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Geoff returns to Emerald Isle

By Geoff Garnett

LAST year your regular golf travel writer Jean Tomlinson and I were able to view and experience first-hand the excellent golf travel service provided by Club Choice Ireland.

The family duo of Tiernan Byrne and his dad Larry have used their expertise and experience in travel, hospitality and golf to provide a unique combination of great value for money golf packages and quality facilities that would appeal to the full range of golfers in our region.

Each year Club Choice Ireland publishes a guide to ‘Great Golfing Destinations in the East and South East of Ireland’ and their ability to tailor packages for their clients saw them recently draw the admiration and support of Tourism Ireland and the Irish Prime Minister who are delighted with the success of Club Choice Ireland in continuing to increase the number of golfers visiting their country.

The success of Club Choice Ireland has been noted by clubs and destinations on both sides of the Irish Sea and for the upcoming season they have added several more high quality venues to enhance the impressive opportunities available in 2015/16. Last year Jean and I were fortunate enough to visit two different regions with Club Choice. We were very impressed with the Enniscorthy and Wexford areas followed by another set of destinations to the west of Dublin near Leixlip. This year Club Choice put together another impressive itinerary which offered us a chance to visit some new regions on this trip but unfortunately due to her lady captain’s duties at Didsbury, Jean was unable to attend so my regular golfing partner and fellow Didsbury member Len Cunningham was promoted and was delighted to be offered the opportunity to come with me on the trip and give his opinion.

It began with a quick drive across the A55 to Holyhead to catch a Stena Line ferry and arrive, suitably relaxed at Dublin Port. It really is the only way to travel to Ireland if you are taking the clubs. Its hassle free and puts you in the right frame of mind for the fairways ahead.

The Carlow / Kilkenny Region was to be our home for the first leg of our trip and so we engaged the Sat-Nav and enjoyed a 75-minute drive from the port to Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort in County Carlow where we spent a pleasant evening sampling a drop of the local Guinness – which does taste much better than in England! The next day we were up early to make the short trip to Mount Juliet Resort, one of Ireland’s iconic golf venues, to enjoy a round at a fabulous course and great leisure resort with our host, Tiernan and his colleague Cormac.

The course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, has hosted many top events including the 2002 and 2004 American Express World Golf Championships, won by Tiger Woods and Ernie Els plus three Irish Open Championships and the locker room is a treasure trove with many famous names on the lockers.

The course is a delight to play featuring rolling fairways, plenty of water hazards and contoured greens and reflects the Nicklaus philosophy of risk and reward with a safety option. One memorable item was a sign on an irrigation cap, some 295 yards from the green over a water hazard, which instead of giving the yardage said ’Dream On’ – Tiernan made a brave attempt but is still dreaming!

Mount Juliet is a very fair course, in immaculate condition in a spectacular setting – a wonderful start to the trip and Tiernan and I only lost 10 cents to our bandit opponents! With the money exchanged we departed and on the return to Mount Wolseley we called in at two more great venues on the Club Choice itinerary.

Gowran Park Golf Club gives a great contrast being situated in and around the Gowran Park Horse Racing track. Sitting in the grandstand, where the clubhouse is situated, gives great views of the parts of the golf course situated inside the race track, but there are also several testing and attractive holes based in tree-lined fairways on the edge of the course providing a great contrast to other courses in the area and another fine and very different golfing experience.

Only 15 minutes up the road is another very popular Club Choice venue, Hotel Kilkenny, situated just a short walk from the vibrant and world-renowned centre of Kilkenny City. The stylish four-star hotel provides fabulous facilities of the highest standard whilst still maintaining the personal and friendly touch with a chic restaurant Taste, urban style Pure Bar and Active Club. As well as a great history to enjoy, Kilkenny City has a lively pub and entertainment circuit including a much-loved comedy festival making it a top golfing gateway destination for all.

After a hectic day it was a pleasure to relax at Mount Wolseley in a very large, busy and friendly lounge, with a strong family ethos and excellent local entertainment to set us up for the second day.

An early rise and after another superb full Irish breakfast, we were more than ready to take on the Mount Wolseley course, which will host a European Challenge Tour event next month.

The course was designed by Christy O’Connor Jnr and the Challenge Tour players, as we did, will enjoy a lush, and again a very fair parkland course, boasting rich surrounds, mature trees and superb playing surfaces. Off the course there is a friendly and welcoming staff, available to meet your every need.

The resort also features The Wolseley Spa, Hotel Leisure Club including a 20m indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and state of the art gym. Mount Wolseley offers luxury accommodation and holiday lodges, sumptuous restaurants, with ultra-modern amenities and with a wonderful golf course on its doorstep and it has everything to suit golfers of all abilities.

Having checked out we then called in at nearby Carlow Golf Club – widely regarded as the finest inland ‘links’ course in Ireland. Based on sand, the 27 holes have a ‘links feel’ and offer another great golfing challenge and the course and facilities have helped to produce plenty of top golfers and champion teams over the years for the Carlow club.

A full membership including more than 200 juniors shows the quality of another excellent ‘must-play’ course if you are in the Carlow region and it has easy access just off the nearby motorway.

The final call on the way to our next destination was the Woodford Dolmen Hotel on the outskirts of Carlow town. Nestling on the banks of the River Barrow and surrounded by the backdrop of the Killeshin Hills, the hotel provides a perfect location for exploring the area’s golfing gems. It is renowned for its great food, helpful staff and a casual atmosphere with an excellent food choice at the Plum Tree Bistro with the Dolmen Bar providing a wide range of beers, wines and spirits in a cosy snug to enable golfers to enjoy a relaxing break.

We were tempted to settle in for the evening but alas more golfing adventures awaited us. Onwards good sir…! Len certainly enjoyed the first leg of his maiden golf break, “My limited golf course experience as a 21-handicapper and fears that I would not be able to cope with championship courses were totally unfounded as I was able to score well at Mount Juliet and Mount Wolseley and enjoy two fabulous courses which were in tip-top condition and did much to aid my putting concentration and shot selection.

“The two nights at Mount Wolseley backed up its claim to be one of the finest four star resort hotels in Ireland with luxurious accommodation and first class service that was relaxed and friendly.

“What I saw and experienced was way beyond my expectations and everything just oozed quality and had a WOW factor. The Club Choice venues really do have the quality that golfers are looking for. We said goodbye to Carlow and Kilkenny but there were no tears as we had more golfing delights in store as we headed for Dublin and the famous ‘Garden of Ireland’… follow our trip in the October edition of Golfers Local.

For more information, call Club Choice Ireland on 0800 285 1490 or visit www.clubchoiceireland.com.