Even after a dozen golf trips to Ireland, I've found it's still hard to feel completely at ease in a foreign country.
There are so many moving parts to planning and executing the perfect golf trip to the Emerald Isle. There are so many what ifs to worry about.
What if I get lost and miss my tee time? What if it rains the entire week? What if my clubs don't make it?
I've had all three of those things at one point or another in Ireland and still managed to have a great experience.
Some things -- like the weather and the baggage service at the airport -- are just out of your control. Concentrate on what you can control. Here are 10 tips for first-timers looking to make their trip a success:
Irish golf trip tip 1. Pick a proper itinerary
Ireland might look small geographically, but narrow winding roads make traveling difficult. Don't plan an ambitious itinerary chasing down all the top 100 golf courses. There are too many spread too far apart. Pick a section of the island to tour.
I divide Ireland into four quadrants: Dublin, the southwest, the northwest and Northern Ireland. You can easily combine Dublin and Northern Ireland or Northern Ireland and the northwest if you wish to hit a few highlights from each. The spectacular Old Head Golf Links of Kinsale sits off by itself near Cork. Golfers visiting the southwest or Dublin can reach it by carving a day out of their schedule.
Whatever you do, plan extra time into your travel schedule. Chances are you will make at least one wrong turn or won't feel comfortable driving the rental car on the left side of the road.
Irish golf trip tip 2. Dublin or Shannon?
Golfers have multiple options when it comes to airports. Both the Dublin and Shannon airports accept direct overnight flights from New York (and a couple other U.S. cities). Pick the right one based on your itinerary.
Golfers who land in Dublin can easily play around the city for a few days before heading north to Northern Ireland's Royal County Down and Royal Portrush. Landing in Shannon is a perfect way to start a Southwest loop through Doonbeg, Lahinch, Ballybunion and Waterville. Or a northern loop can lead to the remote links of Enniscrone, County Sligo, Rosapenna and Ballyliffin.
Irish golf trip tip 3. Pack properly
Like the roads, the rental cars are small, so pack wisely. Bring layers. I always bring long underwear (even in summer) since cold rains can soak you to the bone. A high quality rain suit and at least one pair of rain gloves remains a must for wet weather.
I advocate bringing the umbrella, but tons of other "experts" don't agree, so that's your call. Since many of the links courses are walking-only without golf carts, empty out your golf bag of all the extra tees, ball markers, shag balls, etc., to make it lighter. Pack extra golf balls in the suitcase but only carry 6-8 in your bag at any given time. Your back -- or your caddie -- will thank you.
Irish golf trip tip 4. Bring a backup
Bring two pairs of golf shoes, including a street golf shoe that can be worn on travel days or to the pub after the round. Don't bring tennis shoes. That's so American. Bring two electrical converters for charging electronics -- one for you and one for your friend who will always be borrowing it.
Consider bringing twice the number of balls you normally would on a golf trip. Wicked weather, blustery winds and knee-high grass tends to chew up first-timers. Bring a second paper copy of your passport in case it gets lost.
Irish golf trip tip 5. Money
Exchange money at your bank at home to avoid costly fees at the airport or overseas. The Republic of Ireland uses the euro. Northern Ireland uses the pound. Note the exchange rate between the two. The pound tends to be more expensive.
Irish golf trip tip 6. Rental car confusion
Rental cars overseas can be a hassle. The expensive surcharges for an automatic shift and a GPS unit are worth it. I always plan my days so I never drive after dark.
The roads are tough enough in daylight. If your group numbers more than eight people, hire a driver. The "craic" -- the Irish equivalent of fun -- doubles when you can relax. Have a few more drinks at the bar. Play cards during long drives. The added expense of a driver costs less when spread across more people.
Irish golf trip tip 7. Avoid jet lag
No matter how good you sleep on the overnight flight, your body will still feel rotten by the time you land. The time difference is five hours later than Eastern Standard Time. The best way to beat jet lag is to power through it.
Plan a round of golf on the day of arrival: Portmarnock, a top-100 course, Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links, and Royal Dublin reside just minutes from the Dublin airport. Three fantastic resorts -- Dromoland Castle Hotel, the Lodge at Doonbeg (recently purchased by Donald Trump) and Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort -- are within an hour's drive of the Shannon airport.
Irish golf trip tip 8. Take a day off
The best Irish golf trips last a week to 10 days. That way your group can explore the countryside and adjust to the time change. Don't play golf every day. Take a day off somewhere in the middle. Even a group of guys will find Ireland's tourist attractions interesting.
The Cliffs of Moher, near Lahinch and Doonbeg, and the Giants Causeway, near Royal Portrush, are two rocky marvels along the coast. They'll blow you away. Take a castle tour. Try a pub crawl in a great city such as Galway, Killarney or Kinsale, the "food capital" of Ireland. Dublin's got churches and the Guinness Factory. A massage to loosen up the old swing joints might be necessary halfway through the trip.
Irish golf trip tip 9. What's your number?
I've never had a club ask for my handicap certificate. Still, it's wise to bring a card or printout with your handicap number listed on it just in case.
Irish golf trip tip 10. Hire a caddie
The best part of Ireland is its people. Hiring a caddie is a great way to enjoy the course, shoot a better score and learn about the country through a friendly four hours of conversation.