Historic Royal Dublin Golf Club treats guests like royalty

DUBLIN, Ireland - Convenience is king at Royal Dublin Golf Club. The club, dating back to 1885, is situated just minutes from the Dublin Airport and the city center. It's set near the heart of a thriving Dublin neighborhood, making it one of the most popular tee times in Ireland's capital city.

So what if the golf course, relatively flat by links standards, doesn't have the monstrous dunes of Ballybunion and Lahinch? So what if the setting of Royal Dublin isn't as scenic as Tralee and Waterville? (The view of cruise ships and cranes in the harbor are an interesting sight, nonetheless.)

What Royal Dublin lacks in "wow" power, it makes up for with a dynamic history and a true championship layout that has tested some of the game's greatest players. A $6.5 million renovation of the course completed in 2006 (and the clubhouse in 2007) all but guarantees that Royal Dublin will remain in the conversation when discussing the great links golf courses in Ireland. Golf Digest Ireland recently hailed Royal Dublin as the 13th-best course in the country.

"As a links, you can't beat it. It's a great golf course," said member Cathal Conaty.

Just getting to the Royal Dublin Golf Club is a subtle reminder of just how special the site really is. The course is accessible only by a narrow, one-lane wooden bridge built back in 1819 out to Bull Island in Dublin Bay. A sea wall, constructed in the early 1800s, helped formed the Bull Island Natural Reserve as sandy soil and dunes slowly built up over time. The handiwork of Mother Nature turned out to be ideal for a links golf course.

Royal Dublin Golf Club: A dedicated membership

The history of Royal Dublin, the second-oldest golf course in Ireland, reveals plenty of stories of a dedicated membership that always remains loyal to its links. Royal Dublin survived a World War and a major fire in 1953 that destroyed the clubhouse.

During World War I, the course closed and was utilized as a firing range. After combat, in stepped Harry S. Colt for a re-design of a facility in disrepair. Colt's recreation of the course would grow to be revered. Before going on to win four British Open Championships, South African Bobby Lock won the amateur portion of the 1936 Irish Open at Royal Dublin.

Three decades later, Irishman Christy O'Connor Sr. grew his local legend by finishing the 1966 Carroll's International tournament eagle-birdie-eagle. O'Connor, the club's head professional in 1959, and still an honorary member, would eventually play in 10 Ryder Cup Matches and be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. His many accomplishments are celebrated inside the clubhouse.

Royal Dublin Golf Club later hosted the European Tour's Irish Open from 1983-85, crowning two A-list champions in Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros. In 1986, Ballesteros played Jack Nicklaus in a spirited exhibition.

Fed up with the hassles of professional events, the membership now happily hosts the annual Irish Amateur tournament. The golf course plays as tough as ever.

Martin Hawtree's redesign has added more than 450 yards in length, including 70 yards on the par-5 14th alone. The Englishman, who also breathed new life into neighboring Portmarnock and Lahinch in southwest Ireland, raised all 18 greens and crafted two new holes, the 592-yard par-5 sixth and the 215-yard par-3 seventh.

"I played in the Irish Amateur back in the 1990s, it was easier then than it is now," says Phil McLaughlin, the teaching pro at the club. "It had some gift holes. Now, they all have teeth. During the summer, the rough is intimidating."

Royal Dublin Golf Club's finishing holes always seem to have a say in who wins. The 304-yard 16th hole, called "Dolly," remains drivable, although the seven bunkers say otherwise. Several of the faces are so steep, only a chip out, not an attack at the green, is advisable.

The 483-yard 18th "Garden" hole requires a poke between a grassy field on the right and bunkers on the left. A testy approach must carry a corner of the field and avoid several greenside bunkers.

Finally, with all the upgrades complete, Royal Dublin Golf Club members can celebrate their 125th anniversary in 2010 in style, knowing how lucky they are to stroll down the same fairways where legends have gone on before them.

Royal Dublin Golf Club: The verdict

Royal Dublin lacks the Hollywood good looks of some Irish links courses, but she's still pretty enough to rate a tee time from links lovers. It's a great place to start off your trip to the Emerald Isle, because it's close to the airport and you won't lose too many balls in the pint-sized dunes if your body still feels tight and tired from the long journey.

Royal Dublin Golf Club: Where to stay

I've stayed in two places near the airport and the club that are worth considering. The Clarion Hotel Dublin Airport provides a convenient place to rest your head and an easy shuttle ride to the terminals. The Roganstown Golf and Country Club in Swords offers more luxurious accommodations at a four-star 52-room inn just 10 minutes farther north. There's a fantastic restaurant inside and the Sakura Spa as well, not to mention a fairly new 18-hole parkland golf course.

Tourist attractions near Royal Dublin G.C.

The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin continues to be popular for one reason: The free pint in the Gravity Bar at the end of the tour. The bar, at the "head" of the pint-shaped building, provides panoramic views of the city. And what they say is true: The Guinness does taste better over here. For other options, visit www.discoverireland.com.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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