Golf and gourmet: Stay awhile to sample the tasty treats in County Cork, Ireland

KINSALE, Ireland -- Martin Shanahan grabs the giant aerial portrait of the Old Head Golf Links off the wall of his famous cafe, Fishy Fishy Kinsale.

"We are so lucky to have this in our backyard," he said, pointing to Old Head's glorious, diamond-shaped promontory and lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

After my one bite of the chunky seafood chowder at Fishy Fishy, it's evident that Old Head is just as lucky to have Kinsale, Ireland's gourmet capital. Too many Americans swoop into Old Head by helicopter just to play golf or stay in the club's luxurious suites and never get the chance to sample Kinsale or the other delights of Cork. This beautiful seaside town, home to the Kinsale Yacht Club, exudes endless charm.

"If you want three days (of relaxation), you can golf and sail and chill out in the town," Shanahan said. "We've got 62 places to eat for a town of 3,000 people. Not bad."

All the great links of Ireland are either west of Cork or north near Dublin, but there's still enough high-brow golf in Cork to stay awhile.

Where to play golf

With the new, par-3 13th hole, Old Head has fully maximized every inch of the majestic, 300-foot cliffs that frame the dramatic cliff-top course. Playing Old Head feels like a safari where there is adventure -- and danger -- on every shot. It remains golf's version of "Man vs. Wild." One misstep will send the ball careening to a watery plunge. The lighthouse at land's end never strays far from view.

More traditional golf lies closer to the industrial city of Cork, Ireland's second-largest city. The Deerpark Course at the 27-hole Fota Island Resort, host of three Irish Opens, is a well manicured parkland dotted with lakes and doglegs. It won't blow you away, but you won't leave lacking, either.

The unique gem of the trip will be Cork Golf Club, a fully restored Alister MacKenzie design dating to 1927. Architect Martin Hawtree, who worked on MacKenzie's other contribution to Irish golf, the revered Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club, finished up a three-year improvement plan at Cork in 2013. He recaptured MacKenzie's lost bunkers, renovated tees and reshaped the 12th green.

Cork does have its quirks. The foursome of golf writers I played with just couldn't get over the fact they had to drive over greens several times during the round, a potential traffic accident waiting to happen. I found those moments minor annoyances that showcase the age and authenticity of the routing. The 6,731-yard course veers into an old rock quarry during holes 4-11, a nice distraction.

Seamus Leahy, the director of marketing at Fota Island, offered a different perspective about why Americans should play more Irish parkland courses. His point didn't come across as self serving (although it is).

"Americans play links seven straight days, and it beats them up," he said. "It's good to get variety. It's nice to feel human and shoot a good score once in a while."

What a concept.

Where to stay

I've stayed in both Cork and Kinsale, and they're both proper Irish vacation spots. Kinsale moves to the rhythm of a holiday town. The bars and restaurants jam, ready for a party every night. The night I stayed at the Blue Haven Hotel a few years ago music from the bar next door blared what felt like all night.

The River Lee Hotel in Cork probably fits a business traveler best, although golfers can still get on well there. It's a 10-minute walk to the city's vibrant bar and club scene. The all-glass elevator affords nice views of the river and downtown.

I didn't stay at the five-star hotel at Fota Island Resort -- at least half of the players and their entourages gobbled up the 123 rooms and lodges during the 2014 Irish Open -- but it's certainly a swell spot. The dining is delightful. People who aren't foodies when they first come to Cork might become food snobs once their seafood, lamb and Irish beef digests.

A golf destination with benefits, Cork is quite delicious.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries 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 @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Golf and gourmet: Stay awhile to sample the tasty treats in County Cork, Ireland