Putting together a list of Ireland's best golf resorts might not exactly be relevant for American golfers.
Most of us fly across the pond to play links golf. Few links - many a century old - offer accommodations although there are plenty of cool options to stay nearby. Waterville House (Waterville Golf Links), The Bushmills Inn (Royal Portrush Golf Club), Ballyliffin Lodge & Spa (Ballyliffin Golf Club) and Mount Falcon Estate (Enniscrone Golf Club) are spectacular properties for golfers, although none are adjacent to any course. I remember thoroughly enjoying my stay at the Vaughan Lodge Hotel many years ago because I could just as easily walk to a pub in town as I could stroll across the street to the legendary Lahinch Golf Club.
Thankfully, there are some exceptions to the rule. A trio of true links golf resorts did make this story. I'd also argue that every other resort I included is worthy of a stay during any Irish golf pilgrimage. The K Club, Carton House and Adare Manor have all hosted Irish Opens. In addition, Adare Manor will join The K Club (2006) as a Ryder Cup venue in 2027.
I couldn't cut it down to 10, so here are the 11 best golf resorts in Ireland and Northern Ireland that I've experienced (in no particular order).
Slieve Donard Resort & Spa, Newcastle
The hotel: The landmark spire of this famous 180-room hotel - the "Gleneagles of Northern Ireland" - looms over the links in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne. Everything inside is first class, from the restaurants to the rooms and spa.
The golf: Golf Digest ranks Royal County Down's Championship links as the No. 1 course in the world outside the United States. It punishes golfers who cringe at the sight of blind shots. Yet it appears as idyllic as a painting. The vivid colors of golden gorse and purple heather lining the narrow fairways spring to life in sparkling sunshine. The Annesley Links, RCD's women's club, is underrated.
Other top golf resorts in Ireland & Northern Ireland
To help you plan your next Irish getaway, listed below are dozens of other Irish golf resorts. I hope someday to stay and play them all.
DUBLIN AREA: (radius of 90 kilometers) Roganstown Hotel & Country Club, Swords; Rathsallagh Country House, Dunlavin; Luttrellstown Castle Resort, Castleknock; Citywest Hotel, Dublin; Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa, Enniskerry; Kilkea Castle Hotel & Golf Resort, Castledermot; The Heritage, Killenard; Tulfarris Hotel and Golf Resort, Blessington; Knightsbrook Hotel Spa and Golf Resort, Trim; Moyvalley Hotel and Golf Resort, Moyvalley; Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort, Tullow; BrookLodge Hotel at Macreddin Village and Golf Club, Aughrim.
SOUTHEAST: Fota Island Resort, Cork; Mount Juliet Estate, Kilkenny; Castlemartyr Resort, Cork; Waterford Castle Resort, Waterford; Faithlegg Hotel, Faithlegg; Great National Gold Coast Resort Dungarvan, Dungarvan; St. Helen's Bay Golf Resort, Rosslare Harbour.
SOUTHWEST/WEST: Park Hotel Kenmare, Kenmare; Great National Ballykisteen Golf Hotel, Limerick Junction; Glenlo Abbey Hotel & Estate, Galway; Ashford Castle, Cong.
NORTHWEST: Castle Dargan Golf Hotel Spa, Ballygawley.
MIDLANDS: Farnham Estate Golf Resort & Spa, Cavan; Dundrum House Hotel Golf & Leisure Resort, Dundrum; Slieve Russell Hotel Golf & Country Club, Ballyconnell; Glasson Country House Hotel and Golf Club, Glasson.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Roe Park Resort, Limavady; Hilton Belfast Templepatrick Golf & Country Club, Belfast; Brown Trout Inn Golf & Country Inn, Coleraine; Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, Ballymena.
Tell us about any Irish golf resorts you've experienced in the comments below.
Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Doonbeg
The lodge: The five-star, stone-laden lodge overlooking Doughmore Bay beach is one of the signature properties of the Trump Golf portfolio. Rooms, lavish suites and spacious links cottages are available. Several restaurants and a spa treat guests like royalty. If you can look past American politics, this is one of the best resorts in the GB&I. Doonbeg is also a good home base to explore the Cliffs of Moher and play Lahinch.
The golf: Martin Hawtree tweaked most holes on the penal Greg Norman links in 2015-16, adding the new par- 3 16th hole after the old one was washed away in a winter storm. The par 5 first through an amphitheater of dunes ranks among the most beautiful openers in golf.
Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort, Letterkenny
The hotel: Guests get introduced to some old-world Irish charm at Rosapenna, run by the Casey family. The rooms are comfy and the food and drink satisfying. Four miles of the Tramore Beach runs behind the hotel.
The golf: The Old Tom Morris links is flatter and more fun. The Sandy Hills links by Pat Ruddy is tougher, more dramatic and wildly scenic overlooking Sheephaven Bay. Which is better remains a personal choice. Tom Doak is currently transforming the old 36-hole St. Patrick's links the resort bought a few years ago into a new 18-hole links that could be ready by summer 2021.
Adare Manor, Adare
The hotel: The 104-room Adare Manor reopened in November 2018 after a multi-million-dollar expansion and restoration. A new 42-bedroom wing, a 350-guest ballroom and the La Mer Spa (one of only 11 in the world) were added to this unique Neo-Gothic "Calendar House," named for its 365 stained-glass windows for each day of the year, 52 chimneys for each week, seven pillars in the lobby for the days of the week and four towers to mark the seasons. Each bedroom is individually designed. Guests can dine by candlelight in the Oak Room or dance a jig to the live Irish music in the Tack Room bar. Outside, they can tour the walled gardens or manicured trails around medieval ruins.
The golf: The renamed Golf Course at Adare Manor has long been considered to be among the top two parkland courses in Ireland (the K Club's Palmer course, host of the 2006 Ryder Cup, the other). Tom Fazio's upgrades of the playing turf and infrastructure on the Robert Trent Jones Sr. design circa 1995 led directly to landing the 2026 Ryder Cup. New sand-capped fairways and cutting-edge SubAir technology have solved drainage issues that once plagued the course set on the River Maigue.
Old Head, Kinsale
The accommodations: Below the stone clubhouse and spell-binding views of the terrace are 15 luxurious suites. Between the spoils of the de Coursey restaurant, Lusitania Bar and thermal spa, staying at Old Head is a more intimate experience than any hotel.
The golf: There might not be a more dramatic setting for golf in the world than this 220-acre diamond-shaped promontory jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. The 300-foot cliffs, iconic Old Head lighthouse and stone walls and ruins stimulate at every turn in southeast Ireland. Certain shots along the cliffs ... the tee shots at 4, 12 and 13, for example ... you'll never forget.
The K Club, Straffan
The hotel: The K Club's Staffan House has a storied history outside of Dublin. The east wing, built in 1832, was inspired by a French chateau at Louveciennes west of Paris. The Italian tower was added later. It became The K Club in 1991 and eventually added more bedrooms, a garden and courtyard suites, conference facilities and the K Spa. Inside, the entire 134-room hotel looks like an art gallery. The guest rooms (none of which are the same) feel like suites size-wise compared to rooms at other resorts.
The golf: The River Liffey winds through the Palmer course. Befuddled by the 14 holes featuring water, the Americans drowned in an epic 2006 Ryder Cup beatdown. It most recently hosted the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. The Smurfit course, which hosted 13 Smurfit European Opens from 1995-2007, is actually harder. Sixty-foot-high rock walls rise out of a lake called the "Swallow Quarry" on the par-5 seventh. The man-made rock face was conceived by former K Club co-owner, Dr. Michael Smurfit, and brought to life by the set designers of 'Jurassic Park'.
Dromoland Castle Hotel, Newmarket On Fergus
The castle: The 99-room castle, which became a five-star getaway in the 1960s, is surrounded by more than 450 acres of rolling Irish landscape, including its own lough (an Irish lake), river, forests, gardens and golf course. Its location near Shannon airport makes Dromoland Castle an ideal stop at the beginning or end of a golf tour of southwest Ireland. Guests can party like it's 1799 by listening to a harpist at dinner in the Earl of Thomond restaurant or by practicing falconry, one of the oldest forms of hunting, on the grounds of the estate. Just taking a stroll feels like a step back in time.
The golf: The course at Dromoland Castle plays like a classic country club, having been refined by Ron Kirby and J.B. Carr in the early 2000s.
Lough Erne Resort, Enniskillen
The hotel: The 120-room resort, set on a 600-acre peninsula in the scenic Fermanagh Lakelands two hours north of Dublin, recently spent millions refurbishing guest rooms and the popular Blaney Bar, while adding family facilities, a game room and an infinity pool to the Thai Spa.
The golf: Lough Erne’s Faldo Championship Course was set to host the 2017 Irish Open until it was moved to Portstewart's Strand links. A statue of Sir Nick Faldo greets players heading to the first tee. Faldo's routing interacts with the surrounding lake on at least a third of the holes, creating a beautiful theater for golf.
Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, Portmarnock
The hotel: The 138-room Portmarnock Links Hotel is part of the former Jameson Whiskey family estate. The original house, St. Marnocks, dates to 1847. The Seaview restaurant serves what's caught fresh from the Dublin Bay. The Jameson Bar serves its namesake whiskey. There's also a spa and fitness room. It's a great place to stay to enjoy nearby links at Portmarnock, Royal Dublin and The Island.
The golf: Portmarnock Links by Bernhard Langer opened in 1995, a far cry from the century-old links at nearby Portmarnock GC that dates to 1894. Once golfers dive into the dunes at no. 8, the round becomes a riveting test the rest of the way.
Carton House, Maynooth
The hotel: The Carton House, a magnificent cut-stone Georgian mansion, houses 165 rooms and suites on the outskirts of Dublin. Carton House was commissioned in 1739, contained within a 1,100-acre estate surrounded by walls, and became a hotel in 2006. Architectural treasures can be discovered throughout its interior. The Gold Salon soars two stories with plaster work on the ceiling depicting the "Courtship of the Gods." Chinese paper decorates the walls of the Chinese Boudoir. Multiple restaurants, a leisure center and spa complete this full-service retreat. The resort also houses the national training academy for the Golfing Union of Ireland, a program for elite juniors that trained major champions Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell.
The golf: The Mark O'Meara Course plays the parkland yin to the Colin Montgomerie Course's linksy yang. At its glorious best, the O'Meara dives into a valley lined by the Rye River, a tributary of the River Liffey. More than 100 pot bunkers scar the flatter terrain of the Montgomerie.
Druids Glen Hotel & Golf Resort, Newtown Mount Kennedy
The hotel: This five-star, 145-room retreat, which opened in 2002, features a spa, a health club with a pool and a range of dining options in a region south of Dublin known as "The Garden of Ireland."
The golf: The parkland Druids Glen and the heathland Druids Heath provide a stark contrast in settings and playing experiences. The Glen opened in 1995, just in time to host the Irish Open from 1996-1999. Designed by Tom Craddock and Pat Ruddy, it is called "The Augusta of Europe" for its spell-binding beauty and immaculate condition. Druids Heath, a tougher brute designed by Ruddy in 2003, sits on a wind-swept plateau filled with gorse and panoramic views of the Irish Sea and the Wicklow Mountains.