains a member -- and where it costs between €28 and €33 for a round.
Graeme McDowell, who won the US Open in 2010, developed his game at Rathmore Golf Club in Co Antrim where a round costs €28.
And the golf course where three-times major winner Padraig Harrington started out -- Stackstown, Co Dublin -- only charges €30, and €35 at weekends.