The Irish Eyes are not smiling this St. Patrick's Day.
The Emerald Isle is still mostly on lockdown. No golf. No pubs. No craic (a Gaelic word that describes the fun and camaraderie found throughout Ireland).
Nevertheless, let's look ahead to brighter days when the courses and borders reopen. Americans who love the links are definitely counting down the days. Since many of the bucket-list links are overbooked for 2021 and starting to fill up for 2022, it's the perfect time to give the underrated, more affordable courses their due.
You can get the same links experiences - the wild bounces, blind shots over dunes, wind and sea views - while walking away with more pounds or Euros in your pocket for that extra pint at the 19th hole and/or a souvenir in the pro shop. Even with the exchange rate working against the American dollar, golfers can still feel like they've gotten a bargain at these 10 links, all listed from least expensive on up.
Green fees: €100 (Sunday-Friday), €120 (Saturday).
Course: As long as you avoid Saturdays, the 6,472-yard Portsalon fits our theme. Designs by Irish golf-writer-turned-architect Pat Ruddy trend toward the difficult, especially on the greens and their surrounds. The diagonal par-4 2nd (lead photo at the top of the article) is particularly tough and memorable at the same time. Play it off the beach if you must.
Review: "I had heard good things about Portsalon GC but it definitely exceeded expectations. Although I lucked out that it was a sunny relatively calm day I think I would've loved it whatever the weather." - Pointbroken
Green fees: €100.
Course: Despite its location within 10 miles of Harry Colt's County Sligo Golf Club, Strandhill is mostly undiscovered by American tourists. Although only a par 69 of 6,035 yards, it's considered one of the most scenic and fairest links in all the land.
Review: "You’ll be surrounded by chances for pics both of Knocknarea behind you and the Atlantic Ocean in front. Only a few blind shots, so you don’t have to play it twice to really get it. It’s down the hill to the water, then back up, and repeat. Some dunes, but you’ll never feel like a shot hit marginally off will be lost. The 7th runs along the beach with great views from the tees. Great value, greens aren’t perfect, but that’s what you get for the price." - WDM1980
Green fees: €95 (weekday), €125 (weekend).
Course: Laytown and Bettystown is part of the coastal dunescape north of the Dublin Airport that includes Portmarnock, Portmarnock Links and The Island to the south and County Louth and Seapoint Golf Links to the north across the Boyne River. At roughly 6,426 yards, it's quirky-cool. Elevated tees and greens add to the challenge and beauty of this links.
Review: "Really enjoyable links course with some really super holes that are a great challenge. Fabulous views of the beach and sea and great views of the Mourne Mountains to the north. Would be an ideal links challenge for someone who hasn't played links before and close to Dublin Airport. Highly recommended." - deniscurtin
Green fees: €80.
Course: A modern links built by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1984, the Cashen is a bit polarizing. It's a wild 6,290-yard ride through unforgiving but spectacular dunes. I've met a few golfers who say to 'skip it'. All the reviews on GolfPass are positive. Best to play it and decide for yourself.
Review: "The Cashen is a world class test of golf. Visitors can expect an eventful round, with testing crosswinds, formidable bunkers & hollows, thick grassy dunes, rolling greens & stunning views of the Atlantic. If you can appreciate the game of yesteryear then the Cashen Course is a place you will embrace with passion." - David1684852
Green fees: €60 (weekdays), €70 (weekends).
Course: Established as an 18 hole links course in 1891, North West Golf Club is one of the 9 founding members of the Golfing Union of Ireland. The 6,342-yard links in County Donegal along the Wild Atlantic Way is regarded as tight, scenic and a strong value.
Review: "To say that it was enjoyed would be an understatement. It may not be in the top tier of irelands links but it's pretty good." - jarlathcannon
Green fees: €50 (weekdays), €65 (weekend).
Course: At 6,702 yards, the Old Course at Rosslare is one of the "biggest" of our bunch of bargains. Add in the 12-hole Burrow Links, an "executive" course by Christie Connor Jr. with holes ranging from 142 yards to 531 yards, for a full 30-hole adventure exploring the Burrow Peninsula. Both provide nice views of the Wexford Harbour.
Green fees: €40 (weekday), €65 (weekend).
Course: One of the overlooked links of Dublin, Seapoint's 16th tee is just a chip shot over a dune from the more famous County Louth's 14th tee. Seapoint (7,053 yards) is all parkland to start, ambling through woods and marsh before finishing with a linksy romp among the dunes along the Irish Sea.
Review: "Couldn’t find a fault with anything. Greens, fairways, rough and bunkers beautifully maintained. I will definitely be back and would highly recommend this course to anyone." - markhayes20
Green fees: £60. Visitors are welcome before 9 a.m. and after 10:30/11 a.m. weekends and only after 2 p.m. weekends.
Course: Compared to the 240 pounds it costs to play the Dunluce Links, the Valley Links might be the best bargain in all of links golf. The current 6,346-yard routing was created by Martin Ebert when Dunluce borrowed land for two new holes in preparation for The Open in 2019. It ends gloriously on a short drivable par 4 with a tee overlooking the water and the town.
Review: "The Valley course at Portrush only suffers in comparison to the renowned Dunluce course right beside it. It's an excellent course in its own right. Shorter & more forgiving but still a very good links test." - carsalkit
Green fees: £50.
Course: The 4,617-yard par-66 Annesley Links defines the term 'relief' course. It's a relief to play a scenic and fun links that won't take so many balls from your bag and money from your wallet. Conversely, Royal County Down, the No. 1 course in the world by Golf Digest, costs 270 pounds. With so many blind shots, it also tends to take a pound of flesh, too.
Review: "With plenty of elevated tees and greens overlooking the Irish Sea, it's plenty scenic as well. And don't let the yardages fool you. It's plenty challenging,, and since you can't hit driver on every par 4, there's plenty of strategy, too." - MikeBaileyGolf
Green fees: £30.
Course: Since you probably won't go all the way to Castlerock just to play the Bann Nine (you should!), it's still a steal combining the Mussenden Links with nine on the Bann for 165 pounds. Several holes on the Mussenden have been revamped some in recent years to improve the whole experience. Even so, the Bann's big dunes and riverfront views are the club's secret weapon.
Review: "Fantastic 9 holes. Probably best 9 hole I've ever played. Stunning views, course immaculate, blind tee shots, small greens. It has everything. A hidden gem." - Maddyman83