Rory talks to Allan O’Connor, our resident Ireland golf expert
Resident golfer, Rory Anderson has over 10 years experience in the golf travel industry and has been lucky enough to play golf in 24 countries and counting. With US citizens now able to travel to Ireland from the 19th July, Rory talks to Ireland Operations Manager, Allan O’Connor about where you should travel this summer, what to expect when you get there and why 2021, may just turn out to the perfect time to visit.
Allan, welcome! You joined the team one month ago, tell us a little bit about yourself & what you do for Premier Golf and Your Golf Travel?
Hi Rory, thanks for having me. Well, I’m a Kerry man and have lived and worked in Killarney for almost 30 years. I’ve been representing the outstanding Killarney Park Hotel around the world for the last seven years as Business Development Manager, and before that, I spent 21 years as Operations Manager at Kerry Coaches. My job, here at Premier Golf is to work with our supply partners to secure the best rates and access for our clients, as well as managing clients and operations in resorts.
How does the land lie in Ireland at the moment?
I’d say we have a little normality returning, with hotels and outdoor dining now open. On the 5th July, indoor dining and pubs reopen, in time for the 19th July when Ireland will be open for international travel.
Positive view in terms of little impact on tourism at the moment, I don’t think visitors would see much change, to be honest with you.
Glad to hear it. Are you all geared up for 2022, or is 2021 still a viable option for US Visitors?
Yes, we are hugely looking forward to the 19th July, and if that happens, and there is currently no reason to think that it won’t, then we’ll be welcoming clients this year in the second half of the summer. In fact, there is still good availability on a number of marquee courses, something that would never be the case in normal years, so if a client was thinking of a last minute trip to Ireland, this would be the year to do it.
Q – So if I wanted to play Ballybunion, Lahinch and Doonbeg this year, there’s still a fair chance I could get on.
I’d say there’s more than a fair chance Rory, its more the hotels that are busy, and whilst flights into Shannon from the US have been reduced, Dublin still has good capacity.
There’s 3 years of golf travel being condensed into 1.5 years, so however you look at it it is busy, particularly in the North. But August & September next year look ok, and most of the courses are opening tee-sheets up for 2023 early, so we can start planning 2023 trips as well.
As a Kerry man, I think I know the answer to this, but if you were to choose one location in Ireland for a golf vacation where would you choose & why?
Well, after arriving in Dublin, or even better Shannon which is only 2 hours away, travel south to Killarney, your base for the next 5 nights. Killarney is world-famous for its stunning scenery, with Ireland’s oldest & largest national park right on the town’s doorstep. Naturally I am going to advocate that you stay at The Killarney Park, Ireland’s No.1 Hotel (TripAdvisor 2021 Awards).
This family run boutique 5-star is perfectly situated in the heart of town, but set back in its own gardens, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, it is the perfect base to explore the fantastic golf that the Southwest of Ireland has to offer. Assuming you are not too tired after your flight, what about a round on the Killeen Course at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, host of the Irish Open in 1991, ’92, 2010 & ’11? Only 5 mins outside town and offering specular views of the aforementioned Killarney National Park, this parkland course, which offers carts, is a great way to blow off the travel cobwebs and get you set up for fantastic week of golf.
Day 2, now we head to the coast and perhaps the most iconic links course in Ireland, Ballybunion. The Old Course, beloved by Tom Watson, who used it on many occasions to get his links game in shape before playing The Open.
Day 3, after Watson’s favourite links course what about an Arnold Palmer designed modern classic? Tralee boasts probably the most challenging back nine in the country in a truly unique setting.
Day 4 and we head south to Waterville and without a doubt the friendliest welcome you will receive anywhere. The late Payne Stewart loved Waterville and played here many times, there is a statue there in his honour. After golf be sure to complete the rest of the Ring of Kerry, one of the most iconic coastal drives in the world.
Day 5, leave Kerry for the first time and head east into Co Cork and out onto the Old Head of Kinsale, this specular course uses it’s natural setting on a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean to stunning effect, with all holes having commanding ocean view and 9 holes playing along the cliff tops.
Day 6 Depart for home with a lifetime of memories gleaned from playing spectacular courses and stunning scenic drives getting to and from the courses.
..and what’s an absolute must when you aren’t ‘on-course’?
No visit to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, here you will learn the history of Ireland’s most iconic beverage and most importantly get to sample a pint of the “black stuff”; In Killarney, if taking a day away from the links, then I highly recommend the Gap of Dunloe, a unique way to experience the majesty of Killarney National Park.
After a short transfer to Kate Kearney’s, get on an open horse & cart (a jaunting car) and wind your way 7 miles up a spectacular glacial mountain valley before arriving at Lord Brandon’s Cottage, after a quick light lunch, board an open board and traverse the three lakes of Killarney arriving back at the 15th century Ross Castle, which is only 5 mins from Killarney.
While in Belfast you have to visit the Titanic Museum, this award-winning interactive museum gives visitors the complete history of the most famous ship ever, from its construction in Belfast, it’s diverse passengers and of course it’s ill-fated maiden voyage.
While on the West Coast in the Lahinch or Doonebg area the Cliffs of Moher are a must visit, these imposing sea cliffs rise 700 feet out of the churning Atlantic and have featured in movies like The Princes Bride & Harry Potter. Back to Co Kerry and if you really want something special what about a trip out to Luke Skywalker’s Island hideaway?
Skellig Michael is a UNESCO world heritage listed site, this rocky, uninhabited island is located 8 miles off the coast, near Waterville. It rises from the sea, reaching a height of 715 feet above sea level. On its summit there is a well-preserved 6th century monastic settlement. This was the site chosen by filmmaker JJ Abrams as the hideaway of Luke Skywalker in two of the most recent Star Wars movies. It is not easy to get out there, as it is very weather dependent and books up very quickly, but it is totally worth the effort.
Tell us something new about golf in Ireland?
A lot of people will be familiar and perhaps even visited & played, the iconic courses of Northern Ireland (Royal County Down & Royal Portrush) and the Southwest (Ballybunion, Waterville, Old Head etc), but for me the Northwest is truly an undiscovered gem.
The courses in this part of the country may not be as well-known as those just mentioned but this does not mean that they are any less challenging or spectacular. Courses like Ballyliffen, Carne, Enniscrone, Rosses Point and Rosapenna are every bit the equal of their more famous counterparts in the Northeast & Southwest. speaking of Rosapenna, they have just this week opened their third course, St. Patrick’s Links.
This Tom Doak course will be a fantastic addition to growing list of top courses in this undiscovered part of Ireland. Thankfully along with great courses the accommodation offering has been steadily improving over the past couple of years, with the resort at Rosapenna, in Donegal and Mount Falcon further south in Co Mayo offering quality lodgings for even the most discerning guest.
Finally, we always talk about the genuine warmth of hospitality that the Irish offer the Americans, but what is the most important part of golf trip?
Again, you may accuse me of being a bit biased here, but for me the most crucial part of any golf trip is getting a great driver. Seriously, you will probably spend more time with your driver than at any hotel or golf course, therefore it is vital that this be a good relationship.
We ensure that all our transport companies employ the most experienced and knowledgeable drivers. All are familiar with the courses and have great relationships with the starters & caddy masters, many are also qualified Tour Guides so they not only drive you to & from the golf courses they can also educate you on the countryside and its history as you drive along.